Robert Fisk and immoral equivalences

December 18th, 2014 by Mark Gardner

Writing in the Independent, Robert Fisk gives a startling example of anti-Israel obsession, expressed in words that are about Jews, not Israelis. In doing so, he illustrates how far Israel’s most trenchant critics will go in order to focus scrutiny and disgust upon it, rather than other targets: in this case, the extremes of Jihadi terrorism. Given the links between anti-Israel agitation and antisemitic attack levels, this rhetorical trend / temptation brings obvious risks for Jews.

Fisk has previously exposed antisemitism and sincerely warned against it, but he still uses language that risks leaving too much to the average reader’s imagination.

Now, Fisk’s words about Jews are “massacre of the innocents”. They begin and end an article on the (Pakistani) Tehreek-e-Taliban’s dreadful mass murder of 148 people, including 132 schoolchildren, in a school in Peshawar. It has nothing, whatsoever, to do with Israel, but Fisk cannot resist ending with an attack upon Israel and its Jewish identity.

The article is headlined “Massacre of the innocents born of ambivalence  towards Taliban”. Its opening sentences read “It was a massacre of the innocents. Every report must admit this – because it’s true”. It is typical Fisk, insightful analysis and righteous anger at local and international power play politics, here the relations between the Pakistani Army, Pakistani intelligence services and the Taliban.

The article is nearly a page long and includes a quote from David Gosling, a former head of a leading Peshawar school. Having described the horror of the Peshawar school tragedy and the Pakistani politics behind it, Fisk’s penultimate paragraph once again quotes Gosling. This is where the article shifts to Israel and its Jewishness, where it ceases to be about Pakistan and Jihadis.

“You must remember,” Gosling says, “how enraged people were with the Israeli attacks on Gaza this year. People in Pakistan were furious at the casualty toll – more than 2,000 people, many of them children.”

Then, Fisk’s ending, about Israel and Jews:

“Needless to say, the phrase “massacre of the innocents” was not used about those children.”

So, at its end, the article’s theme massacre of the innocents ceases to be about murdered Pakistani schoolchildren. Instead, it is now about Israel and about Jews. Perhaps it was actually about that all along: about the alleged hypocrisy of railing against the Taliban, whilst supposedly giving Israel an easy ride.

The phrase “massacre of the innocents” helps underpin two millennia of Christian anti-Jewishness. It is the story of Herod, King of the Jews, ordering the murder of newborn children in order to kill Jesus, the newborn King of the Jews. This is one of the deep origins of the Jewish “child murderer” charge that occurred repeatedly against British Jews during this summer’s war between Israel and Gaza. Rightly or wrongly, it is also a trope that some perceived to underpin certain mainstream media coverage of the conflict.

But Fisk does not seem to be warning against anti-Jewish resonance within anti-Israel criticism or hatred. On the contrary, he seems to be embracing exactly that practice, using it to say that the media and politicians are somehow forcibly prevented from talking about Israel’s victims in the way that they would the Taliban.

Then, on the wider point about Israel’s critics bringing everything back to it, there is Fisk’s apparent determination to drag IsraeI into a moral equivalence with the Jihadism evidenced in Peshawar by the cold blooded slaughter of children: and by so many other Jihadist crimes against women, Muslims, Christians, Jews, non-believers, and whoever else they are able to intimidate, brutalise and murder.

The warning here for Jews is that those on the left and elsewhere who are determined to keep depicting opposition to Israel as the world’s most important ideological cause, must overcome the far worse crimes and fantasies of the Jihadists. This means Jihadist crimes must be ignored or minimised, or somehow explained away with Israel as the root cause or moral equivalence. In practise, all four tactics are often simultaneously employed: ignoring, minimising, scapegoating and equating. The factual and moral outrages and hypocrisies that ensue may not be antisemitic as such, but they are a dangerous stupidity that can only bring harm for Israel, Jews, and all other Jihadi targets.

