Cutting through the bullshit.

Thursday 30 July 2009

A Jewish fingernail

To the clamour of sensational headlines, Britain’s Community Security Trust (CST) has released its latest report, Antisemitic incidents, January – June 2009.

In case they are unfamiliar, according to the CST website,

Every year CST helps secure over 170 synagogues, 80 Jewish schools, 64 Jewish communal organisations and approximately 1000 communal events. CST also represents the Jewish community on a wide range of Police, governmental and policy-making bodies dealing with security and antisemitism. Indeed, the Police and government praise CST as a model of how a minority community should protect itself.

It seems that one of the threats from which they secure communal events is Jewish women distributing flyers.

Their other claim to fame is compiling data about antisemitic incidents. ‘Anti-Semitic attacks in Britain at record high’, wrote the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on 24 July. Similarly, Ha’aretz reported, ‘Watchdog: British anti-Semitism doubled after Gaza war’, and BBC News, ‘'Record rise' in UK anti-Semitism’.

The BBC’s Dominic Casciani opens his article, ‘Anti-Semitic attacks in the UK doubled in the first half of this year compared with the same period in 2008, according to new figures.’ In reality, the CST reported a total of 609 incidents in the first half of 2009, compared to 276 over the first half of 2008. The 77 assaults recorded in the last six months are not nearly double the 45 they claimed for January to June 2008. Of course an attack need not be a literal assault, but Casciani couldn’t possibly be in any doubt about how his audience would interpret that first sentence, as he tacitly acknowledges a few lines down, ‘Most incidents were abusive behaviour, but there were also 77 violent acts.’

The CST’s media release itself notes that the perceived explosion of antisemitism was a direct response to Israel’s slaughter of the besieged population of the Gaza Strip.

The main reason for this record number of incidents was the unprecedented number of antisemitic incidents recorded in January and February, during and after the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza

There’s absolutely no reason anyone should give them the benefit of the doubt, but let’s assume they are not disingenuous when they claim, ‘Anti-Israel activity, which does not use antisemitic language or imagery and is directed at pro-Israel campaigners rather than Jewish people or institutions per se, is also not classified by CST as antisemitic.’ When the State of Israel claims to be the state of all Jews and to act on behalf of all Jews, when all the principal Jewish organisations in Britain applauded the massacre, and the Board of Deputies of British Jews, ‘The voice of British Jewry since 1760’, organises a rally to celebrate it, it is understandable, if wrong and unforgivable, how some might form the impression that Jews were complicit.

As Casciani mentioned, only 77 of the 609 ‘attacks’ (less than 13%) actually involved any violence. Another 63 (10%) involved ‘Damage or desecration’, defined as

Any physical attack directed against Jewish property, which is not lifethreatening. This would include the daubing of antisemitic slogans or symbols (such as swastikas) on Jewish property, or damage caused to Jewish property, where it appears that the property has been specifically targeted because of its Jewish connection.

Most (64%) of the ‘incidents’ comprised ‘Abusive Behaviour’, which ‘includes a wide range of types of incident, including antisemitic graffiti on non-Jewish property, hate mail and verbal racist abuse.’ To be honest, I’m not convinced that the Jewish community is likely to flee in panic to the sanctuary of the West Bank at the sight of a sticker like this one allegedly distributed in Bournemouth:

But taking the CST at their word again, let’s assume that there were 77 actual physical assaults on Jews motivated by antisemitism over that six month period. The CST’s 2008 report claims 44 assaults in the last six months of 2008, giving a total of 121 for financial year 2008–09.

According to Wikipedia, the total number of Jews in the UK is 350,000. That means that the rate of antisemitic assaults for FY 2008–09 was 34.6 per 100,000 Jews. In comparison, the Home Office site gives a figure of 960,187 cases of ‘Violence against the person’ in England and Wales during FY 2007-08, the most recent data available. The total population of England and Wales is 54,096,600. So the rate of assault in the population in general is 1774.95 per 100,000. Bearing in mind that the figures are not strictly comparable because the Home office figures cover the previous year and are more geographically restricted, they may still provide a rough indication of the scale of difference, and that means that any Briton, Jewish or not, is roughly 40 times as likely to be the victim of assault as a British Jew is to be the victim of an antisemitic assault. Looked at another way, 0.01% of all assaults are motivated by antisemitism.

But that scenario doesn’t really account for the alarming increase witnessed in 2009. So let’s assume that the level of violence for 2009 is exactly double the rate over the first six months, even though we know that the rate of ‘incidents’ plummeted in the six weeks after Israel withdrew its troops in January and has now plateaued at around 50 per month, as the graph shows.

On that assumption, the antisemitic assault rate is 44 assaults per 100,000, as compared to 1775 total assaults per 100,000.

Indeed, even ‘Damage or desecration’, like this swastika daubed outside a synagogue in Manchester, is not a great threat to Jewish life or community.

