Antisemitism in the United Kingdom refers to the hatred of Jews in Great Britain. [21]

History of antisemitism in the United Kingdom

Since the arrival of Jews in the United Kingdom following the Norman Conquest in 1066 Jews have been subjected to discrimination. The earliest Jewish settlement was recorded in 1070. [22] Jews living in the United Kingdom from about King Stephens reign experienced religious discrimination and it is thought that the blood libel which accused Jews of ritual murder originated in Northern England, lead to massacres and increasing discrimination. [22]

One of the worst examples of early English antisemitism was the York pogrom at Clifford's Tower in 1190 which resulted in an estimated 150 Jews taking their own lives or being burned to death in the tower. [23] The Jewish presence in England continued until King Edward I's Edict of Expulsion in 1290. [24]

The earliest recorded images of antisemitism are found in the Royal tax records from 1233. [25]

Jews were readmitted to the United Kingdom by Oliver Cromwell in 1655, though it is believed that crypto-Jews lived in England during the expulsion. [22] Jews were regularly subjected to discrimination and humiliation which waxed and waned over the centuries, gradually declining as Jews made commercial, philanthropic and sporting contributions to the country. [22]

In the late 19th and early 20th century, the number of Jews in Britain greatly increased due to the exodus of Jews from Russia, which resulted in a large community of Jews forming in the East End of London. [22] Popular sentiment against immigration was used by the British Union of Fascists to incite hatred against Jews, leading to the Battle of Cable Street in 1936, at which the fascists were repulsed by Jews, Irish dock workers and Communists and anti-fascists who barricaded the streets.

In the aftermath of the Holocaust, undisguised, racial hatred of Jews became unacceptable in British society. [21] Outbursts of antisemitism emanating from far right groups continued however, leading to the formation of the 43 Group led by Jewish ex-servicemen which broke up fascist meetings. Far-right antisemitism was motivated principally by racial hatred, rather than theological hatred which accused Jews of killing Christ.

Contemporary antisemitism in the United Kingdom

Sources of contemporary antisemitism

In the early 21st century, the dominant source of contemporary antisemitism in the UK was the far right. Although in the aftermath of the Holocaust far right extremism became marginalised, Holocaust denial and Jewish conspiracy theories remain core elements of far left and far right ideology. Nevertheless, contemporary antisemitism is to be found as well on the left of the political spectrum. Criticism of Israel, especially from the left, has been fuelled further by the second Palestinian Intifada and by the invasion of Iraq in 2003. However, scholars, such as Professor David Cesarani, have found it hard to define and contest "because it no longer has any resemblance to Nazi-style Jew hatred, because it is masked by or blended inadvertently into anti-Zionism, and because it is often articulated in the language of human rights". Sociologist Dr. David Hirsh sees anti-Zionism as a political discourse that places anti-imperialism at the centre of an absolutist ideology that divides the world into two camps, a discourse that may take on antisemitic form, or merge with an antisemitic discourse, but might not in itself be consciously antisemitic. [26] The major source of contemporary antisemitism is to be found in parts of the British Muslim community. The roots of this kind of antisemitism are complex – from a mixture of historical attitudes, domestic and political tensions between communities to the globalisation of the Middle East conflict. One assumption is that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has fuelled a sense of anger and injustice among the British Muslim community and therefore created a climate that is more hospitable to radical Islamist ideology, such as contemporary antisemitism. [31] [32]

In December 2014, the Department of Communities and Local Government of Britain published a report that describes the government action on antisemitism. According to this report, there is a 25% increase in the number of antisemitic incidents occurring on social media. That stands in reverse to the fact that during 201314 there was a decline in the whole number of antisemitic incidents in the country comparing to 201312. The report also reveals that the majority of reports of antisemitic hate crime are focused in three police force area: Metropolitan, Greater Manchester and Hertfordshire, where the overwhelming majority of Jews live. [6]

Antisemitic Incidents Figures Since 1997 [7] [8] [9]
Brothers League poster, from 1902, aiming at stemming Jewish immigration to the East End of London


The levels of antisemitic incidents in the UK often rise temporarily, in response to 'trigger events', often but not always related to Israel or the wider Middle East. Such trigger events are: the conflict in Gaza between Israel and Hamas and the terrorist shooting at the Ozar Hatorah Jewish school in Toulouse, France in 2012; the second Lebanon War in 2006; the Iraq War in 2003; the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001; and the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000. [8]

The Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) published a report in 2016 which said that police figures for antisemitic crime had reached a record level in 2015. [28] The report stated that the level of antisemitic crime in 2014 had been the previous record, and in 2015 there had been a 26% increase in antisemitic crime year-on-year, a 51% increase in violent antisemitic crime, but a marginal reduction in charging by the police, which the CAA noted as "alarming" given the large increase in antisemitic crime during the same period and was very critical of the police. [29] A year prior to the CAA report, the Community Security Trust published a report that indicated a significant increase in antisemitic incidents during 2014 in the United Kingdom. The report said that, the number of antisemitic incidents more than doubled in 2014 compared to the previous year, reaching 1,168 hate-crimes. Antisemitic reactions in Britain to the conflict in Israel and the Gaza Strip is named by CST as the largest contributing factor, with the highest-ever monthly total of 314 antisemitic incidents recorded in July 2014 (the same month of the operation protective edge). [10]

