EXTRACT from Perceptions and experiences of antisemitism among Jews in the UK [pdf file]
JPR report by Laura D. Staetsky and Jonathan Boyd, Institute for Jewish Policy Research
The UK is home to the world’s fifth largest Jewish population, and Europe’s second largest.3 It reached a historical peak of an estimated 420,000 in the 1950s, but has since declined to its current level of just below 300,000. Interestingly, this decline appears to have now stopped; the most recent data from the UK 2011 Census indicate that the population has stabilised, primarily because growth in the strictly Orthodox, or haredi, sector appears to be off-setting decline elsewhere. This can be clearly evidenced by looking at household size and age distribution data for these two different communities – average household size in the haredi population is at least 4.5 and average age is 27 years; for the non-haredi Jewish population the equivalent figures are 2.4 and 44 years.
An estimated two-thirds of all Jews in the UK live in Greater London and the surrounding counties, a proportion that has remained largely stable since the mid-nineteenth century. The second largest population centre is Manchester, which also has a growing haredi community; other significant communities can be found in Leeds, Glasgow and Gateshead. However, there are at least some Jews living in every Local Authority in England and Wales, so the population can be characterised as both geographically concentrated and dispersed.
The largest synagogue movement is the United Synagogue, which is central Orthodox, and in 2010 accounted for 55% of all synagogue members by household. However, its share declined by a third between 1990 and 2010, although the rateof decline slowed over that period. There are two progressive movements: the larger, Reform, represents just under 20% of all synagogue members by household; the smaller, Liberal, represents approximately 9%. Taken together, their share has remained largely static over the same period. The latest household membership figures for haredim stand at 11%, although, as previously stated, household size in this part of the community is significantly higher than elsewhere, and there is evidence to suggest that the haredi population may be growing at a rate as high as 4% per annum. The UK also has a small, but rapidly growing Masorti movement, and a slightly larger but slowly declining Sephardi stream. Relative to many other Jewish populations in the world, synagogue affiliation rates in the UK remain quite high, although approximately 30% of all Jewish households do not belong to a synagogue.
An estimated 60% of all Jewish children in the UK now attend Jewish schools, up from approximately 25% in the 1970s, although these figures include haredi children where Jewish schooling is universal. Beyond the haredi population, approximately 50% of all Jewish children attend a Jewish primary school (age 4-11). The proportion attending Jewish secondary schools is lower, although provision has increased in recent years with the opening of two new schools – Yavneh College (central orthodox) in 2006, and the Jewish Community Secondary School, or “JCoSS” (cross-community) in 2010. Together, these two schools have provided 330 new places for children per annum.
Beyond synagogues and schools, London, in particular, has a vibrant Jewish scene. The fourteenth largest urban Jewish population in the world, and the second largest outside of Israel and the United States, its cultural events include the highly popular annual Jewish Book Week and Jewish Film Festival. The UK also hosts the largest Limmud conference in the world (the event originated in the UK, but has been replicated in over sixty communities worldwide), alongside numerous other smaller initiatives. Arguably, the most significant development to have taken place in British Jewry recently is the establishment of JW3, a new multi-million pound Jewish community centre in north London which opened in September 2013, and has added yet more diversity and vitality to Jewish cultural activity in the city.
Apart from those already mentioned, the most prominent organisations operating within the Jewish community in Britain are two representative bodies – the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council – both of which are engaged in political advocacy on behalf of the community. The largest welfare charities are Jewish Care, which focuses its efforts primarily on the elderly, and Norwood, which works with disadvantaged children. The United Jewish Israel Appeal (UJIA) is the community’s largest Israel charity, supporting a range of projects in the Galilee region, and investing heavily in the community’s youth movement infrastructure in Britain and Israel experience programmes for young people. The Community Security Trust (CST) monitors antisemitic incidents, provides security at Jewish community events, and liaises with government, police and national security services to help combat anti- Jewish hate crime and discrimination.
