A Commentary on the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism
Section A: Problems of definition
Section B: ‘One of the most difficult and contentious issues’
Part 1: Criticising Israel
Part 2: The Wider Context
a) An emphasis on the need for monitoring and a call for more precise data
b) An emphasis on the exceptionalism of ‘Antisemitism’
c) The politics of the Berlin Declaration
Section C: Conclusions – some larger issues
This Commentary looks at the construction and underlying assumptions of the ‘All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism’, published in September 2006. Some detailed examination raises a range of wider issues.
The first section explores issues of definition. The Report gives no clear definition of anti-Semitism, but quotes uncritically those who see it as prone to behaving like a ‘mutating virus’. In taking the view, based on a reading of the MacPherson Report, that it is up to the Jewish community to determine what is or is not anti-Semitism, the Report appears to render itself redundant in reaching the ‘troubling conclusion’ that community ‘anxiety and concern’ about rising levels of anti-Semitism ‘is justified’.
But this conclusion is based on no independent investigation of the threats faced by the Jewish community, no assessment, for example, of the belief that the ‘Jewish community has to provide a higher level of security than other minority communities’, and no response to differing views of the significance of antisemitism in British society that come from different sections of the Jewish Community. The nature of the threat is also obscured by the regular elision of references to racist discourse on the one hand and violent action on the other.
The Report’s main argument relates to the hornet’s nest it calls ‘antisemitic discourse’, a term, ‘adopted to describe the widespread change in mood and tone when Jews are discussed…’. Quoting uncritically those who gave evidence of antisemitism now being ‘based on anti-racism’, the Report treats this unlikely combination as a fact, which it characterises as ‘ironic’.
The second section looks at the line between antisemitism and criticism of Israel or Zionism, acknowledged in the Report as ‘one of the most difficult and contentious issues’. It suggests that the Inquiry’s choice of the new ‘working definition’ of antisemitism adopted by the European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) in January, 2005, is particularly problematic in this context.
The Report, like the new EUMC ‘working definition’, warns vaguely that ‘anti-Israeli discourse can, at times, become polluted by antisemitism’, emotive language that is of little help in distinguishing between legitimate and illegitimate criticism of the actions and policies of the Israeli government, in the absence of any clear criteria. Rather, the use of the word ‘polluted’ suggests that a number of issues are to be treated simply as no-go areas.
The Commentary shows how some of the criteria given in the EUMC’s Working Definition can only inhibit discussions that are important in a free, multicultural, democratic society, citing Jacqueline Rose’s The Question of Zion as an example of a serious and reflective text that could easily stand ‘condemned’.
When it comes to undoubtedly ‘antisemitic discourse’, the Commentary stresses the need to see such statements not as isolated utterances, but in context as the product of conflict. It gives the example of the Arab European League and the response of its leader Dyab Abou Jahjah to the Danish cartoons, to show that banning certain formulations regardless of context can only be counterproductive.
The EUMC redefinition of antisemitism, the Commentary argues, itself took place in a particular context – the post 9-11 world and the ‘war against terror’ – as part of an attempt ‘to frame the relationship between the European Union and the conflict in the Middle East, Israel and Islam in a certain way, and to call for vigilance accordingly’. It is therefore far from constituting a neutral definition.
If, as the Report suggests, there is evidence that a European rise in antisemitic discourse is in part a protest at developments in the Middle East, is the Report’s attempt to stifle open debate and outlaw speech acts and attitudes, likely to do anything other than exacerbate frustration and mutual distrust and feed into the construction of enemy images? Its attempt to turn ‘those who are in positions of influence to exercise responsibility’ – from media professionals to Vice Chancellors – into outriders for a system of censorship is particularly disturbing.
The Commentary argues strongly that the Report, rather than evaluating the different perspectives submitted to it, has ended up espousing the views of one side. It has contributed nothing to overcoming these divisions and reaching a closer understanding of the nature of the problems we face in Britain today.
In a wider context, the Commentary concludes that in our highly diverse societies where deep-seated and strongly held differences of opinion abound, trying to impose ‘ever stricter politically correct limits on what counts as derogatory speech’ can only lead to a dead-end.
In November 2005 an Inquiry was commissioned by the Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group against Antisemitism. Its terms of reference were:
Holding no official powers, its 14 MPs, chaired by the former Minister for Europe, Rt. Hon. Dr.Denis MacShane MP, heard evidence from key organisations and individuals in four oral sessions during February and March 2006. It reported last September, in a document (hereafter referred to as ‘the All-Party Report’ or simply as ‘the Report’) with the following opening premise, ‘The inquiry was established to investigate the belief, widely held within the Jewish community that levels of antisemitism in Britain are rising’ (para 1). The Report and the oral evidence submitted to it may be accessed at http://www.thepcaa.org/
This paper will raise a number of critical questions about the Report and its construction.
Section A: Problems of definition
What might have been hoped for from such an investigation? First and foremost, a clear definition of ‘antisemitism’. Next, some evaluation of the evidence provided in the hearings, especially the evidence given by those (generally Jewish contributors) who perceive a rise in antisemitism. The Inquirers, it emerges, were mainly exercised by reports of the rise of a ‘new’ form of antisemitism. We could expect some further clarification and assessment of the latter. En passant, they register the need to distinguish the phenomenon from the rising levels of general loutishness in our society.[i] They do not, however, undertake to assess its growth rate in relation to other forms of racism in the UK.[ii] Overall, we could have expected some explanation for rising levels of antisemitism, if indeed they were found to be rising, together with recommendations on how to address the situation.
From the outset, however, there are problems of definition. The opening sentence of the Summary which precedesthe main Report makes the first of many references to ‘anxiety and concern within the Jewish community’ (Summary). But instead of proceeding to some investigation of the sources of this anxiety and the basis for such concern, we are instead told that the Inquiry has been guided by the definition of racism put forward by the Macpherson Report arising out of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry. From the former, these Inquirers have taken the premise that ‘a racist act is defined by its victim’ (para 3) as support for the conclusion that ‘it is the Jewish community itself that is best qualified to determine what does and does not constitute antisemitism.’ (para 3) Treated as an abstract generalisation and applied here, it is hard to see why this does not immediately reduce the Report’s findings to an unenlightening circularity: ‘The inquiry was established to investigate the belief, widely held within the Jewish community that levels of antisemitism in Britain are rising. Following an investigation, we have reached the troubling conclusion that this belief is justified.’ (para 1)[iii]
In the Macpherson Report the insistence that the term ‘racist incident’ must be understood to include ‘crimes and non-crimes in policing terms’ so that, ‘Both must be reported, recorded and investigated with equal commitment’ arises quite properly out of the particular challenge of ‘institutional racism’ in the Metropolitan police force – a witting and unwitting, but systemic prejudice which prevented justice from being done in the case of Stephen Lawrence. We are talking about individual cases and specific institutional cultures. But in this Inquiry, which is attempting to make a case for the existence of a ‘new’ kind of antisemitism on the rise in British society dating from 2000, we wish to examine the existence of an international phenomenon over which the Jewish community itself is clearly divided. [iv] There is surely a different requirement: that the Report at least set out in factual and analytical terms evidence of such a phenomenon in Britain, and some account of the relationship between this and the concerns of representatives of the Jewish community.
This circularity of definition has various knock-on effects on successive findings. For example, paragraph 33 details a visit the Inquiry made to a school in Manchester which we are told spends £130,000 per annum on security for its Jewish pupils, to which parents make a termly contribution. A contrast is made with funding by the French government to make secure a school in Paris which was firebombed in 2003. The implication could be that, against the backdrop of an unquantifiable global threat, the UK is relatively unprepared. We might however reach a very different conclusion: that the levels of violence in Paris, for whatever reason, have not been reached and moreover may not be reached in the UK. But there is no further comment on whether or not these parents are likely to have made a good investment.
Instead, enter the Community Security Trust (CST), a body which by its own account has ‘a proud heritage dating back to the Jewish defence organisations formed in the 1930s to combat Oswald Mosley and his followers’ and has, ‘grown significantly … now having four offices and 54 members of staff …solely funded by donations from the Jewish community… as well as a network of 3,000 trained volunteers throughout the country.’[v] The President of the Board of British Jews, in his oral evidence, explains further that, ‘For many years the community has had to provide security guards for synagogues, Jewish schools, buildings and events. In addition physical protection measures are provided for Jewish community buildings. The Community Security Trust alone spends over £5 million per year on security and protection; in addition to this individual schools and institutions incur their own security costs.’ (para 32)
The CST, together with the police, we are told, advised the school in Manchester visited by Inquiry members. In this school, as a result, ‘the campus is surrounded by reinforced fencing and monitored by CCTV cameras. The windows are fitted with anti-shatter glass and the wall nearest the road is reinforced. Access is controlled and limited to two entry points staffed by full-time security guards and parents are also asked to participate in a security rota. Bomb drills are conducted in addition to the standard fire drills.’ (para 33) The Inquiry, which reports that there has been no attack on a Jewish community building for over a decade, nevertheless recommends that the Home Office provide a greater level of support, especially for Jewish places of worship and schools, concluding that, ‘Like other minority communities, British Jews are vulnerable to racism and prejudice, but witnesses gave evidence that the Jewish community has to provide a higher level of security than other minority communities at all of its community events, schools and places of worship. In addition to the obvious cost implications there is an associated emotional and psychological impact.’ (para 35)
Note that there is no assessment of the claim that the ‘Jewish community has to provide a higher level of security than other minority communities’.[vi] Such an assessment would be well-nigh impossible, since as we have seen, the Report’s opening definition requires its authors to believe that ‘the Jewish community’ is best qualified and best placed to judge its own fears and its own needs.
Interestingly, however, as the Report also notes, the basis on which the CST classifies antisemitic incidents differs from that adopted by the police, who follow, ‘the recommendation of the Macpherson report, where any incident which the victim believes to be racially motivated is classified as such’ (para 39). The CST, according to the Report, ‘adopts a rigorous approach before classifying an incident as antisemitic and requires a clear indication of an antisemitic element, for example language used by the perpetrator at the time of the incident or the fact that antisemitic slogans or literature accompanied an incident.’ (para 37) Since the Inquiry has adopted what is presumably the less than rigorous path chosen also by the police, it is hard to see how it is in any position to assess the ‘rigour’ of the CST. There is no evidence that it has conducted any sort of separate assessment. But this does not prevent the Inquiry from concluding in recommending: ‘We conclude that the Community Security Trust performs a valuable role and recommend intensified co-operation between the police and the CST, with particular focus on tackling dual reporting.’ (para 54)
Such an independent assessment would have been no easy matter, since these waters have been thoroughly muddied, on one side of the argument by the notorious David Irving, for whom the CST is a ‘private vigilante army’, and on the other by commentators such as Melanie Phillips, whose response to any criticism of the CST is to accuse the critics of being party to an antisemitic ‘war by prejudice’ which refuses to see that ‘Britain’s Jews – including those who, in tragic repetition of history, refuse to see it, – are under siege.’ These last comments were made in response to a BBC Radio Four programme about the CST made by ‘File on Four’s prestigious reporter Gerry Northam’ and billed as, ‘the first time the story has been told of British Judaism’s “private volunteer army” – its security operations, training, intelligence-gathering and influential (hyped and hysterical, critics say) reports on antisemitism.’ Entitled, ‘A War Against Prejudice’, the programme was broadcast on October 9, 2005.
