Guardian letter and an unbecoming headline

February 24th, 2011 by Mark Gardner

The Guardian (24 February 2011) carries a lengthy letter jointly signed by CST, Board of Deputies and Union of Jewish Students. The paper was under no obligation to carry the letter, especially given its length, but regrettably it has been framed on the letters page in a disconcerting manner. 

Put simply, the letter was riskily headlined and lumped in with a wholly unrelated letter from the Israeli Embassy. (The entire letter and the Israeli Embassy letter are in full at the foot of this post.) 

The CST / BoD / UJS letter was prompted by the Guardian having carried a pathetic quote from an unnamed source relating to Jewish concerns about campus extremism. Our letter began

Your coverage of the report by Universities UK (Universities must engage and debate with extremists, report says, 19 February) quotes an unnamed “source familiar with the report” as saying: “If someone is saying all Jews should perish, that’s inciting hatred; if someone is fundamentally opposed to Israeli foreign policy, that’s a view.”  This seriously misrepresents Jewish concerns. Most cases occur in the huge space that lies between genocidal calls against Jews and opposition to Israeli policy.

Our letter then went on to give recent examples from the huge space that lies between genocidal calls against Jews and opposition to Israeli policy“.

Nevertheless, the Guardian headlined the letter as

The space where anti-Zionism becomes antisemitism

The Guardian could easily have headlined it as “The space between anti-Zionism and antisemitism”. This would have been more consistent with the letter and no problem whatsoever (although it still would not have validated inclusion with the separate Israeli Embassy letter). However, they chose not to do so, opting for “becomes” rather than “between”

The alteration is not huge, but it carries an unnecessary risk of misleading Guardian readers into thinking that this carefuly worded letter from us was a case of ill-motivated Jews playing the antisemitism card: which it explicitly is not. Indeed, the whole point of the letter is to show the complexity, porous nature and elasticity of the problem: all of which risks being lost when the letter is headlined in this way.

In this, there is another nagging concern, which is namely that the alteration is not simply accidental (or semantic, or pedantic, or however else you would put it) but that it also indicates institutional attitudes at the newspaper. 

The question is made yet more appropriate by reference to an article three days previously, by Guardian Readers’ Editor Chris Elliott on the subject of “Misleading pullquotes”. (i.e. those juicy bits from larger articles that are plucked out from the body of the text to indicate the article’s content and entice the reader.) Chris Elliott explained that the Guardian had run a pullquote from senior Israeli politician, Tzipi Livni, “seemingly proving the case against Israel”, when actually the full quote (run in the Guardian) “is very different from that implied”. He concluded

To suggest that the pullquote represented an example of some institutional animosity towards Israel on the Guardian’s part is nonsense, but in this case it’s a pity that we gave, so unnecessarily, an opportunity for such views to be expressed once again. A salutary lesson for writers of both pullquotes and clarifications.

There will, of course, be those who take this “becomes…between” case as further proof of “institutional animosity” at the Guardian. In the opposite direction, there will be those who take it as further proof that the Guardian’s critics are both paranoid and impossible to ever satisfy. Personally, I feel that this particular instance is firmly in that Scottish legal no-mans land known as ”unproven”: but I am struck by the fact that Chris Elliott and I have both used the expression “unnecessary” in describing how easy it would have been for the Guardian to avoid risking offence.

What, however, of the Israeli Embassy letter, that was carried under the CST / BoD / UJS letter, sharing its headline and sharing the same text box on the letters page? (Other batches of letters sharing text boxes on the letters page included those under general headlines such as “We need an election on the cuts” and “Cameron’s message of war and peace”.)

Is it just really straightforward: that the two letters basically belong together, because they are about Jewish and Israeli things – and that’s all there is to it? Nothing more, nothing less. Or, ought more, i.e. something deep and negative, be read into it? Again, it strikes me that both attitudes could easily be taken, but I wish that the question did not even arise; and that it had just been avoided by not sticking the letters together in the first place.   

