Candles lit at a vigil for the hostages, Parliament Square, October 15, 2023
Candles lit at a vigil for the hostages, Parliament Square, October 15, 2023

Over the last few weeks we have observed a rise in antisemitic threats with alarm. Reports of antisemitic harassment, rhetoric, vandalism and even instances of violence and mass-produced antisemitic literature in the UK should perturb us all. That we see people motivated to tear down posters for missing hostages, including children and babies, is particularly disturbing. Sadly, this is only part of a much wider range of frightening developments that are causing fear amongst our Jewish communities.

The Community Security Trust (CST) recorded 457 incidents of antisemitism in the twelve days following the brutal terrorist attacks by Hamas, an increase of 731% compared to the same period last year. It is the highest number in any twelve-day period since they commenced their work over 40 years ago. Tell MAMA have recorded a six-fold increase in Islamophobic threats, including the use of dehumanising and racist language.

It is particularly distressing that this level of harassment has been targeted at communities already experiencing immense shock and grief. We urge people in Britain to stand shoulder to shoulder with us, and alongside all organisations working to prevent the forces of hatred from dividing us.

Our work and our collections, including survivor and refugee testimony bearing witness to Nazi oppression, reveal the danger inherent in rising antisemitism, especially when fuelled by conspiracy or disinformation. Anti-Jewish hatred of any kind can only ever lead to further prejudice and harm.

The Wiener Holocaust Library possesses a unique authority in addressing issues of antisemitism. While our institution is rooted in the historical documentation of the Holocaust, it is imperative to recognise that eliminationist antisemitism did not originate in 1933 nor conclude in 1945. Alfred Wiener and his colleagues warned about the grave threat of radical antisemitism, and continued to document the activities of international networks of antisemites who promoted Nazi ideology after Hitler’s defeat. Today staff at the Library stand as custodians of this profound legacy.

The lessons of history demonstrate that misinformation and propaganda are designed to divide communities in profoundly dangerous ways. That is why hatred must be confronted in whatever form it takes. In a context where stories and images of atrocities are rapidly shared, we urge everyone to reflect prior to posting on social media, and to take time to consider their own prejudices. This is of particular importance when news of horror can seem inescapable and is so often misused by those who wish to spread harmful ideas.

We urge our friends and supporters to report instances of antisemitism, whether in their communities or online, to the CST. Incidents of Islamophobia should be reported to Tell MAMA. These organisations and many others are working tirelessly to protect communities around the country and to keep us safe during this period of renewed violence.

Dr Toby Simpson
Director, The Wiener Holocaust Library