Still, compared to the ‘Criminal damage’ rate for England and Wales in 2007–08 of 1915 per 100,000, the antisemitic ‘Damage or desecration’ rate for 2008–09 is 30 per 100,000. Antisemitic “damage or desecration’ turns out to be equivalent to about 0.010% of the 1,036,123 cases of Criminal damage. In the implausible scenario where the observed increase persists through 2009, the Damage or desecration rate would be 36 per 100,000, or 0.012% of Criminal damage.

One is doubtless tempted to compare the frequency of antisemitic incidents with analogous racist incidents targeting some other oppressed minority in Britain, say Muslims. According to a May 2002 BBC article,

Muslim groups have agreed with a report by the EU race watchdog that anti-Islamic feeling has "detonated" in the UK since 11 September.

The European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) said there had been a big rise in attacks - including physical assaults - on Muslims in Britain since the US terror attacks.

That would be the same EUMC that promulgated the execrable ‘Working definition’ of antisemitism that has been such a big hit with the US State Department, among others. They have a new name – the Fundamental Rights Agency and the link from the BBC site to the EUMC report is broken, nor can I find either that report, or indeed the ‘Working definition’, on the FRA site. (For reference, you can still find the ‘Working definition’ on the Coordination Forum for Countering Antisemitism site.)

There is an EUMC report, apparently from 2003, National Analytical Study on Racist Violence and Crime, but I’m sceptical that it is the one described in the article. It devotes a whole page to ‘New antisemitism’, including a table lifted from an earlier CST report, but only one paragraph to Islamophobia. Two graphs at the back chart the risk (Chart 2) and rate (Chart 3) of victimisation by ‘racially motivated incidents’ (RMIs) for four groups – White, Black, Indian, and Pakistani/Bangladeshi – in 1993, 1995, and 1999. They are not terribly informative, disaggregate neither Jews nor Muslims, and cover a period irrelevant to the topic of post 9/11 anti Muslim RMIs, much less to the explosion of antisemitism in the first half of 2009. For what it’s worth, however, they seem to show a pattern of RMIs targeting Pakistanis and Bangladeshis at a much higher rate than Blacks or Indians.

On visiting the sites of the Muslim Council of Britain and the Islamic Society of Britain, linked to from the article, there doesn’t appear to be a compilation of data. While the Islamic Human Rights Commission apparently collects incident reports, I haven’t managed to find evidence on their site that they publish the data, either.

In any case, to compare antisemitic incidents with anything else would of course itself be antisemitic. After all, we know how many Arabs a Jewish fingernail is worth.


  1. Good post, Ernie. I've been trying to write a similar piece for the past week, focusing not on the stats but on the attempt by Denis MacShane, Mark Gardner et al. to use them to implicate the liberal/left as being somehow tolerant of or even sympathetic to antisemitism. I haven't managed to get beyond a few paragraphs though - it's very hard to motivate oneself to read through the all the nonsense about the "new antisemitism" (or "neo-anti-Semitism" as MacShane sometimes calls it, presumably because "new antisemitism" has got so old).

    The CST's Mark Gardner acknowledges that on the whole Jews have very successfully assimilated into British society:

    "It is vital, however, to maintain a sense of proportion. Antisemitism is on the rise, and presents a very real and intensifying challenge: but it does not define the British Jewish experience...

    Most of the time, this is a very good place to be Jewish. Our community is, generally speaking, well integrated, highly educated and relatively prosperous. Jewish cultural activity is diverse, flourishing, and public (unless of course it dares to mention Israel, in which case venues will be hounded into cancelling the event, and protesters will scream "political" abuse at those daring to attend)."

    That last parenthesis about Israel is of course a red herring and a comically exaggerated one at that.

    The 2006 All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry [.pdf] into antisemitism reached similar conclusions:

    "Nevertheless, some witnesses pointed out that the level of prejudice and discrimination experienced by Jews in Britain remains lower than that faced by members of other visible minorities"

    "In his oral evidence, the Chief Rabbi stated: "If you were to ask me is Britain an antisemitic society, the answer is manifestly and obviously no. It is one of the least antisemitic societies in the world.""

    Apparently the inquiry failed to convince its own chairman, MacShane, who prefers this kind of alarmist drivel instead:

    "Synagogues attacked. Jewish schoolboys jostled on public transportation. Rabbis punched and knifed. British Jews feeling compelled to raise millions to provide private security for their weddings and community events. On campuses, militant anti-Jewish students fueled by Islamist or far-left hate seeking to prevent Jewish students from expressing their opinions.

    More worrisome was what we described as anti-Jewish discourse, a mood and tone whenever Jews are discussed, whether in the media, at universities, among the liberal media elite or at dinner parties of modish London. To express any support for Israel or any feeling for the right of a Jewish state to exist produces denunciation, even contempt...