It is impossible in this not to actually cite the Israeli Embassy letter, which criticised a Guardian editorial (ironically from 21 February, the same day as the above “pullquotes” article) on Middle East turmoil that had included the claim

the cockpit of the crisis is Palestine

The Israeli letter replied (in part)

It [crisis in Palestine] is certainly the cockpit for those in Israel, but to extend this flight of fancy acros the world is simply pie in the sky…problems in Libya will certainly not be solved in Jerusalem

Perhaps at a stretch, an extremely long stretch, you could argue that the Guardian headline writer perceived the Israeli Embassy letter to be a diplomatically coded claim that the Guardian’s editorial had been so anti-Zionist as to be antisemitic. (i.e. “Enough already with the Ziocentrism, please stop placing Zion at the centre of your universe, its gone so far as to now be antisemitic.”) But really, the Israeli letter says no such thing. It is careful and precise in its use of language, just as the CST / BoD / UJS letter was: and just as we intend to continue being.

The sooner that the Guardian’s headline and pullquote staff follow suit, the better for all concerned.

Meanwhile, the aforementioned headline and letters, in full 

The space where anti-Zionism becomes antisemitism

 

Your coverage of the report by Universities UK (Universities must engage and debate with extremists, report says, 19 February) quotes an unnamed “source familiar with the report” as saying: “If someone is saying all Jews should perish, that’s inciting hatred; if someone is fundamentally opposed to Israeli foreign policy, that’s a view.” This seriously misrepresents Jewish concerns. Most cases occur in the huge space that lies between genocidal calls against Jews and opposition to Israeli policy.

For example, a recent speaker was advertised as talking about the “Zionist lobby” in the US, but repeatedly referred to “the Jewish lobby”, affording it conspiratorial power and reach. Week after week, students are subjected to tirades from resident and visiting academics who equate Zionism with racism, apartheid and sometimes even Nazi Germany – this, when most Jewish students are indeed Zionists, in the only real sense of the word, believing in the Jewish right to a state. Sometimes, visiting speakers are permitted to advocate or excuse terrorism, including suicide bombings, so long as Israel and Israeli civilians are to be the target, doubtless leaving their audiences to contemplate as and when such terrorism might be permitted in Britain also.

Universities UK claim that this is about freedom of speech, but this is at best disingenuous. Put simply, if a speaker is in line with prevailing political orthodoxy, then they will be afforded the benefit of doubt and be permitted to speak. If a speaker contradicts that orthodoxy, then they will often be run off the campus. Ultimately, it is mob rule, as the Universities UK report itself demonstrates with its final sentence, “permission [for meetings] may be withdrawn if adequate arrangements cannot be made to ensure that good order is maintained”. It is to the credit of the National Union of Students that it deals with these issues respectfully and consistently. If only their elders could do likewise, then campus would be a more inviting place for all students, including those who have the courage to speak out against anti-semitism and anti-Zionism.

Jonathan Arkush Board of Deputies of British Jews, Mark Gardner Community Security Trust, Carly McKenzie Union of Jewish Students

 • Nations containing 187 million people, who have been under autocratic rule for 177 years combined, angrily take to the streets in areas thousands of miles from Tel Aviv. Yet apparently, “the cockpit of the crisis is Palestine” (Editorial, 21 February). It is certainly the cockpit for those in Israel, but to extend this flight of fancy across the world is simply pie in the sky. The situation with our Palestinian neighbours can only be solved at the negotiating table – not on the streets of Tunisia, while the problems in Libya will certainly not be solved in Jerusalem.

Amir Ofek

Embassy of Israel

Qaradawi on Muslims and Jews

February 23rd, 2011 by Dave Rich

With Sheikh Qaradawi back in Egypt and back in the news, it is worth revisting a collection of his rulings and other writings on Israel, Jews and Zionism, Fatawa on Palestine, which was published some eight years ago, translated into English in 2007 and reviewed by myself and Mark Gardner in Democratiya (Summer 2008 edition, pdf).

Those people who opposed Qaradawi’s exclusion from this country have consistently mischaracterised the reasons why British Jews, along with several other minority groups, objected to his presence here in the past. Inayat Bunglawala, for example, this week wrote that:

Qaradawi became a controversial figure in the West after a campaign by Zionist organisations who were furious because of his support for Palestinian resistance fighters.

Quite apart from the fact that it was Jewish community organisations, not just “Zionist” ones, who objected; and that many others beyond the Jewish community also objected; and that Qaradawi’s explicit support for suicide bombings against Israeli civilians is a perfectly good reason to oppose him; this is far from the full story, as Fatawa on Palestine shows.

