UK: How anti-Semitic and how Islamophobic are local politicians?

Interesting and revealing analysis. Suspect similar patterns between urban and rural areas in most countries:

In October 2020, the UK’s human rights watchdog found Labour to be ‘responsible for unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination’. Last year, the Muslim Council of Britain called for an enquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party. Other critics have accused the latter of failing to tackle Islamophobia. The 2017 British Social Attitudes Survey showed that 33% of those who identify with the Conservative Party would describe themselves as somewhat racist, compared with 18% of those who identify with the Labour Party.

We set out to gather some evidence on the extent of bias by local politicians against their constituents, using a correspondence experiment. We sent ten thousand emails to councillors with a quick question, and randomised whether they came from a stereotypically Christian name (Harry or Sarah White), Jewish name (Levi or Shoshana Goldstein), or Muslim name (Mohammad or Zara Hussain). We kept the email short in order to minimise the burden placed on our busy objects of study.

Response rates were six to seven percentage points lower to the Muslim and Jewish names – a clear evidence of bias. We don’t however see more bias against Jewish names by Labour councillors. Neither do we see more bias against Muslim names by Conservative councillors. Such discrimination in the provision of services based on race or religion is against UK law.  This form of discrimination by councillors may have substantive impacts for constituents. For example councillors set policy on access to the limited supply of social housing, policies which have been documented to disadvantage ethnic minorities.

Note: Response rates are estimated after removing council fixed effects, and standardising residuals to a response rate equal to the sample average of 55 percent for whites. Bars represent 95 percent confidence intervals.

In total we received 5,093 responses to 9,994 queries sent, for a 51% response rate. This is almost identical to the response rate found by a survey of real requests to councillors, in which 51% received a response within two weeks. Amongst those who responded to our queries, the median time to response was 12 hours, and the median length of responses was 228 words.

Compared to the male Christian name (Harry White), response rates to Jewish names are 5-6% points lower, and 6-9% points lower to Muslim names. Response rates are marginally higher to the female Christian name (Sarah) than to the male Christian name (Harry). Response rates are also higher to Zara Hussain than to Mohammad Hussain.

Name or Religion?

We randomise each councillor to receive one of two email scripts. The first email script makes a simple request in line with basic councillor responsibilities – ‘I have a question about local services and was wondering if you could tell me when your surgery is held?’. The second request explicitly indicates the religion of the emailer – ‘I’m  interested in organising a sponsored  walk in the local area to raise money for [Christian Aid/Islamic Relief/Global Jewish Relief]. Could you advise me if I need to get some kind of permit?’.

The two email scripts can be seen as different levels of intensity of the treatment. The response rate for white names to the first email was 61%, and 45% to the second email. Bias in response rates is similar across the two types of emails. This suggests that the discrimination occurs based on the name of the sender alone. Due to the high volume and low cognitive effort of checking emails, by not replying, councillors may be acting unconsciously when exposed to non-Christian/minority group names. Alternatively, councillors may simply be consciously discriminating against minority constituents, irrespective of their degree of self-identity. Because the identity of the sender is present in the email address itself, councillors might choose to not even open the emails from names associated with minority groups.

What explains the bias?

Bias in response rates is largest against Jewish and Muslim names in the least densely populated rural locations, with small non-white populations (Figure 2). One reason for this could be that councillors in white areas are more likely to be white themselves. On average we see much lower bias by councillors with names estimated to be Jewish or Muslim (though these estimates are imprecise due to the small number of such councillors). There may also be other differences in the selection of candidates with different levels of unobserved racial and religious bias in rural and urban areas. Alternatively, councillors may respond to political incentives and be less likely to respond to minorities in locations where minority groups are a small proportion of the electorate.

We test responses to electoral incentives directly by showing the relationship between response rates and two measures of competition – the margin of victory at the last election and the number of days until the next election. We see now less bias in close elections. Finally, lower bias could be attributed to the degree of ‘contact’ councillors have with different minority groups. Councillors in more diverse urban locations may show less discrimination through an erosion of prejudice as described by the contact hypothesis, though we are unable to test this hypothesis directly.

Note: The top-left figure shows a binned scatterplot of response rates against population density, by whether the sender name was Christian or non-Christian. The top-right figure shows response rates against the non-white population share. The bottom-left shows the response rate against the winning margin of the elected councillor at the last election. The bottom-right shows the response rate by the number of days until the next election. Fitted lines are polynomial regressions of order three, with bars showing 95 percent confidence intervals. Population density and non-white population shares are calculated at the ward (sub-council) level from 2011 census data. On average there are three councillors in each ward. Population density is expressed as residents per hectare.

Conclusion

We find evidence for bias from local politicians in response to requests for basic information from ‘Jewish’ or ‘Muslim’ constituents. Despite the media narrative of anti-Semitism in the Labour party and Islamophobia in the Conservative party, our results suggest that both parties are equally discriminatory to both minority groups. This discrimination seems to occur based on names alone, and is unchanged by the explicit identification of religious identity. These effects are largest in rural areas (with low population density) and with small non-white populations. Councillors in such areas may have fewer opportunities for positive interactions with minority groups.

