If you want a fair definition of Zionism, it’s best to ask a Palestinian

Interesting and provocative column on the IHRA definition of antisemitism and its use:

There are lots of good reasons to think the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, now adopted “in full” by Labour’s national committee and by Labour MPs, is, well, a bit rubbish.

  • The actual definition of anti-Semitism is not up to much
  • The illustrations are a legal mess
  • It appears to be having no impact on anti-Semitism in the (few) countries which have endorsed it
  • And it’s already being used to prevent open debate on university campuses

A recent article by Tony Lerman gathers together all of these points and more.

It was short-term political expediency which drove this week’s decision-making, necessitated by an ongoing high-stakes campaign of vilification that takes no prisoners.

The Liberal Democrat Party has also fallen into line, no doubt realising that attempting to conduct a rational discussion over the merits of the IHRA burns up too much political capital. And now we read that the Church of England wants to adopt it too. The sanctification of this document is going ecumenical.

But there’s a further problem which should be reason enough to dump the whole IHRA definition, and its illustrations, in the rubbish bin. And it goes beyond the need to guarantee freedom of speech.

The truth of the matter is, the Jewish community can no longer define “Zionism,” or indeed “anti-Semitism,” without the help of Palestinians.

The right to define

I know what some people will be thinking.

Surely, it’s for the Jewish community, through its leadership, to determine what anti-Semitism is? What Zionism is? Surely, an oppressed people should have the right to define the nature of the oppression perpetrated against them? Hence the insistence that the Labour Party adopt, in full and without amendments or caveats, the IHRA definition and illustrations.

That’s what the Board of Deputies of British Jews has asked for. So surely, that’s what it should get?

It’s become a politically difficult task, if not impossible, to challenge this assertion of the right to define what’s perceived as exclusively Jewish experience and terminology, especially at a time when identity politics rules our daily discourse.

The President of the Board of Deputies, Marie van der Zyl, provided a good example of the accepted parameters of the debate in her statement welcoming the National Executive Committee’s (NEC) decision.

“It is very long overdue and regrettable that Labour has wasted a whole summer trying to dictate to Jews what constitutes offense against us.”

Similarly, the NEC’s addition of a one-sentence free speech caveat was characterized by Simon Johnson, CEO of the Jewish Leadership Council, as driving “a coach and horses” through the anti-Semitism definition:

“It is clearly more important to the Labour leader to protect the free speech of those who hate Israel than it is to protect the Jewish community from the real threats that it faces.”

Devoid of context

But this is a perspective devoid of historical context. It just doesn’t work for the situation in which we as a Jewish community now find ourselves, and which our leaders have done so much to create.

If defining “anti-Semitism” has become, to a considerable extent, what can and can’t be said about Israel and Zionism, then how can it be a question which only (some) Jews get to answer?

And if this is really all about the right to define your own oppression, then why does this rule not apply to the Palestinians?

It’s a bit like trying to define “British colonialism” by only asking the opinion of a 19th-century British diplomat. Or praising “American freedom and values” without acknowledging the experience of Native Americans or African Americans. It makes no sense because you only get half the story, half the lived experience (at most). The language and the ideas in question have more than one owner.

Inextricably linked

For more than 100 years, the history of the Palestinians and the Jews has been inextricably linked. Neither of us can understand our past or present condition without reference to the other. Neither people’s story is complete without the other.

Of course, our interlinked relationship is not one of equality. Our story is shared but the consequences of our entanglement are vastly different.

One side has rights and national self-determination. The other side is denied those same things in the name of Jewish security and Jewish national sovereignty. In short, one side has been empowered by dispossessing the other.

The Palestinians have even become caught up in the telling of the Holocaust. Successive generations of young Jews have been taught to see Israel, as it’s currently constituted, as the only rational response to our 20th-century catastrophe. The Palestinians are seen as attempting to thwart that response.

It’s this entanglement of narratives and the need to defend Israel’s legitimacy that have led to the muddle, the confusion and the deliberate politicization of “anti-Semitism” as a concept. And, by contrast, it’s led to the spiritualization of “Zionism” so it has become not a political project but an expression of Jewish faith.All of this has forfeited our right to independently define our oppression without consulting the victims of our new faith in Jewish nationalism. The meaning of “anti-Semitism” and “Zionism” is no longer ours to determine alone. These words, and most importantly the experiences they bring with them, now belong to the Palestinian people too.

To get beyond this, we as a Jewish community, need to confront Zionism’s past and present. We need to rethink Jewish security in a post-Holocaust world. We need to build broad coalitions to tackle all forms of discrimination. That must include antisemitism from the left, and more often the right, which uses anti-Jewish myths and prejudices to promote hatred of Jews for being Jews. And that includes those who use anti-Jewish tropes to critique Israel.

Above all the though, if we want to be serious, rather than tribal, about a fair definition of Zionism, we need to ask the Palestinian people what they think and believe and feel about it. And if they tell us “Zionism is a racist endeavor” we’d better pay attention.

Reflection and repentance

The Jewish High Holidays are coming up. They are a time for reflection and repentance as an individual Jew and as part of a Jewish community. I doubt we’ll see much sign of reflection or repentance on the question of Israel/Palestine. The denial is too deep. The fear of “the other” is too great. The emotional layers of self-preservation are too many.

Not all Jews can or should be held responsible for what’s done in the name of Zionism or the actions of the State of Israel. That’s anti-Semitism. But all Jews ought to feel obligated to speak out against the discrimination, ill-treatment, and racism carried out in the name of protecting Israel. To me, that’s Judaism. And if you don’t see the discrimination, ill-treatment and racism – then read more books, listen to more Palestinian voices, open your heart.

But whether we choose to face into it or not, our relationship with the Palestinian people will remain the single most important issue facing Jews and Judaism in the 21st century.