Even if the assessment procedures of the CST are immaculate, is it possible that the existence of such a body which has demonstrated its considerable ability to sell the need for self-defence of various kinds to the people whom it serves, may contribute to higher levels of fear, even unjustified levels of fear, as well as contributing to the security of the Jewish community? It would have been useful if the Inquiry had taken on the challenge of assessing this. In stating firmly that, ‘We conclude that the Community Security Trust performs a valuable role…’ the Inquiry members are well aware that the reputation of this body is, if not mixed, then at least controversial. The CST has been quick to cite this finding of the Report as an endorsement of its work, but it is not a very strong endorsement since, as indicated above, the Inquiry has made no attempt at all to give any reason either for the conclusion it has reached or for its recommendations.
There are other problems. If you are going to assume that ‘the Jewish community itself’ will identify antisemitism, you have to hope that there is not too much disagreement.[vii] But as, we soon find out in a section entitled ‘The Problem’, the Chief Rabbi’s estimation, ‘If you were to ask me is Britain an antisemitic society, the answer is manifestly and obviously no. It is one of the least antisemitic societies in the world’ (para 5) appears to conflict with that of the President of Board of Deputies of British Jews, for whom, ‘There is probably a greater feeling of discomfort, greater concerns, greater fears now about antisemitism than there have been for many decades.’ (para 5) Rather than concluding that one may be a more objective and the other a more subjective assessment, and pursuing the reason for the discrepancy, the Report hastens to reassure us that, ‘there is much truth in both of these ostensibly contradictory views ‘ (para 5) and follows this up with a series of attempts to reconcile the discrepancy. For example, it is soon suggested that ‘the complexity of antisemitism in Britain today’ is such that ‘It is perpetrated in different ways by different groups within society and for this reason it is hard to identify’ (para 6). This means either that the Chief Rabbi and the President of the Board are looking at different groups of perpetrators, or that the Chief Rabbi is failing to identify new perpetrators, or a combination of the two. Sensing that this hardly explains the discrepancy, this section finishes with the hope that the Report as a whole will go ‘some way to explaining how Jews may feel anxious about their place in an apparently welcoming society in which antisemitism appears not to exist.’ (para 7)
This failure to establish the scale or nature of the threat goes hand in hand with the unfortunate elision of references to antisemitic or racist discourse on the one hand and violent action on the other. The Report is peppered with phrases such as ‘abuse and attack’ or ‘victims of hate and violence’ which combine verbal and physical ‘incidents’, so that one might suppose that they are all equally grave and/or imminent. For example, we are told in the opening Summary that ‘It is clear that violence, desecration of property, and intimidation directed towards Jews is on the rise’ – (on the rise, that is, compared to the ‘prevailing opinion both within the Jewish community and beyond… until recently… that antisemitism had receded to the point that it existed only on the margins of society.’ ) It might have been more useful if the Inquiry had taken up the distinction between ‘attitude and rhetoric’ and ‘acts’ proposed in Trevor Phillips’ oral evidence, when he argued that what matters is whether people are likely to act upon their prejudices, ‘There is nothing in our experience that says that the anger or the distress that is felt over politics in the Middle East… has been translated into hostile real life action’ (para 149).[viii] This would have allowed the Inquiry to focus on some assessment of the likelihood of one leading to the other. But instead we are organised into a more hybrid pair of categories – ‘reported incidents’ on the one hand, (which includes both) and an ‘Antisemitic discourse’ on the other i.e. ‘conversations, discussions or pronouncements, made in private or public’ (Summary) which ‘often go unreported’ and are ‘harder to identify’ (para 6).[ix]
In fact, it is establishing the existence, degree and danger of ‘Antisemitic discourse’ that soon emerges as the main business of the Report: [x]
‘During the course of the inquiry, we have become alerted to a form of anti-Jewish prejudice… ‘Antisemitic discourse’ is the term we have adopted to describe the widespread change in mood and tone when Jews are discussed… According to a significant amount of evidence we received, it is this phenomenon that has contributed to an atmosphere where Jews have become more anxious and more vulnerable to abuse and attack, than at any other time for a generation or longer.’ (Summary)
The Report is quite open about the problems of pinning down ‘this phenomenon… often easier to recognise than it is to define’ (para 21). But notice the shorthand use of ‘when Jews are discussed’ which, without contextualisation, already makes the argument a fait accompli; the slide of the ‘significant amount of evidence’ into ‘an atmosphere’; the hover around the subjective – ‘more anxious and more vulnerable.’
Meanwhile the problem of tautology is only compounded when it comes to the key section, ‘The Nature of Contemporary Antisemitism’(paras 18-24). Precisely where we might have hoped for some clear definition, we are knocked back by the suggestion made by ‘many of those who gave evidence’ that antisemitism is ‘a constantly mutating virus’ (para 18). Whatever new phenomenon is about to be described has already been identified as antisemitism. Any difference it might have from any preceding manifestations of antisemitism is explained by the fact that antisemitism mutates, and any temptation one might have to approach it differently as a result, or even to question whether or not it is antisemitism, has already been overtaken by events. Whatever is different about it doesn’t matter because it is in fact the same thing. The paragraph that follows offers a particularly striking twist in this argument:
‘Ironically, the latest form of antisemitism appears to be based on anti-racism. Jews are no longer accused of killing Christ, or possessing sinister racial traits. Modern antisemitism has, out of necessity, become more nuanced and subtle. Many witnesses told us that the latest mutation of anti-Jewish prejudice is now infused with a ‘social conscience’, focused on the role of Israel in the Middle East conflict.’ (para 19)
Here the two voices – the evidence given to the Inquiry and the conclusions the members of the Inquiry have drawn as a result – become fatally indistinguishable. But the obfuscation of sameness and difference involved in the statement that antisemitism is a constantly-mutating virus has done its work, shifting opinion into incontrovertible fact in the space of one paragraph.
We can imagine the Inquiry being told that ‘the latest form of antisemitism appears to be based on anti-racism’ and that ‘anti-Jewish prejudice is now infused with a ‘social conscience’(para 19) by people who find this an ironic state of affairs. What seems rather more difficult to accept is that, faced by such a glaring contradiction in terms as an ‘antisemitism’ driven by ‘anti-racism’ and ‘social conscience’, Inquiry members should be persuaded without further ‘inquiry’ that ‘irony’ explains that credibility gap. Or were they unanimous in regarding ‘anti-racism’ and ‘social conscience’ as inherently laughable? Isn’t it at least possible, if not rather more likely, that the ‘anti-Jewish prejudice…based on antiracism’ and the ‘social conscience, focused on the role of Israel in the Middle East conflict’ – are what they ‘appear to be’ – expressions of antiracism and social conscience – however misplaced? We could all argue the rights and wrongs of such sentiments, and maybe that was not what this Inquiry was set up to judge. But not to contemplate the sincerity of such motives as an option, surely this is to prejudge what the Inquiry is meant to be investigating in a quite irresponsible fashion?
Section B: ‘One of the most difficult and contentious issues’
Our Inquirers are the first to concede, under the heading ‘Antisemitic Discourse’, that ‘One of the most difficult and contentious issues about which we have received evidence is the dividing line between antisemitism and criticism of Israel or Zionism.’ (para 76). How, for example, does the Report deal with the problem introduced into this debate by the fact that Israel defines itself as a ‘Jewish state’; that there are what are universally described as ‘Jewish settlements’ on the West Bank in breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention; that there are clear cases of accusations of antisemitism being used to stifle criticism, and so forth? It is my contention that the Report is of no real help in trying to negotiate this minefield, and that this is the direct consequence of a single decision – to introduce into an already occluded discourse the new ‘working definition’ of antisemitism adopted by the European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) in January, 2005 – a redefinition which is highly problematic in many ways, particularly in its dealings with criticisms of Israel.
The EUMC has given no explanation of why this ‘working definition’ was significantly different in tone from the definition given in the EUMC report ‘Manifestations of Antisemitism in the EU 2002-2003’ the previous year.[xi] Earlier EUMC discussions had stressed the ideological component of antisemitism leading to the stereotypical construction of ‘the Jew’. Posing the question, ‘Are anti-Israeli and anti-Zionist expressions anti-Semitic?’ they had attempted a nuanced discussion in which there was no a priori assumption that criticism of Israel is in itself antisemitic. All this was turned on its head in the new ‘Working Definition’. Nevertheless, the EUMC clearly presented this offering as ‘work in progress’ and ‘under review in the light of feedback received’, [November 2005, response to EJJP letter of criticism].[xii] However, the UK’s All-Parliamentary Report has shown no such hesitation, and has given unconditional endorsement to a clearly provisional and highly contested definition which it reproduces verbatim on page 6 of the Report. This section examines the implications and consequences of this decision.
Part 1: Criticising Israel
In October 2005 European Jews for a Just Peace (EJJP) – a federation of Jewish peace organisations in ten European countries – wrote to the EUMC, protesting at what it saw as the EUMC’s ‘highly problematic ‘Working Definition of Antisemitism’.[xiii] It complained about the lack of consultation and a lack of transparency in what consultation process had taken place, one that had resulted in the apparent jettisoning of the EUMC’s earlier work. In EJJP’s opinion, this rendered the entire document worse than useless for its stated purpose:
‘This document is a highly politicised one, reflecting a spilling over of Middle-East conflicts into Europe. All this might be merely academic were it not that the very ‘purpose of this document’ is specified as being ‘to provide a practical guide for identifying incidents, collecting data, and supporting the implementation and enforcement of legislation dealing with antisemitism’. The working definition cannot bear this weight. Its effect, if unchallenged, will be to institutionalise theoretical confusions at the practical level.’
Why were they concerned? Precisely because the new ‘Working Definition’, while hedged around with ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’, seems to place the onus of proof on those who are accused of lapsing into antisemitism. In so doing it feeds a climate of fear and suspicion, inhibiting debate and discussion of what are important and difficult issues.
The new EUMC Working Definition begins with a highly generalised characterisation of antisemitism as ‘a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews’, swiftly amplified by the following, in words that are not actually incorporated into its working definition: ‘In addition, such manifestations could target the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.’ Apart from the now familiar qualification that this can take the form of ‘rhetorical and physical manifestations’, no other differentiation of the different kinds and sources of hostility which may be involved is attempted. Instead we are offered two lists which ‘include but are not limited to’ what ‘could’ be considered ‘contemporary examples of antisemitism’, in each case qualified by the phrase, ‘taking into account the overall context’. As the EJJP’s letter of protest points out, the effect of this is one example of the ways in which the new definition causes ‘confusions at the practical level’ – since we do not have the overall context which determines whether or not these are in fact examples of antisemitism. Applied to any given situation, they might not be.
The first list covers examples in public life: the second, examples concerning the state of Israel. Let us make a few comments on each list in turn. The former gives six ‘examples’ as follows:
‘Contemporary examples of antisemitism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could, taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to:
• Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.
• Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective – such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.
• Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews.
• Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g. gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II (the Holocaust).
• Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.
• Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.’
The first ‘example’ concerns straightforward incitement to violence, which is uncontroversial. The second is typically problematic because it covers a spectrum of disinformation from the most extreme to the far less, including ‘making stereotypical allegations about… Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions’. Does this mean that any talk of a powerful pro-Israeli lobby is inherently antisemitic? The UK’s All-Party Inquiry presumably does not think so, since it refers itself on page 18 to what it carefully calls, ‘the Israel lobby’, saying, ‘No-one would seek to deny that there is well-organised support for Israel in Britain’ (para 87) , but then proceeds to blur the same line as the EUMC, ‘but in some quarters this becomes inflated to the point where discourse about the ‘lobby’ resembles discourse about a world Jewish conspiracy.’ (para 87) The question remains, in which ‘quarters’? Is this the distinction which comes to our aid, for example, in assessing ‘The Israel Lobby’ [xiv], an article co-authored by professor Stephen M. Walt of Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and John J. Mearsheimer, a professor at the University of Chicago, which recently caused a huge stir in the United States ? (According to Washington Post staff writer Michael Powell, ‘an academic paper, which argues the American Israel lobby has pushed policies that are not in the United States’ best interests and in fact often encourage Israel to engage in self-destructive behavior’.)
Take another example, the fifth: ‘Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.’ When Samuel Brittan writes in Prospect magazine, ‘Why should so much more have been done to commemorate the Holocaust in the last 20 years than in the 35 years after the second world war when more of the survivors were still alive? Norman Finkelstein is surely right to claim that commemoration has become an industry. A Holocaust museum was inaugurated in the US by President Carter and subsidised by federal funds. Local versions have sprouted in many parts of the US and a few in some other countries as well. Why do we not leave it to the genuine memorials on the spot?’ – what differentiates this from an accusation of ‘exaggerating the Holocaust’ that is unacceptable? Is it good enough to say that Samuel Brittan is a respected commentator who means the Jewish people well, so this kind of comment coming from him is all right? Surely not. But the working definition offers us no better criterion to use in making such a judgement. Or again, is a criticism of ‘American and Israeli interests’ OK, but not only inexact but also antisemitic if the same interests are described as ‘Jewish’? Again – it is the limit condition that the Working Definition should help us with, and this, it does nothing to illuminate.
Meanwhile, the last example in this first EUMC list is confusing in a different way: ‘Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide than to the interests of their own nations.’ Lord Tebbit famously tried to turn dual allegiance into some kind of loyalty test, without success. Why should anyone, Jewish or non-Jewish, be ‘accused’ of this relatively widespread complication of identity in a globalising world? Is the All-party Report sailing perilously close to the wind when it argues forcefully that ‘there is a strong attachment between the British Jewish community and Israel. Many British Jews have relatives in Israel and it forms one of the key themes of Jewish education and identity’ (para 78)? I point out these problems with the examples not to deny there might be a case to answer in certain circumstances, but merely to stress that the Working Definition is not helpful in determining when or what such circumstances might be.
The second list, giving possible examples of ‘the ways in which antisemitism manifests itself with regard to the state of Israel’ is even more problematic. Interestingly, while the Working Definition says that these are possible examples ‘taking into account the overall context’, the All-Party Report has dropped this qualification. It is this list which is singled out and again quoted verbatim in the Report, in an attempt to rescue itself from the definitional swamp it enters when it addresses ‘the dividing line between antisemitism and criticism of Israel or Zionism’ (para 76):
The EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism, quoted in full on page 6, identifies some of the ways in which antisemitism manifests itself with regard to the State of Israel:
• Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, for example by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.
• Applying double standards by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
• Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (for example claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterise Israel or Israelis.
• Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
• Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel. (para 84)
EJJP point out that the examples given in this second list, ‘assume that all Jews equate self determination with Zionism… an assumption that all Jews hold the same views’ that is ‘in itself a form of antisemitism’[xv]; ignore the fact that it is, ‘all too often Zionist rhetoric which fuses the notion of Israel’s interests with those of Jews worldwide and thus fuels what the EUMC identifies (other things being equal) as a potential indicator of antisemitism’; and have the effect of stifling ‘all but the narrowest criticism of acts of the Israeli government that are in prima facie breach of clause after clause of the 4th Geneva Convention’. The EJJP do not deny that there are ‘circumstances in which criticisms of the state of Israel might indeed be antisemitic’ – but in their opinion, far from helping European legislatures to identify when this is the case, the EUMC has produced a definition which, ‘fosters a presumption that those who criticise the state of Israel in all kinds of legitimate ways are in fact covert antisemites.’
It is on this last point that the All-Party Report again gets itself into trouble. It argues in a key paragraph:
‘Rather than explaining the distinctions between legitimate and illegitimate criticism of the actions and policies of the Israeli government, we took the view that anti-Israeli discourse can, at times, become polluted by antisemitism and it is more important in each case to identify whether or not this has occurred.’ (para 82)
As might be expected, attempts to clearly identify when anti-Israeli views have been ‘polluted by antisemitism’ – a process that certainly sounds extremely distasteful, whatever it might mean – without at any point venturing to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate criticism of the actions and policies of the Israeli government, is doomed to failure. The All-Party Inquirers agree that this is hard. Had they left it there, and confined themselves to the only clear criterion in the Working Definition’s second list – i.e. that ‘Holding Jews collectively responsible for the actions of the state of Israel’ is an anti-Israeli view which has become ‘polluted by antisemitism’ – there would have been little to quarrel with, albeit little to learn. But the All-Party Report shares with the EUMC Working Definition, a much more energetic attempt than this to suggest that certain important forms of legitimate criticism of the Israeli state are completely outside the pale of what is acceptable.
Take the three main ‘examples’ of what could be considered antisemitism ‘taking into account the overall context’, as cited verbatim from EUMC’s Working Definition in the All-Party Report:
‘Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.’
‘Applying double standards by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.’
‘Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.’
There are two categories of utterance that these examples could well inhibit, both of which are important in a free, multicultural, democratic society. The first is serious criticism of policies and their impact as enacted by the state of Israel which is not ‘polluted by antisemitism’. A good case in point is Jacqueline Rose’s The Question of Zion.[xvi] Her thesis in this thoughtful book could be said to transgress on all three counts, when it argues that, ‘Zionism …imported into the Middle East a Central European concept of …organic nationhood, founded on ethnicity and blood (or “land, descent and the dead”)… the very version of nationhood from which the Jewish people had had to flee’.
The second ‘example’ draws on the deep-seated sense that only Jewish people are condemned to be homeless and defenceless, whilst others set about building and defending nation-states with equal brutality and relative impunity. This is a ‘formulation’ as the EJJP comments, ‘that allows any criticism of Israel to be dismissed on the grounds that it is not simultaneously applied to every other defaulting state at the same time’. But there is a further ‘practical confusion’, were this example to be applied to Rose’s argument. We are meant to conclude that an Israeli democracy so constituted has as much right to pursue such policies as any other democracy similarly constituted. But Rose’s point is the opposite one: that the rigour with which Israel pursues the defence of a state based on racial and religious unity makes it a stark and leading example of the inevitably racist and self-defeating outcome of ‘organic nationhood’. And not only ‘organic nationhood’. At a time when most European countries are engaged in a decisive swing towards the defence of various monocultural constructions of the ‘National Us’ – for example, the re-Christianisation of Italy, the re-laicising of France, a UK distancing from ‘multiculturalism’ that goes hand in hand with an attempt to reinvent Britishness – there are timely and important conclusions we might indeed draw from the Israeli experience that these formulations would simply censor.[xvii]
My point in citing Jacqueline Rose’s exploration of the ‘militarization of Zionism’ is not on this occasion to defend its correctness against David Cesarini’s accusation that it ‘suffers all the flaws of psycho-history’, but to make a more important claim for freedom of speech in a democracy, that this is an example of serious work which raises important issues – for disagreement or agreement. What is at stake in this category is precisely the kind of nuanced and differentiating thinking which, taken in the round, is urgently needed to address one of the most dangerous conflagrations of our era.
Again, anyone tempted to scoff that a distinguished academic such as Rose need never fear making such statements because we know that she is being serious, thoughtful and definitely not antisemitic, should have a look at an article forthrightly entitled, ‘Fighting Jewish Antisemitism’ by Professor Shulamit Reinharz of Brandeis University, which has Jacqueline Rose, amongst others, squarely in her sights. Reinharz has this to say about robust criticism of Israel: ‘Most would say that they are simply anti-Zionists, not anti-Semites. But I disagree, because in a world where there is only one Jewish state, to oppose it vehemently is to endanger Jews.’[xviii]
The other category of complex utterance that these guidelines would inhibit if not silence outright is probably more important, because much more likely to impact on the wider debate, nationally and internationally. This is ‘Antisemitic discourse’ as it arises from what Tony Klug calls the ‘contemporary mutual animosity – with an emphasis on its contemporariness’ which is ‘primarily a tragic offspring of the territorial clash in the Middle East’. In his article, ‘A Tsunami of Confusion: Antisemitism and the Arab-Israeli conflict’, published in an abridged version in Prospect magazine in August 2006, Klug set himself the task of distinguishing ‘alarmism from complacency, paranoia from denial, objective analysis from special pleading’ when it comes to the ‘marked increase in open antipathy towards Jews in a number of countries around the world, most strikingly among Arabs and Muslims… Equally… a simultaneous upsurge in anti-Muslim and anti-Arab sentiment among Jews.’ As he says, there is no mystery about what has triggered either.
The Working Definition ‘examples’ fail to provide a vocabulary which could help us to respond effectively to the different ways in which these utterances may indeed be ‘polluted by antisemitism’. The use of the word ‘polluted’ serves to warn us not to go near them or to handle them, and yet, one of the most useful services that such Working Definitions and Inquiries could perform, were they truly addressed to containing and preventing the emergence of dangerous forms of antisemitism, would be to help us identify, understand and tackle the range of motivations behind all expressions of this type that fall short of a conscious and vicious incitement to violence. Inventing a single category for all these utterances creates a climate of political correctness and hyperbole which is both asking to be flouted by many and prone to misreading. Legislation against such hate speech is likely at best to criminalise the speaker to no good end, and at worst, as we see in a recent high profile case brought unsuccessfully against the BNP leader Nick Griffin, to risk juries sympathetic enough to the perpetrators to let them off, martyred by the legislation and apparently vindicated by the justice system. This is precisely what occurred when he and his co-defendant were acquitted of inciting racial hatred in November 2006.
But the most important thing to grasp about this ‘war of words’ category as a whole is that each instance cannot be regarded as a test tube containing a chemical which can be tested for an ‘antisemitic’ or indeed anti-Muslim or Arab pollutant. Instead, it must be regarded as the product of a relationship or series of relationships which are indeed toxic.
