As Israel besieges the Gaza strip in the aftermath of the Hamas attacks of 7 October, hate crimes against both Jewish and Muslim people have soared across the UK. The violence has been encouraged by right-wing agitators spreading misinformation on social media, and members of both communities report that they are living in fear.
Antisemitic and Islamophobic hate crime
According to the Community Security Trust (CRT), 89 antisemitic incidents were recorded in the three days immediately following the attacks, representing a more than fourfold increase in comparison with the same period in 2022. Meanwhile, Tell Mama recorded a sixfold increase in anti-Islamic incidents, with 291.
Both organisations say that death threats have been made against ordinary members of the public. Muslim women and staff at a Palestinian restaurant were among those targeted, whilst Jewish people gathered outside a London synagogue were threatened by people driving past and waving a Palestinian flag. In another incident, a Jewish woman walking to her synagogue was harassed by a stranger who implied that she deserved to be raped. Elsewhere, a Muslim woman was followed down the street by a man who kept shouting “Hamas terrorist!” at her.
Members of both communities have expressed fear for children attending school. Two London schools have been vandalised with red paint. A hijabi Muslim teacher told Tell Mama that she had been accused of being a terrorist by students.
Far-right agitators exploit the crisis
Tensions have been worsened by the spread of false claims online pertaining to attacks on Israel and in Gaza. In some cases, posters posed as Muslim and urged others to go out and attack Jewish people, but their former posts included nothing which suggested an affiliation to Islam and instead focused on topics popular amongst the far right. Incendiary language aimed at each community in turn appears to have come, in large part, from right-wing posters who are equally hostile towards both.
Looking at the international picture, research by NBC News found that news is being distorted on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, where, following Elon Musk’s downgrading of established news providers, seven unreliable sources dominate coverage of events in Israel and Palestine. These include right-wing Polish marketing agency Visegrád 24 and former Andrew Tate stan account @CensoredMen.
X agreed to remove a post which called for Muslims in the UK to be bombed, in an incident which was reported to the police. Both Muslim and Jewish people say that they have experienced a significant increase in targeted hate online, however, to the point where they feel helpless to respond. Many have chosen simply to stop using social media, but as one Jewish woman pointed out, that only helps so much when other people are still there and receiving those dangerous and misleading messages.
A number of physical assaults have occurred in the UK, and people report being frightened to walk through neighbourhoods which they previously considered safe. In the US, a six-year-old Palestinian Muslim boy was killed and his mother left with serious wounds when they were attacked by their landlord, who shouted Islamophobic slogans. France and Germany have also seen an uptick in violence, and police are exploring connections with neo-Nazi groups.
Religious leaders speak out against hate
Last week the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, was joined by leading figures from both communities: Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra, a scholar, imam and former assistant secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain; and Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg of the new North London Synagogue and Masorti Judaism UK.
“We stand together to express our shared commitment to protecting the relationship between our communities. British Muslims and Jews have much in common and there are many personal ties between us,” said Mogra. “We have, and will sometimes be on opposite sides, but we live together as neighbours in peace and harmony, disagreeing with each other respectfully, without resorting to hate or violence.
“It is deplorable and wrong that our Jewish community here has been the target of hate crimes. It is unacceptable that synagogues and Jewish centres have been targeted … I condemn these attacks and call on all fellow citizens to stand up and speak out against all and every form of hate.”
Thanking him for these words, Wittenberg added:
“The Jewish community, led by the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Leadership Council and the Community Security Trust has long condemned and continues to condemn all racism directed against Muslims, from whatever source.
“We are both on the side of life. We share deep concern for the welfare of everyone and pray for a better future for all.”