To my Jewish readers, Shana Tova! A good New Year! May our names be written in a Book of Life that is filled with love and justice for all who call the Holy Land home.


Ten questions to the President of the Board of Deputies

For those not following me on Facebook or Twitter, I’ve been asked to reproduce the ten questions I put earlier this week to Marie van der Zyl, the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. No response forthcoming so far.

In a critical week for Labour and the Jewish community in Britian, here’s my ten questions to the president of the Board of Deputies, Marie van der Zyl.

1. Why are you ignoring the Jewish academic experts, notably: David Feldman, Director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism; Dr. Brian Klug of Oxford University; and Tony Lerman, the former Director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, who have all made critical studies of the IHRA document and found it inadequate and unhelpful in numerous ways?

2. Why are you ignoring the concerns expressed by the original drafter of the IHRA definition and its illustrations, Kenneth Stern, who has said the document is already being used around the world to chill free speech?

3. Why are you ignoring the legal opinions of the document provided by Sir Stephen Sedley, Hugh Tomlinson QC and Geoffrey Robertson QC, who have drawn out its failings in detail?

4. Why do you defend Jewish rights to determine antisemitism but support a document which will deny the Palestinian people their right to define their experience of racism caused by Zionism?

5. Can you explain why you think that Israel’s 51-year occupation of the West Bank does not meet the international definition of Apartheid?

6. Will you acknowledge the findings of the 2016 Home Affairs Select Committee report on antisemitism which noted that “there exists no reliable, empirical evidence to support the notion that there is a higher prevalence of antisemitic attitudes within the Labour Party than any other political party”?

7. Are you able to provide evidence that antisemitism is “rife” among the Labour Party’s half a million members?

8. Can you explain why the Board chose to pursue its campaign against the Labour Party only after Jeremy Corbyn became its leader and despite a YouGov survey indicating a fall in anti-Semitism among Labour voters since 2015?

9. Are you at all concerned that the Board’s campaign against Jeremy Corbyn is creating an environment of fear within the Jewish community in Britain which is unjustified and disproportionate?

10. Having stated your commitment “to being a leader for the entire community,” when do you plan to meet formally with Independent Jewish Voices, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, Jewdas, Jewish Voice for Labour, or Na’amod – British Jews Against Occupation?

Source: If you want a fair definition of Zionism, it’s best to ask a Palestinian

The left must restore the ties between antisemitism and other racism

Good thoughtful commentary on the need to recognize the linkages between antisemitism and other forms of racism and discrimination:

Jewish new year is a time for reflection, and the subject of Labour and antisemitism inevitably featured on the list of things to think about this year. Indeed, it was hard to avoid, for on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the Labour MP Chuka Umunna proclaimed his party to be “institutionally racist” over antisemitism. Folded into this row is a painful aspect of the story: that elements of the left, for whom fighting racism is a deeply held principle, might overlook, underplay or even reproduce this ancient race-hate against Jewish people.

The issue has coalesced around the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and his supporters. But in truth, it is nothing new. Published in the early 1980s, Jewish socialist Steve Cohen’s book That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Antisemitic, still resonates today. He wrote: “It is intolerable that the socialist movement has never been prepared to look at its antisemitism in a self-critical way.”

Leftwing antisemitism can arise from common misconceptions, such as coding all Jewish people (including those, like me, from an Arab-Jewish background) as white – in both political and status terms. Racism as an imagined white superiority over people of colour underpins current discrimination and appalling historical injustices such as colonialism and slavery, which continue to cause terrible harm today. By contrast, a core antisemitic trope is the Jewish conspiracy of a shadowy all-powerful group controlling the world, or at least the media – based on an imagined superior status of Jews. Perceptions of Jewish people as “white” can also mask their persecution as a racialised minority. Jews were long hated as the “other”, the Orientals of Europe, in language of a type deployed to demonise Arab and Muslim populations today.

Meanwhile, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has driven a wedge between battles against racism and antisemitism. The Oxford philosopher Brian Klug locates the genesis of this divide in a 1975 UN general assembly resolution asserting that Zionism, alongside colonialism and foreign occupation “is a form of racism and racial discrimination”. This, Klug argues, “erased the origins of Zionism in the Jewish historical experience of exclusion, expulsion and racial discrimination”. Eventually dropped, the resolution, he says, had a lasting effect on the left – diminishing the idea that, as well as being experienced as colonial racial discrimination by Palestinians, Zionism was also a national movement born of oppression and trauma. Cohen sums up this duality by describing Zionism as both racist and anti-racist – the latter because it was an answer to the murderous anti-Jewish racism of Europe.

For the left, this division deepened in 2001, when a world conference against racism in Durban, South Africa issued a statement that Zionism equals racism. Again Jewish nationalism arising from a need to escape race hate was defined solely and purely as a perpetrator of race hate. It’s not surprising that criticism of Israel grew more urgent and damning during this period. It was marked by the breakdown of the Oslo peace process and Palestinian uprising in 2000, Israel’s military reoccupation of the West Bank and building of a separation wall, its siege of Gaza and subsequent deadly assaults on the strip in 2008 and 2014, as well as war with Lebanon in 2006, demolitions of Palestinian homes and expansion of illegal Jewish settlements. But around this time, mention of Jewish self-determination came to be met with suspicion. It was seen as an attempt to quash the historical facts of the devastation and dispossession caused by Israel’s creation for Palestinians, or as deflection from Israel’s military aggression, or a way of engineering equivalence between two sides in a starkly asymmetric conflict.