One typically complex case study will have to suffice. It comes from the website of the Arab European League (AEL), based in Antwerp, and was published in 2006 after twelve rather unfunny cartoons, most of which depicted the Islamic prophet Muhammad, were published in the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, in September 2005. The German editor of Die Welt, when he took it upon himself to republish those cartoons on behalf of European freedom of speech, said that this was because, ‘It is at the core of our culture that the most sacred things can be subject to criticism, laughter and satire.’ I don’t agree with this, and personally find reprehensible the AEL’s decision to run a return series of offensive antisemitic cartoons in response. These were accompanied by the following message directed rather clearly at the principle that the editor of Die Welt was propounding:
“After the lectures that Arabs and Muslims have received from Europeans on freedom of speech and on tolerance, and after many European newspapers republished the Danish cartoons… the AEL has decided to enter the cartoon business and to use our right of artistic expression. Just like the newspapers in Europe claim that they only want to defend freedom of speech and do not desire to stigmatise Muslims, we also stress that our cartoons are not meant as an offence to anybody and ought not to be taken as a statement against any group, community or historical fact. But if the time has come to break down all taboos, we certainly don’t want to be left behind.”
Is this an innocent example of the European or Enlightenment sense of humour that the editor of Die Welt recommends to our attention as the height of European culture? Is it in fact, funny? Why is it directed against the people it is directed against, since the Mohammed cartoons were not initiated by Jewish or Zionist editors? The answer to the latter question would probably involve looking at the AEL’s website and the political career of its leader, Dyab Abou Jahjah – as chair, for example, of a ‘Sabra and Shatila campaign’ which sought to indict Sharon for war crimes allegedly committed in 1982, or as critic of the ‘monoculturalism’ of the ‘European Judaeo-Christian heritage’. But equally, anyone trying to assess this response fully might be involved in assessing Jahjah’s comments about Jewish support in Antwerp for the far right:
“The right in Antwerp is not “neo-Nazi”. Led by Filip Dewinter, it is a populist European right-wing movement which flirts with a Jewish community with which it has very good contacts. To be fair, only 10% of the Jewish community votes for the Vlaams Blok – but saying that, you already begin to see what we are dealing with.”[xix]
An in-depth assessment would have to look at the role that the feelings of political impotence and ‘humiliation’ have played amongst Jewish people and Arabs or Muslims, not to mention Flemish citizens in recent decades in Europe, compounded most recently by the ‘politics of fear’ of the ‘war on terror’.
It is precisely the point about this category of ‘Antisemitic discourse’, that such utterances do not emerge ‘out of the blue’. State-initiated or spontaneous, sometimes they are statements that the speaker believes to be true – sometimes, they are a bad joke, or as here, verbal revenge posing as a bad joke. Designed to hurt and humiliate the other side, such a construction of enemy images attends most protracted conflicts, from playground bullying to wars. Often, as here, it is a response to an earlier provocation. In this category as well, we must include the attempt to outlaw what is alleged to be another contemporary mutation of the antisemitic virus – ‘left antisemitism’. As we saw in Section A, the characteristics we are meant to look out for in this specimen of antisemitism are – confusingly – a ‘social conscience’ and an unhealthy focus on the racist role of Israel in the Middle East conflict. Even as elements of an anti-imperialist critique, which civilised democracy would not welcome the raising of such concerns as part of an essential wider debate? But if there are antisemitic slogans, deployed however inappropriately, for example, by ultra-leftist sympathisers with the Muslim or Arab or Palestinian cause in the peace movement, surely these, too, are proper issues for debate rather than policing.[xx]
The question – how best can it be addressed and prevented in the future? – remains one for society at large. The All-Party Report, in attempting to ban certain formulations regardless of context, cannot make itself useful in combating such stereotypes, lessen the provocation in such exchanges, or encourage more meaningful encounters between different identity groups – let alone find opportunities for improved understanding, reconciliation or peace. A serious approach must understand the context to begin to judge, and ultimately, to act successfully it must be seen to address the root causes. In addition, it is bound to fail if, as in the case of the All-Party Report, it has already taken the one course that can do yet more damage, increasing the toxicity by appearing to take sides and calling upon others to do the same.
At the very least, this undermines one of the Report’s major recommendations on Community Relations and Interfaith Relations, namely, ‘We recommend that the Jewish and Muslim communities and interfaith groups promote joint leadership programmes for young Muslims and Jews’ (para 244) ‘We believe that the Government has a critical interest in and role to play in ensuring that interfaith dialogue is undertaken by key leaders in all minority communities.’ (Recommendation 31, p.55) For the government to take an interest in interfaith dialogue, it would have to make much more effort to ensure that it is seen as ‘neutral amongst the sects’. This is not the same thing as political impartiality[xxi], but relates to the process of mediation itself.
The Report’s section on Islamist Antisemitism (paras 124-130) opens with a useful disclaimer – ‘it is not our intention to accuse British Muslims of antisemitism (para 124)’, adding, ‘British Muslim communities are themselves the victims of a serious and growing Islamophobia, and there is much that the Jewish and Muslim communities can learn from one another in tackling racism’ (Para 125). But regrettably, nothing more is heard on this front.[xxii] Shortly after the ‘All-Party Report’ was published, for example, the Mayor of London’s ‘first-ever’ report on Muslims in London, announcing amongst other findings, that, ‘Muslims are disproportionately victims of religiously aggravated crime, more so than any other faith’ and that, ‘In London there were over 1,000-reported faith hate crimes during 2005/06, an increase of 87 per cent over the 2004/05 figures’ – received rather less attention. Had the Inquirers chosen to bring evidence of both types of racism together in one report, it could have highlighted the common experiences in both communities to good effect, and explored, for example, how the far right are willing to target both, as and when it suits their purpose.
Nevertheless, it is important to note that this would hardly have addressed the root causes of the AEL revenge cartoons, for the simple reason that the real battle which is the source of this particular war of words is not taking place between two faith communities at all. As the Mayor of London stated in his written submission to the All-Party Report, ‘he knew of no evidence that perpetrators of anti-Semitic attacks are disproportionately Muslim, nor that perpetrators of attacks on Muslims are disproportionately Jewish.’ (para 151).[xxiii]
The All-Party Report concedes that it is hard to tell the difference between perfectly legitimate criticism of the Israeli state’s actions in a free democratic society and the same opinions acting as a disguise for the hatred of Jews or being ‘polluted’ by those prejudices. It concedes that ‘criticism of Zionism is not in itself antisemitic’ (para 79) but qualifies this by saying that Zionism viewed ‘as a global force of unlimited power and malevolence throughout history’ is antisemitic because this ‘bears no relation to the understanding that most Jews have of the concept’ (para 83). What the Report seems unable and certainly unwilling to recognise is that there is a sharp disagreement about the role that the Israeli state and Zionism as the ‘founding ideology of the Israeli state’ (para 78) has played and is playing in the world today between people who have long been involved in a bloody conflict and their supporters all over the world.
The All-Party Report is surely right to identify ‘the globalisation of the Middle East conflict’ (para 127) as a root cause of the tensions it is concerned with. But frustratingly, it registers this only to move swiftly on to the way in which ‘the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has fuelled a sense of anger and injustice among the British Muslim community and has exacerbated the polarisation of communities in the UK, creating a climate that is more hospitable to radical Islamist ideology’.(ibid) The Report’s references to the rest of the world do not quite end here. For example, it cites the use by Egypt and Syria of a ‘globalised mass media’ as somehow part of the problem. There is no mention, however vague, of the Christian evangelical right in the United States, and the impact of their support for the ‘militarisation of Zionism’ (and indeed the end of the world).[xxiv]
But the glaring absence in this account of root causes and provocations is quite simply the Middle East conflict itself, all the parties to it and their allies – in short, the arena, not of community relations, but of foreign and defence policy, international politics and international security.
Part 2: The Wider Context
One obvious question for politicians is not posed anywhere in this All-Party Report: what impact does it have, on everything from community relations, hate speech, to violent incidents or acts of terrorism, to be seen to be partisan on one side or another of the toxic conflict in the Middle East? The Report frequently claims that, ‘the correlation between conflict in the Middle East and attacks on the Jewish community must be better understood if the problem is to be tackled and [we] would welcome academic research on this issue.’ (para 110, See also Summary and Recommendation 11, p.53). It is certainly to be hoped that this question is part of the brief for such academic research. However, do such calls indicate that the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism is after all, innocent of or somehow blind to the ‘highly politicised’ intentions, the ‘spilling over of Middle East conflicts’ into the EUMC Working Definition, as alleged by the EJJP?
Unfortunately, this cannot be our conclusion. The EJJP never received a reply to its request in October 2005 for information regarding the EUMC’s new Working Definition of Antisemitism: ‘which Jewish organisations were consulted; which other NGOs; which academics? Moreover, who exactly drafted the working definition in the light of these consultations?’ However, it seems that a report written for the EUMC by the Centre for Research on Antisemitism at Berlin’s Technical University was withheld from publication in 2003, and only published under pressure after it was leaked in November of that year. It had singled out for special mention the hate crimes committed against European Jews by ‘young Muslims’. This publication was swiftly followed by the EUMC’s own report in March 2004 which cited ‘young, disaffected white Europeans’ as the ‘largest group of perpetrators.’ The ‘Working Definition of Antisemitism’ emerged in the ensuing controversy. Flagged up by the EUMC on January 28, 2005, it was promptly adopted by the OSCE.
This much information is to be found in a paper entitled ‘Defining Antisemitism’ put together by Dina Porat of Tel Aviv University and Kenneth S. Stern, the American Jewish Committee’s specialist on antisemitism, for the Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism and Racism at Tel Aviv University in 2005. The account comes in the second section by Kenneth Stern, ‘Proposal for a Redefinition of Antisemitism’, which goes on to outline Stern’s critique of the existing EUMC approach, particularly on the ‘trickiest’ question, ‘is anti-Zionism antisemitism?’. He gives as his definition of anti-Zionism: ‘politically-based antisemitism, otherwise known in recent years as anti-Zionism, which treats Israel as the classic Jew. [xxv] Whereas the Jew is disqualified by antisemitism from equal membership in the social compact, antisemites seek to disqualify Israel from equal membership in the community of nations.’ He claims that ‘without overly pushing the matter of anti-Zionism as antisemitism, a good working definition of antisemitism for monitors and incident counters… developed by this author along with other experts during the second half of 2004’ was altered but adopted by the EUMC as the basis for its Working Definition, and that, ‘Additionally, OSCE used the EUMC’s ‘working definition’ in its report “Education on the Holocaust and on Antisemitism: An Overview and Analysis of Educational Approaches,” and in OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights’ (ODIHR) law enforcement officer training program on combating hate crimes.’[xxvi]
So, we do not have to look far to see the events that influenced this shift of gear in 2003/2004 – a political process leading up to and including the so-called Berlin Declaration. This OSCE process has pride of place in the Report. A two-page account leads us to two recommendations in the run-up to the Report’s Final Conclusions, which call on our Prime Minister to ‘appoint[s] a special envoy on antisemitism from among serving parliamentarians who can co-ordinate this work and represent the UK worldwide and in Britain’, and the FCO and the Home Office to issue a ‘joint statement annually… on the progress made in the UK in implementing the objectives of the Berlin Declaration.’ (para 273) ‘This work’, it is explained, arose from a forum held in Berlin in July 2002 to address the rise in antisemitism in the OSCE region:
This was the start of an ongoing programme of work, including follow-up events and conferences, culminating in the Berlin Declaration of 2004 in which participating governments unanimously condemned without reservation all manifestations of antisemitism and all other forms of intolerance, incitement, harassment and violence against persons or communities based on ethnic origin or religious belief. They also declared that international developments or political issues, including those in Israel or elsewhere, never justify antisemitism… (para 268)
A quick foray into the content of the Berlin Declaration both as a programme and a political event will yield a few features which are also recognisable characteristics of the All-Party Report. Let us briefly single out three:
a) An emphasis on the need for monitoring and a call for more precise data
Perhaps not surprisingly, this is the aspect of the Berlin Declaration given most prominence in the report-back written for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and the Center for Jewish Community Studies in Philadephia by Michael Whine, Government and International Affairs Director at the Community Security Trust (CST), claiming ‘Progress in the Struggle Against Antisemitism in Europe: The Berlin Declaration and the European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia’s Working Definition of Antisemitism’ and announcing that ‘Jewish NGOs and international organizations were responsible for two initiatives in 2004 that are intended to define, monitor, and combat antisemitism within the European region.’
