Anti-Semitic assaults near record levels

Anti-Semitic attacks in Britain have risen to their second highest annual total with 375 incidents recorded by Jewish groups and the police last year.

Unrest in the Middle East has been partly blamed for an increase in assaults by Islamic extremists and members of the far right.

There were also 72 incidents of damage and desecration, including attacks at 22 synagogues and seven cemeteries. In the largest act of vandalism at a Jewish cemetery more than 500 gravestones at Plashet in east London were damaged. A synagogue in Jersey was daubed with swastikas by supporters of the neo-Nazi group Combat 18.

The number of incidents recorded by the Community Security Trust (CST), a charity monitoring anti-Semitism, represent a 7 per cent increase on 2002. They are the second highest since 1984.

The police have confirmed that the number of anti-Semitic incidents is rising and suggested that many attacks probably go unreported.

The bulk of the incidents were in London, with 170 attacks, while Manchester had 73, Hertfordshire 33, Birmingham 15, and Liverpool 12.

The incidents included 54 physical assaults, 22 threats, 72 desecrations, and 211 incidents of abusive behaviour, such as a group of 20 youths who gave Nazi salutes and shouted "Sieg Heil" at a Jewish woman in Manchester.

In 71 of the cases the perpetrator made explicit reference to Israel or the Middle East, said the CST. Eleven specifically mentioned the Iraq war.

Mike Whine, of the CST, said: "Tension in the Middle East seems to be the trigger point to the alarming rise in incidents.

"We are not pointing the finger at the Muslim community in Britain, who we are working with, but we do blame Arab states that promote anti-Semitism."

Matt Baggott, Chief Constable of Leicestershire and the Association of Chief Police Officers spokesman on race and diversity issues, said: "Our figures do tend to reflect the situation reported by CST, and we are naturally concerned about any increase in anti-Semitic incidents.

"It is difficult to ascribe any one cause. Although the international scene plays its part, race and faith-hate behaviour can have personal as well as political origins, and sometimes the two are intertwined."

A poll last month found that one in five British people would oppose a Jewish prime minister, while one in seven believed that the Holocaust was exaggerated.