1st half of 2020 sees near-record anti-Semitism in UK despite lockdown
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Group finds third-highest numbers since its 1984 inception

1st half of 2020 sees near-record anti-Semitism in UK despite lockdown

In survey, British watchdog group Community Security Trust cites temporary drop in hate crimes coinciding with COVID-19, overall numbers and online bigotry rising

Yaakov Schwartz is The Times of Israel's deputy Jewish World editor.

Anti-Semitic graffiti scrawled in a UK stairwell in this undated photo juxtaposes Holocaust imagery with the current coronavirus crisis. (Community Security Trust)
Anti-Semitic graffiti scrawled in a UK stairwell in this undated photo juxtaposes Holocaust imagery with the current coronavirus crisis. (Community Security Trust)

Anti-Semitic incidents in the UK have dropped by 13 percent in 2020 compared to the year before, likely due to COVID-19 lockdown regulations, but the 789 events reported between January and June still represent the third-highest number on record for that period, according to a study by a British watchdog group.

The Thursday report was released by the Community Security Trust (CST), which has been keeping tabs on anti-Semitism in the UK since 1984.

The two months that saw the lowest number of recorded incidents, March and April, with 102 and 98 incidents, respectively, coincided with the period when coronavirus lockdown measures were most highly enforced, with religious institutions, schools, restaurants, and other venues closed. The regulations were relaxed in May, which saw a subsequent rise in anti-Semitic events, and the numbers continued to rise in June.

Despite the drop, the CST reported a continued trend of rising anti-Semitism in recent years. Five of the six months in the first half of 2020 saw over 100 recorded incidents – with the lowest month, May, only two short of that number. In contrast, monthly tallies by the CST only exceeded 100 on six occasions between January 2006 and December 2015.

The greater London and Manchester areas, which are home to the largest Jewish communities in the UK, saw 69 percent of the total incidents. At least one reported anti-Semitic event was recorded in 41 of the UK’s 43 police regions in 2020, compared with 35 in 2019.

According to the CST, the pandemic also influenced the nature of anti-Semitic incidents in the first half of 2020. There were 10 reports of religious or educational online events being hijacked with anti-Semitic content or behavior. There were a further 26 episodes of pandemic-related anti-Semitism, including the propagation of conspiracy theories accusing Jews of inventing a coronavirus “hoax” or of creating and spreading the disease itself, or people simply expressing the hope that Jews catch the coronavirus and die.

Anti-Semitic graffiti in the UK, in this undated photo. (Community Security Trust)

Online anti-Semitism increased 4% from 332 incidents to 344 in the first half of 2020, as people spent more time at home, representing the highest-ever number recorded by the CST in the first half of a year. Online anti-Semitic activity also constituted a higher percentage of anti-Jewish behavior in the UK overall, rising to 44% of total incidents in the first half of 2020 compared with 36% in the same period in 2019.

Last Friday, UK-based rapper Wiley went on an hours-long Twitter rant railing against the Jews, causing his Jewish manager to quit. Twitter temporarily suspended Wiley’s account, after which the celebrity moved his invective to Facebook.

Both Facebook and Instagram promptly suspended Wiley from their platforms on Tuesday, but the reluctance of Twitter to act more forcefully against the rapper caused a rare unanimity within Britain’s often politically-divided Jewish community, which called for a 48-hour boycott of the platform.

Twitter permanently deleted Wiley’s account on Wednesday.

Former Independent MP John Mann, who currently serves as government adviser on anti-Semitism, said that “although there has been a 13% drop on last year’s figures, the rise in anti-Semitism in some regions shows how it affects every Jewish community in our country.”

Wiley poses for photographers upon arrival at the NME 2017 music awards in London, February 15, 2017. (Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP)

“Despite a good policing response, internet companies are failing to play their role in tackling this hatred and we need to see a robust consistency from all our political parties,” Mann said.

In what may be seen as a departure from patterns seen under the leadership of previous Labour Party head Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP and Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds affirmed that anti-Semitism could be found within the party’s leadership and rank and file. Thomas-Symonds committed to eradicating the phenomenon.

“These figures show that the scourge of anti-Semitism continues in our society,” said Thomas-Symonds. “[New Labour head] Keir Starmer has committed to tearing out the poison of anti-Semitism by its roots from the Labour Party, and I stand shoulder to shoulder with him in that aim.”

During Corbyn’s five-year tenure at the helm of Labour, British Jews became increasingly disenchanted with the party. Labour had been seen for decades as a natural political “home” for British Jews, but their discomfort with the party grew due to what was seen as systemic anti-Semitism and no more than palliative measures against it by Corbyn.

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