Subsequently, in what Tony Bunyan of Statewatch calls ‘a little noticed decision by the full [European] Commission on 2 March 2005’, it was decided to ‘transfer responsibility for the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia from Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities DG to Justice, Freedom and Security DG, which would become the parent Directorate-General for the Centre’ [xxvii]with immediate effect. In June 2005, the European Commission put forward a legislative proposal for the creation of a European Union Fundamental Rights Agency to replace the EUMC in Vienna, while considerably extending its mandate over the next few years. The Regulation establishing the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), equipped with a new online ‘InfoBase’ which ‘aims to provide the public with impartial information on racism in the EU and can serve as a point of reference to inform action against racial discrimination’, comes into effect on 1 March 2007. As a result we can probably expect to see rather more coverage of the following kind in the media over coming months:[xxviii]
‘Jump in anti-Jewish attacks in Europe’ by Peggy Hollinger in Paris, Financial Times, November 12, 2006:
‘Anti-Semitic attacks in Europe have risen sharply in the months since Israel’s summer war with Hizbollah in Lebanon, according to the World Jewish Congress. The UK saw a particularly sharp increase in the number of incidents, with 132 anti-Jewish acts recorded in 33 days in July and August, according to a report published on Sunday. France too, with the world’s third-largest Jewish community outside Israel (after the US and Russia), saw a 79 per cent increase in anti-Semitic acts since July.
The warning came as experts on antisemitism said the phenomenon was starting to move into mainstream politics in Europe. Dina Porat, head of Tel Aviv university’s Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism and Racism, said: “We can define the summer of 2006 as the period in which antisemitism really entered the mainstream.” ’
b) An emphasis on the exceptionalism of ‘Antisemitism’
We conclude that international treaty-based organisations like the OSCE, the EU and the Council of Europe are fully seized of the problem of contemporary antisemitism and we welcome the appointment of an OSCE Special Representative on antisemitism. We recommend that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office gives full support to this work and avoids the temptation to bury the specific problem of antisemitism in a wider context of antiracism. (para. 273)
This sits unevenly alongside such formulations as we find in the Report’s concluding sentence, ‘that anti-Semitic abuse, be it physical or verbal, must be condemned in the same unqualified terms as other forms of discrimination’ (para 271) – but this exceptionalism nevertheless takes various forms throughout the All-Party Report, from the innocuous to the distorting. In the latter category we might include convolutions over attendance of memorial services on Holocaust Day – which accordingly slips between being an important event because of the Jewish Holocaust, and being a day against genocides in general, (though not a day for remembering the roll-call of European minorities targeted for extermination by the Nazis – gypsies, homosexuals, the mentally and physically disabled, communists and so forth…) (53), and the discovery of a ‘new awareness of the need to explain to school-children the history of antisemitism’ (para 266) which does not explain its relationship to the discovery of the ‘new antisemitism’ which is the burden of the Report, therefore implicitly subscribing to the questionable ‘mutating virus’ account of the relationship. Couple this with such formulations as ‘Historically, where antisemitism has been allowed to gain a foothold in societies, other forms of prejudice have fed off this and flourished’, the reluctance to be seen as part of the ‘wider context of antiracism’, and the demand for a ‘special envoy’, and you have at least a mild echo of the rhetoric surrounding the Berlin Declaration. For a sample of this, a Google search will soon bring you to some highly coloured Anti-Defamation League coverage:[xxix]
‘ADL Hails Berlin Declaration Against Antisemitism as an ‘End Of European Denial’… The statement addresses the issues by declaring “… unambiguously that international developments or political issues, including those in Israel or elsewhere in the Middle East, never justify antisemitism.” The message was ratified by leading international figures at the conference, including U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Laureate Elie Wiesel and German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. In his address on “Contemporary Antisemitism” at the OSCE meeting, Mr. Foxman highlighted the critical challenges of the newest manifestations of the problem, including attempts to deny the problem exists or to categorize it.’
c) The politics of the Berlin Declaration
This brings us to the most obvious and most political feature of the Berlin Declaration – the opportunity the OSCE provided therein for its European and North American members to jointly call attention to the dangers of criticism of Israel in the context of ‘the war on terror’. The narrative that is on offer emphasises the particular threat of a return of ‘antisemitism’ to Europe.
Finding ways to formulate and disseminate this warning to ‘those who are in positions of influence to exercise responsibility’ (para 112) is a central driving force behind the UK’s ‘Report of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism’ and it poses the essential question of whether UK politicians are best serving the Jewish community in the UK or anywhere else by importing all the rhetorical, political and diplomatic baggage of this particularly conflicted approach to the problems of the Middle East into this delicate terrain.
Of course the All-Party Report is not the only initiative to have acquired these preoccupations. A ‘Jewish communities seminar’ cited in the Report, hosted by the Commission for Racial Equality through the Safe Communities Initiative in December 2004, foregrounds exactly the same issues:
‘The seminar revealed that there were concerns about the rising levels of antisemitism in the UK. Much attention was given to the spilling-over of tensions from the Middle East. Particular concerns were raised about the treatment of Jewish students on campuses in the United Kingdom.’ (para 239)
What we see in these cases is a particular, accretive, process of politicisation. It suggests that the decision to make the EUMC ‘Working Definition’ of antisemitism the bedrock of the Report, far from being an attempt to clarify or enlighten the reader – we have already seen that this was unlikely – was a small cog in a high octane initiative to frame the relationship between the European Union and the conflict in the Middle East, Israel and Islam in a certain way, and to call for vigilance accordingly. One question this raises is whether there is any evidence to suggest that our approach to community relations within the UK is served well by such a ‘spilling over of Middle East conflicts’. But there is a second question. If you wish to improve the situation and, – as the Report maintains, there is evidence to suggest that a European rise in antisemitic discourse is in part a protest at developments in the Middle East, a link which the Inquirers claim they only partially understand – what is the best way to proceed? Can the further politicisation of these issues, prompted by figures such as Abraham Foxman, who is nothing if not one-sided in his views, [xxx]do anything other than exacerbate those tensions?
Shouldn’t we want to get debates about the Middle East into the open, where they could be oxygenated by information from all sides? Had these same politicians concentrated their minds on combating the creation in the UK of ‘an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment’ (para 112) for any and all of its citizens – they might have felt the need to address a situation in which world events, and the role of Britain in those events, make it extremely difficult for the Government to appear remotely responsive to public opinion, let alone ‘even-handed’. In their dealings with the UK’s community relations, and in their fight against the emergence and consolidation of toxic enemy images, everyone, including the Jewish community, would have been better served. But we have to ask if this Inquiry was really interested in combating prejudice and misinformation. One small but eminently clear and unforgiveable example of wholly gratuitous ‘antisemitic discourse’ in their own back yard receives a risible response from the Inquirers:
‘ As a starting point, we note that the Labour Party itself was accused of insensitivity during its 2005 election campaign when it circulated an email to supporters containing potential election posters, one of which appeared to depict Michael Howard as a Fagin-like character… Several articles in the national press criticised the poster for flirting with anti-Semitic stereotypes…’ (para 164)
They seem surprised.
Section C: Conclusions – some larger issues
According to the website of the Parliamentary Committee against Antisemitism, the Government will be publishing a formal response to the inquiry in early 2007. Much more important than this response will be the All-Party Report’s reception by the Jewish community and the public at large. Where one stands with respect to British involvement in the conflicts of the Middle East is not the only question raised for people of conscience by its approach. In conclusion, I want to suggest that equally important domestic democratic issues are raised both by its form and content. One of those issues is the way authority is arrived at and maintained in the body politic as a whole.
This crisis in authority in the most developed national democracies surfaced clearly in the UK when the British government got into such difficulties justifying its engagement in the Iraq war. Professional assessments seemed to have been overridden by a political interpretation placed on the evidence. Political intervention from the Prime Minister’s office only produced a further adverse reaction. Suspected tampering reduced public support for the war. Today, even in areas such as security and foreign policy, where the problem-solving capacity of governments has been most taken for granted, the tide is turning. When it comes to making political judgements on matters that people regard as salient to themselves, elected representatives must be aware that they can no longer rely on any automatic claim that ‘they know best’, given information known only to them. People defer less willingly to authority figures in general. We want to know the sources of information, to see the information for ourselves, and to form our own judgments.
Moreover, in our highly diverse societies, deep-seated and strongly held differences of opinion abound. Even if there is agreement at an abstract level about the rule of law, democracy and fundamental human rights, there are different views about particular values and how to apply them. Even if one excludes different religious and belief systems from the equation, accommodating the diversity of values and opinion in modern societies is the central problem facing the practice of democracy.
Which brings us to a second issue central to the Report – how to deal with race and religious hate speech, a question on which it is typically unclear. The All-Party Report refers confidently to the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006, as an Act which has ‘strengthened’ previous legislation, by ‘mak[ing] it an offence to stir up hatred against people on religious grounds, although Jews are already covered as a racial group.’ (para 229) Nevertheless, the Inquirers felt obliged to call for a review of its effectivity, and in November last year, shortly after the report of their findings, the media carried headlines to the effect that the government ‘is facing a major split over race hate laws, with cabinet colleagues divided over whether the legislation should be toughened.’ [xxxi] The crisis on that occasion was prompted by the acquittal by a British jury of Nick Griffin and another BNP colleague for describing Islam as a ‘wicked, vicious faith’. The Chancellor, Gordon Brown, we learned, was in favour of a further clampdown: anything that “offends mainstream opinion” would have to be “rooted out,” as the Chancellor put it. But will this help the situation, at the point where the BNP’s vociferous stand against ‘political correctness’ is a better recruiting agent than all its views put together?
This is a dilemma tackled in a thought-provoking essay contributed by Paul Hirst, advocate of associative democracy, to an edition of the Political Quarterly devoted to ‘Religion and Democracy’ in 2000.[xxxii] His overview described recent trends in the relationship between the liberal states of the developed West and ‘religious groups’, pointing out the many conflicts that arise from increasing religious pluralism as such, as well as the growth in the number of extremist cults and rise in religious political activism.