The most striking part of the book comes when Qaradawi discusses this hadith (that also appears in the Hamas Charter):

The last day will not come unless you fight Jews. A Jew will hide himself behind stones and trees and stones and trees will say, “O servant of Allah – or O Muslim – there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.”

Qaradawi describes this hadith as “one of the miracles of our Prophet” and then explains:

[W]e believe that the battle between us and the Jews is coming … Such a battle is not driven by nationalistic causes or patriotic belonging; it is rather driven by religious incentives. This battle is not going to happen between Arabs and Zionists, or between Jews and Palestinians, or between Jews or anybody else. It is between Muslims and Jews as is clearly stated in the hadith. This battle will occur between the collective body of Muslims and the collective body of Jews i.e. all Muslims and all Jews. (p. 77)

He identifies “every Jew in the world” as an enemy of “every Muslim”:

The conquerors [of Palestine] are those with the greatest enmity toward the believers, and they are supported by the strongest state on earth – the USA, and by the world Jewish community. (p. 38)

If every Jew in the world thinks himself a soldier, and supports Israel as much as he can, surely every Muslim should be a soldier using his very soul and wealth to liberate al-Aqsa. The least the Muslim can do is to boycott the enemies’ goods. (p. 42)

Qaradawi warns that Muslims should not be friends with “Jews, in general, and Israelis, in particular” (p. 51). Jews are “devourers of Riba (usury) and ill-gotten money … [T]he true examples of miserliness and stinginess” (p. 53); “They have killed Prophet Zakariyya and Prophet Yahya and wove conspiracies against Jesus Christ” (p. 81). Israel is “dreaming of a state that extends from the River Nile to the Euphrates and from the Cedar trees (i.e. southern Lebanon) to the Palm trees (i.e. the Arabian Peninsula).” (p. 51). On boycotts, “[T]he consumer buying Jewish or American goods is committing a major sin” (p. 43).

As we wrote in the review, Qaradawi personifies the combination of theological anti-Judaism, modern European antisemitism and conflict-driven Judeophobia that make up contemporary Islamist attitudes to Jews. He makes no distinction between Israelis, Zionists and Jews and uses the terms interchangeably. I do not accuse Bunglawala of sharing Qaradawi’s views on these issues; but to reduce Jewish objections to Qaradawi to “Zionist” complaints that he supports “Palestinian resistance fighters” is grossly misleading. This support is fully explained in Fatawa on Palestine, but I have not included it in this post, because his other views suffice to demonstrate his enmity for Jews, his desire for conflict between all Muslims and all Jews wherever they live, and therefore why it is perfectly reasonable to view him as a dangerous extremist. If, as Bunglawala writes, he is “immensely influential”, this should be cause for concern, not a reason to change our attitude towards him.

Zionism and Islamophobia

February 17th, 2011 by Dave Rich

Anti-racism has to be consistent. It must apply consistent standards and attitudes, and defend all minorities. An opposition to racism which demonises one group in society in an effort to protect another, is no form of anti-racism at all.

Islamophobic hate crimes and the frequency of mainstream media reporting of Muslims in a negative light, have rightly caused a range of people to seek ways to define, explain and combat Islamophobia. This task is made all the more urgent by the appearance on British streets of the English Defence League, an Islamophobic street gang that carries the threat of violence and disorder wherever it marches.

A worrying trend within these efforts to tackle Islamophobia, are the attempts by some people to associate Zionism with Islamophobia, and to blame rising Islamophobia on ‘Zionists’, however this is defined. This is a conspiracy theory which originates with Islamist groups, but is no longer limited to those circles. It refuses to acknowledge the legitimacy of any concerns about political Islamism, which it conflates with Islam and Muslims in general. It has nothing to do with fighting Islamophobia, but repeatedly shouts down any other voices in that debate.

The most blatant examples of this come from the Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPAC), whose election campaigning last year comprised of little more than identifying MPs who they considered to be ‘Zionist’, and then blaming them for various ills suffered by Muslims both in the UK and abroad. A very brief perusal of their website finds an article describing Denis MacShane MP as a “Nutty Zionist”; another article describing the Daily Telegraph as part of the “Zio-Press” which targets “Muslim Groups”; and a rant about Israel’s support for President Mubarak which includes:

Israel and its Zionist lobbies and politicians are mobilising to suppress democracy and impose Western backed dictatorship on the populations of the Middle East.