This work demonstrates that even access to basic services are susceptible to forms of discrimination, and that minority group members may struggle to be heard through this process. Reducing councilor bias could be attempted through training designed to reduce implicit prejudice. The leader of the Labour Party has announced the party’s commitment to undergoing this type of training, though more research is needed into the effectiveness of such training. Future studies may benefit from further investigating the process through which politicians engage with their community, and identify ways in which to reduce these biases.

Lee Crawfurd and Ukasha Ramli measure the responsiveness of elected local representatives to requests from putative constituents from minority religious groups. They find that response rates are six to seven percentage points lower to stereotypically Muslim or Jewish names, with Labour and Conservative councillors both showing equal bias towards the two. Their results suggest that the bias may be implicit and that it is lower in more dense and diverse locations.

Source: How anti-Semitic and how Islamophobic are local politicians?

‘Institutionally racist’: NZ security agencies were Islamophobic and ignored right-wing threat – Muslim group

Of note. Valid and necessary of course to await the inquiry’s final report:

New Zealand’s security agencies were “institutionally racist and Islamophobic” and ignored the rising threat of right-wing extremism because it was instead focused on Muslim terrorism, a Kiwi Islamic organisation says.

The Federation of the Islamic Associations of New Zealand (FIANZ) yesterday publicly released its submission to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the March 15 terror attacks.

It investigated how the New Zealand Intelligence Community [NZIC] didn’t foresee the threat of right-wing extremism despite rising attacks overseas and the Muslim community here feeling increasingly unsafe.

“We asked for help. We knew we were vulnerable to such an attack. We did not know who, when, what, where or how. But we knew,” the report said.

A team of researchers pored over a decade of media reports, speeches in Parliament, public addresses, online forums among other sources to establish how the threat had been ignored.

It concluded security organisations were institutionally racist, Islamophobic, incorrect and misled the public.

“We are not trying to generate any hate, we are just trying to give the facts as we see them. The problem is much deeper than that,” said Abdur Razzaq Khan, who chaired the federation’s submission to the Royal Commission.

The federation said Muslim communities were left “defenceless” because of “systemic failures” of diversity at the security organisations which failed to properly engage with Muslim communities.

The report pointed to numerous examples of the director-general of security Rebecca Kitteridge wrongly framed terrorism as a “Muslim issue” rather than seeing the community as potential victims.

Their submission included a speech from Kitteridge in 2016 at Victoria University where she said New Zealanders “can walk the streets free from fear” of events like Paris, Brussels, Ottawa, London and Sydney which were all perpetrated by Islamic radicals.

She did not mention the events of Oslo, Quebec, Pittsburg or Macerata which were orchestrated by right-wing extremists.

It was not until mid-2018 that agencies began assessing the threat of right-wing extremists, the report said.

But Khan said they did not blame any individual for the “failings”, or say that the NZIC was staffed by white supremacists or individuals with anti-Muslim bias.

“This is not the fault of any individual – this is the culture of Islamophobia.”

The NZSIS was extremely capable and if they had focused on finding right-wing extremism, they would have found the Christchurch terrorist.

“This rat would have easily been identified if they were looking – but they weren’t looking.

“They are very good, they searched out those Muslims who were searching out objectionable material and they prosecuted.”

The federation also found the Christchurch mosque attacks terrorist would never have been able to obtain a firearm if proper procedures were followed because two of his referees did not meet police criteria.

In order to avoid a terror attack happening again, the federation recommended criminalising hate crimes, denying right-wing extremism, establishing a Ministry of Super Diversity, improving how media portray Muslims, and better training for the police and security agencies.

The New Zealand Intelligence Community said it could not respond to specific claims until the Royal Commission’s report was released on December 8. The 800-page report has been presented to the Government.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she wanted the public to see the report before “launching into the discussion” on whether New Zealand’s security agencies had failed.

Source: ‘Institutionally racist’: NZ security agencies were Islamophobic and ignored right-wing threat – Muslim group

There’s a social pandemic poisoning Europe: hatred of Muslims

Of note:

Rarely does the EU act so swiftly. Less than four months since the killing of George Floyd in police custody and the Black Lives Matter campaign that spilled into Europe and galvanised continent-wide protests, the EU is appointing its first ever anti-racism coordinator.This brilliant idea will make little sense, however, if anti-Muslim hatred is not part of their portfolio. Because instead of building a “truly anti-racist union”, as the president of the European commission, Ursula von der Leyen, would wish, we have so far built an anti-Muslim one.

Prejudice against Muslims exists in every corner of Europe. Not only do we collectively devalue and discriminate against Europeans who follow Islam, but the incidence of violence against Muslims is increasing.

