Anti-Semitic attacks hit an all time high last year, more than doubling from the previous year’s total to hit 1,168 incidents in 2014. And as the Paris attacks of last month continue to reverberate, there are fears within the British Jewish community that intolerance of Jews on Britain’s streets is only set to increase.
The Community Security Trust who compiled the statistic, which includes everything from physical violence to desecration of graves, has said that it has received an “unprecedented” number of calls from British Jews fearful of a similar attack in Britain. Little wonder, perhaps, that some of Britain’s Jews are choosing to leave the country for good.
The Telegraph has published an interview with one such family, the Goulds from Manchester. Simon, 52, has built a successful career in business in the UK, whilst his wife Honey, 49, works in marketing, alongside raising their two children, Arron, 18 and Angel, 16. Having lived in the same suburban home in Greater Manchester for their whole married lives, the Goulds will be leaving it behind this summer to start a new life in Arizona.
“It’s a terrible wrench”, says Honey. ““I’m proud to be British. My parents live in London. Simon has lived his whole life in two streets of north Manchester. Our house is the only home our son and daughter have ever known. But we have to do this, not least for the sake of our children.”
Whilst anti-Semitic attacks were up 118 percent in 2014 from the previous year, the rise has been especially sharp in London and Manchester where there are large Jewish populations; the latter seeing a 79 percent increase in incidents alone.
It’s a trend that the Goulds have noticed themselves. “The other week, I was standing in the queue at a large supermarket in Manchester when the man in front of me said, ‘F—— Jews, they’re all over the place. They’re thieves, they are taking over our property. They’re everywhere,’ ” says Honey. “I’ve no idea if he knew I was Jewish or not, but I was absolutely terrified, and fled.”
In another incident, a neighbours son was wearing his kippa (skull cap) in the street when a Polish man “just sprang forward and hit him”
“I know there are plenty of people who simply want to live a peaceful coexistence,” said Honey. “But there is so much anti‑Semitism in Britain, and it’s coming from all sides. Our local Jewish schools look like prison camps. They’re surrounded by wire fences. There are guards on patrol, some with dogs. On Saturdays, you see police walking the street with members of the CST. I don’t want to sit at home panicking when my husband goes to the synagogue. I just want to live in peace.”
Simon, who sat on the northern board of the CST concurs with his wife. “I’ve been exposed to, and become familiar with, spiralling anti‑Semitism,” he says. “Eggs hurled from passing cars, swastikas on Jewish headstones, messages of hatred. Last summer, central Manchester – a place I love and have always lived in – became a flashpoint for virulent anti-Israel demonstrations. It was terrifying to see this on the streets of my home city.”
Although attacks peaked over the summer, fuelled by increased military action in Gaza, the figures show that incidents were already on the increase in the first half of the year, before the conflict flared up again. In February the words “Jewish slag” were daubed on a gravestone in Manchester, whilst in September a man was battered with a glass and a baseball bat, whilst being subjected to anti-Semitic insults.
Simon says that the rise in radical Islam is not the only driving force behind the attacks. He also points a finger at the left, who habitually conflate Israel and Zionism with the Jewish population, and the right, who may currently be “happy firing salvos at the Muslim population, but I know we are only one step away from their wrath,” he says.
Commenting on the CST figures, Home Secretary Theresa May insisted “Britain without its Jews would not be Britain,” adding “No one should live in fear because of their beliefs or who they are. These figures are deeply concerning and I am committed to working with Jewish community leaders and law enforcement to tackle anti-Semitism.”
This will not be the first time Honey has moved abroad to flee persecution. Born in London, her family moved to Tehran when she was eight. But at the age of twelve she and her younger brother arrived at school one day only to be sent home immediately. There, her mother, in tears, was waiting with packed bags. Honey and her brother were put on a plane to boarding school in Britain, and didn’t see their parents for a year.
“I’ve known what it is to flee in fear. I don’t want to do that again. I want to leave the UK now on my own terms.” She sadly reflects: “This was the place where I finally felt safe, that I could finally call home.”
The couple’s children are stoic about the move. Angel is in favour of the move: “Of course it will be hard, but there’s always Facebook to keep in touch. I’m looking at the bigger picture, how things are changing. I want to live in a place where I won’t be judged by my religion, where I can hold my head up high.”
And her brother Arron has already accepted a place at the University of California, Berkeley, to study political science.
They are unlikely to be the only British Jewish family with this story to tell. Indeed, Simon has set up a website, www.emigrate-to-america.co.uk, offering free advice to others thinking of making the move.
“I am the fourth generation of Jew in my family to live in Britain,” he says. “Britain offered a safe haven, a chance for them to raise a family, build a home. I am eternally grateful for the refuge Britain and its government has given to the Jews. But I can’t help feeling that the future is no longer here. The grandfather of one Jewish friend said ‘It’s time to leave when you are no longer free to sit on a park bench’. I think that time is fast approaching. I’m leaving before I’m told that I have to go.”