The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

During Israel-Hamas conflict, British Jews come under physical and verbal attack

Participants at a London antisemitism rally in December 2019. (Matthew Chattle/Barcroft Media/Getty Images)
Placeholder while article actions load

LONDON — A convoy of cars made its way through the leafy neighborhood of St. John’s Wood, a north London area that many Jews call home. With horns blaring, windows blackened and cars draped with Palestinian flags, demonstrators hung out of windows and sunroofs.

From inside one car, a man shouted an antisemitic tirade into a megaphone, calling for the rape of Jewish women as horrified neighbors recorded from inside their homes.

A video of the convoy drew millions of views over the weekend, prompting fierce backlash on social media.

Police detained four men in connection to the incident, later releasing them on bail as an investigation continued.

For many British Jews, the video highlighted an issue they have long grappled with: Whenever tensions between Israel and Palestinian militants fare up, Jews, regardless of their politics, end up taking blame and paying a price for the actions of the Israeli government.

Fragile cease-fire leaves Gaza in shambles, Netanyahu’s future in question and Jerusalem on verge of erupting again

“The level of anger and hate that is directed at Israel always spills over into anti-Semitism at times like this,” read a statement by the Community Security Trust, an organization dedicated to keeping British Jews safe.

The latest round of violence was no exception. Over 11 days, before both sides agreed to a fragile cease-fire Thursday, Israel rained down a relentless barrage of strikes in the Gaza Strip, leaving more than 230 people dead, including 65 children, according to local officials, in response to thousands of rockets fired from Gaza, many of which were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system The rockets left more than 10 people in Israel dead.

In fewer than two weeks, antisemitic incidents in London alone increased by roughly 500 percent, according to data from the CST.

The organization said that it had documented at least 116 incidents from May 8 to 18 and that “almost all” of them could be linked to the conflict in Israel and Gaza. Some attacks were verbal, with abuse shouted at Jewish people, and others took place online. In the 11 days before the conflict reigniting, 19 antisemitic incidents were recorded.

“The community is extremely fearful and shaken by the rise in antisemitism,” Dave Rich, director of policy at the CST, said in an email, adding that precautions and “extensive security support,” including the installation of cameras outside places of worship, had been put in place.

In the county of Essex, a rabbi was hospitalized after being assaulted and robbed as the wider community celebrated the holiday of Shavuot. Two men were arrested and charged in the attack. Police said they are treating it as an antisemitic hate crime but did not directly link it to the conflict unfolding overseas.

Another rabbi, speaking anonymously, told Britain’s Evening Standard that he had asked his children to hide their Jewish identity and not to wear their skull caps when they left home. “We have not had cars driving through Jewish neighborhoods shouting ‘Kill the Jews’ before," he said, adding that this was the worst abuse the community had faced in decades.

At England’s Royal Holloway university, a sticker of an Israeli flag with a swastika replacing the Star of David was displayed on the library terrace, according to an Instagram post from the establishment’s Jewish society.

Shiri Wolff, communications officer for Britain’s Union of Jewish Students, said that the past two weeks had been “very distressing” for the thousands of Jewish people studying at universities across the country.

“Some students are scared to go onto campus, others are scared to show that they are Jewish,” she told The Washington Post in an email, adding that Jewish societies and individuals at various universities had received a barrage of abuse since the conflict was reignited.

Wolff said that the union is calling on universities to do more to protect vulnerable students and to “show no tolerance to anti-Jewish racism.”

Others are also calling on establishments and elected leaders to do more.

Shortly after the video of the car convoy in north London went viral, Prime Minister Boris Johnson condemned the incident, branding it “shameful racism,” and opposition party leader Keir Starmer said there must be consequences.

Speaking to British radio station LBC earlier this week, one caller described being a Jew in London at the present moment as “terrifying,” adding that “every time something big happens there [in Israel], the antisemitism here rises.”

Identified only as Emily from Barnet, the caller said the video of the abusive convoy driving through north London had “broken her heart.”

With the United Kingdom confronting a rise in antisemitic crime, countries across Europe are also grappling with a surge in protests, boycotts and hatred toward Jews.

Felix Klein, the federal government commissioner for Jewish life in Germany and the fight against antisemitism, said that there had been a notable uptick in hatred toward Jews in Germany amid rising tensions in the Middle East.

Israeli flags were set on fire outside synagogues and the sounds of antisemitic chants rang through the streets as protesters marched in Berlin over the weekend.

“It is appalling how blatantly Jews in Germany are being held responsible here for actions of the Israeli government in which they are entirely uninvolved,” Klein said, while calling on Muslim organizations to distance themselves from “violent protesters” targeting the Jewish community.

As protests unfolded across Europe, officials in France were on high alert and quickly worked to ban planned protests in Paris, citing violence that broke out at pro-Palestinian rallies in 2014.

Read more:

After a refugee influx, does Germany have an imported antisemitism problem?

What’s behind the violence in Israel and Gaza?

Here’s how rockets from Gaza test Israel’s Iron Dome

Loading...