Despite these findings, research published in June 2015 by Pew Research Center showed that out of six countries participating, the population of the UK had almost the most favorable views of Jews. While 78% of Europeans have a favorable opinion of Jewish people (13% did not however), in UK 83% of the population hold positive views, and only 7% hold unfavorable opinions of them. This can be contrasted with Muslims (81% favourable) and Roma (63%). [11]

In July 2015 the Community Security Trust published an antisemitic incidents report for the first six months of the year. The report showed an increase of 53% compared with the previous year's results, with 473 incidents across the UK. Most of the incidents (353) were under the category of "abusive behavior". There were significant increases in the violent categories ("violent assault" and "extreme violence") with 44 incidents, which is double the number for the previous year. In 36% of the total number of incidents there was a political reference: 32 incidents referred to Israel and Zionism, 16 incidents mentioned Islam and 122 incidents included far right discourse. [12]

In 2017 the Institute for Jewish Policy Research conducted what it called "the largest and most detailed survey of attitudes towards Jews and Israel ever conducted in Great Britain". The survey found that the levels of anti-Semitism in Great Britain were among the lowest in the world, with 2.4% expressing multiple anti-Semitic attitudes, and about 70% having a favourable opinion of Jews. However, only 17% had a favourable opinion of Israel, with 33% holding an unfavourable view. [30] [31]

Annual Incidents Figures by Category 1997–2012 [7] [8]
Category 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
1. Extreme violence 4 0 0 2 1 5 0 4 2 4 1 1 3 0 2 2
2. Assault 19 17 33 51 40 42 54 79 80 108 116 87 121 114 93 67
3. Damage and desecration 58 31 25 73 90 55 72 53 48 70 65 76 89 83 64 53
4. Threats 19 16 31 39 37 18 22 93 25 27 24 28 45 32 30 39
5. Abusive behaviour 86 136 127 196 122 216 211 272 273 365 336 317 609 391 412 467
6. Literature 33 36 54 44 20 14 16 31 27 20 19 37 62 25 7 12
TOTAL 219 236 270 405 310 350 375 532 455 594 561 546 929 645 608 640

Perceptions of political parties

The media reported that in an August 2017 YouGov survey of 2,025 British Jews, 83% of respondents thought the Labour party was too tolerant of antisemitism whereas 19% thought the same of the Conservative party; the study's authors noted that since Labour voters “are less likely to be anti-Semitic than other voters, so the cause of British Jews’ discontentment with the party must be the way that it has very publicly failed to robustly deal with the anti-Semites in its ranks”. [32] [33] 36% felt anti-Semitism was tolerated in the Liberal Democrats, while 41% said the same for the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and 40% for the Green Party. However, the survey suggests that antisemitism has been in decline over the past three years, dropping to 36% in 2017. [34]

It has been suggested by Len McCluskey, a member of the party for 47 years, that accusations of antisemitism in the Labour party are part of a campaign to discredit Jeremy Corbyn. McCluskey saying "Unfortunately at the time there were lots of people playing games, everybody wanted to create this image that Jeremy Corbyn's leadership had become misogynist, had become racist, had become anti-Semitic and it was wrong.". [35] Some in the Labour party (including Jewish members) have suggested that the Labour party is being singled out for criticism, and that Labours polices still align better with Jewish values. [36]

During the 2017 Labour party conference, new rules were introduced to combat antisemitism within the party, some party activists made the accusation that Labour were policing “ thought crime ”. Georgina Lee stated that none of the major political parties (apart from Labour) explicitly ban antisemitism within their ranks, and UKIP only banned "posting expressing racist, homophobic, xenophobic or otherwise discriminatory views [online]". [37] Deputy leader Tom Watson, promised there would be an investigation on how the party provided a platform at a conference fringe event to Miko Peled, who stated, as reported by the Daily Mail , that people ought to be allowed to question if the Holocaust happened. Watson in response said, “It is nothing to do with the official Labour party conference.And if there was Holocaust denial there, these people have no right to be in the Labour party, and if they are they should be expelled”. Peled responded to the accusations saying that Watson and Ashworth were confusing freedom of speech with antisemitism tweeting "free speech is now antisemitism too". Peled said he not deny the Holocaust. Delegates at the event also made the demand that the Jewish Labour Movement be expelled from the party over their support for the state of Israel. [38]

There are claims that the 2015 Conservative campaign had an anti-Semitic edge. It being argued that attacks on Ed Miliband or his father, the academic Ralph Miliband, were tainted with antisemitism. [39] Michael Fallon's comments about "A stab in the back" leading to accusations of antisemitism. [40]

