ED Miliband has called for collective action to tackle a “deeply troubling” fear in the UK’s Jewish community over a rise in anti-Semitic attacks.
The Labour leader, whose parents came to Britain as refugees fleeing the Nazi regime, said there was a “palpable sense of anxiety” which required a “zero tolerance” approach to anyone guilty of abuse or of questioning Israel’s right to exist.
He rejected criticism of his attack on the Israeli government’s military assault on Gaza last year and Labour’s backing of Palestinian statehood, insisting such political stances were in no way antisemitic. But he accepted that there remained work to do to persuade others, notably on university campuses, that those legitimate opinions could not be allowed to become “an excuse for prejudice”.
Police say there is “heightened concern” about risks to Jewish people in the wake of the terror attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris.
The Scottish Council of Jewish Communities (SCJC) said that there had been a 300 per cent rise in the number of antisemitic incidents in Scotland in the past year. Over the weekend, security was tightened at synagogues in Scotland. Ephraim Borowski, director of the SCJC, said the organisation had recorded 50 antisemitic incidents between July and September last year compared to just 12 during the whole of 2013 and 13 in 2012.
On Sunday, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, said she never thought she would see the day when members of the Jewish community would be “fearful” of staying in the UK.
Mr Miliband was repeatedly tackled on the issue when he held a public “question time” in Mill Hill, north-west London, which has a significant Jewish community, yesterday.
He said: “There is a palpable sense of anxiety in the community, that is deeply, deeply troubling.”
Mr Miliband was told by one student that she and Jewish friends felt vulnerable because student bodies were “infected” by anti-Israel sentiment which translated into physical attacks.
He replied: “The thing that We have got to get across to people is that scepticism about actions of the government of Israel is of a different category to questioning the right of the state of Israel to exist or antisemitism.
“You can criticise a government but it doesn’t somehow become an excuse for prejudice.”