Chanukah Sameach to all our readers

December 16th, 2014 by CST

Chanukah greeting 2014

House of Commons debate on antisemitism

December 10th, 2014 by CST

The House of Commons held a Westminster Hall debate on antisemitism yesterday at the request of John Mann MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism, who has worked tirelessly to lead political efforts to combat antisemitism in the United Kingdom.

The debate can be watched in full below, or there is a transcript here.

Yesterday’s parliamentary debate highlighted the strides taken in combating antisemitism by Government and parliamentarians in recent years, as well as reflecting on the antisemitic upsurge experienced during the summer and assessing the continued challenges in addressing antisemitism in the future.

One theme that ran throughout the debate was the key role that CST plays in monitoring levels of antisemitism in the UK, and the effect that CST’s work has in informing decision makers on antisemitism and the wider arena of hate crime, both in the UK and abroad. We are grateful to all those MPs who expressed support for CST in yesterday’s debate.

John Mann MP used CST’s summer figures and analysis as the bedrock of his detailed introduction before praising our work in glowing terms when stating that:

… the basis of recording by the CST is without question the world best. It is renowned across the world for being so.

Mann continued by raising other important issues, including MPs who use irresponsible language; ongoing concerns at the rise of antisemitism on Social Media platforms; and the successes in addressing recommendations of the 2006 All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism (pdf).

Reflecting the cross party concern at current levels of antisemitism in the UK, further statements were made by other MPs, many of whom quoted CST figures and praised our actions.

Conservative MP Guto Bebb found it unacceptable that the threat level to the Jewish community in the UK and Europe has meant that schools and synagogues need to be protected. Jim Shannon MP of the Democratic Unionist Party, raised MOPAC’s new Hate Crime Reduction Strategy – that CST was consulted on – which revealed that July 2014 was the highest recorded month of faith-hate crime in London, 95% of which was antisemitic. Labour MP and shadow Communities Minister Lyn Brown encouraged all those who experienced or witnessed antisemitic and other racist online incidents, to follow CST’s guidance on combating and reporting antisemitism online.

In providing the Government’s response Lib Dem MP and Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Communities and Local Government, Stephen Williams, recognised the summer’s increase in antisemitism and outlined Government efforts in tackling this issue. Strongly stating that there is never an excuse for antisemitism, and that it is “wrong, wrong, wrong”, he continued by identifying and condemning sources of contemporary antisemitism:

It is shocking and offensive that British Jews continue to be singled out for antisemitic abuse. Whether from the far left or the far right – an abhorrent antisemitic streak goes through both extremes of British politics – or from misguided individuals who happen to be Muslim, who pervert the true meaning of Islam when they attack British Jews, all such attacks should be condemned.

He continued by mentioning a summer recess meeting between himself and CST, as well as a joint letter to local authorities sent by CST Chief Executive David Delew and Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles.

While we at CST are grateful for the support we receive from Government and parliamentarians, we will not be complacent regarding the work that still needs to be done to reduce antisemitism. July and August saw record levels of antisemitic incidents in the UK; combating antisemitism on social media is a growing challenge; parts of continental Europe are becoming increasingly hostile for some Jewish communities; and as Guto Bebb recalled, Jewish schools and synagogues still need to be protected. We will continue to do all we can to tackle these problems, working with our friends and partners in Westminster and beyond.

CST Antisemitic Discourse Report 2013 – what statements and actions about Jews and Israel do Jews consider to be antisemitic?

November 27th, 2014 by CST

Below is the second extract from CST’s Antisemitic Discourse Report 2013 (pdf) to be published on the CST Blog. It reports the results of an EU-funded survey of Jewish opinion, published in 2013, that included questions about statements and actions that Jewish people consider to be antisemitic. These are useful in helping to understand how Jews perceive the complicated relationship between anti-Israel views and activities, and antisemitism.

The extract begins:

EU SURVEY: What statements and actions about Jews and Israel do Jews consider to be antisemitic?

IN NOVEMBER 2013, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) published a groundbreaking survey of Jewish people’s experiences and perceptions of hate crime, discrimination and antisemitism in eight EU member states, including the United Kingdom, covering around 90% of Jews in the EU.