We have known since the refugee and migration crisis of 2015 and the jihadist terrorist attacks in France, Spain and Germany that Muslims suffer from an exceptionally bad reputation in our societies. In 2019, research conducted for the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Religion Monitor yet again confirmed widespread mistrust towards Muslims across Europe. In Germany and Switzerland, every second respondent said they perceived Islam as a threat. In the UK, two in five share this perception. In Spain and France, about 60% think Islam is incompatible with the “west”. In Austria, one in three doesn’t want to have Muslim neighbours.

Source: There’s a social pandemic poisoning Europe: hatred of Muslims

Before we hurl insults around about ‘transphobes’ let’s be clear about what we mean

Definitions can be helpful but can also be divisive as we have seen the shift from the IHRA antisemitism working definition to one that has been adopted by governments and institutions:

When anti-semitism still appeared to be the Labour membership’s most glaring problem with intra-party prejudice and related mudslinging, great importance attached to definitions. What might seem to some members a perfectly allowable comment on the Israeli state might to others, using the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, be manifestly hateful and targeted.

The party’s adoption of that definition was itself disputed. Labour took on the IHRA definition in 2016, then argued about adopting its examples of antisemitic behaviour. As ugly as this difficulty with internationally agreed terminology might look from outside, the interest in precise wording represented some common ground. On the definition of antisemitism, Labour’s factions were at least able to communicate.

More recently, the party has adopted a working definition of Islamophobia advanced by the all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims (after consultation with more than 750 British Muslim organisations, 80 academics and 50 MPs). The group’s co-chair Wes Streeting dismissed objections that free speech would suffer. “While our definition cannot prevent false-flag accusations of Islamophobia to shut down reasonable debate and discussion, it does not enable such accusations. In fact, it makes it easier to deal with such behaviour,” he said. “Our definition provides a framework for helping organisations to assess, understand and tackle real hatred, prejudice and discrimination.”

There could hardly be a better case for another considered definition – after a week in which its meaning has been both stretched and contested – of what should be understood by transphobia. Unless we want to leave that job to the courts. Is it allowed, for instance, to satirise self-ID, as in the case of Harry Miller? Yes, says Mr Justice Knowles. And in a passage that might have been inspired by Labour’s pledges: “Some… are readily willing to label those with different viewpoints as ‘transphobic’ or as displaying ‘hatred’ when they are not.”

There are obvious implications for the unprecedented debates prompted by a proposed reform to the Gender Recognition Act, facilitating gender self-identification (ID). Can it be damagingly transphobic – if Miller is not – for people to meet and discuss the possible implications for women-only spaces and safeguarding? Should people be able to meet, without fear of abusive crowds, to share concerns about early gender dysphoria diagnosis/affirmation? Is it actionably bigoted – unlike Miller – to question the fairness of male-bodied athletes competing in women’s elite sport?

Tragedies deepen Jewish-Muslim bonds to fight hate crimes

Of note:

Muslim groups helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to help Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue recover after a gunman killed 11 people there, one year ago this week. The Jewish congregation mounted its own fundraiser for New Zealand’s Muslims after a white supremacist shooter killed 51 people at two mosques there in March.

Such outreach between Jews and Muslims often draws widespread attention only in the immediate wake of tragedy. But as both faiths grapple with a rise in reported hate crimes and fears within their communities of being attacked for their beliefs, Jews and Muslims are forging bonds that rely on shared personal values to help combat anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

For Sheryl Olitzky, 63, the “aha moment” that inspired her focus on Jewish-Muslim connections came almost a decade ago on a trip to Poland, when she asked a guide why she saw no locals in the head-covering garb of devout members of either faith.

Olitzky, who was married at Tree of Life synagogue, recalled being stunned by the exclusionary response she heard and telling herself that “I could not change history, but I could rewrite it by changing the future” and working to prevent further episodes of discrimination against Jews and Muslims.

When the grandmother of seven returned home to New Jersey, however, it took several months for her to realize that, despite living in an area with “a fairly substantial number of Muslims and Jews,” she had no Muslim friends.

“I said, ‘I believe ignorance is a primary driver of hate, and it’s time, if I want to make change that I get to know Muslim women’,” Olitzky said.

When Olitzky was introduced to Atiya Aftab, a Muslim attorney and adjunct professor at Rutgers University, their partnership took off as the nonprofit Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom. What began as a meeting of six Muslim and six Jewish women at Atfab’s home now counts more than 170 chapters in 32 states and Canada, according to Olitzky.

The Sisterhood devotes much of its attention to education and shared experiences that can deepen ties between its members, with its fourth annual trip this year taking dozens of Muslim and Jewish women and teenage girls to Germany and Poland. But a vow to fight hate crimes that target their respective communities is also woven into the group’s foundation, with a “rise and respond” primer for speaking out against anti-Semitism and Islamophobia released this year .

