Rumor on the block -- and I emphasise, this is just a rumor -- is that last week's two arson attacks on British shuls were not, after all, anti-Semitic per se. Apparently, there is no evidence of a break-in at Aish Hatorah, leading police to conclude that whoever was responsible for setting the place on fire had a key, and it was probably an inside job (a disgruntled cleaner, perhaps?). There is also, apparently, some evidence that the fire at the South Tottenham United synagogue's Beit Midrash was the work of run-of-the-mill English hooligans looking to have some 'fun' rather than hard-core anti-Semites looking to scare or damage the Jewish community.
If these rumors are true, this would not be the first time we've made such mistakes. I recall in particular the murder of David Rozensweig, a 48-year-old Orthodox Jew stabbed by skinheads outside a Kosher pizza parlor in Toronto one Saturday night in 2002. The Toronto community was whipped into a frenzy of fear by the incident which they -- and the police -- immediately labelled a 'hate crime.' Within a few days, it emerged that Rozensweig had stumbled into a drug-related fight and was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. But to this day, the community recalls the incident as a watershed in the rise of 'anti-Semitism' in the city.
So while it was entirely natural to jump to conclusions in the case of both the British arsons, particularly considering their proximity in time, the danger in crying 'anti-Semitism' before all the facts of the case are known is illustrated once again. While the British Jewish community over the last few months was definitely cautious about a general rise in anti-Jewish feeling, I think many people are now scared -- probably needlessly. In terms of public relations, exaggerating the extent of anti-Semitism will always, in the end, work against us.
Next time an incident like this occurs, I urge everyone to exercise some restraint. Let's resist the natural urge to assign blame until we are absolutely sure 'whodunnit' -- even when the evidence seems, on the face of things, conclusive.