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Increase in Anti-Semitic Violence Troubles Jews in Britain

Jeremy Roberts will always remember February 22, the night his innocence was shattered.

At 11:45 that night, Roberts, an 18-year-old student at London Metropolitan University, left the school’s library. As always, he was wearing the skullcap of an observant Jew.

As he walked hurriedly through the rain-soaked streets of East London, a shabby neighborhood that has historically been the home of new immigrants, he noticed a man following him. The man yelled, “You F---ing Jew.”

Roberts kept walking, and then the man hurled a bottle. It met its mark and knocked Roberts unconscious.

His last memory, he said in a recent interview, was that "My face felt wet."

A passerby called an ambulance, and Roberts was treated for a gaping head wound and examined for brain injuries.

The attack on this young man was not an isolated one; it illustrates the rising level of anti-Semitic activity in Britain.

The British government itself condemns the rising incidence of anti-Semitism and has vowed aggressive action against it. The government emphasized, in a report on March 29, that it will not tolerate mistreatment of Britain's Jews.

“There is probably a greater feeling of discomfort, greater concerns, greater fears about anti-Semitism than there have been for many decades,” Henry Grunwald, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, recently told a bipartisan parliamentary committee investigating anti-Semitism.

According to government reports, the chief sources of the hatred of Jews are native-born fascists, far-left political extremists and Muslim radicals. The physical attacks are mainly directed at Orthodox Jews, who are highly visible because of their skullcaps and traditional dress. Secular Jews, who are not as easily identifiable by their clothes, are less likely to be attacked.

The number of anti-Semitic incidents in Britain increased by 34 percent last year, according to records collected by the Community Security Trust, a charity that monitors anti-Semitism in Britain and is regularly cited in government reports for being more comprehensive than police data.

That was the biggest annual increase since 1984, when the charity began collecting figures. Based on current projections, the number of incidents this year is on track to equal last year's.

Many of the physical assaults on British Jews are committed by Muslim extremists who blame all Jews for the conditions of Palestinians in Israel and Israeli-occupied areas. According to a poll in the London Times in December 2005, 37 percent of Britain’s 2 million Muslims agreed that all 268,000 members of the Jewish community were legitimate targets because of Israel’s policies.

“Bigots try to make all Jews responsible for the actions of the only democratically elected government in the Middle East,” John Mann, a member of Parliament, told FOXNews.com. “Anti-Israeli sentiment does go over the line to anti-Semitism,” said Mann, who chaired a bipartisan committee that studied anti-Semitism in Britain.

Israel-bashing has been fueled in Britain by militant left-wing trade unionists, academics and some members of the British press who regard Israel as an apartheid state determined to eliminate the Palestinians.

A proposed academic boycott would end exchanges between British and Israeli universities. Then-Prime Minister Tony Blair called on academics to abandon plans to boycott Israeli universities during a speech in the House of Commons last month, saying a boycott would do absolutely “no good for the Middle East peace process.”

The demonization of Israel has heightened hostility toward Britain’s Jews. “Some of those who are hostile to Israel make no distinction between Israelis and Jews,” said the Parliamentary report.

Rabbi Alex Chapper recalled that he was a target of that hostility when he walked home from Sabbath services with some of his congregants two years ago in a London neighborhood that has a swelling Moslem population. The Jews were followed by a group of Muslim youth shouting anti-Semitic insults.

“We’re Pakistani,” one of the young people yelled. “You’re Jewish. We will kill you.” The rabbi said several of the youths threw punches at the Jews, until one of the congregants flagged down passing car and asked the driver to call the police. The assailants fled.

“Not a week goes by when someone doesn’t make anti-Semitic remarks to me when I’m walking to the synagogue for Sabbath services,” lamented the 34-year-old rabbi.

"People in passing cars give the Hitler salute, or they throw things at me. I wish I was in a place where I felt less threatened, but I am here. I have a job to do. I have to get on with it.”

His words evoke resignation, but not despair.

Chapper's concerns are shared by Mark Gardner, Communications Director for the Community Security Trust. “Last year the Jewish community marked its 350th anniversary in Britain,” he said in an interview. “Many people are asking whether there is a future for Britain’s Jews. And the questions that are being asked haven’t been asked for a generation or two.”

Jewish students at British universities are among the targets of hate. A government report released earlier this year concluded that “Jewish students feel disproportionately threatened in British universities as a result of anti-Semitic activities.”

Many Jewish students are afraid to reveal their religious identity because they fear verbal or physical abuse, said Mitch Simmons, campaign director for the Union of Jewish Students, which represents Jews in British schools. Some Jewish students wear baseball caps instead of skullcaps and conceal their Star of David jewelry to avoid confrontations.

“When students say they are Jews, they are frequently taunted with cries of ‘You’re a Jew. You kill Palestinian babies,’” said Simmons.

Dr. Abdul Bari, leader of the Muslim Council of Britain, which represents most Sunni and Shiite groups in Britain, told FOXNews.com that hatred of Jews is racist and must be rejected by Muslims. He also condemned terrorism.

Bari was interviewed in the back room of his storefront office on East London's Cavell Street, a narrow road full of men wearing baggy trousers and women with hijabs covering all or some of their hair.

He said he was angered by the continuing campaign by British police to search for terrorists in the Muslim communities, saying it was overkill. Security was heightened after the July 7, 2005, attacks on the London transit system when four Muslim homicide bombers killed 52 people, the worst peacetime casualty toll in Britain. British newspapers report that 1,500 Muslims are under daily police surveillance because they are suspected of having terrorist links.

Security was further increased after two car bombs were found in central London late last month.

Bari’s public opposition to anti-Semitism does not alleviate the anxieties of victims like Evan and Laura, a Jewish couple who have three small children. They requested that their surnames not be used for fear of retribution. Evan, who wears a skullcap, said that a group of Muslim teenagers followed him when he left work in March and shouted, “Hitler was right. He should have killed all of you.”

Evan said he confronted them, and they fled when co-workers came to his aid.

He said he and his wife recently took their children to a movie in Hendon, a middle-class neighborhood in London, and a group of Muslim teens hurled rocks at them when they emerged from the theater. A passerby called police, and the teenagers quickly dispersed.

Laura listened carefully to her husband’s accounts and then said “If it wasn’t for my husband’s job, we’d leave for Israel tomorrow. It’s the only place where my children could be Jews and free.”

Jews interviewed for this story expressed confidence that the British government is vehemently opposed to anti-Semitism and has taken appropriate action. It has urged schools to change their curricula to improve ethnic relations and has directed police to do a better job of reporting anti-Semitic incidents.

But Jeremy Roberts is not convinced that conditions for Jews will get better. He has been insulted many times and beaten because he is Jewish.

He said he plans to settle in Israel when he finishes school.

“There’s no future for Jews in England,” he said.

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