Tuesday 27th January is Holocaust Memorial Day and this year it seems more poignant than ever. Not only as it marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the most notorious of Nazi death camp, Auschwitz; but because it is falling at a new time of fear and unease within the Jewish community in Europe, if not globally.
Whilst the Paris terror attacks earlier this month were primarily aimed toward the satirical publication Charlie Hebdo; the subsequent hostage crisis in a Kosher grocery store was far from an incidental choice. Vehement anti-Semitism is central to this new wave of grassroots and homegrown Islamic extremism emerging throughout Europe. In 2012 a jihadi gunman targeted a Jewish school in Toulouse, killing three children and a teacher, and in May of the same year a French Islamist was charged with murdering four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels. Following the three day manhunt in Paris, five thousand police officers were sent to protect Jewish schools in France fearing a repeat of the Toulouse attack, as the investigation into the extent of the perpetrator’s terror cells continued and subsequent potential attacks thwarted.
The Kosher store attack is just one example of the growing number of anti-Semitic attacks against European Jews recently, and within France especially. Far from being a phenomenon confined to Islamic terrorists, it is increasingly being seen from far-right groups and in isolated incidences too. The French Foreign Minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, said that violent acts and threats against the country’s Jewish population had more than doubled in the past ten months.
France has the largest Jewish minority population in Western Europe, with an estimated 500,000 practicing Judaism. But in 2014 approximately 7,000 immigrated to Israel, almost double the previous year’s figure, amid growing feelings of discomfort and prejudice whilst living within the country. Parisian anti-Israeli demonstrations, in July of last year, turned aggressively anti-Semitic in nature, with xenophobic chanting and local Jewish businesses being violently targeted.
While there is no strong evidence that similar attacks in the UK are imminent, communal security patrols have been heightened in Jewish areas across the country in what David Cameron described as a ‘sensible precautionary measure’. Since then, in Stratford, multiple Holocaust Memorial Day posters have been defaced in what the Mayor of Newham described as a ‘despicable and cowardly hate-crime’.
In a memorial service in London for the Paris victims, Home Secretary Theresa May backed efforts to attempt to eradicate anti-Semitism in the UK and expressed her dismay that Jewish people should feel ‘vulnerable and fearful’ whilst living here. In 2012, Mohammed and Shasta Khan, a married couple from Oldham, were convicted of preparing to commit a terror attack against Jews in Bury. Although the terror level today remains at ‘severe’, multiple Jewish leaders in Britain have spoken out following May’s comments, emphasizing that the vast majority of the community remain very happy here, and whilst a steady stream of British Jews are undertaking ‘aliyah’ to Israel, there is no comparable exodus as being seen across the channel.
Holocaust Memorial Day is intended to be a day of reflection for the innocent life taken through hatred and prejudice seven decades ago. Sadly, seventy years on, we can still see that intolerance is far from being banished to history, and the new fears of the Jewish community are indeed well-founded.