The world is in the grip of a "virulent" new strain of anti-Semitism, says the Chief Rabbi of Orthodox Jews in Britain. Britain itself is facing an increasing number of anti-Semitic attacks, he added.
Trevor Grundy writes: Sir Jonathan Sacks made these stark statements in a recently published book Future Tense, a work that warns of the possibility of new waves of attacks on Jews because of their often perceived support for Zionism and the military activities of Israel.
Jewish leaders say the number of attacks on their 280,000-strong community in Britain, including arson attacks on synagogues and assault on Jews in the street, have reached the highest level since records started in the 1890s.
In an interview with Ecumenical News International, Mark Gardiner of the Community Security Trust, a group that looks after the safety of Britain's Jewish community, said the 250 attacks in January were double the highest previous monthly total. "We have," he said, "repeatedly seen a surge of anti-Semitic attacks every time there is turmoil in the Middle East."
It is, says the 61-year-old Sacks, no coincidence that there were 250 attacks on British Jews in January for that was the month that Israel mounted a strong offensive against the Palestinian group Hamas in Gaza.
"If you ask somebody in Britain at random, they don't connect Israel and Jews. Judaism is a religion; Israel is a country in the Middle East," the Chief Rabbi says. "However, among anti-Semites and Jews, Israel is a code word for Jews, so the perpetrators and the victims understand it very well indeed."
In his book, which has garnered strong coverage in British newspapers, Sacks has avoided verbal attacks or criticism of the Muslim community in Britain or on Islam in general.
But he links the rise of this new form of anti-Semitism to the events of the September 11 attacks in the United States.
"Within 24 hours of 9/11 people said it was 'Mossad wot done it'. Then the anti-Semitism went viral and it became very worrying. There started to be synagogue desecrations, cemetery desecrations and Jews attacked on the street. We had a rabbinical student who was on the top floor of a bus in Stamford Hill [in London] sitting quietly studying the Talmud. Somebody stabbed him many times. He was very lucky to live. The guy who was eventually convicted said, 'Israel is persecuting us so I decided I had to persecute him'."
In an interview in Britain's The Times newspaper in April Sacks called on his fellow Jews not to retreat inwards.
"When you are subjected to trauma, you can find yourself undergoing a regression to an earlier trauma. Until 2001 the British Jewish community was really doing wonders at integration. We thought for 60 years the Holocaust could never happen again, but when the anti-Semites really began to hit homes, there was a regression."
The British government, he said, however, should be tougher about throwing Islamic extremists out of the country. Britain has the fifth largest Jewish population in the world.
Jonathan Sacks, Future Tense is published by Hodder & Stoughton in June 2009 at £16.99. Available at a discounted price through Ekklesia here: http://shop.ekklesia.co.uk/christian-bookshop/future_tense_1242452.html
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]