More recently, divisions are compounded by political invocations of “Judeo-Christian values”. Commonly but by no means exclusively used by the far right as a way of excluding Islam, this Judeo-Christian tradition is a surprise to those who recall that the deadly depictions of Jewish people as responsible for killing Christ or drinking the blood of babies came out of Christian Europe. Or that Jews and Muslims enjoyed the centuries-long creative coexistence of a Golden Age in Spain – until Christian armies rolled up and expelled both communities in 1492. Or that Jews living in Arab and Muslim lands did not suffer the regular pogroms and persecutions inflicted upon their co-religionists in Christian Europe during the same period. If there is a historic sharing of values, it is a Muslim-Jewish one – although this currently has no perceived use politically. But the promotion of this mythical Judeo-Christian love-in has reinforced a perception of where Jewish people fit geopolitically: with the imperialist, crusading west and not among the persecuted and suppressed.

All of which feeds the blind spot we see now amid the left. It can appear obliquely, in suggestions that Jewish people have been granted unique protections from discrimination, or in the denial of material consequences to antisemitism so that, unlike other racism, it is only about offensive words. This misses the fact that language is frightening precisely because it is integral to the architecture of antisemitism, which can and has culminated in violence, exclusion and ultimately genocide. Race- or faith-based prejudice is ever-present across society, which is why such animosities can be so readily roused by ideologues.

A new alliance of black, Asian, Muslim and Jewish people, of which I am a member, advocates a different approach, asking that organisations not only tackle antisemitism but also link it to work on tackling other racism. It’s vital that the left reconnects these divided struggles, building solidarity and mutualism at a time when communities are being prised apart by global politics. Antisemitism within the left did not start with Labour’s current leader. He could, however, now help to end it.

Source: The left must restore the ties between antisemitism and other racism

Racism and anti-Semitism surged in corners of the Web after Trump’s election, analysis shows

No surprise. Provided social license to others:

Racist and anti-Semitic content has surged on shadowy social media platforms – spiking around President Donald Trump’s Inauguration Day and the “Unite the Right Rally” in Charlottesville, Virginia – spreading hate speech and extremist views to mainstream audiences, according to an analysis published this week.

The findings, from a newly formed group of scientists named the Network Contagion Research Institute who studied hundreds of millions of social media messages, bolster a growing body of evidence about how extremist speech online can be fueled by real-world events.

The researchers found the use of the word “Jew” and a derogatory term for Jewish people nearly doubled on the “Politically Incorrect” discussion group on 4chan, an anonymous online messaging board, between July 2016 and January 2018. The use of a racial slur referring to African Americans grew by more than 30 percent in the same period.

Gab.ai, a social media site modeled on Twitter but with fewer restrictions on speech, saw even more dramatic increases since the site began operating in August 2016. The use of the term “white,” which often occurred in connection with white-supremacist themes, also surged on both platforms.

These two forums, although small relative to leading social media platforms, exerted an outsize influence on overall conversation online by transmitting hateful content to such mainstream sites as Reddit and Twitter, the researchers said. Typically this content came in the form of readily shareable “memes” that cloaked hateful ideas in crass or humorous words and imagery. (Facebook, the largest social media platform, with more than 2 billion users, is harder to study because of the closed nature of its platform and was not included in the research.)

“There may be 100 racists in your town, but in the past they would have to find each other in the real world. Now they just go online,” said one of the researchers, Jeremy Blackburn, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “These things move these radicals, these outliers in society, closer, and it gives them bigger voices as well.”

Social media has created an era of easy anonymity and instant communication between disparate groups around the world. But it has also created the conditions for outbreaks of extremist ideas.

The research, which has not yet been peer reviewed, sheds new light on how niche hate movements once relegated to dark corners of the Web can abruptly burst into the mainstream. The Charlottesville rally last year, for example, won crucial publicity through racist and neo-Nazi conversations on social media and websites such as the Daily Stormer.

“You can’t act as if the fringe will stay on the fringe, especially in the era of the Web,” said Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, who was not involved in the new research.

Efforts to portray the Parkland, Florida, school shooting as a hoax and its survivors as professional actors initially coalesced on fringe forums on Reddit, 4chan and 8chan, an offshoot for those who consider 4chan too restrictive, before shooting to the top of YouTube’s “Trending” list.

The QAnon conspiracy theory began circulating on the same platforms last fall before exploding into public view in August, after months of refining its central allegations, purportedly from a top-secret government agent, that President Trump is secretly battling a shadowy cabal of sex rings, death squads and deep-state elites.

The 4chan and Gab forums showed similar surges of terms referring to racial identity and white supremacy, with racially and ethnically charged terms increasing steeply on both sites after data collection began.

They also hit dramatic peaks in late January 2017, when Trump’s inauguration was celebrated by members of the “alt-right,” a movement that espouses racist, anti-Semitic and sexist views. A second, higher peak – with posts containing the terms amounting to about 10 percent of all comments on the forums – came in the days surrounding the Charlottesville alt-right rally, in August 2017, which ended in violence and the death of a counterprotester.

When asked for comment on the findings, Gab responded via its Twitter account: “Hate is a normal part of the human experience. It is a strong dislike of another. Humans are tribal. This is natural. Get over it.”

Hiroyuki Nishimura, the owner of 4chan, didn’t respond to emailed requests for comment but has in the past defended the site as a bastion of free speech.

The new research draws on a theory that such outbreaks of hate speech resemble contagious diseases that should be confronted as early as possible, before they become widespread epidemics.

“You can’t fight the disease if you don’t know what it’s made of and how it spreads,” said Joel Finkelstein, the group’s director and the research’s lead author, who recently received his doctorate in psychology from Princeton University.

The Network Contagion Research Institute formed in May as a nonprofit group. The paper on the surge in hate speech is its first, although two members of the research group, Blackburn and Savvas Zannettou, a graduate student in computer science at Cyprus University of Technology, did related work for a paper in May on how memes are created on fringe online forums. Those two and a third member of the group, Barry Bradlyn, an assistant professor of physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, also were co-authors on a February paper about the prevalence of hate speech on Gab.

