British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks was hardly surprised when it was revealed that the suicide bomber who murdered three people in a Tel Aviv jazz club April 30 was a British Muslim.
"We have been warning the government for some years that extremist [Muslim] groups were operating in Britain, taking advantage of the extreme tolerance that Britain has," Rabbi Sacks said in a phone interview. "It isn’t a complete surprise. But it is a wake-up call."
That was the reaction of several British Jewish community leaders after the suicide bomber who attacked Mike’s Place was identified as Asif Mohammed Hanif, a 21-year-old university student from west London.
A second suicide bomber who fled the scene after his explosive belt failed to detonate was identified as Omar Khan Sharif, a 27-year-old from Derby, about 100 miles northeast of London.
Israeli authorities this week confirmed that a drowned body found off the Tel Aviv coast a week ago was Sharif. The London Times reported that Israeli intelligence believes Sharif was killed by his terrorist leaders who feared he would betray them if he was captured.
In Britain, Sharif’s sister was charged with failing to disclose information about a terrorist act.
As the first case of British Muslim suicide bombers to attack inside Israel, the incident has prompted a new look at the Islamic community in Britain and the threat to Jews there.
In an ominous news dispatch headlined "What Drove 2 Britons to Bomb a Club in Tel Aviv?" The New York Times went to Derby searching for answers.
They found that Sharif, whose family is from Pakistan, was a well-educated, upper-middle-class, Westernized and English speaking ó a far cry from the stereotypical explanation that suicide bombers are embittered by their impoverished, oppressive conditions.
The Times also found several young Islamic men willing to share their feelings about Jews and Israel.
Like Basu Hussain, 18, a fast-food worker at Lick’n Chick’n: "We should all get together and kill all the Jews." Or Shaban Yasin, 17, who works in a fish and chips shop: "We should find the best way to kill [Jews] and do that."
David Harris, head of the American Jewish Committee, at a Manhattan conference this month on anti-Semitism publicly "thanked" the British Muslim men for their candor, saying the quotes show the danger to Jews and Israel from Muslim extremism, or Islamism.
"One doesn’t need scholarly interpretation," Harris said. "It’s simply a matter of being reminded of what our adversaries are saying as openly as they possibly can, and they couldn’t be clearer."
Yehudit Barsky, the AJCommittee’s director of Middle East and International Terrorism, said such rhetoric was tolerated in Britain until now because no one was killed. But now, she said, the British government must confront the seemingly direct connection between the indoctrination of a radical Islamic theology being taught in schools and mosques, and murder and terrorism.
"I think people are becoming aware that we are facing a serious issue," she said. "If you can openly call for the death of Jews in the UK, then we have to ask the British government what kind of protection is there of Jews and other minorities that Muslim radicals are going to target.
"We’ve learned from the recent past that once you abandon one people, other people are going to be attacked."
Rabbi Sacks said the vast majority of British Muslims "are moderate, peaceful and are as shocked by these [anti-Semitic] statements as we are."
He called the Islamists "a small but very determined group in Britain who harbor great hostility to Israel, and there are times when this spills over into overt anti-Semitism."
The rabbi said that due to an effective, low-profile security operation, British Jews are "commendably calm about most of these things. But incitement to violence remains a very serious issue and must be taken much more seriously by the authorities."
Rabbi Julian Sinclair of Cambridge said Jews are feeling increasingly threatened by Islamist forces in recent months.
"There’s been a good deal of extreme incitement by the radicals. They’ve been allowed to get away with it for years without any reaction from authorities," he told The Jewish Week. "One of my students was beaten up in Cambridge a year ago; it was clearly anti-Semitic."
Michael Whine, a spokesman for Community Security Trust, British Jewry’s official security organization, agreed that the government had failed to confront the incitement in the past but was now working more cooperatively with his group.
He said Islamic extremist groups based in Britain such as al-Muhajiroun in London continue to encourage British Muslims to become suicide bombers as part of a jihad, or holy war, against Israel and the Jewish people.
Al-Muhajiroun, which Sharif had joined, claims to have sent hundreds of British Muslims to fight for the Taliban in Afghanistan against American forces in 2001.
The CST and the Board of Deputies, the umbrella group representing British Jewry, recently submitted a joint memo to the House of Commons’ Foreign Affairs Committee calling for coordinated action to be taken against British-based terrorist groups.
"Terrorist groups which have, in effect, been chased out of the USA and some European countries may be seeking to establish themselves in Britain," the memo warned.
British intelligence says it has been on high alert looking for al-Qaeda members. Many British Islamists have been arrested in recent months, including Richard Reid, the so-called "Shoe Bomber," who tried to blow up a Miami-bound plane.
The leader of the gang that killed Wall Street Times reporter Daniel Pearl is Ahmed Saeed Sheikh of London.
In March, Muslim cleric Abdullah el-Feisal, was sentenced to nine years in prison for soliciting murder and stirring up racial hatred. Based in east London, the Jamaican-born el-Feisal had distributed tapes calling for Muslims to kill non-believers, Jews, Americans and Hindus.
Anjem Choudhury, a spokesman for al-Muhajiroun, told British reporters that the attack on Mike’s Place "is something we would celebrate."
Choudhury’s remarks were condemned, however, by a several national British Muslim groups, including the moderate Muslim Council of Britain. The council, representing more than 350 mosques and Islamic organizations, criticized the comments as inflammatory and harmful.
"The seeming involvement of two British Muslims marks a tragic and worrying development," the council’s spokesman said. "Whereas British Muslims do sympathize with the Palestinian cause, the murder of innocent civilians could never be condoned. It is abhorrent to Islam."
But anti-Israel sentiments are also infecting British academia.
The Association of University Teachers last week fended off a proposal to have British universities sever ties with Israeli academic institutions to protest Israel’s alleged violation of the rights of Palestinians. The proposal called for members of the 46,000-strong union to boycott academic conferences in Israel.
The International Academic Friends of Israel condemned the proposal, saying its proponents "join an increasing number of global scientists and academics who are using the politics of the Middle East as an excuse to boycott and ostracize their Israeli counterparts."
Sue Blackwell of Birmingham University, who proposed the motion, argued that just as Britain had boycotted South Africa, it should impose one on "today’s apartheid regime."
But union delegate Simon Renton of University College London said a boycott would be "arrogant and imperialistic."
The proposal ultimately was defeated by a two-thirds to one-third vote.
- David Harris
- The London Times
- Jonathan Sacks
- Israeli intelligence
- Eric J. Greenberg
- British government
- Like Basu Hussain
- Or Shaban Yasin
- Omar Khan Sharif
- the Times
- tel aviv
- Social Issues
- Staff Writer
- Middle East
- The New York Times
- Asif Mohammed Hanif