Antisemitic incidents in the UK have dropped by 13 percent in 2020 compared to the year before, likely due to COVID-19 lockdown regulations, but the 789 events reported between January and June still represent the third-highest number on record for that period, according to a study by a British watchdog group.
The report was released by the Community Security Trust (CST), which has been keeping tabs on antisemitism in the UK since 1984.
The two months that saw the lowest number of recorded incidents, March and April, with 102 and 98 incidents, respectively, coincided with the period when coronavirus lockdown measures were most highly enforced, with religious institutions, schools, restaurants, and other venues closed. The regulations were relaxed in May, which saw a subsequent rise in anti-Semitic events, and the numbers continued to rise in June.
Despite the drop, the CST reported a continued trend of rising antisemitism in recent years. Five of the six months in the first half of 2020 saw over 100 recorded incidents – with the lowest month, May, only two short of that number. In contrast, monthly tallies by the CST only exceeded 100 on six occasions between January 2006 and December 2015.
The greater London and Manchester areas, which are home to the largest Jewish communities in the UK, saw 69 percent of the total incidents. At least one reported antisemitic event was recorded in 41 of the UK’s 43 police regions in 2020, compared with 35 in 2019.
According to the CST, the pandemic also influenced the nature of antisemitic incidents in the first half of 2020. There were 10 reports of religious or educational online events being hijacked with antisemitic content or behaviour. There were a further 26 episodes of pandemic-related antisemitism, including the propagation of conspiracy theories accusing Jews of inventing a coronavirus “hoax” or of creating and spreading the disease itself, or people simply expressing the hope that Jews catch the coronavirus and die.
Online antisemitism increased 4% from 332 incidents to 344 in the first half of 2020, as people spent more time at home, representing the highest-ever number recorded by the CST in the first half of a year. Online antisemitic activity also constituted a higher percentage of anti-Jewish behavior in the UK overall, rising to 44% of total incidents in the first half of 2020 compared with 36% in the same period in 2019.
Former Independent MP John Mann, who currently serves as government adviser on antisemitism, said that “although there has been a 13% drop on last year’s figures, the rise in antisemitism in some regions shows how it affects every Jewish community in our country.”
“Despite a good policing response, internet companies are failing to play their role in tackling this hatred and we need to see a robust consistency from all our political parties,” Mann said.
In what may be seen as a departure from patterns seen under the leadership of previous Labour Party head Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP and Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds affirmed that antisemitism could be found within the party’s leadership and rank and file. Thomas-Symonds committed to eradicating the phenomenon.
“These figures show that the scourge of anti-Semitism continues in our society,” said Thomas-Symonds. “[New Labour head] Sir Keir Starmer has committed to tearing out the poison of antisemitism by its roots from the Labour Party, and I stand shoulder to shoulder with him in that aim.”
During Corbyn’s five-year tenure at the helm of Labour, British Jews became increasingly disenchanted with the party. Labour had been seen for decades as a natural political “home” for British Jews, but their discomfort with the party grew due to what was seen as systemic anti-Semitism and no more than palliative measures against it by Corbyn.