In 2016 the Liberal Democrat party suspended MP Matthew Gordon Banks who tweeted "Farron’s leadership campaign was organised and funded by London Jews" and "I tried to work with them. Very difficult", the tweets were criticized as antisemitic. [41] [42]

Antisemitic discourse

Trends in Antisemitic Attitudes in United Kingdom [19] [27] [23] [23] [23]
Percent responding "probably true"
Jews are more loyal to Israel than to this country
Jews have too much power in the business world
Jews have too much power in international financial markets
Jews still talk too much about the Holocaust
  • 2004
  • 2005
  • 2007
  • 2009
  • 2012

According to the Report of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism , "Antisemitic discourse is, by its nature, harder to identify and define than a physical attack on a person or place." [23] It is not normally targeted at an identifiable victim, but at Jews as a group. It influences and reflects hostile attitudes to Jews and Jewish-related issues, and can fuel antisemitic incidents against Jews and Jewish institutions. It may be found in the media or in more private social interaction and often reflects some of the features of old antisemitism, playing on Jewish stereotypes and myths, and seldom uses expression of contemporary antisemitism.

Antisemitic discourse, in the 21st century in the UK, includes several manifestations:

  • Holocaust Denial and Holocaust-related Abuse – In certain circumstances the discourse of Holocaust denial may be used in a way that amounts to incitement to racial hatred. However, the act of denying the Holocaust is not a criminal offence as in other European countries.
  • Conspiracy Theories – Those theories have been applied to many contemporary issues, accusing Jews and Israel indiscriminately of responsibility for all manner of world disasters.
  • Dual Loyalty – Since the creation of the State of Israel, there have often been questions raised by the far-right as to Jews' loyalties to Britain.
  • The Blood Libel – There has been a revival of the medieval "blood libel" against the Jews in some Islamist material in the UK. [31] [23] [23]

English football

There is a history of antisemitic abuse directed at Tottenham Hotspur football fans. The football club has been associated with the Jewish community in London throughout most of its history and many of their fans are self-described as the 'Yid Army'. For this reason many opposing football fans have repeatedly directed antisemitic abuse at Tottenham fans at matches, in the areas outside the stadia and online. [23]

Effect on British Jews

The Campaign Against Antisemitism published a survey in 2015 which found that 45% of British Jews feared they may have no future in Britain, 77% of British Jews had witnessed antisemitism disguised as a political comment about Israel and 25% of British Jews had considered leaving Britain in the last two years because of antisemitism. [44]

British politics and antisemitism

All-Party Parliamentary inquiry

In 2005, a group of British Members of Parliament set up an inquiry into antisemitism, which published its findings in 2006. Its report stated that "until recently, the prevailing opinion both within the Jewish community and beyond [had been] that antisemitism had receded to the point that it existed only on the margins of society." It found a reversal of this progress since 2000. The inquiry was reconstituted following a surge in antisemitic incidents in Britain during the summer of 2014, and the new inquiry published its report in 2015, making recommendations for reducing antisemitism. [37]

Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry

In 2016, the Home Affairs Select Committee held an inquiry into antisemitism in the UK. The inquiry called David Cameron, Jeremy Corbyn, Tim Farron, Angus Robertson and others to give evidence. Its report was critical of the Conservative Party, the Labour Party, the Chakrabarti Inquiry, the Liberal Democrats, the National Union of Students (particularly its president Malia Bouattia), Twitter and police forces for variously exacerbating or failing to address antisemitism. The report endorsed various recommendations including the use of the Macpherson definition of antisemitism. [45]

The report provided evidence of allegations of antisemitism in the Conservative Party including an alleged "toxic environment" in the UCL Conservative Society. The report found that Jeremy Corbyn had shown a "lack of consistent leadership", which "has created what some have referred to as a ‘safe space’ for those with vile attitudes towards Jewish people". The Select Committee found Ken Livingstone’s claims that Adolf Hitler "supported Zionism" unhelpful to the Labour Party, while they found Shami Chakrabarti ’s report into antisemitism in the Labour Party to be somewhat lacking in a clear definition of antisemitism. [45] The report concluded that "...there exists no reliable, empirical evidence to support the notion that there is a higher prevalence of antisemitic attitudes within the Labour Party than any other political party." [45] The report also found that "The failure of the Labour Party to deal consistently and effectively with anti-Semitic incidents in recent years risks lending force to allegations that elements of the Labour movement are institutionally anti-Semitic," [46]

Muslim voters

According to Baroness Deech, several prominent politicians in the UK who engaged in anti-Israel speech represented Bradford, where as of 2011 24.7% of the population was Muslim. According to Deech, these politicians "adopted language and ideas that certainly aren’t even as subtle as a "dog whistle"" to play to the perceived prejudices of their Muslim voters. A TV survey found that 26% of the British Muslim community believed Jews were responsible for the majority of the world's conflicts, and that 40% of those surveyed believed that U.K. Jews were more loyal to Israel than to Britain. [24] According to Mehdi Hasan "anti-Semitism isn’t just tolerated in some sections of the British Muslim community; it’s routine and commonplace". [24]

See also