Other members of the two faiths have created formal alliances as well. The Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council was established by the American Jewish Committee and the Islamic Society of North America in the first days after President Donald Trump’s 2016 election — following a campaign where Trump repeatedly stoked public fears of Muslims.

MJAC is co-chaired by two business executives, one Jewish and one Muslim. The group opened regional affiliates after a 2017 spike in reported hate crimes that included the death of Heather Heyer, killed while demonstrating against a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

AJC Director of U.S. Muslim-Jewish Relations Ari Gordon said that some themes common in episodes of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are “definitely linked.” The same man who allegedly attacked a synagogue in Poway, Calif., this spring was also linked to a fire set at a nearby California mosque, Gordon pointed out.

Hate crimes reported to the FBI have risen for three years running, according to official statistics, with Jews and Muslims ranking as the top two targets of religiously motivated incidents. But underreporting is seen as a significant obstacle to effective tracking of the problem. Heyer’s death, for example, was not included in the federal database although the man who drove his car into the crowd where she stood pleaded guilty to hate crimes charges.

MJAC has championed bipartisan legislation in Congress designed to improve the tracking of hate crimes — but its work has stayed in that domestic policy lane, steering clear of U.S. policy toward the Israel-Palestine conflict that has been a longtime divider of Jews and Muslims.

“We don’t put that issue on the side because it’s not important; quite the opposite,” Gordon said, adding that MJAC aims to demonstrate that the two faiths “can work together for mutual benefit and build trust despite this disagreement.”

Wa’el Alzayat, CEO of the Muslim advocacy group Emgage Action, and Halie Soifer, executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, took a similar approach when they co-authored a columnafter the New Zealand mosque attacks that described their faiths as battling the “common enemy” of white supremacist violence. The duo first got to know each other as colleagues on the staff of Samantha Power, who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under former President Barack Obama.

“We can work together on issues that unite us, and that doesn’t mean we have to agree on every issue,” Soifer said. Alzayat, also a member of MJAC, agreed that the alignment to discuss their faiths’ struggles against hate crimes does not mean “you let go of your principles.”

If the two communities can successfully find that “common ground,” Alzayat said, “over time, the really difficult stuff becomes easier to talk about.”

The partnerships between Muslim and Jewish groups have extended beyond battling hate crimes. AJC held an event last week to show support for the majority-Muslim Syrian Kurds as they grapple with the fallout from Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from the country’s northeast and Turkey’s subsequent attacks on Kurdish-held territory.

But even when it comes to the unifying issue of preventing hate crimes against their respective faiths, not every Muslim-Jewish partnership agrees on how publicly to discuss Trump’s role in the problem. Alzayat and Soifer used their op-ed to label Trump “a symbol of rising Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and other forms of racial and religious intolerance,” and Olitzky also said she views Trump’s muddled rhetoric about white nationalists as having “given permission for them to come out” further into the open.

MJAC, for its part, takes a more positive approach toward an administration whose support it needs to get further hate crimes legislation passed into law under Trump. The president signed a bipartisan bill strengthening penalties for threats against religiously affiliated institutions into law last fall. Gordon praised the Justice Department’s work on anti-Semitism and said that the group would not pull back on “criticism where we think it’s due.”

Source: Tragedies deepen Jewish-Muslim bonds to fight hate crimes

Ukip Might Not Get Votes – But Its Anti-Islamic Voices Have a Platform

On anti-Muslim attitudes in the UK and UKIP:

It seems tempting to ignore the election of Richard Braine, the new leader of the UK Independence Party. After all, its former leader Nigel Farage moved on to found the Brexit Party and much of Ukip’s support seems to have migrated there with him.

But it would be a mistake to disregard Ukip. Its strongest impact was never in the parliamentary seats it failed to get, either in the House of Commons or the European Parliament. Rather, it made its mark by moving the conversation dangerously further to the right than was previously acceptable. Take, for example, the first controversy to emerge involving Mr Braine. Footage of a hustings for the leadership race showed him complaining some British towns and cities were effectively no-go areas for non-Muslims and calling for it to be a crime to hand out copies of the Quran under laws connected to violence.

Such virulent anti-Muslim sentiment underpins Ukip and has only become more intense over the years, despite claims that it wants to distance itself from the anti-Islamic views that shaped the leadership of Mr Braine’s predecessor, Gerard Batten. Mr Farage quit the party over the issue of Islamophobia and Mr Batten’s links to far-right activist Tommy Robinson. The footage of Mr Braine seems to indicate it’s a different face at the helm but the same message.

For a party that is arguably on the far-right of British politics, Ukip enjoys an outsized presence in terms of press coverage. The boisterous antics of the likes of Mr Farage boosted his popularity and was handsomely rewarded by a disproportionate amount of airtime on television, a radio show on a mainstream network and a platform with various media outlets.

But as oxygen has been given to such right-wing views in so much of the mainstream media, such voices and their radical views have become normalised.