The researchers used data analytics to show how words and images hopscotched across the online world, as different forums played distinctive roles and influenced each other.

They found, for example, that the 4chan “Politically Incorrect” board – with its high volume of posts, user anonymity and anything-goes ideology – served as the most prolific source for many of the most offensive memes that eventually spread widely across the Internet.

That board also exported anti-Semitic memes to Reddit’s “The_Donald” board, created in 2015 for supporters of Trump, and to Twitter.

Reddit spokeswoman Anna Soellner said the site implemented a new policy in October 2017 forbidding content that encourages, glorifies or calls for violence against an individual or a group of people. “We know there is more to do, and we will continue to evolve our site-wide policies, enforcement tools, and community support resources to ensure that Reddit is a welcoming place for everyone,” she said.

Taken together, some users of the various platforms worked in tandem to propel hateful and conspiratorial ideas to the attention of audiences who might not seek out such content but could have their views shaped by it.

“That is very much the stated goal of many of the meme makers who open up on openly neo-Nazi spaces on 4chan and the Daily Stormer,” said Becca Lewis, who researches online extremism for the New York think tank Data & Society and has no involvement in the new group. “They see themselves as attempting to influence mainstream culture through their memes.”

Network Contagion Research Institute researchers attempted to measure the spread and influence of memes by tracking their first appearance, where they later appeared and how they mutated while moving from platform to platform. They also sketched out what they called “neighborhoods” of memes clustered by theme or prominence.

They found that, like a mutating virus, recognizable and popular images often were co-opted and contorted into hateful memes, as anonymous users skewed the features of the originals to demean ethnic groups or popularize racial hostilities.

One meme known as the “Happy Merchant,” an offensive Jewish caricature, was used repeatedly to convey anti-Semitism. It also proved effective at reaching mainstream audiences: One comic showing the caricatures faking anti-Semitic attacks such as spray-painting swastikas onto a temple, subtitled “Makin’ Hate Crimes great again!,” spread from 4chan to Gab to Reddit, the country’s fifth-most popular website, in about two weeks in early 2017, according to the research.

The meme made at least 1,100 appearances across Reddit between mid-2016 and mid-2017, including on “The_Donald” board, the researchers found. After the meme’s posting on “The_Donald,” it routinely showed up on Twitter and other platforms tracked by the researchers, suggesting the site was unusually influential in aiding the meme’s spread.

Reddit’s “The_Donald” board had by that time implemented a policy saying racism and anti-Semitism “would not be tolerated.” Moderators for the board declined to respond.

Racial slurs on the sites grew increasingly rampant, the research found. The words “Jew” and “white,” as well as a derogatory term for Jewish people, were used in 7 percent of the roughly 100 million posts on Gab and the “Politically Incorrect” board together.

An epithet for African Americans was used in more than 2 percent of all posts. Use of the hateful term exploded in July 2016, the day after a black man killed five police officers during a mass shooting in Dallas.

The findings, researchers wrote, suggested a “worrying trend of real-world action mirroring online rhetoric” – and a possible feedback loop of online and offline hate.

“When people aggregate together” in these communities, Finkelstein said, “they end up radicalizing each other.”Even as the researchers illuminated how hateful speech and images spread, they struggled with how to combat such powerful online forces. They worry that censoring content or banning users pushes racist and anti-Semitic content to other forums.

Rather, Finkelstein and his colleagues hope that illuminating the way hate speech spreads will make it easier to challenge it – through what he calls “a digital immune system.” But it’s not entirely clear how it would form, who would deploy it or whether it would be up to the task of defusing hateful ideas.

Source: Racism and anti-Semitism surged in corners of the Web after Trump’s election, analysis shows

HARPER: Corbyn’s antisemitism is a threat to all of us

Consistent with the Harper government’s position and focus on antisemitism (and, IMO, relative neglect of other forms of xenophobia and discrimination):

The rise in antisemitism across Europe should be alarming to all of us, and not just for moral reasons. History shows that the mindset which embraces antisemitism rarely restricts its hatred to the Jewish minority.

Today’s threats against Europe’s Jewish populations are both different and more diverse than those in the past. Far-right extremism is still with us, but now represents only one slice of the problem. Radical, jihadist Islam is now the much larger threat. However, the far-left has also become a substantial source of antisemitism.

Today’s hard-left exhibits a particularly pernicious form of antisemitism – one couched in anti-racism rhetoric to make it socially acceptable in polite company. It is not the Jews, they claim, who are uniquely evil among the nations. It just happens to be Israel, the Jewish state, that is the source of such malevolence.

And so we arrive at the sorry phenomenon that is Britain’s Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn – a man who lays wreaths at the graves of anti-Semitic terrorists, and then thinly papers over his actions with nonsensical hair-splitting. Mr Corbyn’s comfort in the company of anti-Semites and other extremists whom he calls “friends” speaks for itself. While he claims to embrace such individuals in the name of “peace,” it is a peace that only ever involves the enemies of the West generally and of the Jewish people specifically.

From the highest levels to the foot soldiers of Corbyn’s Momentum, not a day goes by without another vile display of antisemitism, darkly hinting about an omnipresent Jewish cabal, controlling the media and conspiring for their comrade-leader’s downfall. In the meantime, Mr Corbyn cannot even pretend to take the issue of antisemitism seriously, all the while claiming to be “a life-long anti-racist.”

The naked reality underlying Labour’s refusal to accept the full International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism is that Mr Corbyn and his allies have no intention of stopping their overt attacks on the Jewish state. Perhaps the growing political pressure will force them to do so, but either way their views are now plainly evident.

