The UK’s terror threat level is currently “severe”, and recent Islamist attacks in Paris and Copenhagen have emphasized the sincerity of this threat further. In London, the Jewish Community feels particularly at risk. Kait Borsay talks to young Jewish adults and finds a surprising reaction.
Reporter: Kait Borsay @kaitborsay
Sub editor: Cynthia Gregoire @modjournalist
The UK has recorded the highest-ever number of anti-Semitic incidents in 2014, reports the Jewish protection group Community Security Trust. Compared with the previous year, the incidents more than doubled. The trust urges the Jewish community to maintain a high level of alert after the attacks in Paris and Copenhagen. But how do you live under a constant threat simply for being Jewish?
Zoe Hillman is a 19-year-old fashion student from London. She is “fearful for what could happen.” Zoe thinks it’s a case of when, not if, similar attacks will happen in the UK. “It just takes one crazy and sick human being to carry out an attack like that, and that one person may be in the UK,” the fashion student says.
But she also adds: “It’s something you get used to. Everyone is very aware anti-Semitism is an issue. You learn to try and keep your religion as subtle as possible just in case, you have to keep yourself safe.”
Zoe went to a Jewish school in London. Near the school, local smaller-scale anti-Semitic incidents got out of hand and a rock was thrown through the window of a teacher’s car. Security was stepped up to include pupil escorts to and from the school gates from the train station.
Zoe says being precautious is a normal part of daily life: “On the tube if I’m wearing a Star of David necklace often I’ll tuck that underneath my top in case anyone feels badly about it,” she says. Her mum is fearful for her daughter’s safety and doesn’t like her visiting traditional Jewish areas in the capital, like Golders Green.
The risk is real
Recent terror attacks have shown that Jewish communities in capitals like London are particularly at risk. After attacking a freedom of speech debate in Copenhagen, the radical extremist Omar El-Hussein again opened fire without warning, killing a 37-year-old Jewish man, Dan Uzan, a guard at Copenhagen’s main synagogue, and wounding two police officers. Less than a month earlier, terror attacks in Paris had killed 12 people at the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, and left a policewoman and four Jewish shoppers at a kosher supermarket dead.
The threat for Jewish people is real. Reasonable and realistic, these young adults consider the consequences of their actions. They’re not the most fearful, or fearless. But they are all Jewish.
Ben Carroll is a 23-year-old documentary researcher from Glasgow, who will soon move to London. For him, the Paris terror attacks don’t change his actions. “I will continue living my life as normal, he says. “Being Jewish in public requires you to be street smart – think about your surroundings and how you want to present yourself and whether you feel safe. It shouldn’t have to be like that, however, sadly it is.”
Listen to Ben’s reaction to the Paris attack here:
While a lot of Jews choose to live with a threat that most people never face, the situation becomes more difficult when having children. Nicola Bone is a non-practicing Jewish mother-of-two who lives in Greenwich. Having kids, she recently discussed with her non-Jewish husband what they would do if attacks became more frequent in London.
After Copenhagen, the couple feel it is necessary to start considering their options. “The Second World War didn’t just happen with the Holocaust. There were many years before when little things were happening and people just didn’t get out quick enough. So you think to yourself, I don’t want to be one of those people and when do I go?” says Nicola.
Young children threatened
Nicola’s worries are reasonable. Anti-Semitic incidents are on increase, and not just in the UK. Other examples to add to a growing concern amongst Jewish communities include a Paris synagogue, which came under attack in July last year, and a Jewish restaurant in the city which was firebombed four months later. In Australia, last August, a bus carrying young Jewish school children was boarded by a group of older youths who shouted “kill the Jews” and threatened to cut the throats of the two dozen children, aged five to 12.
Some governments have reacted to protect the Jewish communities. Since last year’s Gaza protests, Amsterdam has parked police trailers in front of its synagogue, Jewish high school, the Anne Frank museum and other sites. In Belgium, Antwerp’s mayor has deployed an elite army unit to patrol the Jewish quarter.
Zoe explains this international anti-Semitism: “There is no difference between a Danish Jew, a French Jew or a British Jew. If you’re going to target us in Denmark and France, then you’re going to target us in the UK too.” And she adds: “The threat has definitely become more of a reality.”
A sense of defiance
There is a sense of defiance from the popular UJS (Union of Jewish Students), themselves the target of hate tweets during the height of the summer conflict in Gaza. When asked what advice they were currently giving UJS said:
“We haven’t changed what we are doing at the moment and haven’t felt it necessary to take any different action. We are always careful and advise our members to be cautious, but this is nothing new.”
A theme endorsed by Ben, who admits that Copenhagen, not commonly thought of as a Jewish hub, has made him think about the vulnerability of Jewish communities in outlying areas such as his hometown, Glasgow:
“Jews have lasted 2000 years in the diaspora and faced all forms of persecution, and we continued as a flourishing faith group. In Judaism, there is the expression ‘am Yisrael chai’ – in English, ‘the Jewish people will live’. We will continue as one in light of the weekend’s attack.”