Ukip began as a Eurosceptic party and leaving the EU was the issue that defined its purpose. It never found a critical mass to vote for it as a party – but it did manage to get a critical mass to take up its one issue. As a result, the Brexit referendum of 2016 happened. The turmoil that has unfolded since is significantly down to mainstream political parties not taking seriously how to provide leadership in an age where Ukip-style populist politics can make a difference.

Mr Farage has now moved on to another political force, one which yielded considerably more success in the recent European elections. But the Brexit Party could never have done so if Ukip had not existed in the first place. Ukip continues to tap into a minority of the British public’s sentiments – an unruly minority that seeks division in order to promote its agenda.

That agenda is increasingly not about leaving the EU, an issue that has been taken up by the Brexit Party, large parts of the Conservative party, and even significant pats of the Labour party. Ukip might deny it is an anti-Islamic party – but the issue of Islamophobia is increasingly shaping conversations both within its ranks and about it.

Since the Brexit referendum took place, it is the issue that has energised the remaining Ukip base like no other. Robinson, currently serving nine months in prison, was until recently serving as a political adviser to Mr Batten. Others, including Ukip candidates Mark Meechan and Carl Benjamin and Paul Joseph Watson, have been accused of racist, threatening language. Mr Watson founded the far-right conspiracy website Infowars which is known for promoting absurd conspiracy theories; he himself declared “Islam control” was needed rather than gun control.

The anti-Islam animus has been present within Ukip since its early days – but it now seems to have overtaken nearly all other considerations within the party today. Anti-Muslim sentiment is a problem that infests many parts of the political spectrum already, including within the ranks of the Conservative party, to the point where even the term Islamophobia is challenged.

Ukip is currently polling badly in the UK. But with anti-Muslim bigotry across Europe on the rise, history reminds us that insignificance at the ballot box doesn’t mean irrelevance elsewhere.

Source: Ukip Might Not Get Votes – But Its Anti-Islamic Voices Have a Platform

UK’s Labour Party spars with BBC over charges of anti-Semitism

Ongoing train wreck (the Conservatives have the same problem with anti-Muslim attitudes):

British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn’s office interfered in independent party discipline processes aimed at rooting out anti-Semitism, the BBC said on Wednesday, a claim that the Labour Party sharply rejected.

A BBC investigation spoke to former Labour officials who said top party figures, including Corbyn’s communications director Seumas Milne and general secretary Jennie Formby, had minimized complaints of anti-Semitism against party members.

Labour said the accusations were “deliberate and malicious misrepresentations designed to mislead the public”.

Labour has battled accusations of anti-Semitism since 2016 and Corbyn – a veteran campaigner for Palestinian rights – as well as other senior party officials have been criticized for failing to take decisive action to deal with it.

British Jewish groups have accused Labour of becoming institutionally anti-Semitic, and the issue has played a part in Labour’s failure to take electoral advantage of the Conservative government’s turmoil over Brexit.

The BBC quoted an email from Milne telling Labour’s internal complaints team that “something’s going wrong, and we’re muddling up political disputes with racism”.

Labour said this misrepresented Milne’s email, which referred to a dispute between Jewish Labour members with Zionist and anti-Zionist views. A fuller extract of the email read: “If we’re more than very occasionally using disciplinary action against Jewish members for anti-Semitism, something’s going wrong, and we’re muddling up political disputes with racism.”

The BBC investigation also quoted former party members who felt a hostile atmosphere toward Jews within the party in recent years, who were sometimes challenged over Israeli government actions by other party members.

Nine lawmakers quit the party this year, citing the leadership’s handling of anti-Semitism as well as its stance on Brexit as reasons for leaving.

British foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt said the BBC investigation showed that Corbyn was either “wilfully blind to anti-Semitism or anti-Semitic himself”.

Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, who is frequently critical of Corbyn, said he was “shocked, chilled and appalled” by the allegations in the BBC report.

Labour’s press office said the party was “implacably opposed to anti-Semitism,” and that some of the former officials quoted by the BBC had “personal and political axes to grind” against Corbyn.

Britain’s Conservatives face regular accusations of hostility toward Muslims. On Monday broadcaster Channel 4 published a survey of 892 Conservative Party members by pollsters YouGov which showed that 56% believed Islam was a general threat to Britain’s way of life.

Source: UK’s Labour Party spars with BBC over charges of anti-Semitism

There’s a debate over Canada’s new definition of anti-Semitism, and it might sound strangely familiar

Needed raising of some parallels:

You could be forgiven for having missed the fact that Canada has adopted a formal definition of anti-Semitism. It was included as part of the government’s new anti-racism strategy, announced by Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez earlier this week, in a list of terminology toward the end.

“Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews,” it reads. “Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

This is a relatively recent definition, adopted in 2016 by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), an intergovernmental body with 31 member countries, including Canada. It’s since been adopted by a handful of countries, including the U.K. and Germany.

