SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association) – The battlegrounds of Syria and Iraq are similarly distant.
Yet these far-flung war zones are threatening to test Britain’s famous legacy of tolerance like never before.
Excluding Israel, Britain has the fourth largest Jewish population in the world and the third largest number of Muslim citizens in Europe.
Compared with much of Europe, and particularly France, which has the highest number of Jewish people and Muslims on the Continent, the relationship between the two groups is characterised by tolerance and mutual respect.
Community leaders on both sides have emphasised that such restraint is now required more than ever, as repercussions from the violence between Israel and Hamas continue while the Islamic State’s bloodlust dominates our nightly news.
As so often in the past, Jewish people fear they are being held to account for events far beyond their control. Similarly, Muslims feel under threat from those who blame them for the actions of others. The reaction in Britain to the Gaza crisis has caused almost two-thirds of British Jewish people to question their future in the UK, according to a poll conducted by the Jewish Chronicle newspaper.
It asked 150 people: “Since the protests against the war in Gaza began, have you or your friends had a discussion about whether there is a future for Jews in the UK?” Just over 63 per cent answered “Yes”.
Around 80 per cent of British Jewish people say they feel blamed for the Israeli government’s actions, according to data by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, while almost 70 per cent said they believe anti-Semitism had become more acute in Britain in the five years leading up to 2012.
In Scotland, Jewish people are also considering their future after 28 anti-Semitic incidents since the end of June, 18 of which have been established as hate crimes, compared with an annual total in “single figures” in recent years. Senior police officers say there is “no doubt” the worrying increase is directly linked to the conflict in Gaza and the escalation of tensions between Israel and Palestine.
Ephraim Borowski, of the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, said: “In many decades of being involved with the Jewish community, I have never known people to be talking in that tone of voice and they are at the moment.”
The Community Security Trust, a charity which provides guidance on anti-Semitism to authorities and offers security services and training to Jewish organisations, last month issued an alert to all Jewish communal venues to “rigorously” adhere to security procedures.
It warns that anti-Semitic incidents in the UK have risen nearly 500 per cent since the start of the latest Gaza conflict. Mark Gardner at CST said: “The actual data is bad enough but cannot convey the mood of the Jewish community, with many telling us that they have never felt so bad, been under such pressure, nor worried so much about the future.”
As well as marches protests against the Gaza conflict have seen calls for boycotts. Yet while actions such as a boycott of Israeli food claim to be motivated by political activism, they can carry more sinister overtones.
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said while criticising Israeli policy did not constitute anti-Semitism, it did “create a context within which anti-Semitism can thrive”.
Sainsbury’s was enmeshed in this confusion last week when staff at a central London store removed all kosher food while an anti-Israel protest raged outside. Actor Colin Appleby tweeted: “As a Jew I find this deeply offensive. Naturally I am against the death of innocent children in Gaza so why are you persecuting me by denying me the right to buy kosher food?” Likewise, Muslims are finding themselves blamed for the actions of others. During its first year of activity, Tell MAMA, the organisation which monitors anti-Muslim attacks, recorded 584 incidents from April 2012 to April 2013, with 74 per cent online. The number rose to 734 incidents from May 2013 to February 2014 with 599 online.
A spike occured in reports in the weeks after the murder of off-duty soldier Lee Rigby in south London in May 2013 by two British Muslim converts. Fiyaz Mughal at Faith Matters, which runs Tell MAMA, warns there has been a lot of “concern and fear” in the Muslim community over reaction to the murder. “We fear if we have more attacks like this our good relations in this country will fracture. We need calm heads, reflection, and we need to work with the authorities so people get dealt with by the criminal justice system,” he said.
It is clear there are some who fail to distinguish between the State of Israel and the British Jewish community, just as others fail to make a distinction between Britain’s Muslims and acts of Islamic terror. The Muslim Council of Britain has issued “unequivocal condemnation” of the barbaric actions of Islamic State.
Dr Shuja Shafi, the Muslim Council’s secretary general, has called on all involved “to ensure the Israel-Palestine conflict does not affect the excellent relations held between Muslims and Jews in the United Kingdom”.
A 2008 survey by Pew Global Attitudes Project showed hostility to Jewish people had increased in most European nations but there was no clear correlation between the level of anti-Semitism and the size of the Muslim population. In fact, anti-Semitism seemed most prevalent in countries with fewer Muslims.
As the intensity of the Gaza protests escalate and the battle against IS intensifies, clear thinking and fair-mindedness by all sides and individuals have rarely been at such a premium.