Hot topic: Anti-Semitism in the workplace

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Allegations of anti-Semitism within the Labour party have dominated headlines, with leading British Jewish groups accusing Jeremy Corbyn of turning a blind eye

In January it was revealed that anti-Semitic assaults had risen by 34% between 2016 and 2017. With fears that anti-Semitism is a growing problem in the UK, is this affecting workplaces? Is it a neglected area of D&I, and what’s HR’s role?

Nick Lowles, chief executive of Hope Not Hate, says:

"Anti-Semitism has cropped up in conspiracy theories about ‘bankers’ who supposedly rule the world, on murals showing stereotyped Jewish figures, among Holocaust deniers, and in the minds of those who connect Jewish people to notorious falsities like blood libels.

"But modern anti-Semitism is morphing. It has shown it can cross over into sections of the political left.

"History has shown us that we must not allow its seeds to take root. In France and Germany there have been frightening attacks against Jews, as well as disturbing echoes of anti-Semitism from leading political figures in central and eastern Europe.

"These are unsettling times. So just as politicians need to root out anti-Semitism, so too do workplaces. There should be zero tolerance."

Gillian Merron, CEO of Board of Deputies of British Jews, says:

"Often a ‘hidden minority’, many Jews have experienced casual anti-Semitism – when colleagues do not realise they are Jewish, or through references made to ‘Jewish insurance claims’ or assumptions that a third party is wealthy because they are Jewish.

"Jewish employees may decide not to complain, worrying that it will damage their relationship with colleagues. Whether there are Jews in the workplace or not such comments are unacceptable.

"An even more serious flashpoint may occur over requests for flexible working and annual leave. Observant Jews have strict guidelines concerning not working on festivals, high holy days and on the Sabbath.

"In a recent case brought to the attention of the Board of Deputies a Jewish employee successfully requested annual leave for a festival. The line manager’s resentment spilled over into intimidation, mocking Jewish festivals loudly in an open-plan office. Whether this is driven by anti-Semitism or general anti-religious prejudice, the effect on a Jewish employee – who has merely exercised their legal right – can be devastating."

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