The number of anti-Semitic attacks in the UK reached record highs last year as anger over Israel's assault on Gaza led to an explosion of race hatred targeted at Britain's Jewish community.
The Community Security Trust (CST), a charity which monitors attacks against Jews, said 924 anti-Semitic incidents were recorded last year – a 69 per cent increase on 2008 and the highest number since the charity began keeping records of anti-Semitism in 1984.
The charity said Israel's three-week invasion of Gaza in January last year led to an unprecedented outpouring of anger directed at Britain's Jews, with more anti-Semitism recorded in the first six months of 2009 than in any entire previous year.
Of the 924 confirmed incidents, 124 were violent assaults, three of which involved what the CST classified as an "extreme threat to life". It was the highest number of physical assaults recorded against the Jewish community since records began and represents a 41 per cent increase on the previous year.
Physical assaults tended to be most common within areas where members of the Orthodox or Ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities are most visible, such as Salford and Bury in Greater Manchester and Hendon and Stamford Hill in north London.
Non-violent incidents included widespread graffiti; bacon being placed on the doors of a synagogue in Leeds and a postal worker writing the words "Jewland" on a parcel meant for a British man staying on a kibbutz in Israel.
The figures also suggested that anti-Semitism in Britain tended to spike when Israel conducted controversial military operations. Until this year's report, the last time anti-Semitism was at its highest was during 2006 when the Israel Defence Forces launched a one-month assault on Lebanon in retaliation at an attack by Hizbollah fighters. Almost a quarter (23 per cent) of all the incidents reported last year made some sort of direct reference to the military assault on Gaza or Israel's war against Hamas.
Last night Gordon Brown said that anger over Israel's politics could not excuse the attacks on Britain's Jewish community. "The increase in anti-Semitic incidents recorded by CST in the early part of last year is deeply troubling," he said. "No strength of feeling can ever justify violent extremism or attacks and we will stand firm against all those who would use anti-Israeli feeling as an excuse or disguise for anti-Semitism and attacks on the Jewish community."
His remarks came as it was revealed that police are investigating claims that anti-Semitic remarks were posted on an internet page set up by a student. More than 500 members joined a group – created on the social networking site Facebook – which boasted of attacks on the Jewish community in Ilford, east London. One of the messages posted branded Jewish people as “dirty, filthy scumbags”.
The Jewish News said the Facebook group was created by a student at Loxford School of Science and Technology in Ilford. A spokeswoman for Redbridge Council, the local education authority, said the pupil had been disciplined, while Facebook said the group had been closed down as it breached the site’s policy on threatening hatred and violence.
CST spokesman Mark Gardner said: "These record figures show that anti-Semitism is an increasingly significant problem for British Jews. The trend must be reversed and we call upon decent people to speak out against anti-Semitism in all its forms."
The CST classifies an anti-Semitic incident as "any malicious act aimed at Jewish people, organisations or property, where there is evidence that the act has anti-Semitic motivation or content, or the victim was targeted because they are (or are believed to be) Jewish".
The charity is also afforded third-party status by the police which allows it to inform the authorities of anti-Semitic attacks on a victim's behalf. The CST's investigators look into any incidents reported to them by individuals, synagogues or Jewish groups, but not every complaint is recorded as openly anti-Semitic. Last year 489 claims they received were discounted and judged to have no specific anti-Jewish agenda.
The one area where anti-Semitism appears to have declined is on university campuses. In 2009 there were 97 incidents recorded at British universities, 38 of which involved repeated emails to a single Jewish academic from what was thought to be a single perpetrator. If those emails are discarded the number of anti-Semitic incidents at university actually fell by 13 per cent compared to 2008.