Antisemitism in the United Kingdom
Unlike many other Jewish communities in Europe, the Jewish population of Britain was largely unaffected by the Holocaust directly. There was a fairly small Sephardi Jewish community in Britain from the seventeenth century, but most of the ancestors of the contemporary population migrated to Britain from Eastern Europe between 1881 and 1914, fleeing persecution and seeking a better life. Some fled Europe later, and just in time: Britain received a new wave of some 55,000 Jewish immigrants from Nazi Germany in the 1930s, including, most famously, almost 10,000 unaccompanied children on the Kindertransporte of 1938 and 1939. However, because the Nazis failed to conquer the UK, the population was spared the horrors of genocide.
Moreover, while British Jews undoubtedly encountered antisemitic prejudice and discrimination in the first half of the twentieth century, it was, in the words of historian Todd Endelman, “more social and cultural than political”. It most commonly took the form of membership bans from clubs, admission quotas at public schools, and refusal of services for spurious reasons. Occupational discrimination, hostile comments and hateful remarks were not unusual, but physical attacks occurred only sporadically.
Ideological antisemitism existed, led most notably by Sir Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists in the 1930s, and whilst its often violent tactics sowed widespread terror and fear, it never garnered popular support: the BUF never won a seat in parliament, nor even on a local council. Indeed, perhaps because of the rupturing of Christian unity in post-medieval Britain, or the adoption of liberal ideas in early modernity, Britain was unusually tolerant towards its Jews, certainly when contrasted with most other European states. There was undoubted pressure on the new Jewish immigrants and their families to become more English, but many adapted their behaviour willingly, in search of acceptance and upward mobility. British Jews may often have felt compelled to compromise or deny their Jewishness, but were essentially spared murderous pogroms, boycotts and show trials. They paid a price in the erosion of Jewish identity, but not in extreme violence.
The interplay between antisemitism and events in Israel took a unique form in Britain because of the British Mandate. The British controlled Palestine from 1917 to 1948, and the immediate post-war relations between the British government and the leaders of the Yishuv (the Jewish community of Palestine) took a distinct turn for the worse as the Zionist movement became increasingly antagonistic towards the British in the aftermath of the Holocaust. Despite supporting and even championing Zionism previously, Clement Attlee’s post-war Labour government failed to honour Britain’s earlier commitments, and most painfully, kept Palestine’s doors closed to the hundreds of thousands of Holocaust survivors interned in Europe’s Displaced Persons camps. In response, Zionist underground groups initiated a campaign of violence against the British, most famously bombing the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, the headquarters of the British administration, in an attack in 1946 that claimed ninety-one lives. When the Zionist military group, the Irgun, hanged two British sergeants the following year in retaliation for the hanging of three of its members, anti- Jewish violence erupted on the streets of Britain.
As was the case in many other parts of the Jewish world, the love affair of British Jews with Israel did not really take off until 1967. Fearful that a second Holocaust in Israel was imminent on the eve of the Six-Day War, many were profoundly influenced by Israel’s military victory, and as Endelman has argued, Israel subsequently became “the most potent force for keeping Jews within the communal fold.” Indeed, for many at this time, Zionism became the religion of British Jews; the year after the war saw an almost unprecedented rise in British Jewish migration to Israel, and in an increasingly secular British society, identification with Israel provided both a reason for being Jewish and a sense of pride in it. Israel was also commonly lauded in the British media at the time, regarded as the biblical David in a battle against the belligerent Arab Goliath, all of which provided a context in which an increasingly assimilated British Jewish population could feel comfortable with this particular component of their Jewishness.
At the same time, hostility towards Jews undoubtedly weakened. With large-scale migrations from Africa and the Indian sub- continent, Britain was becoming a more diverse society, and whilst racist and antisemitic factions continued to rear their heads, they remained a fringe phenomenon, much as the BUF had in the 1930s. Indeed, in 2009, when British National Party leader Nick Griffin controversially appeared on one of the BBC’s flagship current affairs programmes, Question Time, he was roundly condemned by the other panel members, booed by the audience, and the BBC studios themselves came under siege by hundreds of protestors. Nevertheless, many Britons today appear to hold rather inconsistent views towards the growing immigrant population: in a 2008 survey, 62% agreed with the statement “there are too many immigrants in Britain”, but 71% believed that “immigrants enrich our culture.” Furthermore, to the extent that comparative data exist, anti-Muslim attitudes in Britain appear to be more prevalent than antisemitic attitudes, although the toxicity of those attitudes is considerably harder to measure.