The survey asked respondents whether they considered different statements about Jews and Israel to be antisemitic, and also asked in what contexts they heard those antisemitic statements most often.

The survey was carried out online from September to October 2012 by the polling company Ipsos MORI, working with the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) in the UK. Across Europe, 66% of respondents said they consider antisemitism to be a “very big” or “fairly big” problem in their countries. In the UK, 48% of respondents said that antisemitism is a very big or fairly big problem (the lowest figure of all eight countries surveyed), while 52% said that it is “not a very big problem” or “not a problem at all”.

The survey found that British Jews were more likely to attribute antisemitic sentiments to a person who used classical antisemitic tropes to be antisemitic, than they were for people who criticise Israel or who campaign against it. For example, 80% of British Jews said that a person who says “The Holocaust is a myth or has been exaggerated” is “Definitely antisemitic”; 77% said that a person who believes “Jews are responsible for the current economic crisis” is “Definitely antisemitic”; and 67% said the same about a person who claims “Jews have too much power in the UK”.

Only 6% of British Jews said that they would consider a person to be “definitely antisemitic” if they criticised Israel, while 27% said that they would consider such a person to be “probably antisemitic”. Therefore around a third of British Jews think that somebody who criticises Israel is definitely or probably antisemitic, while around two-thirds said that such a person is “Probably not antisemitic” or “Definitely not antisemitic”.

Read the rest on page 16 of the report here.

CST Antisemitic Discourse Report 2013

November 25th, 2014 by CST

Antisemitic Discourse Report 2013 Cover - Blog

Today sees the publication of CST’s Antisemitic Discourse Report 2013. This is our final report of the year and details the use of antisemitic language and images in mainstream politics and media, including social media. The report also covers public discussion and debate about antisemitism, including condemnations of antisemitism by mainstream figures.

This Facebook page repeats the classical antisemitic blood libel for a contemporary, social media audience.

This Facebook page repeats the classical antisemitic blood libel for a contemporary, social media audience.

The full report can be downloaded here. We have reproduced the Executive Summary below, and we will run extracts from the report on the CST Blog throughout this week.

The Executive Summary begins:

Explicit antisemitism against Jews per se, simply for their being Jewish, remains rare in British public life and within mainstream political media discourse. However, over two-thirds of British Jews say that they have encountered antisemitic remarks on the internet, and over three- quarters of British Jews feel that the problem of antisemitism on the internet is getting worse.

The Summary then explains how historic antisemitic themes still appear in public debate, and indicates the examples that are given in the report itself:

Historically, antisemitism has included allegations of Jewish conspiracy, wealth, power, manipulation, immorality and hostility to others. Echoes of these allegations, while rarely made explicitly against Jews, can be found in some mainstream discourse about Israel, Zionists or ‘the Jewish lobby’. The further one moves from the mainstream, for example into more extreme activist groups or websites, the more pronounced and obviously antisemitic these echoes become.

Conspiracy theories about hidden ‘Jewish’, ‘Zionist’ or ‘pro-Israel’ influence in politics and the media continue to be expressed by people from different parts of the political spectrum, in mainstream and extremist circles. Different examples in 2013 involved then-BNP leader Nick Griffin, former BBC correspondent Tim Llewellyn and Iranian TV channel Press TV.

British Jews say that they are more likely to hear antisemitic remarks from people with ‘a left-wing political view’ or ‘a Muslim extremist view’ than from ‘someone with a right-wing political view’.

Most British Jews do not believe that criticism of Israel is antisemitic. However, most British Jews do believe that a person who boycotts Israeli goods, or who compares Israel to Nazi Germany, is probably antisemitic.

Holocaust commemoration increasingly acts as a trigger for antisemitic expressions, particularly those that involve comparing Israel to Nazi Germany.

