The debate in British media about anti-Semitism within the Labour Party coincided with an 11-per cent increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the first six months of 2016, a watchdog group said.
The Community Security Trust, or CST, registered 557 anti-Semitic incidents in that period, compared to 500 in the first half of 2015. The CST’s interim incidents report for 2016 was published Thursday.
The 557-incident total is the second-highest CST has ever recorded in the January-June period of any year, after 629 incidents recorded in the first half of 2009.
“There is no obvious single cause for the increase in recorded anti-Semitic incidents, most of which came in April, May and June,” CST wrote in a statement about the report. In an indirect reference to the debate over Labour, the statement also read: “This was a period when anti-Semitism, racism and extremism were reported and discussed prominently in the national media.”
The debate was over the role of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, a left-wing politician who was elected as party head last year. A harsh critic of Israel, he was accused by Jewish community representatives as well as senior Labour members and backers of generating an atmosphere that encouraged expressions of anti-Semitism among his supporters with statements against the Jewish state and in favour of the terrorist groups Hezbollah and Hamas.
Corbyn has disputed this, although last month he also said he regrets calling Hezbollah and Hamas his “friends.” He has suspended dozens of Labour members who made anti-Semitic and harshly anti-Israel statements, including former London mayor Ken Livingstone, who in May implied Adolf Hitler was a Zionist.
Separately, Labour lawmaker Jan Royall confirmed in a report about anti-Semitism in her party’s Oxford University chapter that some of that chapter’s members engaged in anti-Semitic acts, though she said the club was not “institutionally anti-Semitic.”
Royall’s report, published Wednesday by the Jewish Chronicle, does not include examples of the anti-Semitic incidents .
Reports of anti-Semitism at the Oxford chapter were among the developments that led to intense media coverage of Labour’s anti-Semitism problem. In February, the former co-chair of the chapter, Alex Chalmers, resigned because of anti-Semitic behavior by some members, triggering a probe by the party’s leaders in London.
Chalmers said some students repeatedly sang “rockets over Tel Aviv” and ridiculed Jews who felt concerned about this. Others used the term “Zio” — short for Zionist – to deride Jews.
The first half of 2016 also saw a polarizing debate in the United Kingdom about whether the country should exit the European Union, a decision favoured by 52 per cent of voters in a national referendum that took place on June 23.
According to CST and police figures, Britain saw a considerable increase in xenophobic incidents following the vote, where immigration was a central theme. Jews, however, were not singled out for such attacks after the vote on the British exit, or Brexit.