It is the far-left’s obsession with Israel that concerns us most specifically. Our organization is premised on a simple demand: A fair debate about that country, on the same terms which we extend to debates on all other countries. Today’s antisemitism all too often manifests itself in the singling out of Israel, depicted as a uniquely horrific place, responsible for all the ills of the Middle East, if not the world.

A fair examination would show that nothing could be further from the truth. Israel grapples with some of the most acute challenges the West faces in defending ourselves against jihadist aggression while maintaining modern, open societies. Israel carries this burden admirably, sustained by a democratic polity and a civil judiciary that, in some instances, surpass our own practices. It does this despite having been repeatedly tested under fire in ways our own citizens would simply not tolerate.

It is time to strip away all the rhetoric and rationalizations. Mr. Corbyn and his allies hate Israel uniquely and obsessively. Under his leadership, Israel – and thus any Jew daring to identify with it – will face relentless slander. He, and those who share such malignant views, must be exposed and opposed at every opportunity.

Source: https://torontosun.com/opinion/columnists/harper-corbyns-anti-semitism-is-a-threat-to-all-of-us

Stop comparing Labour anti-semitism with Tory Islamophobia—there is no hierarchy of race hate

Rachel Shabi on hate is hate:

A few months ago, Muslim leaders placed full-page ads in two broadsheets, the Telegraph and the Times, condemning antisemitism. The ads, stating that British Jews did not stand alone in the fight against antisemitism, came as the Labour party’s handling of the issue within its own ranks was dominating the national news (much as it is today).

After months of media-relayed accusation and denial over the issue—during which British Jews often felt like unwilling pawns in a political game—these ads were a welcome message of solidarity. They were also an echo of previous acts of collectivism, such as when Muslim and Jewish organisations jointly complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso) last year over a column in the Sun that referred to a “Muslim problem”.

This phrase, they noted, “harked back to the Nazi use of the phrase ‘The Jewish Problem’ in the last century, to which the Nazis responded with ‘The Final Solution’—the Holocaust.”

Such cross-faith unity shouldn’t be hard to comprehend. Racialised minorities know all too well that race-hate is a shape-shifter, attacking and scapegoating different groups interchangeably depending on the social standards of the day.

In 2011 the Conservative Baroness Sayeeda Warsi said that Islamophobia had “passed the dinner table test” of social acceptability in the UK. By that time, European far-right parties had, in attempts to rehabilitate and go mainstream, dropped the overt antisemitism and taken instead to hating Muslims and migrants.

Sometimes, though, antisemitism is too hard a habit to even pretend to break. Hungarian far-right prime minister Victor Orban’s attacks on philanthropist George Soros depict him not just as a “billionaire speculator” but as one who is trying to “Muslimise Europe.”

Such hateful scaremongering casts Muslims and Jews as united in a secret mission to destroy Christian Europe, by which, presumably, Easter eggs and Christmas trees will be banned, but bagels and falafel are fine (not together, though. Obviously.)

Earlier this month, Baroness Warsi reiterated her call to the UK Conservative party, of which she is former co-chair, to tackle the Islamophobia within its own ranks. In this, she is echoed by the Muslim Council of Great Britain and other Muslim groups.

There are ample examples to warrant the concern and calls for an inquiry—Warsi describes the scale of the problem as “more than weekly incidents.” Just for starters, there’s the anti-Muslim post retweeted by Tory MP Bob Blackman, and the Conservative councillor Mike Payne, who shared an article that called Muslims “parasites.”

Going further back, there is the anti-Muslim London mayoral campaign run in 2016 by Conservative Zac Goldsmith standing against Labour’s Sadiq Khan. More recently, conservative MP Michael Fabricant had to apologise for reposting an appalling image involving Khan and an inflatable pig.

The baroness also signposted a corollary problem: that the Conservative party cannot call out antisemitism within Labour if it then ignores its own Islamophobia. Bluntly, that would reek of hypocrisy.

But in some ways, the consequences go deeper. Asking that different prejudices be taken equally seriously is not an attempt to equate the two. They are different; there are specifics—among them, of course, the systematically murderous history and distinct perniciousness of antisemitism.

The trouble is that, with the Tories ignoring Islamophobia and Labour trying to deal with antisemitism (badly, but at least the party isn’t denying it), an impression may be transmitted of a sort of hierarchy of race hate.

Already toxic, this is made more damaging still because the idea of Jewish people seeking special treatment is itself an anti-semitic trope. And it means a grim competitiveness has emerged, whereby denials of a prejudice problem in one party are packaged with claims the other party is worse.

This harmful asymmetry is maintained by Labour evidently taking its own racism more seriously, which is one reason there are people inside the party pushing it to tackle antisemitism, which then creates media attention over the issue—in a way that does not happen to the same degree over Islamophobia. (Yes, antisemitism is also sometimes weaponised to attack the Labour leader, but let it go for once. This is not the point we’re exploring here.)

Meanwhile, we have an overarching climate in which Islamophobia, as Baroness Warsi noted, is more socially acceptable—to the extent that it is routinely on display within our national press. Worse, it is sometimes denied as being a prejudice at all, even while hate crimes committed against Muslims spiral and police launch an investigation into “punish a Muslim” letters, promising rewards for violence against Muslims and sent out in UK cities. Indeed, much of the work of the far-right has been to conflate manufactured fear of Muslims with fear of migrants, so that hostility to the latter is a proxy for hostility to the former.

At a time of far-right resurgence globally, when we are witnessing the most appalling racism and bigotry go mainstream, it’s more urgent than ever to fight back against hatred of Jews and Muslims alike.

This isn’t just a matter of how our political parties handle prejudice within their own ranks. It is about the poisonous, rupturing effect on our society and our communities when they fail to tackle such hatreds consistently, clearly—and with equal commitment.

