UK Anti-Semitism Report Out

Manchester school forced to pay for own security

House of Lords member told Jewish peer that getting rid of “your lot” would be next

Former Home Office Minister suggests downloading racist material should be illegal

The UK’s Report of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism has just been released. The 56-page report is divided into 8 short sections, which survey recent anti-Semitic incidents and discourse in the UK and offer recommendations as to what ought to be done about it. The inquiry was chaired by Denis MacShane, whom I found rather less than impressive when he spoke in advance of publication on BBC Radio 4 last week. However, despite that – and some problematic parts – the report is temperate and highlights some important developments.

The section on anti-Semitic incidents is largely a depressing but familiar log of human baseness and cowardice, as we read about Jews being attacked and cemeteries desecrated. It also, however, highlights a situation in Manchester which is nothing short of a scandal:

In the course of a visit to Manchester members of the panel visited the King David School, which more than one thousand Jewish children attend, and saw first hand the kind of security measures judged necessary based on advice from the police and the [Community Security Trust]. The campus is surrounded by reinforced fencing and monitored by CCTV cameras. The windows are fitted with anti-shatter glass and the wall nearest the road is reinforced. Access is controlled and limited to two entry points staffed by full-time security guards and parents are also asked to participate in a security rota. Bomb drills are conducted I addition to the standard fire drills. These measures cost the school around £130,000 annually and it receives no extra allowance from the Department for Education and Skills or the Local Authority. Parents are asked to make a termly contribution towards security but this does not cover the entire cost. We saw similar security precautions during our visit to Merkaz haTorah School in Paris, which was firebombed in 2003, but the French government contributes towards the school’s security costs.

The report also notes a low level of prosecutions, and recommends that the Crown Prosecution Service investigate the reason for this.

The section on anti-Semitic discourse, meanwhile, contains a report of an extraordinary incident:

Lord Janner of Braunstone submitted evidence describing some antisemitic remarks directed against him in Parliament including an incident after the arrest of Saddam Hussein. Lord Janner was approached by a fellow peer who said, “Well, we’ve got rid of Saddam Hussein now. Your lot are next.” In response to his questioning her use of “Your lot”, she said, “Yes, you cannot go on killing Palestinians for ever, you know”.

The name of Janner’s antagonist, though, is not provided.

There is also a foray into the world of the British far right:

A representative from Searchlight told us that the far right has started to use the language of ‘Zionists’ as a euphemism for ‘Jews’ in order to disguise its antisemitic agenda, a phenomenon that also occurs on the left and among Islamist extremists. We received numerous examples of this including an article in the BNP Voice of Freedom speaking of soldiers risking their lives in Iraq because “Tony Blair swapped British blood for donations from a clique of filthy-rich Zionist businessmen”…In its 2005 General Election manifesto, the BNP included a promise not to go to war for “neocon adventures on behalf of the Zionist government of Israel”.

BNP leader Nick Griffin’s notorious anti-Semitic statements are also highlighted, which, although always worth reminding the public about, are a bit old now. Islamists are also considered:

Extremist groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir and the now disbanded Al-Muhajiroun have a long history of publishing vicious and violent antisemitic propaganda…The activities of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, MPACUK, have given cause for concern. Although its rhetoric is often extremist, MPACUK identifies itself as part of the mainstream British Muslim community, describing itself as “the UK’s leading Muslim civil liberties group, empowering Muslims to focus on non-violent Jihad and political activism”…MPACUK has been criticised for publishing material on its website promoting the idea of a worldwide Zionist conspiracy, including the reproduction of articles originally published on neo-Nazi and Holocaust Denial websites, and is currently banned from university campuses under the [National Union of Students’] ‘No Platform’ policy.

Worrying links with some left-wing groups are also noted.

On the other hand, the report also notes efforts by religious groups to improve relations with Jews:

On our visit to Manchester we were told that the Lord Mayor, a Muslim Councillor, had taken a lead in promoting interfaith dialogue and was joint chair of the Manchester Muslim Jewish Forum…We received constructive written submissions from the Catholic Church, the Church of Scotland and the Church of England, all of which support a range of interfaith forums…The Catholic Conference of Bishops also submitted evidence that they try to combat antisemitism through education by presenting Jews and Judaism in a positive light.

As expected, a large chunk of the report also deals with Israel and the Palestinian conflict. The report treads carefully, explaining that

The committee unanimously recognised that criticism of Israel should not, in itself, be regarded as antisemitic but equally recognised that anti-Jewish prejudice in any context should not be overlooked.