But controversy has bubbled up around the IHRA definition, fuelled by those who believe it’s over-broad and could chill legitimate criticism of the Israeli state. Though Canada isn’t passing any new laws to curtail debate about Israel, some believe the IHRA definition is a threat to free speech.

If this sounds strangely familiar, that’s because the debate bears a certain resemblance to the controversy that raged for months over M-103, the Liberals’ anti-Islamophobia motion that Conservatives claimed would threaten people’s right to criticize Islam. The arguments in both cases are oddly similar — they’re just coming from very different quarters.

The IHRA definition of anti-Semitism is brief, but includes a list of 11 contemporary examples, such as “the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy,” and the claim that Jews invented or exaggerated the Holocaust. It also lists as anti-Semitic “applying double standards by requiring of (Israel) a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”

Aidan Fishman, former national director of B’nai Brith Canada’s league for human rights, said his organization pushed for Canada to adopt the IHRA definition because of a “really alarming rise” in anti-Semitic incidents in recent years.

“It’s a very comprehensive definition, which really encapsulates anti-Semitism in its modern form,” he said. Canada’s decision comes in the midst of an international effort by Jewish organizations to urge governments and political parties to formally adopt the IHRA definition.

Anthony Housefather, a Liberal MP from Montreal and chair of the House of Commons justice committee, said defining anti-Semitism is key to fighting it. “Most people just need to be educated and understand where something crosses the line,” he said.

Still, the IHRA definition has not been universally embraced. Last week, just days before the anti-racism strategy was released, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) released a statement saying the definition is “extremely vague,” “open to misinterpretation” and could undermine Charter rights to free speech. “We fear that if adopted, the IHRA definition will serve to severely chill political expressions of criticism of Israel as well as support for Palestinian rights,” the association said.

In a statement to the National Post on Thursday, the NDP said the party supports the anti-racism strategy, but likewise raised concerns about the IHRA definition, saying it “could be a threat for people who legitimately denounce grave human rights abuses by the government of Israel against Palestinians.”

Independent Jewish Voices, an organization that supports the call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel, is urging Ottawa to reconsider. “The full definition’s examples conflate fundamental criticisms of Israel and/or Zionism with anti-Semitism — a position IJV strongly rejects,” the organization said in a statement, adding its adoption “would pose a serious threat to freedom of expression and academic freedom in Canada.”

Fishman and Housefather both denied this, pointing out that the definition states that “criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.” But Fishman said support for the BDS movement does constitute anti-Semitism under the IHRA definition to the extent that supporters also, for example, call for the lifting of sanctions against Iran — a double standard, he argued.

“There are many parts of BDS which are indeed a new form of anti-Semitism when you single out Israel,” Housefather said.

Canada’s anti-racism strategy does not propose any new penalties for anti-Semitism, nor does it propose new legislation — it provides only a definition. But Meghan McDermott, staff counsel for the BCCLA, said she worries it could eventually be incorporated into the Criminal Code. “It’s kind of what we would call soft law for now,” she said. “We just worry about that whole floodgates argument.”

That “floodgates argument” is strikingly similar to the concerns raised by Conservatives and other critics of M-103, the 2017 motion that called on the government to condemn Islamophobia and all forms of racism and religious discrimination. Though M-103 was not a government bill and proposed no changes to legislation, critics claimed that because Islamophobia was not precisely defined, the motion could restrict legitimate criticism of Islam.

B’nai Brith was among those critics. At a 2017 meeting of a parliamentary Heritage committee conducting a study of systemic racism as required by M-103, Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith, called Islamophobia a “confusing” term with competing definitions. “We must ensure that no one can hide behind the idea that any criticism of Islam represents Islamophobia, or a vague definition to this effect,” he said.

Ultimately, the Heritage committee recommended Canada update its national action plan against racism, a commitment that’s now been fulfilled with the release of the new anti-racism strategy, which defines both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Its definition of Islamophobia “includes racism, stereotypes, prejudice, fear or acts of hostility directed towards individual Muslims or followers of Islam in general.”

The Conservatives did not respond to a request for comment about the new strategy and its definitions.

McDermott insisted the two debates — about anti-Semitism and Islamophobia — are not analogous, as the controversy over the IHRA definition centres around criticism of a foreign nation. The debate over M-103, she said, wasn’t “grounded in reality.”

“It seemed to me that it was… people who were Islamophobic who were making those arguments,” she said.

For his part, Fishman said criticism of the IHRA definition is ill-founded. “And I think some of it is actually motivated by a desire on the part of certain groups… to keep pushing anti-Semitism,” he said.

Cara Zwibel, director of the fundamental freedoms program of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said she’s concerned about any definition of racism that’s too broad, because of the importance of freedom of expression. Still, she pointed out, nothing in Canadian law has actually changed.

“There’s nothing in that strategy at the moment that seems to restrict rights in any way,” she said. “It’s more about empowering people to respond.”

