Scotland Yard has recorded a “massive increase” in the number of suspected antisemitic offences in the capital compared with this time last year, as two more Jewish faith schools in north London close over security concerns.
The leaders of Menorah high school in Dollis Hill and another unidentified school told parents on Friday that their schools would be closeduntil at least Monday. They join Torah Vodaas primary school in Edgware, which made a similar decision on Thursday.
Later, the Metropolitan police said 75 antisemitic offences occurred from 30 September to 13 October this year, while 12 were recorded in the same period in 2022. Incidents reported to police, which may include non-crimes, increased sevenfold year on year, from 14 to 105.
The Met deputy assistant commissioner, Laurence Taylor, said police had asked the attorney general and the Crown Prosecution Service for greater clarity about what may constitute an offence.
He added that displays of Palestinian flags were not an automatic offence, with context being key. “A lot of it depends on the circumstances,” Taylor said.
Taylor reiterated that support for the last weekend’s attack by Hamas, or for the militant group, would constitute an offence and that as the group was banned under terrorism laws displaying its flag or chanting support would be a criminal offence.
Rallies and protests are planned this weekend in the British capital including one demonstration starting at midday on Saturday in central London, with the Met saying it would have more than 1,000 officers on duty during the event.
David Landau, the chair of governors at Menorah high school, told the BBC that the closure was due to the difficulty protecting staff and students from “lone wolf” attacks despite the additional support being received from the police.
“We have a situation where we have this international ‘day of rage’ has been called, we’ve had horrible demonstrations in London where antisemitism is openly displayed and the deaths of Jews are celebrated. We’ve had attacks on Jewish shop fronts in Golders Green, near where we are based.
“Individually, in our school we are fairly isolated from the rest of the community. We are in a nice community but nevertheless we are out there on our own and we felt that there was significant risks to the kids,” Landau said.
“Ultimately we were worried about individuals that might decide on a day like this to do something outstandingly stupid, and it’s very difficult to control against that.”
Sky News reported that a third unidentified Jewish school in north London had also opted to close. It was also reported that Ateres Beis Yaakov, a small private primary school and nursery, told parents it was to close on Friday “in the interest of the safety”. They later said they had been asked to “raise the fence” to make it harder for people to “reach over”.
Khaled Mashal, the former leader of Hamas, earlier this week called for worldwide protests to be held on Friday in support of Palestinians.
Other schools have taken additional precautions but have opted to remain open. The Jewish Free School in north London, the largest Jewish school in Europe, advised pupils to remove school blazers to avoid being identified, while others have practised emergency drills in the event of attacks.
Taylor said there was “no specific intelligence” of threats to Jewish schools in London, some of which have decided to close. The education secretary, Gillian Keegan, said the government was working closely with a “small number” of Jewish schools.
Rishi Sunak condemned a “disgusting rise” in antisemitism on Friday. The prime minister said intimidating behaviour and inciting violence or hatred would not be tolerated and would instead be met “with the full force of the law”.
Sunak, speaking to broadcasters in Gotland, Sweden, where he is attending the Joint Expeditionary Force summit, said: “We have provided extra funding to the Community Security Trust to make sure that Jewish institutions – whether that’s synagogue or schools – have all the protection they need and the police have all the support that they need to ensure that our streets are safe for people from all communities.
“Because we will absolutely not tolerate people inciting hatred, or violence or racist activity. Intimidating or threatening behaviour will not be tolerated. It will be met with the full force of the law.”