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On Friday evening, the Prime Minister made a striking statement outside No. 10, likening Islamists and the far-right as “two sides of the same extremist coin” who harbour a mutual loathing for Britain. While the sentiment expressed in the Prime Minister’s speech was undoubtedly symbolically important, it arrives considerably late in addressing a concerning trend that has persisted since October 7th.

Since the heinous Hamas attack on Israel, weekends have been marked across the country by regular protests concerning the Israel-Gaza conflict. These protests, unfortunately, have frequently featured antisemitic imagery, casting a shadow over the public discourse and raising questions about the state of tolerance and inclusivity within our society. Such demonstrations began almost immediately after Hamas’ atrocities and before Israel had retaliated. This is in contrast to the seeming lack of interest in the sufferings of Muslims, such as the Rohingyas in Myanmar (more than a million refugees), and the persecution of the Uighur Muslims by the Chinese government.

For the past five months, individuals like myself have been tirelessly bringing to attention the presence of antisemitic symbols and rhetoric at the pro-Palestine marches in London. Yet, despite our efforts and the obvious need for action, law enforcement has often fallen short in effectively policing these events, allowing such hateful expressions to continue unchecked.

Earlier last week, as a result of my activism and fundraising, I had the honour of being invited to  the Community Security Trust (CST) annual dinner during which the Prime Minister announced the extension of a Government Grant of £18 million for the next financial year. Moreover, a minimum commitment of £18 million annually over the next four years will be allocated to the Jewish community.

The announcement came at a critical juncture given the recent surge in antisemitic incidents following the Hamas attacks on Israel and their aftermath. A recent report by the CST revealed that antisemitic behaviour in the UK reached its highest levels in over 40 years, with incidents rising by almost 150%to more than 4,000 in 2023 alone.

The persistence of these protests has led to Jewish individuals feeling increasingly vulnerable in public spaces. Recently, actress Tracy-Ann Oberman revealed that she was advised against leaving a London theatre due to ongoing pro-Palestinian protests outside. This underscores the palpable fear and anxiety experienced by members of the Jewish community amidst the escalating tensions.

Jonathan Hall KC, the independent reviewer of counter-terrorism legislation, has also sounded the alarm, expressing grave concerns over the rise of open extremism in Britain. In an interview with the Mail On Sunday, he stated, “It is the public brazenness of hate directed towards people by category, in particular Zionists, or Israelis, or Jews.”.

Whilst the Prime Minister’s intervention is welcome, the scale of the challenge is such that without specific legislative proposals, it is hard to see how the situation will improve. Instead, the Prime Minister has emphasised backing the police in their efforts to maintain order.

The failure of the Government to take decisive action in addressing these issues has exacerbated the situation, with calls for accountability growing louder. Despite the clear evidence of antisemitism within these protests, there has been a notable absence of meaningful intervention.

One of the key points of the Prime Minister’s speech on Friday was the pledge to re-double support for the anti-terrorism Prevent program. This indicates a recognition of the need for proactive measures to counter radicalisation and prevent the spread of extremist ideologies within communities. But, the Prime Minister needs to go further and fully implement the recommendations from the Shawcross review. The long-awaited report on the Government’s counter-extremism programme ‘Prevent’ by William Shawcross, an author and the former chair of the Charity Commission, has called for a greater focus on Islamist terrorism. Despite all the evidence demonstrating that Islamist terrorism is by far the greatest terrorist threat this country faces, the numbers referred to Prevent for Islamist radicalisation have become an ever smaller proportion of those in the scheme, representing only 11% of referrals in the year April 2022 – March 2023

Shawcross’s review also revealed that university referrals to Prevent were ‘strikingly low’, despite risks to universities from extremist groups. In his speech on Friday, the Prime Minister called for universities to tackle “extremist activity” which reflects a growing government concern over the potential radicalisation of young people in educational institutions. By demanding action from universities, the Government aims to address the root causes of extremism and promote a culture of tolerance and inclusivity on campuses.

There has been a wave of antisemitic incidents faced by Jewish students across the country, including physical attacks and assaults. The CST has received 150 reports of antisemitic incidents affecting students, academics, university staff and student bodies across the UK in 2020-21 and 2021-22. This compares with 123 in the previous two academic years. The Government must go further to ensure students unions and university authorities are better supporting their Jewish students, taking concerns seriously and acting against antisemitism.

Five months have passed since the initial attack that sparked these protests and the subsequent display of antisemitism. The Government’s failure to act swiftly not only undermines its commitment to combating extremism, but has also left the Jewish community feeling isolated and unprotected. I have Jewish friends who will not use the underground on Saturdays because of this sense of fear and vulnerability.

While words are important, they must be accompanied by meaningful action. The Prime Minister’s speech serves as a reminder of the urgent need for robust measures to address extremism in all its forms. It is imperative that the Government works tirelessly to ensure the safety and well-being of all its citizens, regardless of their race, religion or background.

As we move forward, this speech should mark the beginning of a concerted effort to tackle antisemitism and extremism head-on. The time for complacency has long passed; now is the time for decisive action and unwavering commitment to the values of tolerance, inclusivity and respect for all.

Isabella Wallersteiner is an Associate Fellow at Bright Blue.

Views expressed in this article are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Bright Blue. [Image: Daniel Sandvik]