The 2011 census recorded the Jewish population of the UK as 263,346. Some considered this an underestimate, and both the Institute for Jewish Policy Research and the British Board of Deputies suggested that the actual figure was approximately 300,000.
The NGO Community Security Trust (CST) published a half-yearly report in August that recorded 557 incidents in the six months to June, an 11 percent increase in incidents compared with the same period in 2015. The CST stated, “This is the second highest incident total the CST has ever recorded for the January-June period, despite there being no discernible ‘trigger event’.” Anti-Semitic incidents in London recorded by the CST rose by 62 percent in the first six months of 2015 and 2016. In contrast, in Greater Manchester the number of reported anti-Semitic incidents fell by 54 percent.
The CST believed a combination of factors, including prominent and sustained public debate about anti-Semitism; increased use of social media by anti-Semites; and a general rise in racism and xenophobia in wider society all contributed to the increase in incidents. Civil society contacts criticized the UK government’s inability to prosecute perpetrators of hate crimes successfully.
During the year the Labour Party faced criticism for its members’ anti-Semitic acts and comments. In March the party suspended the membership of its vice-chairman in Woking, Surrey, for anti-Semitic Tweets. MP Naz Shah was temporarily suspended in April for comments made on her Facebook page in 2015 before she became an MP: Under an outline of Israel that was superimposed on a map of the U.S. with the headline “Solution for Israel-Palestine conflict--relocate Israel into United States,” Shah commented, “Problem solved.” Shah apologized in Parliament for the comment and then apologized to the members of a synagogue in her constituency and in an opinion piece in the Jewish News.
In April, Ken Livingstone, former MP and former London mayor, was suspended from the Labour Party for anti-Semitism. Livingstone, when asked about Shah, called her comments “rude” but said they were not anti-Semitic. He said it was important “not to confuse criticism of Israeli government policy with anti-Semitism.” He then suggested that Hitler was a Zionist, which led to his suspension.
On October 3, Labour Party activist Jackie Walker was removed from her post as vice-chairman of Momentum, the campaigning group supporting Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn, following remarks in which she criticized the International Holocaust Remembrance Day and counterterrorism security at Jewish schools, although Momentum claimed that she had not said anything anti-Semitic. Walker was also suspended from the Labour Party and then readmitted in May despite claiming that Jews were the “chief financiers” of the African slave trade, a proposition described by the Legacies of British Slave Ownership project at University College, London, as based on “no evidence whatsoever.”
The Labour Party conducted two inquiries on anti-Semitism during the year. In February, Alex Chalmers, the cochairman of the Labour Club at Oxford University, resigned from his post because, he said, some on the club “have problems with the Jews.” After investigating this and other allegations, Baroness Janet Royall produced a report in May, which concluded that Oxford University Labour Club students had engaged in anti-Semitic acts.
In April, Corbyn announced the party would conduct an inquiry into anti-Semitism and other forms of racism perpetrated by members of the Labour Party, chaired by former Liberty Director Shami (now Baroness) Chakrabarti. Chakrabarti’s report in June concluded that the party was “not overrun” by anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, or other forms of racism, but that, “as with wider society,” there was evidence of “minority hateful or ignorant attitudes and behaviors festering within a sometimes bitter incivility of discourse.” It recommended a number of changes to the Labour Party’s disciplinary processes. The most controversial were that Labour members who are excluded from the party for anti-Semitism should not automatically be banned for life, and the proposal of a two-year statute of limitations for those members accused of “uncomradely conduct and language.” The Chakrabarti report was criticized for not referring to the Royal report.
Many Jewish civil society groups called the Chakrabarti report a “whitewash” about anti-Semitism, although some Jewish leaders welcomed the recommendations that Labour Party members curb anti-Semitic language. In September a dispute arose over whether Chakrabarti was given the title of Baroness in exchange for writing the report.
On October 16, Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee released a comprehensive, cross-party report on anti-Semitism in the UK, calling “on all political leaders to tackle the growing prevalence of anti-Semitism.” It “notes the failure of the Labour Party consistently to deal with anti-Semitic incidents in recent years…” The report stated Corbyn’s “lack of consistent leadership” on anti-Semitism created “a ‘safe space’ for those with vile attitudes towards Jewish people.” The Home Affairs Committee’s report also criticized the president of the National Union of Students, Malia Bouattia, for failing to take sufficiently seriously the problem of anti-Semitism on university campuses. The Home Affairs Committee’s report expressed particular concern at the volume and viciousness of anti-Semitism online, including countless examples directed at MPs.
To help address online hate crime more broadly, the Home Affairs Committee recommended that government and political parties adopt an amended definition of anti-Semitism aimed at promoting a zero-tolerance approach while allowing free speech on Israel and Palestine to continue. The committee stated that law enforcement and political party officials should consider the use of the word “Zionist” in an accusatory context inflammatory and potentially anti-Semitic.
On August 28, 13 Jewish graves were destroyed in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The PSNI investigated eight youths who knocked over headstones and in some cases used hammers to destroy markers. Officials condemned the incident, and local authorities offered assistance to rectify the damage.