News & Politics

'Beware of Jews' Sign Sparks Outrage in UK Hasidic Community

A sign in north London, image credit @Shomrim, a Jewish community safety patrol.

On Tuesday afternoon, a sign interpreted as saying “Beware of Jews” was seen in Stamford Hill, a northern district of London and home to the largest concentration of Haredi Jews in Europe. Shomrim UK, a Jewish community safety patrol, reported the sign to local authorities. But the artist responsible apologized for offense, and explained the real intentions behind the sign.

“These minor things sadly lead into more serious things, as history has taught us,” Rabbi Herschel Gluck, president of Shomrim, told the BBC’s Jonathan Savage. Gluck argued that the Holocaust “began with similarly minor things but then gravitated to something much more serious.”

Gluck added that anti-Semitic attacks are “low level” but “quite frequent,” and that London is “generally a safe place” for Jews, “but not safe enough.”

“The people of Stamford Hill are very sadly used to instances of antisemitic hate crime, but most of those times it will be verbal abuse or even assault,” Barry Bard, Shomrim’s operational supervisor in the area, told Britain’s The Guardian. “A lot of the time it will be more of a person-to-person kind of thing, or graffiti, which is more unprofessional.”

Shomrim had reported that the sign caused “alarm and distress to local people.” Stamford Hill is at the center of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish and mainly Hasidic community with an estimated population of about 30,000.

Franck Allais, the freelance photographer who took the blame for the sign, apologized for causing offense. “It was a project about crossing the road … how everyone is different, everyone has an identity,” Allais told The Guardian. “There is not only one sign in the street. I put more signs up in the street, but only this one got noticed. I am sorry for any offence caused.”

The photographer added that his project included depictions of a woman pulling a shopping cart, a man pushing a wheelchair, and a cat, in addition to the controversial sign.

Allais has done work for Guardian Weekend, the Saturday and Sunday Telegraph, FT Weekend magazine, the Independent on Sunday, Newsweek, and Time Out. He told The Guardian he had created the signs based on real people he saw crossing the road in the areas where the signs were later hung and photographed.

Jonathan Savage, the BBC Radio reporter, posted a photo of another of the signs on Twitter.

The Hackney council was expected to remove the sign on Wednesday.

According to the Community Security Trust, anti-Semitic incidents in Britain increased to record levels in 2016. The number of recorded incidents for last year was 1,309 — an increase of 36 percent from the 960 reported in 2015. Compared to the 2014 number (1,182), however, the number from last year only represents a 10 percent increase. The 2014 statistic was the previous peak.

Anti-Semitic crimes have also increased across the United States, with many bomb threats. It remains unclear exactly who is to blame. Jewish groups have called Trump’s answers to questions about anti-Semitic attacks “worrisome” and “mind-boggling.” The president infamously omitted a specific mention of Jewish victims in his Holocaust Remembrance Day speech.

On the flip-side, there have been fake hate crimes following Trump’s election, some of which targeted Jews. Also, President Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner are Jews, and the president has long done business in New York City, well known for its Jewish population. Do Americans really think Trump is anti-Semitic?

It is very important that any reports of such crimes are taken seriously, even when they turn out to be a false alarm like this “Beware of Jews” sign in London. Until it is made clear that the situation is not an anti-Semitic attack, investigators must be vigilant, and Shomrim deserves to be commended. But now that the real story behind the offensive sign has been discovered, let us hope everyone can move on with their lives.