Antisemitism in the United Kingdom

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Antisemitism in the United Kingdom signifies the hatred of and discrimination against British Jews.[1]


Jews arrived in the Kingdom of England following the Norman Conquest in 1066.[2] The earliest Jewish settlement was recorded in about 1070.[3] Jews living in England from about King Stephen's reign (reigned 1135–1154) experienced religious discrimination and it is thought that the blood libel which accused Jews of ritual murder originated in England in the 12th century.[3]

One of the earliest images of Jews being persecuted in Britain from the 13th century

The worst recorded instance of antisemitism in England was the York Massacre in 1190 which resulted in an estimated 150 Jews taking their own lives or being immolated.[4] The earliest recorded images of antisemitism are found in the Royal tax records from 1233.[5] This early Jewish presence in England ended with King Edward I's Edict of Expulsion in 1290.[6] Converted Jews were allowed to live in the Domus Conversorum (house of the converted).

Jews were readmitted to the United Kingdom by Oliver Cromwell in 1655, though it is believed that crypto-Jews lived in England prior to that time.[3] Jews were 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.[3]

Brothers League poster, from 1902, aiming at stemming Jewish immigration to the East End of London

In the late 19th and early 20th century, Jewish numbers in Britain greatly increased due to the exodus from Russian pogroms and discrimination, many of whom settled in the East End of London.[3] Popular sentiment against immigration was used by the British Union of Fascists to incite hatred against them. However, a planned fascist march through the east end of London, which had a large Jewish population, had to be abandoned due to the Battle of Cable Street in 1936, where police trying to ensure the march could proceed failed to clear barricades erected and defended by unionised dock workers, socialists, anarchists, communists, Jews and other anti-fascists.[7][8]

In the aftermath of the Holocaust, undisguised, racial hatred of Jews became unacceptable in British society.[1] Outbursts of antisemitism emanating from fascist groups continued, however, leading to the formation of the 43 Group led by Jewish ex-servicemen which broke up fascist meetings from 1945 to 1950.


Antisemitic attitudes among the UK population by political position according to the 2017 JPR survey.[9]


Throughout much of the 20th century, the almost sole source of antisemitism in the UK was the far right; however, according to a 2006 Parliamentary inquiry, it now stems from a broader variety of sources: the far right, Islamist antisemitism, Muslim-Jewish inter-community tension, and the political left.


Although, in the aftermath of the Holocaust, far-right extremism became marginalised, Holocaust denial and antisemitic conspiracy theories remain core elements of far-right ideology.

The Community Security Trust in 2016 found that nearly three-quarters of politically motivated antisemitic incidents showed evidence of far-right motivation.[10] The same year, research by the World Jewish Congress found that 90% of antisemitic posts on social media in the UK, were made by young white males under the age of 40 with affiliations to extreme right-wing groups.[11]


Criticism of Israel, especially from the left, has grown since the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 Six-Day War and intensified further following the second Palestinian Intifada and the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Some witnesses to the 2006 Parliamentary inquiry spoke of a 'left-wing Antisemitism' which arises when these criticisms of Israel evolve into an attack on Jews as a group: according to Professor David Cesarani, antisemitism from the left has surpassed right-wing antisemitism; however, he says that he has 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."[12] 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.[13]


Some within the British Muslim community, particularly Islamist elements, are significant contributors to contemporary antisemitism. The underlying roots are complex and are a mixture of historic attitudes, domestic and political tensions, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and globalisation of the Middle East conflict.[12][14] According to a University of Oslo report, Muslim perpetrators are disproportionately represented in incident reports. Aggregated figures from Community Security Trust reports show that 45% of perpetrators are non-white and, according to a European Union Fundamental Rights Agency survey, victims most often perceive perpetrators as "someone with a Muslim extremist view".[15]



Antisemitic Incidents Figures Since 1997[16][17][18][19]

The levels of antisemitic incidents in the UK tends to rise in response to events related to Israel or the wider Middle East, such as 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.[17]

In December 2014, the UK Department of Communities and Local Government published a report on government action on antisemitism. It noted the continuing decline in antisemitic incidents in 2013/14, anthough social media incidents rose by a quarter year on year. The majority of reports of antisemitic hate crime are in Metropolitan, Greater Manchester and Hertfordshire, where most Jews live.[20]

