European countries increase synagogue security as Jews brace for antisemitism after Hamas attack

World News

MADRID, PARIS and LONDON (JR) — As the bloody war in Israel and Gaza continues to escalate, many European Jews are bracing for reverberations far from the frontlines.

On Saturday, Hamas launched a surprise attack by land, air and sea, killing at least 900 Israelis, wounding more than 2,000 and taking more than 100 captive. Israel has responded with airstrikes that have killed close to 700 Palestinians. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has ordered a complete siege on the Gaza Strip, while Hamas has threatened to execute its civilian hostages.

But in cities across Europe, crowds have celebrated just streets away from vigils for the dead. Groups cheering the Hamas assault as “Palestinian resistance” to the Israeli occupation have danced on the street in London and handed out sweets in Berlin. In France, far-left movements called the terror attack “heroic.”

Jewish communal officials in Europe anticipate that the fighting in Israel will ignite antisemitic threats in their communities. Police have increased surveillance around synagogues, Jewish schools and other institutions in Germany, Britain, France and Spain.


Police officers stand with their patrol car in front of a building behind which sit the synagogue and the Jewish community center in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Germany, Oct. 9, 2023. (Jens Büttner/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Berlin police were on alert Saturday night, just hours after Hamas’ incursion, as dozens of people gathered to cheer and hold up victory signs on the Sonnenallee, a boulevard in the city. Police announced they disbanded the gathering for chants “glorifying violence” and made multiple arrests. Two officers were injured in the clashes. Earlier in the day, officers also responded to activists who were celebrating with baked sweets while draped in Palestinian flags.

“An escalation of the situation in Israel unfortunately always has an impact on our community,” said Ilan Kiesling, a spokesperson for the Jewish Community of Berlin group.

Kiesling told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the fighting in Israel and Gaza triggered “great uncertainty” in the local community, with parents asking for detailed information about the security measures in kindergartens and schools.

The Central Council for Jews in Germany also said it was in close contact with security authorities to ensure that Jewish institutions nationwide had heightened protection.

“No violence, no riots and no hatred on German streets,” the group said in a statement.


U.K. Chief Rabbi Sir Ephraim Mirvis and U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak attend a ceremony at the Finchley United Synagogue in central London for victims and hostages of Hamas attacks, Oct. 9, 2023. (Lucy North/PA Images via Getty Images)

In London, Daniel Sugarman saw that a local kosher restaurant had its glass door shattered on Monday morning. Pita, a business in the heavily Jewish neighborhood of Golders Green, reported its cash register was stolen. New graffiti that read “Free Palestine” also appeared on a bridge nearby, though it is not known if the slogan and the burglary are connected.

The Metropolitan Police Service told the JR that no arrest has been made and the incident is not currently being treated as a hate crime. But Sugarman, Director of Public Affairs for the Board of Deputies of British Jews, worried the fighting in Israel would set off hate in his community.

“This is about trying to make British Jews feel unwelcome and threatened where they live,” he said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Mayor Sadiq Khan condemned the incident, saying he stood with Jewish Londoners and the culprit would “face the full force of the law.”

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The Community Security Trust (CST), a charity dedicated to security for British Jews, reported  an increase in antisemitic abuse and threats over the past few days, and said it was prepared for more serious attacks.

“The number of incidents that have come in since Saturday is running at roughly triple what we would normally expect for this period,” Dave Rich, head of policy at the CST, told the JR.

“We expect that number to go up,” Rich added. “We are still logging and verifying things before they are put into the system.”

The Metropolitan Police confirmed it was increasing patrols across the city and providing safety advice to synagogues, mosques and businesses. Officers said they have attended to some “low level public order incidents” that circulated on social media, such as a celebration in the Acton area in which a group of men danced, cheered and waved Palestinian flags while cars honked in support, but all of the incidents were resolved without arrests.

The CST was working closely with the police to ensure it has a reinforced presence in Jewish areas. “We are not starting from scratch,” Rich said. “We’ve been around this course several times before. We have built up plans over many years.”


A French policeman stands guard outside the Paris Synagogue, Oct. 9, 2023. (Julien De Rosa/AFP via Getty Images)

In France, which has the largest Jewish population in Europe, police have arrested 10 people in connection with 20 reported antisemitic incidents since the Hamas assault. The reports include threats to synagogues and to customers who have visited Jewish businesses. Police also received a flood of complaints about antisemitic hate speech and glorification of terrorism online, resulting in 44 open investigations.

