Why Anti-Semitism Matters by Denis Macshane
The first political pamphlet I ever wrote was in 1978. It revealed and denounced the indifference of British newspapers and television to the problems facing the black and Asian communities in the UK. It asked why there were no Afro-Caribbean or Asian broadcasters, reporters, news-readers or by-lines in our papers. I cited the anti-Semitism of the Daily Mail and Daily Express in the 1930s when they told readers that too many Jews were being allowed into Britain from Germany and that our small island could not face any more aliens arriving to disturb social harmony or compete for professional jobs. I argued that in some respects the media treatment of the then BME communities in the 1960s and 1970s had some similarities.
The pamphlet provoked outrage in the press. How dare this upstart young activist from the National Union of Journalists tell editors who they should and should not employ! How dare he insist that the racism and anti-Semitism of the National Front (1970s forerunner of today’s British National Party) should be exposed as pernicious evil! How dare he suggest that the xenophobia and attacks on Asians in the Daily Mail and Daily Express should be linked to those papers’ anti-Semitism of pre-war years! Bernard Levin devoted a whole column in The Times to trashing my pamphlet, denouncing my ‘Noddy language’ as unworthy of consideration.
Today everything has changed utterly and I feel vindicated. Some of our finest TV and press reporters and news stars are from the BME community and the appointment of community relations correspondents and investigation of the racism and discrimination that non-white British citizens face is now a norm.
And rightly so. But there is one discrimination that hardly dares spell out its name, and that is the return of anti-Semitism as a powerful political force. I leave to others to debate the rights and wrongs of Israeli government policy and I have no strong views on Jewishness as culture, history, faith or any of the many discussions of Jews and Judaism which fill the pages of this journal or can be found in books galore in many languages. However, I am passionate about politics, about the power of ideology and the strength of the words that shape ideas and meaning into political engagement, organisation, and action.
Neo-anti-Semitism is a new and pernicious twenty-first-century ideology that has steadily gained ground since the century began. Just because Jew-hatred is ancient and anti-Semitism since the nineteenth-century has produced noxious waves of political organisation it is important to recognise that twenty-first-century anti-Semitism is different. Just as there have been different forms of anti-capitalist, or anti-state ideologies so to there are different forms of anti-Semitic ideologies. An ideology provides a picture of the world that explains what is wrong and what needs to be done. It justifies harsh decisions in the search for a greater end which always justifies the means. So the ideology of twenty-first century neo-anti-Semitism seeks to provide a political rationale for attacks on Jews and on Israel. It is true that not every critic of Israel is anti-Semitic. But every anti-Semite hates Israel.
Twenty-first-century anti-Semitism has its writers and propagandists. It has its fellow travellers. It has its state promoters. It has its soft salon version and its hard-killing version in the shape of Islamist terrorism. I use the word Islamist and Islamism deliberately as the Abrahamic relgion of Islam and Muslims themselves are quite capable of being a faith and a faithful that can live in peace and harmony with those of other faiths.
The late Samuel Huntingdon was wrong to lump in all Muslim nations as being on one side of his proclaimed (and false) ‘clash of civilisations’.Indonesia and Turkey are not peopled by Muslims who want to destroy or kill. Nor do I believe that the majority of Muslims on the sub-continent of India are animated by Jew-hating ideology. Extremist Islamist parties in Pakistan actually get fewer votes as a share than do extreme right-wing anti-Jewish parties in France or in some local elections in Britain.
Anti-Semitism is rife in many parts of the democratic world, especially in Europe, and it is as an ideology that we should consider and confront it. Old and new forms of anti-Semitism blend together to create a force of hate. Right-wing academics in America produce a book proclaiming the oldest lie in the Jew-hating lexicon — that of the cabal, lobby or secret network that controls government policy or dictates politics or manipulates the media in favour of Jews and of Israel.
Given the almost universally bad press Israel gets and the mammoth hostility to Israel on many campuses in the Western world one might ask where the famous lobby actually is. The British National Party leader, Nick Griffin, has only one lengthy publication to his name. Entitled Who are the Mind Benders, it claims Jews have excessive influence in British television and newspapers, often secretively as Jewish executives and journalists and editors who have changed their names.
Mr Griffin’s BNP party does not advertise its anti-Semitism and keeps its mouth shut on Israel preferring other classic xenophobic politics such as hatred of foreigners, of immigrants and of the European Union. But the BNP, which may well win seats from the UK in the elections to the European Parliament is rooted in the anti-Semitism of its leaders and the anti-Semitism of the politics it inherited as it grew out of other rightist parties in the past.
Another example of political and media double standards is the portrayal of Israel as a anti-Muslim state. Compared to the massacres of Muslims in India, Kashmir and Sudan just to take three egregious examples, the death toll of Muslims in the struggle over six decades in the borders of Israel-Palestine is much smaller.
