A surge in online hate helped fuel a record number of anti-Semitic incidents in 2014, new figures reveal.
A report published by the Community Security Trust (CST) shows 233 anti-Semitic remarks or threats on sites like Facebook and Twitter accounted for a fifth of the total 1,168 incidents.
Security chiefs also acknowledged that conflict in Gaza had once again acted as a “trigger” for hatred against Jews in 2014, as it did in 2009 and 2006.
After a record low in 2013, there were 81 “violent anti-Semitic assaults” last year, with one categorised as “extreme violence”. Furthermore there were 81 incidents of damage and desecration, representing a 65 percent increase.
The report noted that particular targets of anti-Semitic assault were the strictly Orthodox communities of Salford and Bury in north Manchester, as well as Golders Green and Hendon.
Hundreds of incidents of “abusive behaviour” were catalogued, including examples of verbal abuse, hate mail and graffiti, much of it related to the Gaza war. Examples included the hacking of a Jewish school’s website, with a message reading: “F*** Israel.”
Elsewhere, there were 66 incidents targeting Jewish schools, schoolchildren or teachers – double the 2013 figure – while the CST recorded 110 shul-related incidents, compared to an average of 28 in the two years earlier.
“The 2014 total reverses a short-term trend of falling incident totals since 2009, but continues a long-term trend of rising anti-Semitic incident totals since 2000,” the report read.
Numbers have risen in part because comments on social media sites now feed the total, while a recent tie-up with police systems in 2011-12 means that more incidents are now being automatically captured.
“Every decent person in Britain will be shocked and concerned to read these statistics,” said John Mann MP, the chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Anti-Semitism and himself a target of abuse.
The 41-page report lists the most extreme examples of violence, many of which were seen in the second half of 2014. In London, a Jewish man was called a “Jewish c***” then hit with a glass and baseball bat, while in Manchester youths kicked a Jewish man after forcing him off his bicycle.
In Gateshead, four Muslim youths were convicted of racially aggravated common assault after they chased a Jewish man down the street before trapping and threatening the victim, while in London eggs and stones were thrown at Jews walking along the street.
Sadly, Jewish children have not been immune. One Jewish girl in Edinburgh had deodorant sprayed in her hair by a teenager shouting: “Gas the Jew.”
In London, Jewish school trippers had anti-Semitic abuse hurled at them by a group shouting “f****** Jews” and “free Palestine,” while at a Tube station, five girls were told: “Being Jewish is wrong… I will kill you after school.”
However 2014 will be remembered by many as a year in which a stream of venom and vitriol was directed against Jews online. Among the most common themes was the equation of Israeli actions to those of Nazi Germany. Among the hashtags trending this summer was the insidious #HitlerWasRight.
In some cases, individuals were personally targeted, including prominent MPs such as Shadow Public Health Minister Luciana Berger. A man from Liverpool associated with far-right causes was jailed for, among other things, posting an image of her with a yellow star on her forehead.
“The conflict in Gaza in July-August is reflected in the motivations and discourse of perpetrators,” said the CST. Over the course of the year, four in ten incidents “showed far-right, anti-Israel or Islamist beliefs,” while during the summer more than three quarters of incidents included an anti-Israel element.
Alongside Israel, there were several items related to the Shoah, including messages left on a television channel’s Facebook page following a news item about a new Holocaust centre. “Don’t the Jews own most of the banks?” it read. “The Holohoax is a fabrication, and demonisation of the German people who are still held to ransom over this terrible lie.”
In other incidents, leaflets were left alongside Israeli produce in supermarkets, reading: “Of course there was a Holocaust. What a pity Hitler didn’t manage to finish the job!” It ended with: “Muslims unite… kill the Zionist scum.”
Home Secretary Theresa May said: “These figures are deeply concerning and I am committed to working with Jewish community leaders and law enforcement to tackle anti-Semitism.
“There is still some way to go, but we are listening, and we are taking robust action against anti-Semitism wherever we find it.”
Echoing those thoughts was Secretary of State for Communities Eric Pickles, who said: “Britain has seen an increase in the number of anti-Semitic incidents…This is totally unacceptable. Those who perpetrate hate crimes of any kind will be punished with the full force of the law.”
Despite the ministers’ statements, opposition MPs said further action was needed to tackle the scourge. Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper MP said: “More needs to be done to stop prejudice and hatred in the first place.”
She added that education in schools was key, as was “getting companies like Twitter to take stronger action against hate crimes on their platforms”. She also suggested “challenging those who use foreign policy to spread discrimination and hostility” and a “renewed determination to tackle both Islamist and far right extremism.”
Meanwhile police chiefs warned of “catastrophic consequences” if the trend was allowed to continue. Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan, National Police Lead for Jewish Communities, said: “The recent events in Paris are a reminder to all of us here in the UK that if we tolerate people being targeted because of their race, religion or even how they look the consequences are catastrophic.”