Muslim Australians found to suffer the ‘most disturbing’ experiences in public among all faiths

Not surprising and not unique to Australia:

A four-year study into faith communities in Australia and the UK has found Muslims experience acts of violence on an individual basis like no other religious adherents, leading to calls for better early education in religious awareness.

Key points:

  • The Interfaith Childhoods project has already spoken to 340 people from religious communities in six cities across Australia, Great Britain
  • The lead researcher has found difficulties of religious life in Australia is felt most strongly by Muslim women
  • The study will form the basis of a large-scale public art program discussing social values in relation to different faiths in young children

In the midst of conducting her research, RMIT University’s Professor Anna Hickey-Moody said she was disturbed when she heard the experiences of Muslim Australians, prompting her to lead the call.

“The mosque [where] I spent most of the week in Adelaide has had young men, white men, driving around the mosque in a car with the windows rolled down pretending to shoot it. I mean, that’s terrifying,” she said.

Since 2016, 340 people from religious communities have been interviewed in six cities across Australia and Great Britain for the Interfaith Childhoods project.

They included lower socio-economic communities in Sydney, Adelaide, Canberra, Melbourne, London and Manchester.

Professor Hickey-Moody brought together children and their parents, asking the children to create art about their identities and then interviewing their parents in-depth about their experiences of living in Australia.

Ending in 2020 and funded by the Australian Research Council, it will be the first Australian study to create a large-scale public art program discussing social values in relation to different faiths in young children.

“One child in south-east London drew a globe where he pinned where he began, as in where he was born in Somalia, and then the flight around the world and the different places where he’s been and where he ended up. It was his story of home,” Professor Hickey-Moody said.

But it was when she interviewed the parents, particularly the Muslim women, when she heard the full extent of difficulties of religious life in Australia.

a child painting of a mosque in a city landscape “She was talking about how complicated that is to experience as a mother. She wants her daughter to have a religious life, but she’s also scared to teach her daughter a way of life that might allow her to be vulnerable.

“One story that stuck in my head … [a woman] and her sister were in town in Adelaide and they saw an older woman that was struggling with her walking frame and they went to try and help her because they realised she wasn’t going to make it across the lights.

“When they got to the walking frame to try and help her, she looked at them with this visceral hate and said ‘get your hands of me you bitches, I’m just coming for you, I’m coming to tell you to get back where you came from’.

“Her sister burst into tears because she was so shocked, and she [the older woman] burst into laughter.”

Adelaide seen to be the most unaccepting city

Across all of the cities involved in the project, the researchers found stories from Adelaide to be the most distressing.

“It has a less multicultural community, it’s a less international community, and I think there’s not the kind of cosmopolitan consciousness that requires understanding social difference,” Professor Hickey-Moody said.

One Muslim woman in the Adelaide focus group burst into tears as she recalled the moment another women came right up to her face and yelled at her to “get out of here”.

Source: Muslim Australians found to suffer the ‘most disturbing’ experiences in public among all faiths

Poway Synagogue Shooting: Why Conservatives Keep Getting Anti-Semitism Wrong

Good column:

What motivates someone to burst into a Southern California synagogue and shoot unarmed worshipers, there to recite the memorial prayer for the dead?

Depends who you ask: progressives say nationalist, racist ideology, while conservatives say hate. The difference may seem slight, but in fact, it’s why right and left talk past one another—and seem to be moving farther apart.

Progressives, and most scholars, regard the kind of anti-Semitism that motivated the Poway shooting as part of the xenophobic, ultra-nationalistic constellations of hatreds and “otherings” that also, in our day, include Islamophobia, racism, and anti-immigrant animus. Jews are the “enemy within,” facilitating the evils of immigration and multiculturalism to destroy the motherland.

This is borne out by what Poway, Pittsburgh, Christchurch, and other white terrorists all said in their manifestos and other online comments. Like thousands of others of ultra-nationalists in Europe and America, they see their white, European cultures being overrun by foreigners. And they believe that Jews are making it happen.

In the words of the Charlottesville white supremacists, “you will not replace us,” a taunt aimed at non-whites, is easily changed to “Jews will not replace us.” That is a political statement—filled with ignorance and hate, of course, but also ideology.

On the right, however, anti-Semitism is regarded as hate, not ideology.

Despite reams and reams of ideological-political writing, from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion forgery to Mein Kampf to the paranoid manifesto of the Poway shooter that allege in precise terms the ways in which Jews destroy the national homeland, conservatives insist that anti-Semitism is simply pure, irrational, timeless, and ahistorical hatred that has nothing to do with any politics whatsoever. It’s the same whether it comes from Pharaoh in Egypt, a Tsarist pogrom, or a Hamas terrorist.

“We forcefully condemn the evil of anti-Semitism and hate, which must be defeated,” President Donald Trump said in response to the Poway shooting.

This definition of anti-Semitism is extraordinarily wrong. It is at odds with what anti-Semites themselves have said since the term was popularized in 1879. It mashes together religious animus, true nationalist anti-Semitism, and resistance to right-wing Zionism. And it is particularly helpful to the very people who exacerbate it, today’s nationalists, for three reasons.

