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Wednesday, 17 April, 2002, 20:38 GMT 21:38 UK
Rabbi fears anti-semitism rise
Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
Dr Sacks says Israel is "a nation under siege"
Britain's chief rabbi fears that anti-semitism is on the rise in response to Israeli action in the West Bank.

Professor Jonathan Sacks told the BBC he thought Jews were suffering a backlash in Britain because Israel's suffering was not fully understood.

And he defended Israel's incursions into Palestinian territories as based on the same principle as the US-led war on Afghanistan.

The rabbi's comments come ahead of a rally he is due to attend in London on Wednesday evening to promote Israeli solidarity.

By and large as a community, we feel that Israel has been very unfairly treated in the media

Dr Jonathan Sacks,
Chief Rabbi

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, he said there had been many attacks on synagogues in mainland Europe.

Dr Sacks, who heads the Jewish community in the UK and the Commonwealth, said: "It's not that bad in this country, but when you challenge Israel's right to exist then you are certainly calling into question the right of the Jewish people to exist collectively.

"And I'm afraid we've had a certain whipping-up of anti-semitism even in this country."

Figures from the Community Security Trust, which provides security advice and services to British Jews, showed there were 15 anti-Semitic incidents in England in the first 10 days of April.

These included eight physical attacks. Two people needed hospital treatment.

But Dr Sacks described Britain as one of the most tolerant countries in the world and added: "I don't want to be alarmist or suggest that we're suffering from a major wave of anti-semitism in this country."

Blair message

Israel has been the subject of international condemnation for its occupation of Palestinian territories, but it insists it is defending itself against suicide bomb attacks.

Dr Sacks said Israel had been a "nation under siege" since September 2000, suffering 12,500 terrorist attacks - one every hour.

"What's happening now is the direct equivalent of what America is doing in Afghanistan," he said.

"If you support the latter, then you have to understand the former. They are the same policy."
An Israeli soldier outside Jenin refugee camp
Israel has been urged to withdraw from the West Bank

He condemned the British media for its "unfair treatment" of the issue and for not portraying the Israeli suffering.

And he denied that the charge of anti-semitism was being used to shout down any opposition to Israeli action, arguing "legitimate criticism" was not a problem for British Jews.

The rabbi will be among the speakers at a Zionist Federation rally at Wembley Conference Centre.

Part of the federation's annual exhibition, the event marks 54 years since the creation of the state of Israel and will feature a pre-recorded address from the country's premier, Ariel Sharon.

There will also be non-political message from the UK Prime Minister Tony Blair read out to the rally.

The Israeli ambassador to the UK, Dr Zvi Shtauber, will also speak.

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) criticised the Chief Rabbi's remarks, describing them as an attempt to deflect attention from Israel.

The MCB's secretary general, Yousuf Bhailok, said: "Britain's two million Muslims are alarmed at the intimidatory and scaremongering tactics from the pro-Israel lobby.

"We find it strange that just when the Israeli army's murderous rampage in the West Bank and its defiance of the United Nations is causing consternation throughout the world, and even Jewish MPs such as Gerald Kaufman describe the Israeli PM as a `war criminal', the Chief Rabbi uses this moment to try and deflect attention away from Israel."

See also:

17 Apr 02 | Middle East
Arafat furious as Powell ends mission
05 Apr 02 | Europe
Detentions after Jewish attacks
01 Apr 02 | Europe
French Jews demand protection
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