New York, Hampstead, a German pianist: The new faces of antisemitism

I have written an op-ed for the Daily Telegraph today on a weekend of anti-semitic outrages:

In New York, five Jews were stabbed at a rabbi’s house. In Germany, a Jewish pianist, Igor Levit, received a death threat. On a moonless Hampstead night, vandals committed 12 criminal acts of antisemitism. That cannot be allowed to pass.

I hope I never have to write another such piece.

Full text:

The Hampstead attacks

Norman Lebrecht

What could be more innocuous than a phone box in Belsize Park? A glass cabin on a row of shops beside a bus stop where red buses putter up and down to Hampstead Heath. People dismount here to grab a movie, a meal or a bottle of milk. Or stop a minute to get out of the rain.

Early yesterday morning this phone box was daubed with a dripping red Star of David and the numerals ‘9/11’, a slogan which may possibly refer to the Islamist 2011 attack on New York’s Twin Towers, an outrage which conspiracy theorists blame somehow on the Jews.

Why pick on a phone box? Because it stands outside a kosher bar and restaurant called Tish, which a pal of mine has upgraded from a chain pizzeria to a sentimental reminiscence of a central European dining room between the Wars. Tish was targeted because it is Jewish.

Further up Haverstock Hill another kosher restaurant, Delicatessen, had the same slogan daubed in red on an adjacent window. In all, the vandal or vandals attacked 12 sites during the night around Hampstead and Belsize Park. It’s likely to be the work of more than one perpetrator, since someone had to hold the paint tin while others did the daubs.

And they knew what they were after. There was an attack on South Hampstead Synagogue, recently reopened after a total rebuild, a process that was conducted in close coordination with local groups and Camden Council. The aim is for the new synagogue to serve as a cultural amenity for the wider community, as well as being a place of worship and celebration for Jews. As such, it was anathema to antisemites.

News of the attack struck me like a punch to the face. This synagogue, built with love and sacrifice and sensitivity by Londoners rich and poor, had been singled out in the dark of night with the aim of making Jews feel bad. The Nazis had a word for it. ‘Unerwunscht’ they wrote on park benches and places of public recreation: Jews are unwanted. That was roughly the intent of yesterday’s attacks. We have not seen things like this in my lifetime.

My London-born father was, I know, alert to antisemitic slurs, but I, born after the War, assumed that Hitler’s Holocaust had made Jew-hatred forever inadmissible. That assumption held true until about five years ago when antisemitic tropes made an unexpected return to the political discourse of the nationalist right and the anti-Zionist left. Suddenly I heard the ‘unwanted’ echo. At seven in the morning of the Jewish New Year, as I walked with my wife through a Jewish part of London, two young men in a speeding car made rude gestures at us. What had we done to deserve that? Someone had spotted us as Jews.

Setting aside its early origins, antisemitism changed in the mid-19th century from religious hostility into cultural antagonism towards a rising middle-class that seemed, perhaps, too successful for its own good. Often, the new antisemites had never met a Jew. In my book Genius and Anxiety I relate how Charles Dickens, impressed by a Jewish woman who had bought his house, toned down Fagin in later editions of Oliver Twist to something considerably less vicious.

The Russian-born scientist Chaim Weizmann, whose acetone process helped Britain win the First World War, liked to say that the Jews are just like everyone else – ‘only more so.’ British Jews were perhaps a tad louder and more colourful.

Some people will always be affronted by difference – and Jews, let’s be clear, are different in their ancestry, their culture, their humour and even some of their music – but history has taught us that the most thriving nations on earth are those – like Britain and the United States – which harness diversity to a common purpose.

My fear is that this noble aim is being lost. In New York, five Jews were stabbed at a rabbi’s house. In Germany, a Jewish pianist, Igor Levit, received a death threat. On a moonless Hampstead night, vandals committed 12 criminal acts of antisemitism. That cannot be allowed to pass. Long-closed police stations need to be reopened. Patrols must be seen and heard. People and places have to be protected. It’s dark out there, not only for Jews. We need to see more light.


Norman Lebrecht’s book Genius and Anxiety is published by Oneworld, £20

share this

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on google
  • Norman – As atrocious and horrific as these crimes are, thankfully no one was “stabbed to death” in the New York attack, although that was clearly the attacker’s aim.

    • As one of your mentors, GS, said before a concert in the aftermath of the Kent State tragedy “would please join us in standing silently for a few moments in simple human recognition of the tragic events of this week”. Our President couldn’t clearly express a similar sentiment about yesterday’s act of barbarism.

      • According to a report by the BBC: President Donald Trump called for unity to fight “the evil scourge” of anti-Semitism following the attack.