“If anti-Semitism is defined simply as anytime someone hates Jews for any reason, then it is a free-floating hatred that finds a home in Palestinian activism, fringe black nationalism, and among Muslim Americans.”

First, of course, it absolves them of any responsibility. To most rational observers, it seems obvious that when Trump spreads lies about the dangers of immigrant crime and Muslim terrorism, he stokes the fires of populist nationalism. In response to that incitement, some will merely wave a flag and don a red hat. But others will take matters into their own hands, striking back at Jews or Muslims or Mexicans.

Some, like Poway shooter John Earnest and Pittsburgh shooterRobert Bowers, may even believe that Trump himself has not gone far enough. They are extending Trump’s logic, not defying it.

Yet if anti-Semitism is merely a pathological hatred and has nothing to do with any ideology, all of this is coincidence. Why did anti-Semitic incidents rise 60 percent in the first year of Trump’s presidency? Well, anti-Semitism is an age-old hatred; no one can explain its pathology, the right says.

Once again, such a denial of causality and reality seems facially absurd, and yet, it is what the likes of Trump, Stephen Miller, Steve Bannon, and their ilk would have us believe. Moreover, since hardly any “mainstream” Republicans have spoken out about Trump’s incitement of hatred, either they believe this delusion as well, or, by refusing to speak, are implicated in the violence that Trump has incited.

Hatred of Jews goes back thousands of years, but the anti-Semitism of John Earnest is a specific, nationalist phenomenon with specific roots and specific myths.

The unmooring of anti-Semitism from ideology has a second benefit for nationalists, which is that it reinforces their own nationalism. In Israel, of course, this is most obvious: everyone hates the Jews, the thinking goes, therefore Jews must be strong and dominant. Force is all the Arabs understand, I remember being taught in Hebrew school, so we have to be stronger than they are.

But even for nationalist parties like those governing Brazil, the United States, and Hungary, anti-Semitism is a convenient reminder that violence and hatred are endemic to the human condition, and strong ethno-nationalism is the only way to fight it.

“We have no choice,” as Trump has said many times.

This is how Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can find common cause with barely reconstructed anti-Semites like Hungary’s Viktor Orban. It suits Netanyahu fine for Orban to demonize George Soros and other Jews—after all, Netanyahu hates Soros, too. But more broadly, both men are also engaged in the same anti-democratic activities: attacking human rights organizations, enforcing patriotic speech, undermining the independent judiciary and, most importantly, demonizing “foreigners.”

To nationalists, the solution to anti-Semitism is not, as progressives would have it, stamping out bigotry, ultra-nationalism, and scapegoating of the “other,” but rather a strong ethno-nationalist state (Jewish or otherwise). The presence of anti-Semitism serves to reinforce this view. It simply means that we must all be even stronger and more nationalistic.

The third and final function of the uncoupling of anti-Semitism from ideology is perhaps its most important: it enables “anti-Semitism” to be a scourge of left and right alike, rather than a feature of right-wing nationalism. If anti-Semitism is defined simply as anytime someone hates Jews for any reason, then it is a free-floating hatred that finds a home in Palestinian activism, fringe black nationalism, and among Muslim Americans like Rep. Ilhan Omar.

Now, we are told, including by centrists who should know better, that an “ancient hatred” has reappeared on the right and left alike—as if it is campus BDS supporters who are shooting up synagogues and chanting “Jews will not replace us.”

Of course, there are indeed instances of anti-Semitism on the far left, including conspiracy theories involving Jews and slavery, Palestinian propaganda depicting Israelis as drinking blood, and anti-capitalist screeds that call out Jewish financiers in particular (which, of course, a Trump campaign ad also did).

But in the United States, the quality and quantity of these incidents pale in comparison by those found on the right.

Most importantly, there are no left-wing equivalents for the incitement coming from the nationalist right. There is no left-wing equivalent of Trump seeking to ban all Muslims from entering the United States. There is no left-wing equivalent of “Make America Great Again” with its harkening back to a whiter and less equal past. There is no left-wing equivalent of the lies about Mexicans bringing crime, drugs, and rape to America. A single remark that congressional support for Israel is “all about the Benjamins”—a claim applied every day to the NRA, Big Pharma, or the fossil fuel industry—is nothing compared to these violent, constant, and powerful incitements to ultra-nationalist frenzy.

To the right, the Poway shooter has more in common with Ilhan Omar than with the massacre at a Christchurch mosque.

But to the Poway shooter himself, Christchurch was his inspiration. Contrary to the false and exculpatory claims of the right, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism are arms of the same murderous monster, together with ultra-nationalism, hatred of the other, and racism.

And when you agitate one part of that monster, the whole beast rises.

Source: Poway Synagogue Shooting: Why Conservatives Keep Getting Anti-Semitism Wrong