The danger today, Hirst argued, was not the emergence of a theocratic state, but a crisis of authority in the settlement that emerged after the protracted carnage of the religious civil wars of the seventeenth century – toleration of religious communities other than the established church, at the price of certain restrictions on religious practice. The crisis arises because, on behalf of churches and sects seeking to propagate doctrine and make converts, activist groups increasingly compete to have their views on key ‘lifestyle issues’ made into law, whether on abortion, gay marriage, or offence against religion. Nor are such competing claims confined to religious groups. Other politically extreme groups, such as sections of the animal rights or the environmental movement, or as here, the far right, seek to hijack state power to alter and to control social mores. He predicts, ‘These struggles are intractable, because the diversity of views is unlikely to decline and because, as things stand, there can be only one community standard in state law. If the present state of affairs persists, we can expect increasing and ongoing political and social turbulence.’
Under siege, he warned, ‘Embattled defenders of liberalism often thicken the doctrine to the point where it becomes prescriptive and exclusive rather than neutral and procedural’, citing attempts in Western societies ‘to impose ever stricter politically correct limits on what counts as derogatory speech’ as an example. He reminded us that democracy, where legislative primacy is coupled with a highly centralised and powerful administration, makes the power of such a sovereign state particularly dangerous, since, ‘it enables rulers to claim that their policy is actually derived from the will of the people, and, therefore, in the general interest’.
Hirst’s argument alerts us to the fact that democracy as we know it cannot survive the thickening of liberal prescription until it becomes illiberal and covers all aspects of our lives. Written before 9/11, it nevertheless anticipates much of the creeping authoritarianism which afflicts mature democracies today. This increasingly demagogic construction and defence of a monocultural ‘National Us’ is a breeding-ground for extremism, not only in the majority population. To turn away from this path, however, involves having the political courage to jettison what is arguably and unfortunately the dominant discourse in democratic politics today: the politics of ‘majority reassurance’.
Yet if we want to be able to think for ourselves, what is the real alternative?[xxxiii] Possibly the most useful insight offered in any section of the All-Party Report into Antisemitism does not come in the form of a recommendation. It is this comment on Jewish historical experience in the UK in Professor David Cesarani’s written statement:
‘ Jews were not welcomed into a diverse, pluralistic society. On the contrary, the message was: Jews can live freely amongst us if they conform to our values. The ‘antisemitism of tolerance’ conditioned Jewish life in Britain. It induced Jews to minimise their differences, privatising Judaism and shedding many aspects – especially those most visible – of Jewish culture and tradition. It restricted the scope for Jewish political action by establishing a negative relationship between antisemitism and Jewish assertiveness.’ (para 97).
Such a moving though spare account of what it means to live in a society which is only reluctantly diverse and pluralist offers an entirely different approach to the rising hostilities chronicled in its pages. It suggests the new opportunities, if not for solidarity, then at least for a minimal mutual understanding – across the boundaries of minorities of every kind.
As the Report’s Inquirers murmured their assent –‘Jews were tolerated as long as they resembled other English people, adopted British values and did not raise issues specific to their community’ (para 97) – did they consider the many communities who could currently identify with this experience – Muslims, Poles, Bulgarians, Romanians, Roma. Where will it stop? They might have set themselves the historic task of replacing the attempt to construct a Britishness for a monocultural majority which does not exist with a form of civic education which could actually equip people for a diverse, intercultural future. What are the ways and means of creating safe spaces where mutual understanding can develop among the rich and multifarious interests that dwell cheek by jowl in the UK today? Ultimately people with very different lifestyles and belief systems have to learn to live together. They have to become literate about difference, and the state – a state which must be considerably more neutral among the sects than any we now know – has to encourage the development of this pluralist literacy and negotiation.
Viewed in this perspective, what are we to make of the ‘All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism’? Does it add to or further undermine the respect in which politicians and democratic processes are held? The Inquiry prides itself on having heard a range of evidence over a period of time. At the very least, it suffers from the absence of a clear definition of antisemitism. Little or no explicit attempt is made to evaluate what it hears. Indeed, the principle it claims to have espoused from the Macpherson Report makes a point of abjuring such independent evaluation. However, this does not mean that no evaluation takes place. Certain voices seem to have a direct route to many of the recommendations made in the All-Party Report, while others are registered but fall on stony ground. In other words, while little has been contributed by way of illumination to the wider debate, the divisions that existed before the Inquiry was set up, both within and outside the Jewish community in the UK remain intact. If anything, its publication seems to have provided the occasion for less listening, more recrimination and acrimony.[xxxiv]
There are some useful recommendations among the 35, all of them seeking more information:
– Further research needs to be undertaken in the UK on the correlation between the conflict in the Middle East and attacks on the Jewish community.
– We recommend that the Crown Prosecution Service conducts a review of cases where prosecutions for incitement to racial hatred have been brought, in order to see what lessons can be learned.
– Given the links between the BNP and similar anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim and xenophobic political parties in Europe we recommend that the Foreign and Commonwealth office reports on far right activity as part of its published political reporting to Parliament – possibly as an annex in its annual human rights report.
But, if the aim is to combat calculated or misinformed, domestic or international antisemitic prejudice, the primary function of the document as a whole is fundamentally misplaced. This is because the attempt to turn ‘those who are in positions of influence to exercise responsibility’ (para 112), from media professionals to Vice Chancellors of universities, into outriders for a system which polices and outlaws speech acts and attitudes in a much-needed public debate about the Middle East conflict will only exacerbate mutual distrust and feed into the construction of enemy images.
The core requirement for such a way forward is quite the opposite of ‘political correctness’. Surely, it is freedom of speech.[xxxv] In a world full of multinodal communication, it has to be possible for people to say what they think, however appalling their views, so that these views can be addressed. In the end we shall have to rely on each other, because there is no policing system in the world that can stop people thinking. The line must be drawn at the incitement to violence, and much more consistently drawn than it is in the world today. [xxxvi]
Here then is the final point I want to make. Where are we likely to find the kind of ‘grass roots activists’ – self-appointed moral guardians of genuinely liberal and pluralist values i.e. decent-minded people who care – and the sheer energy required to combat the proliferation of burgeoning enemy images that are springing up all around us? The universities must be one place to go for this kind of encounter of informed minds, or they have no purpose as institutions.[xxxvii] Yet it is the universities that are singled out by the All-Party Inquiry as an urgent priority for political correctness policing of the kind advocated throughout this document:
‘We conclude that lecturers and university authorities have in some cases reacted firmly to examples of anti-Jewish activity on campus but we agree with the CRE Chair, Trevor Philips, that the response of Vice Chancellors is at best ‘patchy’. We recommend that Vice Chancellors take an active interest in combating acts, speeches, literature and events that cause anxiety or alarm amongst their Jewish students. We recommend that Vice Chancellors set up a working party to make clear that British universities will be free of any expression of racism, and take robust action against antisemitism on campus.’ (para 220)
Here then is the authentic ring of ‘majority reassurance’ as applied to a minority – that cronyism extended from ‘people like us’ to a best friend, and designed to draw the line at others who are to be left out in the cold. The problem is two-fold. Firstly, those who are not thus singled out for inclusion, let alone those who are debarred, are likely to feel less than equal, further humiliated and alienated – an effect which is becoming too dangerous in the most mature democracies. Secondly, can we trust the Inquirers and those whom they deputise on their behalf to draw the line between the to-be-reassured and the to-be-alienated in an appropriate place? ‘Acts’ – as we have said, are straightforward – Vice Chancellors certainly shouldn’t have to be told to deal with them. But – ‘speeches, literature, events that cause anxiety’? Where is the differentiation here? How will those Vice-Chancellors set about ensuring that free speech critical, for example, of state policy – whether it is that of Israel, the USA or the UK – is preserved in a climate so easily fostered, not least by this Report, of ‘anxiety and alarm’? Are we sure that the stance the All-Party Report takes against a boycott of Israeli universities – a tactic that doesn’t convince me, I might add – is more interested in curbing the damage that this might do to the kind of debate on the Middle East conflict that the world urgently needs, than it is eager to close down that debate altogether? It all adds up to the question: do we – do the people who the Report needs to persuade, and those it hopes to address, as well as those it sets out to defend – trust these Inquirers in such matters of nice discrimination as are involved here?
On the basis of this report, I think we would have to say, no – we don’t trust them. Furthermore, the damage that has again been done to trust in our political leadership in these dangerous times is damage done not only to the Jewish community but to every other community in Britain today.
* * All quotations from the Report are in italics, followed by a page or other reference.
[i] It might be rather difficult, for example, to differentiate between the ‘certain grinding, low level of antisemitism all Jews learn to live with’ (para 7) that Howard Jacobson describes in his submission to the Inquiry, and the extensive practise of bullying that afflicts people of all kinds and categories in schools and workplaces throughout Britain. Jacobson is not differentiating here between old and new forms of antisemitism, and no doubt the phenomenon he is referring to has certain uniquely identifiable characteristics, but in its purpose and effect it may not be different in kind to much of this highly destructive but very general social phenomenon which has only begun to achieve the attention it deserves in recent years.
[ii] See for example the interesting statement, made by Richard Stone in D.D.Guttenplan’s ‘Letter from London’ published in The Nation in July 2002. Richard Stone, who has served both as chair of Britain’s Jewish Council on Racial Equality and chair of the Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia, was in no doubt: ‘There is much more anti-Muslim than anti-Jewish prejudice in this country.’
Such comparison, however, is not to be confused with a very different question about the relative responsibility for provocation between two communities. The report does record the following point made by the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone: ‘he knew of no evidence that perpetrators of antisemitic attacks are disproportionately Muslim, nor that perpetrators of attacks on Muslims are disproportionately Jewish.’ (para 151)
[iii] It renders somewhat redundant the approach to impartiality stressed by the man who set up the Inquiry, ‘Labor MP John Mann said that given the nature of the issue at hand, it was logical to adopt a select committee approach. It was important, he said, that the committee not contain MPs who were already active on the issue and that it be made up of solely non-Jewish members, so it could not be perceived as biased.’ From ‘British Parliament reports sharp rise in antisemitism’ ,Jerusalem Post, November 1, 2006
[iv] See Shulamit Reinharz’ call for‘organizations that fight antisemitism [to] have special divisions to combat Jewish antisemitism and anti-Zionism’ in her review of “‘Progressive’ Jewish Thought and the New Antisemitism,” an essay by Alvin H. Rosenfeld published by the American Jewish Committee, ‘Fighting Jewish Antisemitism’ in the Jewish Advocate, January 14, 2007.
[vi] For example in the year 2000, which was not a good year, 100,000 racist incidents were recorded in the British Crime Survey, less than half of which had been reported to the police. Out of these, reported antisemitic incidents including antisemitic leafleting and verbal harassment as well as violence against persons or property numbered 405.