          • Now who’s encouraging hatred on SD? The very minute you speak like this you trash more than 40% of your population who voted for Trump. Yep, full of love!!!

        • Difficult to interpret when the same person decided that a crowd of torch wielding neo-nazis chanting in unison “Jews will not replace us” contained, according to him, some “very fine people”.

          • Trump was talking about the people who went to protest the removal of the Robert E Lee statue. From the NY Times:“Good people can go to Charlottesville,” said Michelle Piercy, a night shift worker at a Wichita, Kan., retirement home, who drove all night with a conservative group that opposed the planned removal of a statue of the Confederate general Robert E. Lee.

          • Spoken like a true trump enabler. trump is such a nuanced and detail oriented communicator, as well as a history buff, that given what went on for 2 days he was only referring to those people protesting the removal of a racist and treasonous confederate general’s statue? trump is well aware of who his supporters are and has no intention of disavowing even 1 bigot. You like him and/or his positions, fine you also get the immoral and illegal baggage.

    • From a sociological and psychological point of view, antisemitism makes a lot of sense. It is defining, fortifying and nurturing a sense of identity for those defined as the enemy, even if in a paradoxical way.

      • In Europe, certainly. The barbarians at the gate, thanks to Merkel. Most of these arrivals are from parts of the world where hating Jews is part of the social fabric. Oh, who’d have thought we’d have anti-semitism after that!!??

        But, please, make sure you avoid the elephant in the room.

        • It’s easy and convenient and not at all helpful to blame European anti-semitism entirely on new immigrants. Both the new arrivals and the old establishment(s) are a mixed bag of people and prejudices.

        • In the US, certainly. Where the F&*^ do you think New York is?

          Stop blaming “the other.” Look to cases. That looks pretty homegrown.

        • Sorry to let you in on a secret, SueSF, but antisemitism existed in both Europe and America long before Merkel was born. Banning Muslims, as you and Trump devoutly wish, would not have prevented the recent attacks in New York and New Jersey done by people who were born here. It is certainly a more complex problem than can be blamed on your bete noire, those darn “Lefties” allowing those damn Muslim barbarians to slip past our “gates”.

        • “Most of these arrivals are from parts of the world where hating Jews is part of the social fabric.”
          Such as Red State America, very much in evidence at Charlottesville. But I guess that was all Merkel’s fault, right Sue?

        • Sue doesn’t seem to understand that much of the anti-Muslim hatred comes from the same roots and often the same people as anti-Semitism. But that’s probably because she is evidently a bigot herself.

        • Could you please stop blaming fugitives for atrocities mostly committed by European locals – especially in Germany?

  • The fact that the Hampstead vandals clearly believe in the “9/11 (Jewish) Conspiracy” nonsense shows how dangerously ignorant and stupid these monsters are.

    • How (who) in hell’s name voted this down? It’s patently obvious that the 9/11 (Jewish) Conspiracy is utter bollocks. It’s patently obvious that the vile people who perpetrated 9/11 and similar atrocities are anything but sympathetic to the Jews.

    • It is not entirely clear that “9/11” doesn’t refer to Kristallnacht (“11/9” we would write in the US). Either way– or both ways, as perhaps it was intended– it is vile.

  • When self-proclaimed Nazis are an enthusiastic and welcomed part of the tRump voting coalition in the US, and tRump himself propagates antisemitic tropes (such as conspiracy theories about Soros), I fear the situation will get far worse before it gets better.

      • so what? many anti-semites had jewish friends. it’s jews in general they hate. they often make exceptions for those whom they know.

      • Face it. Self-professed Nazis are part of your voting coalition. Indeed, it can safely be said that nearly 100% that Nazis in the US are part of your voting coalition. Like you, they are also on online forums enthusiastly supporting tRump. If that doesn’t make you think twice about your views … well, enough said.

        • “it can safely be said that nearly 100% that Nazis in the US are part of your voting coalition”. Do you have facts to back up that stupid comment? It’s like saying all the KKK members were Democratic supporters – and a LOT were. Yes, there are “Nazis” supporting Trump, but don’t get too comfortable; there are plenty of Nazis in the Democrat party. Get informed. Read “The Big Lie”.

          • Oh sure – Nazis and the KKK were part of the Obama voting coalition.

            Amazing self-delusion. Hence my prediction that this is the tip of the iceberg.

          • Lefties are not good with facts!! Their schtick is hand-wringing and feel-good virtue signalling in a largely fact-free alternate universe.

          • Whereas your hero Trump never lies? In fact he’s broken all the records for untruth in the Oval Office, but you “Righties” persist in not caring.

