A police investigation is underway after the car of a prominent Orthodox rabbi, known for his opposition to Israel, was firebombed outside his home in Salford.
Rabbi Ahron Cohen’s Volvo estate was set on fire when petrol was poured over it and set alight after an attempt to explode the fuel tank failed.
Nobody was injured in the incident, which took place in the early hours of last Friday, but the car was destroyed in what seems to be a serious escalation in tensions between people in Britain over the conflict in Gaza.
Recent months have seen hundreds of incidents of antisemitism as well as abuse of people supporting the Palestinian cause, according to campaigners.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Greater Manchester Police said: “Just after 1.10am on Friday 19 September 2014, police were called following reports a car was set alight outside a house on Wellbeck Grove, Higher Broughton.”
They added: “Police are treating this as arson and inquiries are ongoing.”
The firebombing came just two weeks after the rabbi, a leading member of Neturei Karta, an anti-Israel group within Orthodox Judaism, spoke out against Israel’s military actions in Gaza, at a demonstration in Rochdale.
He described the incident as “sad” and warned it could have killed someone if his car had exploded. “It's a shame they have to resort to any form of violence. I'm quite happy to sit and talk and explain my views. They can explain theirs. If we don't agree, we can agree to differ.”
Rabbi Cohen described the creation of Israel as a “disaster” and a “festering sore that goes back 100 years”.
Speaking to the Manchester Evening News, he added: “If everybody resorted to violent activity the world would be a very terrible place to live in. People are entitled to discuss their views but it has to be done in a civilised manner.”
One of his neighbours, who did not want to be named, said: “His views have angered a lot of people around here. A lot of families have boys in the Israeli army.”
The firebombing is “a depressing and deeply troubling development”, commented Fiyaz Mughal OBE, director of Faith Matters, an organisation which works to reduce conflict between religious groups. As well as a “large spike” in antisemitism, the Gaza crisis has also seen people “smeared, abused, threatened and maligned for mentioning Palestinian human rights”, he added.
Richard Burden MP, chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Britain-Palestine, said: “This horrific arson attack underlines why, as the crisis in the Middle East continues to unfold, it is critical that we work hard for peaceful community relations here in the UK. As the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Muslim Council of Britain said in a joint statement, we must not import conflict, but export peace. There is no excuse for Islamaphobia and antisemitism, from whatever quarter it comes from.”