In 2015, the Community Security Trust reported that antisemitic incidents more than doubled in 2014 compared to the previous year, reaching 1,168. Reaction to the conflict in Israel and the Gaza Strip was named as the largest contributing factor, with the highest-ever monthly total of 314 recorded in July 2014 (the same month as the Operation Protective Edge).[21]

In July 2015 the Community Security Trust published an antisemitic incidents report for January to June 2015. The report showed an increase of 53% compared with the previous year, with 473 incidents. Most incivents (353) were under the category of "abusive behaviour". There were significant increases in the violent categories ("violent assault" and "extreme violence") with 44 incidents, which was 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.[22]

The Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) published a report in 2016 which said that police figures for antisemitic crime had reached a record high in 2015.[23] 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.[24]

Annual Incidents Figures by Category 1997–2012[16][17]
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


Research published in June 2015 by the Pew Research Center showed that of six countries participating, the population of the UK had almost the most favourable views of Jews. While 78% of Europeans have a favourable opinion of Jewish people (13% did not however), in the UK 83% of the population hold positive views, and only 7% hold unfavourable opinions of them. This can be contrasted with Muslims (81% favourable) and Roma (63%).[25]

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.[26][27]


Trends in Antisemitic Attitudes in United Kingdom[28][29][30][31][32]
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 2006 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."[33] 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.[12][34][35]

New York Times columnist Roger Cohen argues that in Britain in 2019 "anti-Zionism crosses into anti-Semitism" by:[36]

dehumanizing or demonizing Jews and propagating the myth of their sinister omnipotence; accusing Jews of double loyalties as a means to suggest their national belonging is of lesser worth; denying the Jewish people’s right to self-determination; blaming through conflation all Jews for the policies of the Israeli government; pursuing the systematic “Nazification” of Israel; turning Zionism into a synonym of racism.

Parliamentary inquiries[edit]

All-Party Parliamentary inquiries[edit]

A group of British Members of Parliament held an inquiry into antisemitism at the time of the Second Intifada, publishing 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, at the time of the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict and published its report in 2015, making recommendations for reducing antisemitism.[37]

Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry[edit]

In 2016, the Home Affairs Select Committee held an inquiry into antisemitism in the UK.[38] The inquiry called party leaders 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 then president Malia Bouattia), Twitter and police forces for variously exacerbating or failing to address antisemitism. The report made a series of recommendations, including the formal adoption by the UK government, with additional caveats (for example, on free speech),[39] of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism.[40]

The report provided evidence of antisemitism in the Conservative Party including an alleged "toxic environment" in the UCL Conservative Society.

The report found Ken Livingstone's statement in an interview that Adolf Hitler "supported Zionism" unhelpful to the Labour Party, while they found Shami Chakrabarti's report into antisemitism and other forms of racism in the Labour Party to be somewhat lacking in a clear definition of antisemitism.[40] It also 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." and 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." However, 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."[40] [41]

It found that, although the overt threat that the far right posed to Jews was no longer as great as it once was, nevertheless "Holocaust denial and Jewish conspiracy theories remain core elements of far-right ideology", going on to say that the British National Party (BNP) continues to stir up trouble and is damaging to societal cohesion.[40]

Perceptions of political parties[edit]

The media reported that in an August 2017 YouGov survey of 2,025 British Jews commissioned by the Campaign Against Antisemitism, 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."[42][43] 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.[44]

Labour Party[edit]

According to journalist, Stephen Daisley, in 2017, anti-Semitism is now routine within the Labour Party and that, by its own definition, the party is now "institutionally anti-Semitic".[45] However, union leader Len McCluskey, a member of the party for 47 years, argues that accusations of antisemitism in the Labour party are part of a campaign to discredit Jeremy Corbyn, 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."[46] Some in the Labour party (including Jewish members) have suggested that the Labour party is being singled out for criticism, and that Labour's policies still align better with Jewish values.[47]