Source: Stop comparing Labour anti-semitism with Tory Islamophobia—there is no hierarchy of race hate

Germany’s Jewish community issues appeal for anti-Semitism funding oath

Echoes of the Canada Summer Jobs attestation:

  • “Both the job* and my organization’s core mandate* respect individual human rights in Canada, including the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as other rights. These include reproductive rights and the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, race, national or ethnic origin, colour, mental or physical disability or sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression;”

Curious to see if the ewish Forum for Democracy and Against Anti-Semitism (JFDA) proposal generates similar opposition within Germany:

Just last week, a man wearing the Star of David was beaten down and kicked right in the center of Berlin. Some weeks earlier, a similar incident in Germany’s capital caused public outrage and sparked a nationwide debate on anti-Semitism when a 19-year-old Syrian attacked and Arab Israeli and his companion with a belt in broad daylight. Both victims wore kippahs (traditional Jewish head coverings) in what was an allegedly anti-Semitic attack.

Call for an oath

Enough is enough, according to more than 30 Jewish organizations and communities, who have now issued an appeal to the German government. In a declaration published on Monday, Germany’s Jewish Forum for Democracy and Against Anti-Semitism (JFDA) called on the authorities to crack down harder against anti-Semitic agitation and attacks. The organization is demanding that in the future, public funding for civil and religious groups should be granted only if those groups have publicly distanced themselves from all forms of anti-Semitism — a kind of pro-democracy oath.

The authors of the declaration stressed that this applies to Muslim organizations as well. Lala Süsskind, chairperson of the JFDA, warned against playing down anti-Semitism among Muslims out of misconceived concern. “Of course, anti-Semitism also exists on the Muslim side,” she told DW. Denying that does not prevent the exploitation of Muslim anti-Semitism by the enemies of Islam, but it is detrimental to combating anti-Semitism effectively and makes a mockery of the victims, Süsskind said. The German government should, therefore, examine very carefully which organizations benefited from public funding, she explained, and whether said organizations were, in effect, adhering to Germany’s Basic Law, or constitution.

As an example, the JDFA cited the controversial debate surrounding the Berlin Institute for Islamic Theology, which is scheduled to open its doors in 2022 as an affiliate of the city’s Humboldt University. It remains a controversial issue to this day how much control should be given to the three representatives of traditional conservative Islamic associations on the institute’s advisory board. They include the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, the Islamic Federation and the Islamic Community of Shiite Parishes. These associations are among those which, according to the Jewish organizations’ representatives, should make some kind of public commitment to democracy.

Even Jewish students in Berlin have been subjected to anti-Semitic harassment

‘Committed to this fight’

The president of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, Aiman Mazyek, does not think of himself as a direct addressee of the Jewish organizations’ initiative. “I take note of the appeal, and I believe it’s correct and important to highlight painful issues, to make every necessary effort to fight anti-Semitism, and that we remain committed to this fight with all the social power that’s available to us,” he told DW, adding that was all he could say about the matter.

Mazyek says his organization is committed to fighting anti-Semitism

After the interview, Mazyek sent DW a newspaper article detailing how he — as president of the Central Council of Muslims — visited the former Buchenwald concentration camp with a group of Syrian refugees in April. Mazyek’s message, which he wants to be understood by DW and by the public, is that his organization is actively campaigning for reconciliation between Muslims and Jews in Germany. He, therefore, said he doesn’t care to comment on appeals, pro-democracy oaths or any other such demands.

Süsskind said she found that response regrettable, and that it reminds her of previous dialogue between Jewish and Islamic organizations on the thorny issue of anti-Semitism. “There are few Muslim associations to which you can speak openly,” she claimed. What’s more, Süsskind added, the appeal was to be explicitly understood as an invitation to all religious groups, political parties and social associations — after all, not only Jewish life in Germany was at stake. “If people are not ready to stand up for their democracy, it goes down the drain,” she said.

An anti-Semitic attack in April prompted a show of solidarity from Berlin’s Jewish community

More financial support

The German government has not yet responded to the appeal issued by the country’s Jewish community. Interior Minister Horst Seehofer had already announced on July 6 that the government plans to extend financial support for the Central Council of Jews in Germany. The annual subsidy will rise from €10 million ($11.75 million) to €13 million, both sides confirmed. The reason behind this was, according to Seehofer, the growing threat to Jewish life in Germany. “Those who threaten our Jewish citizens threaten us all,” he said.

Read more: Anti-Semitism in German schools to be tackled with anti-bullying commissioners

Süsskind stressed that the social climate has changed considerably with respect to Jews. She said she frequently receives hate mail, including one message that read: “In goes the knife, out goes the knife, the Jew’s dead.” When she tried to report the authors of those hate messages to the authorities, she was repeatedly informed that they were protected under freedom of speech legislation. In response, Süsskind asked: “Is that really possible?”

Source: Germany’s Jewish community issues appeal for anti-Semitism funding oath

Germany to fight anti-Semitism in schools with new team

Hard to know how effective this approach will be in terms of reach and results but important recognition of a problem, with hopefully follow-up on its effectiveness:

The German government plans to send 170 anti-bullying experts into schools after the summer break to tackle anti-Semitism among children.

“Anti-Semitism in schools is a big problem,” Families Minister Franziska Giffey said.

Last month Germans were shocked by the case of a boy aged 15 taunted by anti-Semitic bullies at the John F Kennedy School in a well-off area of Berlin.

Germany remains haunted by the Nazis’ mass murder of Jews in 1933-1945.

Ms Giffey, a centre-left Social Democrat (SPD) politician, said teachers needed more support to combat anti-Semitism, as the problem went beyond the classroom, involving parents and society at large.