      • First, only his oldest daughter converted to Judaism. Second, if you’ve ever seen pictures of dt walking up the stairs of Air Force One with an umbrella to prevent his hairdo from collapsing in the rain while his youngest son trails a foot behind getting soaked you’ll have an insight as to his parenting skills. Third, this is a man who charges his 2 older sons’s when they hold charity events at one of his properties. Do you really think he thinks of any part of himself as Jewish or Christian for that matter? Do you think the tenents of those religions enter his consciousness? In the words of the man 3 Corinthians. True news!

    • You are aware, aren’t you, of the Democratic Party’s embrace of the notorious anti-Semite Al Sharpton? He was involved in the Crown Heights Pogrom and the events that led to seven dead at the Jewish-run store in Harlem, Freddy’s Fashion Mart.

      • Al Sharpton is the best you can come up with? That’s going back a bit, whereas Donald “there are good people on both sides” Trump is here and now, and horribly more powerful. There’s a reason he is supported by the “Jews will not replace us” crowd, who don’t care about the status of Jerusalem, since the supremacy they worry about is born in the USA.

      • Al Sharpton gave a very resounding condemnation on his television program of the slayings at the New Jersey kosher supermarket a few weeks ago. The segment also included an extensive interview with a leader of the Jewish community (the name of whom I can’t recall, but I’ll look it up if you insist). You wouldn’t think the way you do if you’d seen that segment.

  • As a Jew, I am naturally especially sensitive to anti-semitic attacks. But according to the assailant’s family, the man has a long history of mental illness and violent behavior. They say that the attack was a result only of mental illness and not of anti-semitism. As I read their comments, the attacker was not mentally fit to form an ongoing hate of any one group of people.

        • To clarify, police say that the stabber was clearly targeting Jews, based on documents they found at his house and on his browser history. What the family was saying, it appears, is that this is a recent obsession that was a manifestation of his schizophrenia.

          • I assumed that it was a rhetorical question. No, I don’t always believe the families of accused criminals. But in this case I believed the person who was speaking for the family when she said that the man had long-existing, serious mental issues and that he was raised in an environment that rejected prejudice against any race or religion.

          • Families almost always try to defend their own and therefore are very rarely believable to me. Is there any specific reason you believed them in this particular case? Do you still believe their explanation?

    • He deliberately drove far from his home to target an ultra-orthodox area. His motives were deeply anti Semitic, mental illness or not. One doesn’t preclude the other. He was sane enough to drive a car and locate his victims on the basis of their being identifiably Jewish. Chased from the rabbi’s home, he tried to break into the nearby synagogue, but luckily he failed. Are you saying in his mental illness innocence he didn’t know it was a synagogue?

      • Nope, that’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is what I said above: according to his family he is schizophrenic and his new hated of Jews stems from that rather than having membership in hate groups or having grown up in an antisemitic environment.

        • That is very kind of you to give their statement enough credibility to discuss it as if it was an unbiased assessment, but in any case the question still remains: why his hatred, whether “new” or old, was directed against Jews and not against redheads or bicyclists or plumbers or people who wear blue shirts.

          • Hard to say, isn’t it. Maybe he was triggered by the attacks in New Jersey. Maybe he found some other source of antisemitic crap someplace. My only point way up above was that there is a difference between insane people acting on their insanity and sane hateful bigots acting on their hateful bigotry. But if the point of the people who replied to my paragraph was that even if the man’s schizophrenia was his driving force, his actions were directed toward Jews in particular by an increasing antisemitic acts globally, yea, obviously.

          • For victims and their families, there is very little if any difference or relevance in determining what made their assailants antisemitic.

    • Yes, that’s right; most terrorist attacks are the result of “mental illness” and not hideous dogma and violent ideology. Yeah, right. That’s why they shouldn’t be spending any time in the slammer. Like the guy who recently killed on the London bridge; he was out nice and early and being ‘rehabilitated’.

      Killing with kindness, I think you’ll find.

      • Many, if not most, terrorist attacks are a result of misdirected hated, not unlike the deep hatred of liberalism that you often express on this site.

    • Ironically, being insane or antisemitic are not mutually-exclusive properties. They ALWAYS go together. Antisemitism should be classified as a subclass of insanity.

  • See, Norman, this is why you have to be careful, Norman. If you allow yourself a mistake like saying people were stabbed “to death,” then people — some people — will use that inaccuracy as a reason to discount everything else you say. Of course your history of misleading headlines isn’t helpful either.

    I, and I suspect many others who continue to visit this site, have simply developed a policy of taking all headlines with a grain of salt and reading more carefully (e.g. following the links) to find out what you’re actually talking about. If I don’t have the time or inclination to do that, then I just figure it could be one of “those” headlines, and semi-dismiss it.

  • The main ingredient of antisemitism – at least for the last couple of centuries – is probably envy, and apparently it is a very strong motivation for far too many people.