Since the Second World War, Jews have increasingly become part of mainstream British society. Margaret Thatcher famously appointed five Jews to her cabinet, an unprecedented number that prompted a previous Conservative Prime Minister, Harold MacMillan, to quip that there were more “old Estonians in the cabinet than old Etonians.” Evidence demonstrates that the vast majority of Jews today feel very much at home in Britain – indeed, 83% of UK-based respondents to the present survey reported that their feelings of belonging to Britain are either “very strong” or “fairly strong.” The rates of aliyah (emigration to Israel) also remain low:
in the decade between 2001 and 2010, only an average of 465 Jews per annum moved to Israel with fairly limited variation from year to year. Significant jumps in aliyah rates typically occur for one of three reasons –
(i) as a response to increased antisemitism (e.g. for Jews in Arab lands post-1948);
(ii) opportunism following years of repression (e.g. in the 1990s from the Former Soviet Union); or
(iii) due to a sudden outpouring of support for Israel (e.g. following the Six-Day War in 1967). Given that the second of these does not apply to the UK, and the third has not happened recently, it is reasonable to assume that many Jews feel broadly comfortable living in the United Kingdom.
Nevertheless, as support for the Palestinian cause has grown in Britain, particularly since the first intifada in the late 1980s, a debate has raged about the interplay between anti- Zionism and antisemitism. Some argue that a ‘new antisemitism’ exists, based on antagonism towards, or open hatred of, the State of Israel, as contrasted to previous forms of antisemitism that were directed towards Jews as a distinct group. Others counter that this antipathy is simply legitimate criticism of the Israeli government, and a genuine attempt to force a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The adoption of Palestinian self-determination as a cause célèbre is driven by multiple reasons – political, economic, social and demographic – yet there is clear scope for violence in the Middle East to spill over into violence in Britain. Indeed, spikes in the number of antisemitic incidents can now be seen every time Israel is involved in a significant military operation. Between 2007 and 2011, an average of 55 incidents were reported to the Community Security Trust (CST) each month, and rarely reached above 70; in January 2009, in the midst of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead, there were 289. Whilst the CST’s criteria are clear and robust, assessing whether or not an incident is antisemitic or not can be complex; in certain instances it is unquestionable, but it starts to become more contentious when campaigners choose to boycott Israeli universities or companies in an attempt to force a political solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, or when they accuse Israel of being an apartheid state. The 1999 Macpherson Report, a landmark British government document written following the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence, controversially defined a racist incident as “any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person”, yet when different Jews define antisemitism in different ways, there is plenty of scope for debate.
Furthermore, not all antisemitism in Britain today is necessarily directly related to incidents in Israel. The number of incidents that occur during the High Holy Day period (typically September and/or October) are commonly higher than average, due to the higher than average number of identifiably Jewish people seen in public then.16 Being visibly Jewish certainly renders one more prone to harassment, discrimination or assault (the data in this report demonstrate that), and with the rapid growth of the most Orthodox sections of the British Jewish community, increasing numbers of Jews may be more vulnerable to attack. Yet, paradoxically, any casual observer of Jews in Britain would note an increase in self-confidence among British Jews in recent decades, evidenced by the growing number of kippot (skullcaps) worn in public places and the prominence of major Jewish events and rallies in the public sphere. In essence, antisemitism in Britain remains rather a conundrum. It continues to be one of the top issues on the Jewish communal agenda, and efforts to combat it generate substantial funding. At the same time, British Jews have arguably never before been so confident about their Jewishness, and so open about displaying it in public.
The comparative data from the FRA survey demonstrate that Britain remains a considerably more tolerant and accepting environment for Jews than certain other parts of Europe. Yet analysed on its own terms, questions remain. How safe and secure do Jews in Britain feel today? How commonly do they experience harassment, vandalism, violence or discrimination? To what extent do they report incidents when they occur, and to whom? How aware are they of their legal rights? And, ultimately, what level of antisemitism is tolerable? This report examines all of these questions, and, fundamentally, provides a lens through which Jews in Britain and those entrusted to take care of them will be able to assess empirically the state of antisemitism in the country today.