“So in the coming school year, as a first step, we will send 170 anti-bullying experts into selected schools in Germany, funded by the federal authorities,” she told the daily Rheinische Post.

It remains unclear if the Jewish boy bullied at the John F Kennedy School will return there after the summer, the Berliner Morgenpost daily reports (in German). The bilingual school in Zehlendorf teaches German and American children.

Reports say one bully blew e-cigarette smoke in the boy’s face, saying “that should remind you of your forefathers” – a sarcastic reference to the Holocaust.

Bullies also reportedly drew swastikas on post-it notes and stuck them on the boy’s back.

Before 1989, Germany’s Jewish minority numbered below 30,000. But an influx of Jews, mainly from the former Soviet Union, has raised the number to more than 200,000.

How bad is anti-Semitism in Germany?

Berlin’s Anti-Semitism Research and Information Office (RIAS) says anti-Semitism is expressed on various levels, and not only by neo-Nazis, or by Muslim extremists who hate Israel.

“There is overall a worrying development of anti-Semitism becoming more socially acceptable. It has grown over the last couple of years and many cases go unreported,” researcher Alexander Rasumny at RIAS told the BBC.

RIAS documented 947 anti-Semitic incidents in 2017, including 18 physical attacks, compared with 590 in 2016. The watchdog’s annual report (in German) said the increase was partly a result of more Germans reporting such incidents to RIAS, having learnt of its work.

In an interview (in German) with the daily Der Tagesspiegel, the German government’s new anti-Semitism tsar, Felix Klein, spoke of “a brutalised climate now, in which more people feel emboldened to say anti-Semitic things on the internet and in the street”. “Previously that was unthinkable, but the threshold has dropped.”

What other incidents have hit the headlines?

In April two young men wearing traditional Jewish skullcaps (kippahs) were assaulted in Berlin. The attacker, a 19-year-old migrant from Syria, was filmed shouting anti-Semitic abuse.

Later Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, advised Jews to avoid wearing kippahs. But in solidarity, thousands of Berliners wore kippahs on 29 April, declared an “action day” against anti-Semitism.

Two German rappers, Kollegah and Farid Bang, were investigated recently over their gangsta rap lyrics which referred insultingly to Auschwitz victims and the Holocaust.

They were not prosecuted, but were taken on an educational visit to Auschwitz, where the Nazis murdered an estimated 1.1m Jews during World War Two.

Rhetoric from the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) has fuelled concern about anti-Semitism. An AfD leader, Björn Höcke, drew strong criticism after he condemned Berlin’s Holocaust memorial.

Why this focus now on schools?

Mr Schuster says schools must take anti-Semitism seriously and not sweep it under the carpet.

“Such incidents happen in all types of school and all over Germany,” he warned.

One boy subjected to anti-Semitic taunts at a Berlin school was given a separate room to use during breaks, as well as a separate entrance, RIAS reported.

Another Jewish boy was removed from a school by his parents after a gang had tormented him for months and threatened him with a realistic-looking toy pistol.

Mr Rasumny told the BBC that anti-bullying action had to involve awareness training for teachers, because “they don’t always recognise current forms of anti-Semitism, or know when and how they should intervene”.

There have been cases of anti-Semitism even among kindergarten children.

There is much under-reporting of incidents in schools, Mr Rasumny said. “There is pressure to conform to the rules, not to be different, and often kids report bullying only if they can’t stand it any more,” he said.

In one case, he said, a Jewish music teacher had left a school after being told by a pupil there that “God wants Jews to die”. It emerged that another teacher had said something similar to the child’s mother.

German schools should teach children about Jewish history and culture as a whole, Mr Rasumny said, in order to tackle anti-Semitism. “It’s very important to educate about the Holocaust, but German Jewish history did not just start in 1933 and end in 1945,” he said.

Source: Germany to fight anti-Semitism in schools with new team

Poland’s ‘Holocaust law’ caused an outcry. Now, surprisingly, it’s being largely reversed

Better late than never in removing the most egregious aspects. But the fundamental denial remains:

When the Polish government pushed ahead with a controversial Holocaust speech law at the beginning of the year, the outcry was so swift and intense that even Polish lawmakers themselves appeared surprised. Besides Israel’s strong rejection of the Polish legislation, U.S. condemnations hit Warsaw policymakers especially hard.

And yet, for months, there were few signs of backtracking, even as the issue emerged as a key obstacle to Poland’s desire to bolster its security ties to the United States. But after an unexpected intervention by Poland’s prime minister on Wednesday, the law that was never enforced is now being largely walked back.

After the country’s right-wing governing party submitted a new draft, the lower house of parliament voted to remove criminal provisions Wednesday morning. This would stop courts from being able to use the law to impose prison terms of up to three years.

In caving in to international and domestic pressure, Poland’s right-wing Law and Justice party is taking a political gamble. While the changes are meant to soothe tensions with strategically important allies such as the United States and the European Union, Law and Justice also appeared eager to limit the political fallout among the party’s more extreme right-wing supporters.

At least rhetorically, the Polish government stood by its arguments that led to the law’s passage earlier this year.

“Those who say that Poland may be responsible for the crimes of World War II deserve jail terms,” Prime Minister said Wednesday. “But we operate in an international context, and we take that into account.”

The Polish government, Morawiecki emphasized, would continue its “fight for the truth” about the Holocaust regardless of possible changes to the legislation.

In this file photo taken on April 12, 2018 participants are wrapped into an Israeli flag as they arrive to the memorial site of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi death camp in Oswiecim to attend the annual “March of the Living.”

The bill’s international critics had long argued that it violates freedom of expression by essentially banning accusations that some Poles were complicit in Nazi crimes committed on Polish soil, including in the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp, where more than 1.1 million people died. Germany operated six camps in Poland where Jews and others whom the Nazis considered enemies were killed.