[vii] A reading of the report offers many occasions on which a section of Jewish opinion is heard but not heeded. The most obvious example is the treatment of dissenting Jewish voices. But there is a more all-pervading sense of this selectivity. For example, suggestions to the effect that ‘the Jewish community is not the only minority community in Britain to experience prejudice and discrimination’ (Summary), and that indeed, ‘the level of prejudice and discrimination experienced by Jews in Britain remains lower than that faced by members of other visible minorities’ (para 17) are pushed aside with the laudable assertion that ‘such arguments provide no comfort to the individual victims of hate and violence – (again the coupling of verbal and physical) – nor should they be used as an excuse to ignore the problem’ (Summary) – a sentiment that no-one can quarrel with as long as it applies equally to all individual victims of both. This might include, for example, individuals such as Tony Judt, recently silenced if not defamed by Abraham Foxman’s Anti-Defamation League in the US who have been ostracised on account of falsely attributed antisemitic views, alongside all other individual victims of all other forms of ‘hate and violence’. See the ‘Open Letter on the case of Tony Judt’, November 16, 2006: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/19550
By the end of the report, this selectivity has turned into a rather more marked form of exceptionalism reserved for the new type of ‘antisemitism’ as reflected in the closing call for a ‘special envoy’: ‘We conclude that international treaty-based organisations like the OSCE, the EU and the Council of Europe are fully seized of the problem of contemporary antisemitism and we welcome the appointment of an OSCE Special Representative on antisemitism. We recommend that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office gives full support to this work and avoids the temptation to bury the specific problem of antisemitism in a wider context of antiracism.’ (para. 273) Again, this seems to follow inevitably from the preferential treatment accorded to some or ‘many’ in the UK’s Jewish community from the beginning.
[viii] A key ‘finding’ of the report on the ‘new’ form of antisemitism is that ‘We heard that the recent surge in antisemitism is closely linked to the periodic outbreaks of violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict’ (Summary). This issues in a sensible enough recommendation, viz., ‘We conclude that the correlation between conflict in the Middle East and attacks on the Jewish community must be better understood if the problem is to be tackled and would welcome academic research on this issue.’ (para 110) However, there are many other suggestions regarding the possible nature of the links in these pages which ensure that even when the report is concentrating on ‘antisemitic discourse’, the suggestive linking of verbal and physical threat continues and indeed escalates.
For example, the report asserts that a globalised mass media and in particular, anti-Jewish propaganda as broadcast by ‘Egyptian and Syrian state television … to millions of homes’ must ‘have a direct effect on attitudes and community relations in Britain’. (No corresponding weight is given to the recognition that the actions of the Israeli state and its allies might have an even more direct effect.) Further paragraphs call attention to state-sponsored disinformation of various kinds including the spreading of Holocaust denial and ‘classical anti-Jewish stereotypes’. These combine with accounts of how far right and radical Islamicist websites peddle such crazy conspiracy theories as the ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’, and merge with other passages relating the inclusion of synagogues amongst the targets of terrorist acts around the world. All are said to take their toll on communities within the UK.
The general effect of such an accretion of detail is to reproduce the blurred combination of fear of a domestic threat and foreign encroachment which is the hallmark of the ‘war against terrorism’, without a clear assessment of either phenomenon, let alone the impact of one on the other. It removes the phenomenon well outside the category of everyday bullying whilst giving us not much more of a handle on its causes and effects.
[ix] Chapter 3 of the report on ‘Antisemitic Incidents’ concedes early on the difficulties in monitoring a rise in antisemitic abuse. Once again, however, ‘general perception’ replaces evidence:
‘Antisemitic abuse appears to be occurring more frequently but being reported less frequently… There was a general perception that the situation had deteriorated recently. The police officers we spoke to in Manchester acknowledged the problem of under-reporting and explained how this can make it difficult to get a clear picture of the situation. However, they also felt that apparent statistical increases in antisemitic incidents could be due, at least in part, to increased reporting and changes in recording.’ (para 64)
[x] ‘Antisemitic incidents’ are difficult enough to pin down without turning to the ‘antisemitic discourse’ which is the report’s major concern. It turns out that police forces around the country don’t keep a file on antisemitism, whether or not this is because, as the Association of Chief Police Officers opines, ‘London is the only area where there are sufficient incidents to enable meaningful analysis’ (para 44). Moreover, there are disputes about what constitutes an antisemitic incident; victims of antisemitism rarely report incidents to all the relevant agencies so it is difficult to get a ‘complete picture’ (9); and the number of recorded incidents anyway, the report asserts, ‘will considerably understate the true extent of victimisation.’ (para 43)
What the report can tell us is that ‘most antisemitic incidents are committed by individuals rather than organised groups’ and tend to be ‘opportunistic or aggravated’ (para 55). Four fifths of the suspects were male, mostly between 16 and 20 years old. Far right activity dominates the examples given.
[xii] Indeed the redefinition is on their website under the title ‘-draft.pdf’: see, eumc.europa.eu/eumc/material/pub/AS/AS-WorkingDefinition-draft.pdf
[xiv] See http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n06/mear01_.html
[xv] Compare this EUMC example – ‘Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination,e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour…’ with the statement of the All-Party Report on ‘The Nature of Contemporary Antisemitism’ which complains that, ‘Jews are seen as natural supporters of Israel, regardless of whether or not they actually are…’ (para 19) to see the kind of practical confusion the EUMC Working Definition does nothing to redress.
[xvi] See http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/s7927.html and also my interview with the author on openDemocracy, ‘Nation as trauma, Zionism as question, Jacqueline Rose interviewed’, at http://www.opendemocracy.net/conflict-debate_97/zionism_2766.jsp – 18/8/2005.
[xvii] See Rose’s following comment in my interview:
‘This sort of internal critique of a nationalist identification is not exclusive to Zionism. The greatest compliment paid to my book so far came from Paul Muldoon who attended a couple of my lectures in Princeton; he told me: “We need to do this for Irish nationalism”.’
For a further example of a similar argument, see my introduction to Mediactive, Issue 4, ‘On Asylum’, at http://www.lwbooks.co.uk/journals/mediactive/editorial.html
[xviii] Shulamit Reinharz, ‘Fighting Jewish Antisemitism’, Jewish Advocate, 14 January 2007. Reinharz is reviewing Alvin H.Rosenfeld’s latest publication for the American Jewish Committee -‘”Progressive Jewish Thought” and the New Antisemitism’ – where Rose is characterised as someone who ‘typifies one of the most distressing features of the new antisemitism’. She merits her own section, pp.9-12. December, 2006. http://www.thejewishadvocate.com/this_weeks_issue/columnists/reinharz/?content_id=2305
[xix] Dyab Abou Jahjah’s comments occurred in the first of two interviews I conducted with him in May 2004 and March 2006. In the first interview, I asked:
‘openDemocracy: What measures do you take within your movement to prevent hostility to the Jewish community here, and to ensure that your supporters take seriously the distinction between antisemitism and anti-Zionism?
Dyab Abou Jahjah: Well, on the ideological level, they do distinguish, of course. But not always on the emotional level. This is just a reality. The answer to it cannot be that we defend Zionism.
Every movement carries the risk of some emotional reaction not intended by its leaders. But we should talk more about Zionism and anti-Zionism, precisely because there is such a strong perception in our community that “Jews are Zionists”. If we didn’t talk about it, we would be strengthening the idea that all these Jews are identical to the Jews who are shooting Palestinians.
Many Jewish intellectuals have distanced themselves from this ideology, of course, who they then refer to as “self-hating Jews”. These are old tricks we all know about. ‘
[xx] Slogans and anti-imperialist politics crafted along the lines of, ‘the enemy of my friend is my enemy’, neglect the room for manoeuvre – empathy, alliance, negotiation and persuasion that exists across battle-lines. They underestimate the fears of possible conflict victims on the other side and their supporters. It usually follows that they fail to combat the enemy images, conspiracy theories, and ultimately the violence, which already beset the core conflict. This is an important debate that any peace movement has an interest in staging, since, like ‘knee-jerk anti-Americanism’, it is essentially self-defeating.
[xxi] In a mediation process, however a-symmetrical the power on both sides of the conflict, the successful mediator will manage to produce equality of listening and vulnerability to the other case within the mediation room. It is this even-handedness in the process, rather than the attribution of political responsibility which is at issue here.’
The negative effects of being seen as partial ‘protectors’ may be one lesson we could have usefully learnt from our colonising history. See Gudrun Kramer, ‘Antisemitism in the Muslim world: a critical review’ for an account of the post-First World War protectorates in the former Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire, pp.254 – 5 Die Welt der Islams, 46, 3, Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2006, ‘Egypt is a case in point, where Britain retained extensive powers of intervention and explicitly reserved itself the right to “protect” the local minorities, in their majority Christian Copts, but also Jews. At a time of effervescent nationalism, European protection could not but compromise the latter’s position. Lebanon, Syria and Iraq provide telling examples of the ensuing problems, too.’
[xxii] However, what is missing in this formulation, as the AEL case makes clear, is any suggestion of a mechanism that could engage with the racist or xenophobic prejudices of members of the non-faith majority of citizens who are susceptible to the far right. In Britain too, this emphasis on interfaith dialogue inevitably smacks of one of the worst aspects of our etiolated multiculturalism, insofar as it packs minorities off to deal with problem issues as if the majority community were not also involved, and as if they were primarily cultural.
[xxiii] Dyab Abou Jahjah makes the same point in the first openDemocracy interview:
“As for hostility from within the movement, it is not an issue because it doesn’t happen… In one year throughout the whole country, twenty-three events were reported as having something to do with antisemitism. Not all of these involve Arab or Muslim youth. And what kind of situations are they? There has never been a killing. No one has ever been beaten up and hospitalised. The ones we knew about here in Antwerp were kids fighting. Now go and ask how many Muslims have been shot by racists – in Brussels, in Antwerp, in Charleroi. Then you would have a list of killings!
We get a bit angry when everyone concentrates on antisemitism. Of course, we understand the trauma and the stigmatism of recent European history! Fine! You can blow everything out of proportion, but please don’t neglect to look at the murder of a whole Muslim family, for example, in May 2003 year, after the French elections. At least on that occasion, they admitted that it was a racist act. Here in Antwerp, somebody shot a Moroccan teacher dead, calling him “Taliban!” as they did it, and they said the guy was crazy but that racism didn’t play any part.
We Arabs don’t have that complex about the holocaust, that trauma in our culture like many Europeans do. We were not responsible. Of course we condemn it. But, where does that leave us? Does it mean we can’t criticise a political movement, or a colonial or racist state?…” See,
[xxiv] See ‘Christians and Zionists: apocalypse row in Jerusalem’ by Jan McGirk
published 13 October, 2006 on openDemocracy.net. See,
Also: ‘The fifth crusade: George Bush and the Christianisation of war in Iraq’ by Paul Vallely in ‘Re-imagining security’ published in the British Council 70th Anniversary Birthday Counterpoints series, 2004 ISBN 0-86355-536-5
[xxv] For a thorough examination of Israel as the ‘classic or collective Jew’, see the following papers by Brian Klug; ‘The collective Jew: Israel and the new antisemitism’, Patterns of Prejudice, Vol.37, No.2, 2003; ‘Marks of a Mindset: Seeing a Global War against the Jews’, Tel Aviv Yearbook for Germany History 2005; and ‘Is Europe a Lost Cause? The European Debate on Antisemitism and the Middle East Conflict’, Patterns of Prejudice, March 2005.