Over a third of British Jews say that they have heard antisemitic remarks in political or academic settings, including at schools. In 2013, social media comments by David Ward MP and two Daily Mail articles about Ed Miliband MP were examples where some British Jews felt that antisemitic language was used in political settings.

Several episodes in 2013 regarding alleged use of antisemitic discourse hinged on nuanced interpretations of language and imagery, and of the gap between a person’s stated intentions in their language and the way that their choice of words or imagery are perceived by others.

The role that a quick and meaningful apology can play in answering concerns about antisemitism was highlighted by contrasting situations involving David Ward MP; and the Sunday Times newspaper. While both apologised, only the latter did so unequivocally and without further offence.

Antisemites have, in the past, used Jews as a scapegoat to explain their own failings or weaknesses. An example of this in 2013 can be found in the claim by Lord Ahmed that Jewish-owned media organisations were responsible for his 2009 conviction for dangerous driving.

The potential for religious attitudes to the Israel-Palestine conflict to provide a framework for the expression of theological hostility to Judaism was highlighted by the Church of Scotland’s 2013 report, The inheritance of Abraham? A report on the ‘promised land’.

Overt opposition from pro-Palestinian activists to antisemitic ideas and remarks found within the pro-Palestinian movement remains inconsistent and weak.

The problem of abusive antisemitic language at football matches, and the use of the ‘Y-word’ by fans of Tottenham Hotspur, remained issues of media and public debate. However, only 6 per cent of British Jews say that they have heard antisemitic remarks at sporting events.

An antisemitic image shared on Facebook that uses the antisemitic imagery of the ritual murder of children, in a meat grinder marked with a Jewish Star of David; combined with a slogan that accuses Israel of genocide while also calling for Israel not to exist.

An image shared on Facebook that combines the antisemitic ‘blood libel’, involving the ritual murder of children by a meat grinder marked with a Jewish Star of David, with a slogan that accuses Israel of genocide while also calling for Israel not to exist.

Give Antisemitism the Boot

November 21st, 2014 by Mark Gardner

Reported remarks about Jews and money by Wigan football club’s respected owner, Dave Whelan, reflect the persistence of dinosaur attitudes in football on issues of racism and sexism. They show how far the people’s game still has to go in order to catch up with its global audience. Whelan’s remarks are perhaps best explained by his age and background, but the Football Association must now deal with this case, just as they would any other. This is why CST has stated:

Dave Whelan’s comments invoked antisemitic stereotypes about Jews and money and his apology suggests that he still doesn’t understand why his comments were offensive. It is an indication of how widespread such outdated attitudes still are within football, and how much work needs to be done to eradicate this way of thinking.

Whelan claims not to understand why his reported comment that “Jewish people chase money more than anybody else” has caused offence. Being a multimillionaire himself, he may even consider it to be a compliment. His quick apology (view it here) appears sincere, but reinforces his claim not to understand the offence: because even here, his reference to Jews as “a great race of people” will still leave many people feeling that he simply doesn’t get how to talk about these issues in the modern day:

If there are Jewish people offended by what I have said then I would apologise immediately and say I am sorry and did not mean offence to them. All my Jewish friends realise that I would never insult a Jewish person, I have no reason to – they are a great race of people. I do a lot of business with them, they are very honest people, hard-working people and I would never insult a Jewish person.

The controversy around Whelan’s remarks is understandable. Football is big business and a core subject of modern day 24 hour news, and this is another sad example of the game’s continuing struggle to think and talk in the modern manner that is rightly demanded of it. It is easy to take a kick at Dave Whelan and football for what are commonly referred to as “unreconstructed” attitudes, but this is really not the most serious example of antisemitism in recent public discourse. The association of Jews with money is a very old antisemitic trope, which is exactly why Whelan’s blunt old-fashioned remarks caused the controversy: but the same thing, delivered in a much more sophisticated manner, underpins far more insidious and dangerous discourse that alleges Jewish and / or pro-Israeli lobbies control politicians, the media, global capitalism and much else, besides. It is those deeper comments, made in Parliament and elsewhere, that also need called out at every turn, and booted into touch.    