Polish officials emphasized early on that artistic and historical research work would not be affected by the ban, but critics cautioned that the law provided courts with too much room for interpretation and may silence debates on the issue, even though some scholars agreed that the Polish government was right in emphasizing that crimes were committed by individuals rather than the Polish state and that the term “Polish death camps” was wrong.

Poland was invaded and occupied by Nazi Germany in 1939, but unlike in other European countries, there was no collaborationist Polish government. About 6 million Polish citizens were killed during the Second World War, about half of them Jews.

Throughout years of Nazi occupation between 1939 and 1945, a number of Polish underground movements resisted the Nazis. It is that chapter of history that the Law and Justice Party wants to emphasize.

But historians have long argued that it is not the full story: Some Poles, they say, were complicit in the Nazi crimes. Historians have pointed to incidents, including a 1941 atrocity in the town of Jedwabne, in which Poles rounded up and killed their Jewish neighbors. Critics also said that the legislation was mainly intended to fuel nationalistic sentiments in the country.

In an early response to the law in February, the State Department similarly said that the phrase “Polish death camps” was “inaccurate, misleading, and hurtful.” But it also cautioned that the bill “could undermine free speech and academic discourse.”

In Israel, the reaction was even fiercer. “One cannot change history, and the Holocaust cannot be denied,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement in February. Other Israeli officials even compared the legislation to Holocaust denial.

The strong reactions eventually resulted in less outspoken Polish defences of the law itself, even as the government has stood by its reasoning to pass it.

Source: Poland’s ‘Holocaust law’ caused an outcry. Now, surprisingly, it’s being largely reversed

Holocaust education ‘not enough’ to tackle antisemitism, Unesco warns – The Jewish Chronicle

Valid points and a reminder that UN organizations are not blind to antisemitism:

Openly antisemitic attitudes are no longer limited to extremist circles and are increasingly voiced in the mainstream, the United Nations’ cultural agency has warned.

Unesco said that Jews in Europe were feeling under “renewed danger” and that while teaching people about the Holocaust is important, it is not an adequate substitute for education that aims to prevent antisemitism.

“If anti-Semitism is exclusively addressed through Holocaust education, students might conclude that anti-Semitism is not an issue today or misconceive its contemporary forms,” the agency said in a report, which was published on Monday.

“It is appropriate and necessary to incorporate lessons about anti-Semitism into teaching about the Holocaust because it is fundamental to understanding the context in which discrimination, exclusion and, ultimately, the destruction of Jews in Europe took place.”

The study – jointly produced with the OSCE, a security and democracy watchdog – calls on European governments to uses education to make young people more resilient to antisemitic ideas and ideologies.

Unesco director-general Audrey Azoulay (Photo: Getty Images)
“It is alarming that, as survivors of the Holocaust pass on, Jewish communities in Europe feel in renewed danger from the threat of anti-Semitic attacks,” Unesco’s director-general Audrey Azoulay said.

“Anti-Semitism is not the problem of Jewish communities alone, nor does it require the presence of a Jewish community to proliferate. It exists in religious, social and political forms and guises, on all sides of the political spectrum.”

She added: “This is both an immediate security imperative and a long-term educational obligation.”

The document contains a list of tropes that students should be taught to identify as antisemitic.

They include blood libel claims, the perception that Jewish people are more loyal to Israel than to their home countries, and conspiracies that Jews are plotting to take over the world for their own gain.

“It is appropriate and necessary to incorporate lessons about anti-Semitism into teaching about the Holocaust because it is fundamental to understanding the context in which discrimination, exclusion and, ultimately, the destruction of Jews in Europe took place,” the report says.

“Similarly, the study of anti-Semitism should include some attention to the Holocaust, as a nadir of anti-Semitism in history, through the state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million Jews by Nazi Germany and their collaborators.”

via Holocaust education ‘not enough’ to tackle antisemitism, Unesco warns – The Jewish Chronicle

EU Agency Rolls Out Survey of European Jewish Reactions to Antisemitism in 13 Countries

Will be interesting to see the results. Would be also nice to have an equivalent survey with respect to Muslim citizens and residents and their experiences with racism and discrimination (FRA may have already done this):

Jewish citizens and residents of 13 European Union member states are being urged to fill out on an online survey detailing their personal experiences with antisemitism, as part of a new EU initiative to combat hatred and prejudice toward Jews.

The survey, launched earlier this month, has been organized by the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) in association with two UK-based institutions — the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR), a think tank located in London, and the polling organization Ipsos.

A statement from the FRA said that the goal of the survey was to compile “comparable data on the experiences, perceptions and views of discrimination and hate crime victimization of persons who self-identify as Jewish on the basis of their religion, ethnicity or any other reason.”

The survey is being conducted in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden and the UK. As well as completing the survey in their national languages, respondents also have the option to submit their answers in Hebrew — a reflection, perhaps, of the growing presence of Israeli émigré communities in cities like Berlin and Paris.

Judith Russell — development director of the JPR — told the French Jewish newspaper Actualité Juive that her institute had carried out a similar survey in 9 European countries in 2012, with positive results.

“The results of the 2012 study prompted the European Commission to appoint a coordinator in the fight against antisemitism, and to agree on the definition of the word ‘antisemitism’ on a European level,” Russell remarked.  “This new survey can still drive new solutions at European level.”

The survey asks respondents for their opinions about general trends in antisemitism — for example, whether they feel that there has been an increase in antisemitic statements by elected politicians — as well personal experiences of antisemitism at work or at school, or in public places. Initial results are scheduled for release in November.

Source: EU Agency Rolls Out Survey of European Jewish Reactions to Antisemitism in 13 Countries