This spike in incidents over three days was “dramatic,” Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said on Monday, announcing reinforced security measures in 400 Jewish gathering places across France. As a sign of solidarity with Israel, the Eiffel Tower was lit in white and blue, the colors of the Israeli flag, on Monday night.

A segment of the country’s political left has distanced itself from near-unanimous condemnations of the Hamas offensive within the French political class. Some self-described “post-colonial” movements on and parties on the far left in France have praised the attacks.

Among them is the Indigenous Party, which tweeted on Sunday, “May the Palestinian Resistance, which carries out its actions with determination and confidence in heroic conditions, receive our militant fraternity in these terrible hours. Palestine will triumph, and its Victory will be ours.”

The statement sparked public outrage and calls for the party’s dissolution. Simone Rodan-Benzaquen, director of the American Jewish Committee in France and several other European countries, noted that penalties for advocating terrorism in France can reach five years’ imprisonment and a fine of 75,000 euros. Offenses committed on social media can lead to seven years of imprisonment and a fine of 100,000 euros, taking into account the broader reach of such activity online.

Myriam Ackermann-Sommer, the first Modern Orthodox female rabbi in France, said her community was stung by the way some political leaders had celebrated Hamas’ acts of terror.

“Of course, we were hurt by how far-left parties have reacted. Many people in our congregation consider themselves on the left of the political spectrum and this is very hurtful to them,” she told JR.

Rabbi Yves Marciano of Paris’ Les Tournelles Synagogue said that while bolstered security around places of worship was helpful, the risk to individuals is often greatest when they are not at synagogue.

“With my kippah, I can be seen from afar,” he said. “I am identified and identifiable. And, Mr. Darmanin can’t do anything about that. So, we are very worried about the near future.”


A group of Palestinians get into a fight with two Jewish women during a pro-Palestinian demonstration in the center of Barcelona, Oct. 8, 2023. (Ximena Borrazás/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

In Spain, Madrid’s main synagogue in the heart of the Chamberí district was defaced with graffiti that read “Free Palestine” next to a crossed-out Star of David on Sunday. Officials from the Federation of Jewish Communities in Spain told the JR the graffiti was removed from the synagogue’s main doors a couple of hours after its discovery.

The Spanish interior ministry has also bolstered police surveillance around synagogues and Jewish landmarks, according to Isaac Benzaquén Pinto, president of the Jewish federation. There are an estimated 12,000-15,000 Jews living in Madrid.

“Our community has always been known for being tightly knit whenever it is targeted, and this is an attack on Israel and all of Jewry as a whole. We stand unconditionally with the victims, all of them, the State of Israel and its army whose mission is to defend its people,” said Benzaquén Pinto.

In Ceuta, a small Spanish enclave on the North African coast near Morocco notable for its concentration of Spanish Jews, local authorities have particularly reinforced police surveillance and protection at the local synagogue and Jewish cemetery. Jews in Ceuta, mostly of Sephardic descent, have historically been targeted by antisemitism due to the geopolitical situation of the region, including a series of antisemitic incidents in recent years.

“As to this new wave of violence against Israel and the Jewish people, unfortunately, this is not new. We, as well as international organizations and the European Union, have been condemning this renewed surge of violence for a long time,” said Benzaquén Pinto.

Madrid Mayor José Luis Martínez-Almeida called the Hamas attack “unjustifiable” on Monday. He expressed concern that members of the Sumar political coalition — which includes far-left and green parties and is working to join a ruling parliamentary coalition after elections in July — hesitated to denounce Hamas.

The far-left Podemos party posted on X that the violence in Israel and Gaza was the fruit of Israel’s occupation and avoided outright condemnation of Hamas’ actions. On Monday night, the party led hundreds of people in a demonstration at Madrid’s Puerta del Sol square to “convey all our solidarity to the Palestinian people.” Demonstrators chanted slogans such as “Zionist State, terrorist State” and “It is not a war, it is a genocide.”

The Anti-Defamation League reported a spike in antisemitic rhetoric online during the 18 hours after war broke out on Saturday. Its data indicated that extremists and white supremacists across the world were emboldened in online spaces, some cheering Hamas, some circulating conspiracy theories and some discussing hopes for violence against Jews in the rest of the world.