The casual anti-Jewishness of most of British society, prevalent before the war, and found everywhere from the royal family to TS Eliot to George Orwell, has largely disappeared. Instead, like a virulent bacillus, hatred of Jews finds new hosts: amongst Islamist hate-mongers, the ultra-left and neo-fascists on the streets, and in the upper echelons of academia and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
When Rowan Laxton, a senior official at the FCO screamed ‘fucking Jews’ whilst watching news reports from southern Israel at the London Business School gym, was it really a ‘moment of madness’ as he claimed in court? Or did it reflect the culture of his workplace?
When former ambassador Oliver Miles wrote in the Independent on Sunday that the Chilcot Inquiry would be undermined by the fact that ‘Both Gilbert and Freedman are Jewish, and Gilbert at least has a record of active support for Zionism’ was he alone amongst former and current members of the diplomatic service in worrying about Jewish influence in public life?
When leftwing activists in the University and College Union single out Israeli academics for boycott, and claim to be against antisemitism, how can they justify the contradiction in their actions? Or when Peter Kilfoyle publicly attacks a Jewish woman Labour parliamentary candidate for, in effect, being ‘not from round here’ what did he think the impact would be?
Inside all kinds of respectable organisations and institutions, from universities to trade unions, there exists a philosophy of antisemitism, usually bound up with a desire to eradicate Israel, which creates a climate for antisemitism in its more traditional and familiar violent forms to flourish.
Sometimes it’s just words. There are a million and one examples on the internet. Use of words such as ‘Zionist’ or ‘Israelite’ can mask the real meaning: Jew. I think it was Iain Dale who worked out a rule of thumb for how long it takes for people writing responses to a blogpost on any aspect of politics to start going on about Israel and Zionists.
A new report published this morning shows that antisemitism in Britain goes way beyond words. The Community Security Trust (CST) has published its survey of antisemitic incidents over the past year, and it makes sickening reading. The Community Security Trust (CST) has a long and respected record in working with the police and local authorities to monitor and record incidents of attacks on Jews. Gordon Brown is reported this morning to be “troubled” by the findings
There were more antisemitic incidents recorded in 2009 than in any other year since records began 26 years ago. 924 incidents were reported, including violent assaults, desecration of Jewish property and death threats. The 69 per cent rise on 2008 followed a record number of antisemitic attacks recorded in January and February 2009, during and after the conflict between Israeli forces and Hamas in Gaza. Gaza was mentioned in about a quarter of the cases. There were 288 incidents in January last year alone.
As the previous spike in attacks occurred in 2006 during Israel’s war with Hezbollah in Lebanon, you can only conclude that groups and individuals in the UK use the actions of the Israeli government as an excuse to attack British Jews. Linking British Jews to the actions of Israel’s government or military is perhaps one of the most insidious forms of antisemitism, because it rests on the idea that all Jews are part of a global cabal, that each is culpable for the misdemeanors of the others, and that British Jews are somehow ‘alien’, with allegiances to a foreign power. I won’t name the British minister who, when meeting with Jewish community leaders during the Gaza conflict, referred to ‘your government’ when he (or she) meant the government of Israel. The idea that Jews are internationally linked, and have allegiances which transcend their own national states is pure Nazism. It is at the heart of what government officials call the ‘Al Qaeda narrative’. It is poison.
The challenge for Labour is huge. We need to adopt the same rigorous opposition to antisemitism as we have done to other forms of racism, sexism and homophobia. That includes challenging groups such as the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) which in the past has boycotted Holocaust Memorial Day and has in its membership people whose views do not fit easily into a modern liberal context. It means ministers working closely with Jewish groups and organisations such as the CST. It means looking again at the recommendations of the Parliamentary Group against Antisemitism, chaired by Labour MP John Mann, and implementing them without delay. Most of all, it means rooting out and challenging antisemitic attitudes, no matter how articulately put, or semantically disguised.
This article was also published by Progress.