Page last updated at 03:44 GMT, Friday, 13 February 2009

'You grow immune to the threat'

Graffiti on a bus shelter
Graffiti on a bus shelter opposite Golders Green police station

By Ollie Williams
BBC News

Figures suggest 2009 is on course to become the worst year on record for anti-Semitic abuse in the UK.

But one victim believes the rise in violence, which has been linked to the conflict in Gaza, is simply a continuation of the threat the UK's Jewish community has always faced.

Michael Bookatz needs no statistics to understand that his community is facing, according to Jewish groups, a level of anti-Semitism unprecedented in recent years.

Last month, the 32-year-old was attacked by two men while walking home at night in Golders Green, north London - home to a prominent Jewish community.

"I saw a guy walking towards me out of the corner of my eye, but I wasn't paying attention," he remembers.

Michael Bookatz believes he was attacked because of the Gaza conflict

"Suddenly, he ran towards me and punched me in the face. I fell to the ground and he started stamping and kicking me, then a friend of his ran over and did the same.

"They said they were doing it because of what had happened to the Palestinians in Gaza. They were cowards, but I just accept it. It's part of life."

The Community Security Trust (CST), which tracks anti-Semitic abuse, says that while there were 27 recorded cases in January 2008, there were more than 200 in January 2009.

The trust recorded 541 anti-Semitic incidents for 2008 - a slight decrease on the figure for 2007, when 561 cases were documented.

But January of this year is by some distance the worst month on record. October 2000 was previously the worst individual month, during which there were 105 cases.

I know I'm quite rare in that I'll talk about it - I don't particularly want to, but if I have to, I have to
Michael Bookatz
Some of the incidents recorded by the CST during the Gaza conflict are assaults similar to that suffered by Mr Bookatz, whose attackers have not been found.

The majority refer to hate mail, offensive posters and anti-Semitic graffiti daubed on walls and bus stops.

"Clearly this is a particularly sharp spike in incidents, the highest recorded number in such a short time, and likely to be a record year," says Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

"During the Gaza conflict, we received e-mails, letters, items sent through the post and phone messages of a quite nasty, clearly anti-Semitic nature - messages saying, 'You're killing children in Palestine.'

"These things increase the atmosphere of concern, but it's part of the background that we take as, unfortunately, fairly normal."

On Monday, an international conference in Parliament will meet to debate strategies for combating anti-Semitism across the globe.

The CST's report lists incidents from more than 50 locations within the UK, with Manchester and Hertfordshire among those highlighted.

But the majority of anti-Semitic attacks last year, and many of those witnessed last month, took place in London.

Metropolitan Police figures show 95 anti-Semitic incidents across the capital between late December and early February (by comparison, there were 25 recorded Islamophobic incidents), and the force says it "increased visible patrols whilst appropriate".

What we saw in January was a blip - it's calmed down now
Pc Terry Hay
Over the road from Golders Green police station, there is a bus shelter where anti-Semitic graffiti has been almost - but not quite - erased from the windows.

"The Jewish community like us to be visible," says Pc Terry Hay, who has spent well over a decade on patrol here.

"As a community they are very security-conscious. They do stand out as a community on the street, but nobody is about to start asking them to wear bright colours and blend in."

Pc Hay believes that with the conflict in Gaza no longer making daily headlines in the UK, the violence seen in January will not last.

"What we saw in January was a blip," he says. "It was a few days, and it was mostly posters and graffiti, plus a couple of people in cars shouting out abuse.

"It's calmed down now. Things are back to normal."

However, Mr Bookatz, who was admitted to hospital with severe bruising and swelling following his attack, worries about what "normal" means to the Jewish community.

"The problem is, if you live under constant threat of violence, you grow immune to it," he says.

"If you're tense all the time, with this security alert and that security alert, you become deadened to it."

Graffiti in Bury
This slogan appeared on a wall in Bury, Greater Manchester
Mr Bookatz insists he will change no more habits in the wake of his assault.

"I won't let it stop me leading my life," he says, but he admits others are less determined.

"There are people I know who are more worried and more cautious about what they do because of what happened to me, and the graffiti.

"People don't want to draw attention to it," he adds. "They think that if you do, then it'll happen more often.

"I know I'm quite rare in that I'll talk about it. I don't particularly want to, but if I have to, I have to.

"I hear their argument but I've got my faith in God, and I've all confidence that God knows what he's doing."

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