OPINION - A grim tide of antisemitism is sweeping London and it is changing how I see our city

Photo of vandalism at Shomrim Stamford Hill (PA)
Photo of vandalism at Shomrim Stamford Hill (PA)

It’s only in the past few months that I’ve realised just how many Jewish friends I have. Of course, while I obviously know which of them are more fervent than others (the ones who openly discuss the Jewish experience), it’s only since the barbarity of October 7 that I’ve come to realise there are far more of them than I thought. Some I didn’t realise were Jewish at all, friends who are not demonstrative, or who have never espoused their faith in any way that would be noticeable or meaningful. But basically, I know a lot of Jews.

I first wrote about the antisemitism in London a few weeks after the first ceasefire march in London, where for the first time since my teens, I felt what it might be like to be scared, if I were Jewish, that is, which I’m not. But since then, things in our city have got a lot worse. Many of my Jewish friends live in north London, and for a few weeks after the October 7 atrocities I was bombarded with offers of articles written by people who had experienced a sudden rush of antisemitism, whether physically, psychologically, or via social media (the ultimate passive aggressive platform). We published some of them. But the atmosphere in London is even worse now, as it is all over the country.

Britain recorded thousands of antisemitic incidents after the outbreak of war between Israel and Hamas, making 2023 the worst year for UK antisemitism since 1984, when Jewish advisory body Community Security Trust began recording such data, it said on Thursday.

One friend told me when he visits his synagogue via taxi he gives a nearby address, to avoid complications

The number of antisemitic incidents across the country reached 4,103, more than twice the figure in 2022, amid a surge of threats, hate speech, violence and damage to Jewish institutions and property, the CST said.

A spokesman for the charity said: “This was a watershed for antisemitism in the UK. The speed at which antisemites mobilised in the UK on and immediately after October 7 suggests that, initially at least, this increase in anti-Jewish hate was a celebration of the Hamas attack on Israel, rather than anger at Israel’s military response in Gaza.”

This week, one of my Jewish colleagues told me of someone who had seven or eight taxis accept their booking and then cancel on them when they discovered their destination was a synagogue. A few days earlier, a friend told me that whenever he visits his own synagogue, he gives an address on the opposite side of the road, to avoid any complications. And they’ve been doing this for years, not just since October.

I live just off the Edgware Road, a predominantly Middle Eastern area. The neighbourhood synagogue is never without security, who stand outside as though they were guarding a vault. Unfortunately, security is always an issue in Jewish places of worship. If it’s your first visit to a synagogue, you will probably be required to complete visitors forms and provide valid photo ID upon entry.

One thing that shocked me about the Jewish experience in London was told to me just a few days ago. A friend told me about a Jewish boy he knew who had left university last summer, and who had spent the past nine months applying for jobs. He was in IT, a world which has mushroomed so much in the past quarter of a century that you might have thought jobs would be plentiful.

However, he found it difficult to get interviews. At first, he simply thought the job market was tough, being awash with similarly qualified graduates. Then he started to fill up with self-doubt, wondering whether or not he actually had the chops. Then he started worrying about his appearance. And then, finally, he wondered if it was something else. So he started being more careful with some of the information he gave to prospective employers, being more circumspect about his background, his family and yes, his religion.

As yet, he still hasn’t found a job, and yet he is a different person to the one who left college last summer. No, he hasn’t yet changed his name, but who knows what the future will bring?

Dylan Jones is the Evening Standard’s editor-in-chief