In 2015, 2016 and 2017, the Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) commissioned YouGov to survey British attitudes towards Jews.[48] The 2017 survey found that supporters of the Labour Party were less likely to hold antisemitic views than those of the Conservative Party or the UK Independence Party (UKIP), while those of the Liberal Democrats were the least likely to hold such views. 32% of Labour supporters endorsed at least one "antisemitic attitude", as defined by the CAA, compared to 30% for the Liberal Democrat, 39% for UKIP supporters, and 40% for the Conservatives.[48][49] Further analysis by the blog Evolve Politics of the survey data revealed that, among Labour Party supporters, antisemitism had declined between 2015 and 2017.[50]

At the 2017 Labour party conference, hate speech, including antisemitism, was agreed to be a disciplinary offence, something that was not the case for other parties, although UKIP banned "posting expressing racist, homophobic, xenophobic or otherwise discriminatory views [online]."[51] In response, some activists described it as policing "thought crime" and, at a fringe meeting discussing the rule change, Israeli-American Miko Peled, a non member, said that people ought to be allowed to question anything, including whether the Holocaust happened, saying "This is about free speech, the freedom to criticise and to discuss every issue, whether it’s the Holocaust: yes or no, Palestine, the liberation, the whole spectrum. There should be no limits on the discussion". [52] Deputy leader Tom Watson in response said, "(The fringe meeting) is nothing to do with the official Labour party conference." and that anyone promoting Holocaust denial should be expelled. Peled responded by saying that Watson was confusing freedom of speech with antisemitism, tweeting "free speech is now antisemitism too." Peled said he did not deny the Holocaust.[53]

In February 2019, Labour announced that, of the complaints about antisemitism received by the party since April 2018, 400 related to individuals who were not party members. Of the remaining 673 complaints, there was insufficient evidence of a breach of party rules in 220 cases. The 453 complaints where there was sufficient evidence represented 0.08% of Labour's 540,000 membership.[54][55] Some related to social media posts dating back a number of years. Investigations had resulted in 12 expulsions and 49 resignations from the party and 187 formal warnings, while some complaints received recently were still under investigation.[56] Some Labour MPs questioned the accuracy of the data.[57]

Individual examples[edit]

An article in 2015 by Conservative Government Minister, Michael Fallon, about Ed Miliband, using the phrase "A stab in the back", was descried as antisemitic.[58]

In 2016 the Liberal Democrat party suspended former Conservative MP Matthew Gordon Banks who had tweeted "Farron’s leadership campaign was organised and funded by London Jews" and "I tried to work with them. Very difficult"; the tweets were criticised as antisemitic.[59][60]

In January 2017, Francis Beckett claimed that attacks on Ed Miliband and his father, the academic Ralph Miliband, by right-wingers were tainted with antisemitism. Beckett concluded that "we have been conned into believing that anti-Semitism is now a disease of the left. In reality, it is still found mostly in racism’s historic home: on the right."[61]

In early 2018, a "self-proclaimed Nazi" was found guilty of stirring up antisemitism in the UK following speeches he made before a group called North West Infidels in Blackpool and at a meeting of Yorkshire nationalists, which was attended by people from a variety of far-right groups.[62]

Tottenham Hotspur[edit]

There is a history of antisemitic abuse directed at Tottenham Hotspur football fans. The football club has been associated with the Jewish communities in north and east London from the first half of the 20th century. For this reason, opposing football fans have repeatedly directed antisemitic abuse at them from the 1960s onwards.[63][64] In response, many of Tottenham fans started to self-describe themselves as "Yids" or the 'Yid Army' as an expression of pride and defuse the negativity of the insults.[64]

Effect on British Jews[edit]

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.[65] In March 2019, it was reported that 534 of Britain's almost 300,000 Jews emigrated to Israel in 2018, representing the third consecutive annual decline. The figure was one third down on 2015 and was the lowest for five years.[66][67]

See also[edit]


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  18. ^ Despite improvements in reporting, it is to be expected that antisemitic hate crime and hate incidents are significantly under-reported. This is particularly the case where the victims are minors; where the incident is considered of 'lesser' impact by the victim; and for incidents that take place on social media. Hence the statistics should be taken as being indicative of general trends, rather than absolute measures of the number of incidents that actually took place in the UK.
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Further reading[edit]

  1. ^ Lavezzo, Kathy (2016). The Accommodated Jew: English Antisemitism from Bede to Milton. Cornell University Press. p. 392. ISBN 978-1-5017-0315-7. |access-date= requires |url= (help)