    • You’ve really nailed that (sorry about the unfortunate metaphor!). Good old fashioned envy and resentment for a demographic of highly successful, intelligent and hard-working people.

      My son was recently on a study tour of Israel and was absolutely impressed by that wonderful country.

    • Much historical antisemitism is of people who weren’t allowed to mix with general society, who couldn’t own property, who rarely accumulated wealth. What exactly was the cause of this hypothetical envy? Our lush beards?

      • After Jews were given civil rights at the beginning of the 19th century, they were free to eneter any profession, many left the ghetto and orthodox religion behind and made successfull careers. In the unfolding of industrialism and capitalism by the 19C bourgeoisie, many people of Jewish descent were part of the elite and when the damages, done by industrialism and capitalism became increasingly visible, the many ‘Jews’ seen as being responsible for such damages, were targetted on racist grounds: they were responsible because of their ethnicity. The stupidity is in confusing ethnicity and behavior: a bad banker of Jewish descent is not bad because of his being ‘Jewish’ (many of such people were fully integrated anyway, often already for generations). Hence the increasing racism.

        As composer and conductor Jose Serebrier noted above, antisemitism does not make sense, because there is no sense whatsoever in it, because it’s merely an expression of hatred looking for an easy target, requiring the least possible thinking. “I’m unhappy because I slept badly, have no job, can’t find my coke and my back itches, so let’s find something Jewish.”

        • The semi-integration of Jews into Gentile society still doesn’t explain the “envy” motivation offered above. Why envy successful Jews more than the more numerous successful, and privileged, Gentiles?

          • I think ‘gentiles’ were also looked upon with envy, but individually so; they did not offer some physical property which could easily be generalized – like ‘those bad blond-bearded bankers’. If successful elite people were all cross-eyed, the same generalized prejudice would have developed.

  • Envy, no matter whether unacknowledged unexamined unrealized, is the source of many kinds of bigotry and antisemitism is no exception. When alt-right/neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville chanting slogans which were racist, antisemitic and more, they displayed not only paranoia but also a form of envy of what others including Blacks, Jews, etc. had achieved and brought to the U.S. as valuable contributions to American society. That’s not to say every antisemite is envious of Jews; too many are just criminal (Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, Christchurch, New Zealand synagogue shooting, etc.).

  • Distressing to read your article in the Daily Telegraph. Relatives of mine died in the Second World War fighting Nazism. Fortunately for me, my father survived the War despite serving as a British soldier. Like you, I would have thought that their efforts as well as the millions who fought in this conflict would have put paid to this scourge of anti-semitism. However, we are all increasingly aware of the issue rising again in a new form.

    So thank you, Norman for bringing this to our attention and our Best Wishes and support to London’s Jewish community and to others around the world.

  • The perceived “ills” that are encountered or experienced by an individual, a group or a society, are often rationalized by them, as not of their own creation. The search for retribution and vindication begins and finds its despicable answer in creating a scapegoat. This scapegoat has been and continues to exist within the antisemitic movement.

  • Is this a music website or one on crimes against a very specific kind of people?

    Think about it, before posting an accumulation of entirely unrelated incidents, linked only by one thing… which has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with music…


    • Are you concerned about wasting memory space on the SD server, or are just uncomfortable reading about those ‘very specific kind of people’ and the issues they face? How many classical pianists on stage today have been threatened to be executed due to their ethnicity? Jews are .5% of the world’s population, yet are constantly blamed for pretty much everything – you name it. And for my brothers and sisters here who say ‘oh but he has Jewish grandkids’ – that’s so comforting 🙂 You are all so easily fooled: I don’t give a rat’s a** how many yarmulke wearing grandchildren circle around the emperor-in-chief at any given moment, and how many embassies he opens in Jerusalem to please his evangelist base – his father was a KKK member and he brought a Neo Nazi into the WH, remember? He started with Mexicans and muslims, and he will sooner or later get to the Jews, don’t worry.

    • When a prominent musician receives a death threat – simply because of who he is – it certainly does have everything to do with music and should be of concern to those who are interested in the subject.

      • Nope. (You’re missing details here. Allow me to explain)

        There was a seperate post for what you mention:

        And that’s all fine.

        But the incedents in New York and Hampstead are not related to music.

        What’s more… Norman Lebrecht crossposts stuff that he has already published in the Daily Telegraph anyway. And what stuff? Well as was stated above: “accumulation of entirely unrelated incidents, linked only by one thing… which has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with music…”

        • The “one thing” these “incidents” are linked by is of serious concern to thousands of classical musicians and an even greater number of classical music lovers, so it is a perfectly legitimate and fully appropriate issue to discuss on this or any other forum related to classical music.

  • >