Raed Salah’s incitement is not welcome here

November 20th, 2014 by Dave Rich

The horrific murder of four Rabbis and a policeman at a synagogue in Jerusalem on Tuesday was a shocking reminder that the rising tension in Jerusalem and the West Bank is taking on an increasingly religious dimension. This should be of concern to the many British Jews and British Muslims who care deeply about Israel, Palestine and especially Jerusalem, because they do so largely on the basis of religious identities and affiliations. The record number of antisemitic incidents in the UK this summer shows how easily overseas conflicts can be imported into the UK. As Wednesday’s Guardian editorial explained, a religious conflict cannot be limited to the territorial boundaries of Israel and the Palestinian territories:

The fear, then, is that what has long been a bitter and bloody territorial conflict will escalate into something even more intractable: a holy war. By attacking men as they pray – not, it is worth stressing, in the occupied West Bank or in annexed East Jerusalem but inside the boundaries of pre-1967 Israel proper – Tuesday’s killers risk turning the conflict of Palestinian against Israeli into a battle of Muslim against Jew.

This poses particular risks for communal tensions in the UK, and it is important that everybody in this country who wants to campaign for one side or the other does so responsibly. An example of a group doing the opposite – seeking out the most inflammatory and extreme voices, and amplifying them to a British audience – comes at a meeting this Saturday organised by the Palestinian Forum in Britain, at which Sheikh Raed Salah is the guest speaker.

PFB Salah

We presume Salah will be speaking by video link, because he is banned from entering the UK.  In 2011 Salah visited the UK and the Home Secretary, having initially tried to prevent him from entering the country, then tried to have him deported. Salah overturned the deportation order but he remains excluded from the country and cannot return.

In 2007, Salah made a speech in Jerusalem at which he invoked the antisemitic blood libel. He was recently convicted of racist incitement in an Israeli court as a result, having previously also been convicted of inciting violence for the same speech. Even the immigration tribunal that overturned his deportation order found (paras 49-59) that Salah’s speech contained “a blood libel against Jews”.

Salah, then, is a convicted racist and inciter of violence who has previously used antisemitism to encourage his followers. He is one of the main proponents of the lie that Israel intends to destroy the al-Aqsa mosque. This is an incendiary and false claim that is fuelling the current violence in Jerusalem, as it has done before. It is a lie that was first used by Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Nazi-supporting Mufti of Jerusalem, in the 1920s. It is also a claim that carries the greatest risk of importing these tensions into the UK, precisely because it pinpoints the conflict as one of religious claims rather than national or territorial ones.

Salah repeatedly expresses his opposition to Israel in religious terms. For example, in his 2007 ‘blood libel’ speech, he said:

…the Israeli establishment wants to build a temple that will be used as a prayer house to G-d. How insolent and what a liar he is. He who wants to build a prayer house for G-d; it is inconceivable that he should build a house for G-d when our blood is still on his clothes, and our blood is still on his doors, and our blood is in his food, and our blood in his drink, and our blood passes from one terrorist general to another terrorist general.

And thus we proceed in our path and are not fearful except of G-d blessed is His name. We are not afraid, only of G-d… The most beautiful moments in our destiny will be when we meet G-d as shahids [martyrs] in the premises of the Al-Aqsa mosque.

Just this month, in response to the rising tension, he has glorified “the blood of our martyrs” and has called on Muslims all over the world to lend their support, saying:

The issue of Al-Aqsa Mosque is not just an issue for individual Palestinians, Arabs, or Muslims; it is the issue of the Islamic nation, Arab world, and all of Palestine. It is a matter of our civilizational and historical right and a matter of our present and future.

Salah’s message is one of incitement, hatred and religious conflict. He is the last person whose voice is needed in the UK at this moment. If he plans to attend the Palestinian Forum in Britain event in person, we expect him to be stopped at the border. If he is due to speak by video link, then this is a loophole in the law that needs to be closed. And we call on the Palestinian Forum in Britain to think again about its choice of speaker.

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