[xxvi] ‘The European Union Monitoring Center (EUMC) was roundly criticized in 2003 for suppressing a report written for it by the Centre for Research on Antisemitism at Berlin’s Technical University. The report (later leaked, then released by the EUMC) stated that a significant share of the hate crimes committed against European Jews since the collapse of the Middle East peace process in the fall of 2000 had been committed by young Muslims. Thus, it was no surprise that when the EUMC released its own report, entitled “Manifestations of Antisemitism in the EU 2002–2003,” in March 2004, the controversy continued, largely because the press release stated that while “it is not easy to generalise, the largest group of the perpetrators of antisemitic activities appears to be young, disaffected white Europeans.”
The irony was that while the press release distorted reality, the March EUMC report was more nuanced than the press release suggested, and in some ways superior to the earlier, suppressed report. Recognizing that antisemitism came from a variety of sources, it neither downplayed nor diminished the role of young Muslims in the rash of arson attacks, vandalism, intimidation, and assaults on individuals.’
For the rest of this full account, see http://www.tau.ac.il/Anti-Semitism/asw2003-4/porat.htm
See also Dina Porat’s account, ‘What makes an anti-semite?’ February 4, 2007, Haaretz.com
[xxvii] See, ‘Does the EU need a “Fundamental Rights Agency”’ by Tony Bunyan of Statewatch
[xxviii] Dated February1, 2006. Whine singles out the following two features for special mention:
‘Both initiatives depart from previous ones in two important respects. First, they provide for regular implementation monitoring, in the case of the OSCE by an annual debate at the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting of the OSCE human rights affiliate, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), which takes place in Warsaw.
Second, they both recognize the new directions from which antisemitism comes – particularly the demonization of Israel and Zionism, which all too frequently serves as a cover for Jew-hatred, and which overspills from the Arab world, is promoted by Islamists, and has been adopted by some leftist and left-liberal circles.’
See also, for example: http://www.adl.org/osce/default_berlin.asp
‘Now is the Time to Address Antisemitism
Antisemitism is surging in the world to an extent unprecedented since the end of World War II. As the 55 member states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) meet in Berlin, we hope that Europe will act against this hatred.
It is critical that this meeting is being held at this time and in this place. For centuries, Europe was the home of rabid antisemitism culminating in the Holocaust. It has taken far too long for Europeans to admit that the problem of antisemitism in Europe today is not a history lesson, but a current event…
European governments and civil society have a chance in Berlin to recognize the need to join America at this time against this menace to us all. There are many practical steps that can be taken.
At an interparliamentary OSCE forum on Confronting and Combating antisemitism held in Washington, D.C., December 10, 2002, ADL issued a 10-point action agenda against global antisemitism and urged the OSCE to mobilize its member nations to take positive steps in their home countries. In testimony before the forum, Ken Jacobson, ADL Associate National Director, urged parliamentarians form the U.S. and Germany to broaden the alliance of nations willing to speak out against antisemitism and to utilize the OSCE to “turn bold recognition and understanding of the problem and its urgency into concerted, multilateral action.”
Above all, Europe must take seriously the ideology of antisemitism coming out of the Arab and Islamic world. They must denounce the deliberate targeting of Jews by terrorist groups, whether Al Qaeda or Hamas. They must denounce the vicious anti-Semitic material in the Arab press and educational systems, and call on Arab leaders to do something about it. They must understand that the Holocaust happened by the complicity, active and passive, of other Europeans.’
[xxx] See James Traub, ‘Does Abe Foxman Have an Anti-Anti-Semite Problem?’, January 14, 2007, New York Times Magazine
[xxxii] Paul Hirst – ‘J.N.Figgis, Churches and the State’ in Religion and Democracy, pp.104 – 120, edited by David Marquand and Ronald L.Nettler, The Political Quarterly, 2000, Blackwell publishers.
[xxxiii] The rest of Hirst’s essay is an exploration of how modern democracy could ‘maximise opposition to such practices and minimise the stakes of competing for political power.’ He argued that the state should become only one governing body among many, strictly neutral between the sects, a limited rather than an omnicompetent body. It would be the primary source of such essential, binding rules as those governing non-violence and rights of associational exit and entry. But it would only have primacy in its specific function of securing ‘the freedom of individuals in respect of associations and the rights of associations with respect to each other.’
[xxxiv] Despite early complaints in some quarters that the Report had fallen on deaf ears, divisions have been exacerbated in the university sector. Voices were raised at what UCU sees as the Report’s ‘critical references to academic staff and their unions’, its ignoring of the NATFHE submission, and a ‘misleading and unhelpful’ inquiry into antisemitism alone, ‘at a time when racial and religious intolerance generally is on the rise on campus’. In late December, the NUS NEC noted its publication and passed a resolution that, according to Nathan Jeffay in the Jewish Chronicle, ‘effectively gave Jewish students the sole right to define what constitutes campus antisemitism’ thereby putting themselves on a ‘collision course’ with ‘member university unions’ and ‘the Palestine lobby’. The policy, once adopted, stays in force for five years. Interestingly, the NUS resolution makes a point of ‘reaffirming our commitment to the EUMC definition of Antisemitism as suggested in this report and as previously suggested in our own inquiry into Antisemitism.’ Various spats of gathering vituperation followed in January, none of them identifiably moving matters on.
See http://www.engageonline.org.uk/blog/article.php?id=837 for the UCU response to the Report from the Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism, and ensuing controversy. Also Brenda Kirsch, “The bigger threat?: Is the fear of ‘extremism’ now posing a bigger threat to colleges and universities than extremism itself?” This article appeared in the January 2007 issue of UC, the magazine of the UCU, pp.40-41. Brenda Kirsch is a co-editor of the magazine.
For the NUS resolution: http://www.engageonline.org.uk/blog/article.php?id=798
For another example of a debate that hasn’t been moved on – controversy around the influence of Muslim cleric Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi – see:
[xxxv] See FT editorial, ‘Threat to free speech’, October 13,2006, http://www.ft.com/cms/s/be916c64-5a57-11db-8f16-0000779e2340.html
[xxxvi] The crux of the matter is how to establish responsibility for incitement to violence, taking into account issues of motivation, impact and wider context. See for example, Martin Shaw: http://www.opendemocracy.net/globalization-institutions_government/icj_bosnia_serbia_4392.jsp
On what constitutes incitement to violence, I would disagree with Nick Griffin. Nevertheless, on the need to draw a line between acts and speech acts for the purposes of legislation, my position is similar to his stated position. For most of my life, people who were fighting against right wing extremists took the old 1930s Cable Street position – ‘they shall not pass’ (or speak on any platform) – as their standpoint. Nowadays, given the omnipresence of communication, you will find some of their opponents thinking rather differently. Here for example is part of an interview last year with Dyab Abou Jahjah, president of the Arab European League, based in Antwerp, before the Belgian elections:
“DAJ: Of course, I don’t believe people should call for violence… or defame others – and there are normal legal frameworks for all that. But when it comes to political opinions and artistic or literary expressions, I don’t believe they should be silenced. Especially when it comes to the arts – you really need to be able to give expression to extreme views that challenge the boundaries of society as we know them and what is acceptable. I really am in favour of absolute freedom of speech. I do not believe that laws and regulations limiting what people say can be effective. Because you can never limit what people think… So I don’t want to be a part of any system or any group – even if it is in my favour – who want to oppress any person or any group because of something they say…
RB: You said before that you would rather that the far right were not protected from themselves by laws banning hate speech. How are the far right doing?
DAJ: The far right has been growing as usual. The election after we last spoke saw them increase their numbers again. The process which banned them gave them a chance to start a new party with a new name which has attracted some different support to it – Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest rather than Flemish Bloc) – and they brought forward a few figures who were more clubbable, more articulate than the last bunch – so I think they are getting stronger… Their persecution has not held them back – it has helped them pragmatically. Which is not why it is wrong – that pragmatic effect gives us an extra reason.
But it is a matter of principle. Even if it had broken them up – it would have been a bad idea, because they would have been destroyed not because their ideas were totally unmasked in front of a population that as a result would choose democracy rather than racism – but because the Establishment used its superior power to squash them. That’s not how I want to combat racism. I want to destroy racists through struggle – through the mobilisation of anti-racist forces, through grass roots activism – so that they are so marginalised that they can say whatever it is they want to say but, like the Klu Klux Klan are today in the United States – they are laughed at.”
See also my openDemocracy interview with Dyab Abou Jahjah in May,2004:
‘I am actually in favour of more freedom of speech than you have here currently in Europe. I don’t mind someone who is a racist telling me what he thinks of me. Let him tell me that he hates me and that he thinks he is superior. That’s OK, as long as I trust institutions and know that I have access to the media to tell him what I think; and that I can vote in elections for somebody who believes what I believe.
The one thing I can’t accept is exclusion. You can think somebody is a bad lot, but you have to treat that person equally. That is what dialogue is. The only way you can have an honest debate, and perhaps achieve change, reconciliation, compromise, or whatever positive evolution is possible, is to talk openly. Tell the truth how it is, instead of inculcating a culture of fear of words and opinions….
I am not afraid of Dewinter’s arguments. I have had two or even three debates with him. What I am afraid of is him keeping his argumentation to himself, faking his opinions to other people, and saying he is not a racist when he is, so that they vote for him. Maybe if they knew he was a racist they would not vote for him.
I am against that law which bans “racist expression”, because I think it is counterproductive. You shouldn’t ban any kind of expression, only deeds – racist acts: real discrimination you have to ban. But this law is protecting Dewinter from himself. If he didn’t have to pay close attention to everything he says in order not to fall foul of the law, he would have made many mistakes, and said many racist things in public by now that would have discredited him among quite a section of the people who currently vote for him. That law is building him a “clubbable” reputation that he doesn’t deserve.
People ask me why I debate with him! I do so because I knew it would be an easy debate. You can corner him. He only has to say “Our people first”, and I say: “I’m your people. I’m Belgian – right!” He says: “No, no”, so I ask: “Well, what’s your definition of the legal status of our people?” and he can’t answer. He can talk about culture. That’s fine – I can talk about it too. He can talk about identity – that’s fine. But when he talks about “the people” as a nation-building entity, without drawing on nationality as the normative category underpinning this – he has to talk about race. Then he loses the debate.’
[xxxvii] I was glad to have this view confirmed in an interview which took place between Professor Alan Gilbert, Vice Chancellor of Manchester University and John Humphrys on the Today programme on Saturday, December 2, 2006 – on the occasion of that institution being declared ‘Sunday Times University of the Year’:
Professor Gilbert: ‘For centuries, universities have been bulwarks for academic freedom, which is more important rather than less important in the modern age. The university’s efficiency in creating tolerant, informed societies in which a plurality of views is not just tolerated, but encouraged – that is a vital 21st century function. So if we are going to make changes, we need to keep the things that are precious in a university at the same time…’