Ever since making Britain my home in 1967, I have been determined to stand up to racism, but whilst I heard about anti-Semitism, it was not something I encountered directly in my home county of Derbyshire, where the only synagogue closed its doors in 1986. I am now the county’s Police and Crime Commissioner, the first and only (to date) BME Commissioner, and I am proud to be the National Hate Crime Lead for the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners.
It was in that capacity that last Tuesday, 17th October, I met with members of the Jewish community in London. The series of meetings was organised by Campaign Against Anti-Semitism as part of my determination to understand the resurgence of anti-Semitism in the United Kingdom and to give members of the Jewish community the chance to raise concerns with me directly.
It was an invaluable opportunity to hear first-hand accounts from Holocaust survivors, Jewish university students and representatives from the Charedi community, including Shomrim, the Jewish neighbourhood watch patrol. I saw (and could actually feel) how rising anti-Semitic hate crime and its apparent acceptance as ‘the norm’ by the wider society has caused a real fear to run through the Jewish community. I was shocked to hear from Holocaust survivors how they felt that the anti-Semitism that forced them to flee Europe was now gaining a foothold on our shores, and I was appalled to hear about the levels of anti-Semitism at universities and the anti-Semitic abuse suffered by the Charedi community, who are the most visibly-identifiable Jews in Britain.
I heard how anti-Semitism is complex, often multifaceted and based on old conspiracy theories. I learned how anti-Semitism in its most modern forms manifests and hides itself. The explosion in social media channels has enabled anti-Semitic ideology to develop, and trend, faster than ever before, combining strains of far-right anti-Semitism, far-left anti-Semitism and Islamist anti-Semitism. There has been a dramatic growth of anti-Semitic themes on internet platforms, including conspiracy theories, Holocaust denial and use of hatred of the Jewish state as a disguise for raw anti-Semitism.
The more I heard, the more determined I became to make a difference in fighting this ancient hatred. I understand how many Jews see modern anti-Semitism through the prism of the Holocaust. I appreciate how important it is for the Jewish community to have confidence in the will of the police and authorities to protect them. I understand that in order for the authorities to protect Jews, police officers must be equipped with specific and detailed training on the nature and forms of contemporary anti-Semitism.
As anti-Semites are becoming bolder, countering anti-Semitism requires a response from the police and authorities that is constantly updated. It needs to draw on the skills of experts in the field, such as the members of the Jewish community I met with last Tuesday. I look forward to further work and engagement with the Jewish community to implement concrete steps to stem the tide of anti-Semitic hate.
Reflecting on what I learned in just one short day I know that I need to consider how to ensure that British police forces rise to the challenge of stamping out anti-Semitism. But I would also like to send a clear message to the Jewish community: the responsibility for fighting anti-Semitism is shared by all of British society, and though rising anti-Semitic crime has caused understandable fear, know that across the country my colleagues and I stand with you, and will do everything in our power to protect and defend you.