Yet I never see Islamist protests about the thousands of Muslims killed by BJP Hindu nationalist extremists in Gujarat and elsewhere in India this century. Nor much reference in the press to the Human Rights Watch estimate of 70,000 Kashmiri Muslims killed since 500,000 troops from India moved in twenty years to stamp down on Kashmiri protests about their political status.
I came to this problem as a non-Jew when I was asked to set up a committee on inquiry into anti-Semitism by the British Parliament in 2005. We formed a traditional House of Commons Committee of Inquiry, with evidence sessions, visits and commissioned research and we took minutes and sat for hours. It was an all-party affair with senior Conservatives, including Iain Duncan Smith, the Liberal-Democrat Chris Huhne, former ministers and chairs of House Select Committee, as well as a Muslim Labour MP, Khalid Mahmood, and Lady Sylvia Hermon MP from Northern Ireland.
None of the Commission members were Jews or active in the Middle East political debates that rage in British political life. Our report revealed an extent of under-reporting of anti-Semitic incidents and a worrying complacency by university authorities about intimidation of Jewish students on the campuses. When our report came out Tony Blair ordered ministers to implement its recommendations, and Gordon Brown and I emphasise all party leaders in Britain were fully supportive.
We took our report to other parliaments. From my time as Europe Minister and my knowledge of European languages and politics and working with some wonderful young people I have sought to highlight the question of contemporary anti-Semitism and the need for a political response at the European level, including the Council of Europe and the European Union. A Parliamentary Report has one life but I thought a book would have a longer one so I took some of the work from the Commission and mixed it with a wider reading in French, German, Spanish and other texts to try and reveal the global network and nature of twenty-first-century neo-anti-Semitism.
So my book is a political intervention. It aims to encourage patient political networking as there are no quick fixes, and arguments have to be sustained in terms of the evil that anti-Semitism is in terms of harmony between faiths and communities in the different European countries. The struggle against anti-Semitism must not be conflated with unconditional and unqualified support for Israel, right or wrong. If it is, we will fail. As I tell the university teachers’ or journalists’ unions who call for a boycott of Israel, the biggest criticisms of Israeli government policy are to be found in Israel herself and especially in Israeli media and universities. But because criticism of Israel is necessary just as criticism of American or British government policy is part and parcel of democracy — and Israel we have to continually remind the Israel-haters is the only democracy in the region — that does not mean any quarter, any tolerance, any acceptance of anti-Jewish ideology or anti-Semitic politics is to be accepted.
We have sought to take the example of our parliamentary commission to other parliaments and suggested they set up their own commission of enquiry. In February 2009, in London, the first Inter-Parliamentary Coalition Conference against Anti-Semitism took place. There were Ministers, MPs, Deputies, and Senators from all over Europe, from the US, from Australia and a distinguished high-level delegation from Canada. We met in the Commons, at Downing Street and in Lancaster House, just across from Buckingham Palace as Britain’s Foreign Office and the Prime Minister gave the conference full backing. The workshops were full of debate and passion and it was a thrill to see the struggle against anti-Semitism take this truly global expression.
One conference does not defeat anti-Semitism but it is the beginning of a fight-back and of saying to the Islamists, the president of Iran, the right-wing European parties as well as the anti-Semites of the Left. No pasarán, you will not win.
But, and there is always a but when discussing anti-Semitism. There was not a single report in a British newspaper about the conference despite important newsworthy speeches made at it by Italy’s foreign minister, Franco Frattini, about the Durban 2 conference and a very clear statement of UK government support on the need for international cooperation against anti-Semitism from Lord Malloch Brown, the Minister of State at the Foreign Office. There were moving testimonies from Moroccan and Tunisian delegates about the need for the Muslim world to defeat anti-Semitism.
Yet if you Google the conference and search for a report in the New York Times, or the Guardian, or Le Monde, or Der Spiegel of this major international gathering your search will come up with nothing. The accusation made by anti-Semities is that the Jews or — to use the contemporary American anti-Semitic trope the ‘Israel Lobby’ control or influence the media. I wish. Given the news blackout of the conference it is rather that the media do not want to admit that anti-Semitism is back and needs to be exposed, confronted and dealt with. In October 2008 I published a book called Globalising Hatred: the new Anti-Semitism. Christopher Hitchens praised it in The Times Literary Supplement and Geoffrey Goodman said it was the best book on its subject since Sartre’s 1946 classic — kind, if exaggerated! It was published by Orion, one of the UK’s biggest publishers. Yet bookstores in the UK refused to put it on display or give it any prominence and such sales as it has had have been by word of mouth and by post.
Again, one book by a non-Jew who thinks the issue of anti-Semitism is important and needs exposing is neither here nor there. But if the media and book-selling establishment refuses to highlight the problem then the anti-Semites have already won a major battle in their twenty-first century campaign to see Israel wiped off the world’s map to use President Ahmadinejad’s evil metaphor and to see universities again become Judenrein and to see Jews everywhere unable to be fully Jews with all the rights of faith, affiliation, community, learning and being that for so long over so many centuries were denied to the Jewish people. So the struggle as ever goes on. But we will win.