Fair enough, and there’s also an attempt to get more than one perspective:

Some witnesses felt that it is misleading to characterise as antisemitic any contemporary attacks on Jews deriving from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They regard it as unhelpful to see such manifestations of anti-Jewish sentiment as a direct continuation of historical anti-Jewish prejudice…Rather than explaining the distinctions between legitimate and illegitimate criticism of the actions and policies of the Israeli government, we took the view that anti-Israel discourse can, at times, become polluted by antisemitism and it is more important in each case to identify whether or not this has occurred.

However, this is where the report becomes problematic:

The EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism, quoted in full on page 6, identifies some of the ways in which antisemitism manifests itself with regard to the State of Israel:

  • Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, for example by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.
  • Applying double standards by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
  • Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (for example claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterise Israel or Israelis.
  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

The EUMC Definition goes on to state that criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.

But how exactly do we define “double standards”? What does “self-determination” mean? For example, I support the right of return for Palestinian refugees, but I’m told by some that that would dilute the Jewish character of state, and therefore undermine Jewish “self-determination”. I think that’s probably the case, but I don’t see why justice for Palestinians should therefore de denied, since I would not accept this as a legitimate ground for my own dispossession. Does that make me an anti-Semite? And the “double standards” complaint is often no more than a smokescreen. Rather than deal with a criticism of Israel, the response is often: “ahh, but what about Islamist terrorism and anti-Semitism? Why do you criticise Israel when China occupies Tibet? etc. etc.” Yes, those injustices should also be opposed, and on some sort of scale may be “worse” than Israel’s behaviour. But why should it be necessary to reel off a litany of all these other ills before one can reasonably expect a complaint about Israel to be taken seriously?

The report goes on to quote Shalom Lappin:

Professor Shalom Lappin submitted to us that the conflict itself is not reported with the detachment applied to other areas of conflict such as Darfur or Chechnya:

“The Israel-Palestinian encounter has been largely denaturalised and removed from its political and regional context. It is no longer seen as a political and military struggle between two nations with a long and complex history…Instead, it has been endowed with the peculiar status of an iconic clash between good and evil. Israel has increasingly come to be construed as the purest embodiment of imperialism, racism and oppression whose sole national purpose is to dispossess the Palestinians.”

Such interpretations of the conflict no doubt do exist, and are regrettable – but shallow and “denaturalised” approaches do not, of course, invalidate analyses critical of Israel that do not share this flaw. And if we transpose the words “Israel” and “the Palestinians” in the last sentence, we have a reasonably useful description of the same vice as it appears a fair bit of pro-Israel discourse.

There’s also a section on the academic boycott debate, where all attempt at discursive discussion goes out the window. The inquiry takes the line of the “Engage” anti-boycott organisation, without seeking any input from academics such as Steven or Hilary Rose, the Jewish academics who first proposed the idea of breaking links with Israeli institutions (bold in original):

We conclude that calls to boycott contact with academics working in Israel are an assault on academic freedom and intellectual exchange. We recommend that lecturers in the new University and College Lecturers Union are given every support to combat such selective boycotts that are anti-Jewish in practice. We would urge the new union’s executive and leadership to oppose the boycott.

The boycott is termed “anti-Jewish in practice” because it would supposedly have its biggest impact on Jewish academics, and on the discipline of Jewish studies. But a bit more context is needed: one issue raised by the debate was links between Israel’s higher education system and the infrastructure of the occupation. The motion that was passed by the (now defunct) union NAFTHE was in the context of “academic responsibility”, and

invites members to consider their own responsibility for ensuring equity and non-discrimination in contacts with Israeli educational institutions or individuals, and to consider the appropriateness of a boycott of those that do not publicly dissociate themselves from such policies.

I think this formulation was flawed, and I would certainly have much preferred a more impersonal approach asking academics to consider how their links with particular institutions or projects might be ethically compromised through association with the occupation. But this is hardly “an assault on academic freedom”. Rather than deal with the text of the motion that was actually passed, the Inquiry instead relies on lurid accounts from Engage about Jewish academics facing the prospect of having their emails to foreign universities monitored.

There is also a more general discussion of the availability of racist and anti-Semitic material on the internet, and a disturbing suggestion from a former minister:

The former Home Office Minister Paul Goggins MP gave evidence of a model which could possibly be applied to racist material on the internet. In the case of child pornography it is now an offence to download images from the internet, and it may be possible to develop a similar law in regard to material which could incite racial or religious hatred.

As someone who has trawled through a few far-right websites for research purposes, that seems to me to be a very bad idea. And surely the current offence is not so much “downloading” child pornography as possessing it, whether electronically or on paper? Are the owners of racist books (or their own manuscripts, even) also to be targeted?

Of course, these are just a few of the things from the report I happened to find the most interesting: it’s worth reading the whole thing.

One Response

  1. […] The report is out, and I’ve discussed it here. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Champion of Human Rights?Can Criticism of Israel […]

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