    Today there is still denial about the universal ideology of the new anti-Semitism. It has power and reach, and it enters into the soft underbelly of the Western mind-set that does not like Jews or what Israel does to defend its right to exist...

    The new anti-Semitism threatens all of humanity. The Jew-haters must not pass."

    And then he has the nerve to complain that "to be anti-antisemitic is to invite scorn". Ya don't say?

  2. That said, even the basest propaganda often contains a kernel of truth, and I do think that there is room for the Palestinian solidarity movement to be more pro-active about condemning antisemitism - the dalliance with Atzmon being a good example.

    I have also noticed (and I can only base this on my experience discussing the topic with 'pro-Palestinian' people online) a tendency amongst some leftists to dismiss allegations of antisemitism as mere attempts to silence criticism of Israel even when they are, in fact, justified. Plainly the likes of MacShane are in no position to complain about this, since it is first and foremost a consequence of their relentless abuse of the term for precisely that, but it is wrong nonetheless and should be strongly resisted. Not only because it is the job of the left to take racism seriously at all times, but also because it gives the charges of people like MacShane and Abe Foxman more credibility than they deserve.

  3. Thanks, Jamie. You’re quite right to emphasise that there’s nothing new about ‘the new antisemitism’.

    You’re also right to point out the hasbaristas’ shamelessness about talking out both sides of their mouths, screeching ‘antisemite’ at the merest suggestion that there is anything wrong with a Jewish state or anything it does in its own ‘defence’ or any justice in Palestinians’ claims.

    A point I neglected to make in the post is that because the numbers of antisemitic incidents are so small, even if we accept that the CST has catalogued only truly antisemitic incidents, slight movements from one year to the next aren’t necessarily indicative of a trend. When numbers are that small, any number of factors, only one of which is an actual increase in the number of incidents, can have a significant influence over the number of reports. In the period of the spike during the Gaza pogrom and its immediate aftermath, British Jews may have felt beleaguered and consequently reported incidents that wouldn’t otherwise have alarmed them. Or they may have felt they were making a political point by lodging reports over that period. Or perhaps the CST distributed flyers at a pro Israel rally at that time encouraging people to report antisemitic incidents, leading to the temporary spike. So while it’s not actually false to claim ‘Antisemitism is on the rise’, I expect the number of reported incidents to fluctuate in response to a variety of factors and not necessarily to measure a ‘level’ of antisemitism accurately. Certainly, ‘it does not define the British Jewish experience’ is rather an understatement.

    Of course I entirely concur that there is no room for racism of any kind in what is to all intents and purposes an antiracist movement. Obviously, it discredits the movement if groups or spokespersons articulate views like ‘Israel pummelled Gaza to smithereens because that’s just how Jews behave’, or any other racist rubbish. But I’m not sure that the movement should make an obsession or a shibboleth of it. After all, the movement for Palestinian liberation welcomes people who support a Jewish state, a fundamentally racist proposition, as well as those who adhere to decidedly antisemitic versions of Walt and Mearsheimer’s dog wagging hypothesis.. My view is that we are more likely to be able to break the two staters and the dog waggers from their racist assumptions in the context of a joint struggle for Palestinian liberation than by ostracising them for their racism. The question arises – and it is a question – whether we can apply the same strategy with those who express more traditional and easily recognised antisemitic views.

    In any case, the point is precisely that the CST and the media that pick up their releases are determined to create a climate of panic about the rise in antisemitism when the data suggest that racially motivated incidents directed at Jews are a negligible phenomenon and that, in fact, a British Jew is more likely to be targeted for being white than for being a Jew. As Ablokeimet wrote in a private email, it would be more interesting if there were comparable data on antiMuslim incidents or the like. If I find any, I’ll probably do a follow up post. If you come across any, please let me know.

  4. Two points I would like to make here:

    That said, even the basest propaganda often contains a kernel of truth, and I do think that there is room for the Palestinian solidarity movement to be more pro-active about condemning anti-Semitism

    That assumes that the movements are exclusive – which they certainly aren’t in Britain. In fact, the most vocal Palestinian solidarity movements in Britain are Jewish lead organisations.

    The second point is that there has been a change in the way hate crimes are reported in the UK.

    If I, as a Jew, now perceive that I am attacked because I am a Jew (even if it is just my paranoia speaking and I have no evidence to support the fact that my being a Jew is a factor), then that crime gets reported and recorded as an anti-Semitic hate crime. The effect of that is that an inordinate number of the Jewish community are automatically reporting all crime that has been committed against them as an anti-Semitic hate crime – as if they would be immune to being victims of crime if they weren’t Jews.

  5. Yes very good article. As I show in my own report, the CST is also extremely selective in what it counts as anti-semitic. It would seem that Zionists engaging in anti-semitic abuse are not counted, even if they tell their opponents it's a pity the Nazis didn't exterminate them.