[...]

The conclusion that we can draw here is that there are dark forces on the global stage that want Muslims disenfranchised, oppressed, unemployed, hated, apolitical, poor, uneducated, abused, tortured and murdered in Muslim countries and in the West.

[...]

This is a struggle for Muslims against the ZioFascist and American efforts to undermine every prospect of advancement, freedom and progress for Muslims.

Others pursue this theme in a less egregious manner. iEngage, for example, often insinuate ‘Zionists’ or ‘pro-Israel’ groups into stories which portray them as seeking to undermine or damage Muslim interests. For example, these stories about Egypt, or UK counter-radicalisation policy, or the Iraq Inquiry, or the EDL. In each case, ‘Zionist’ is left undefined, but becomes a defining characteristic of the Islamists’ target; and it is taken for granted that somebody who is a ‘Zionist’ is ipso facto anti-Muslim. This is fundamentally a conspiracy theory, in which Zionism and Zionist agitation are presented as explanatory factors for Islamophobia.

A second sophistry is often found at this point: the conflation of the political aims of Islamist groups with the wider interests of Muslims in general. It is entirely legitimate for anyone to be concerned about Islamist political activity and rhetoric, and to campaign against it in normal political ways. To take this from a Jewish perspective, the list of Islamist people and organisations who have expressed antisemitic views is extremely long: Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Riyadh ul-Haq, Zakir Naik, the Hamas Charter, Press TV, Saudi-run weekend schools in the UK, numerous preachers filmed both secretly and openly in UK mosques, and so on. Women, homosexuals, Hindus and many other groups within society, including many Muslims, will readily appreciate why the promotion of antisemitic ideas by Islamist groups in the UK is a legitimate concern for British Jews.

Far too often, however, sincere expressions of concern are rejected by Islamists as examples of ’Zionists’ unjustifiably attacking Muslims in general. The necessary work to protect Muslims from Islamophobia must not provide an excuse to shield Islamists who promote antisemitism. This does nothing to combat either form of prejudice, and will only  increase tension and suspicion between the two communities.

It also leaves no room for others to express their concerns about Islamism. Those Islamists who see ‘Zionists’ as their primary adversary apply that label to anyone who opposes them, whether it is justified or not. Inayat Bunglawala claims that “a shrill and orchestrated campaign from pro-Israel elements” – and nobody else, it seems – is campaigning against iEngage, and demands “an independent, credible and effective APPG on Islamophobia and not one that is subservient to pro-Israeli interests” – as if the two things are diametrically opposed. Yet if you think about it for just a second, there is no reason why someone cannot support Israel in the Middle East and also oppose hate crimes against Muslims in Britain, unless you accept the idea that people simply pick sides according to who is Muslim, or who is not.

Regrettably, this muddying of the water on Islamophobia is not limited to Islamists. Common sense liberal opinion often views Israel and Zionism as embodying an anachronistic and brutal ethno-politics which is an affront to modern human rights. Given this, the Islamist association of Zionism with Islamophobia  can resonate in wider circles.

One example is a recent BBC documentary about Dutch Islamophobic politician Geert Wilders, which spent a disproportionate amount of time examining his connections to extreme right-wing Jews, and the time he spent in Israel as a young man. As one review put it:

The whole thesis of the film seemed to be that Zionism, Israel and Jews are the inspiration for Wilders’ alleged incitement to race hate.

Then there was Roy Greenslade, writing for the Guardian’s media blog about the Daily Star’s support for the EDL. He raised the fact that the Star’s owner, Richard Desmond, is Jewish, with the observation that “As a Jew, he may well have negative views of Muslims.” The Guardian quickly removed this line and Greenslade readily apologised, having recognised that he was peddling a perjorative stereotype about Jews. But would he and the Guardian have been so quick to recognise the problem if he had originally written that “As a Zionist, he may well have negative views of Muslims”?

There are lots of reasons why this growing theme of Zionist Islamophobia is a problem. One is simply that most Jews, in Britain and around the world, consider themselves to be Zionists, in that they support the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state. Last year’s JPR Israel Survey (pdf) found that 72% of British Jews self-define as Zionists.  Demonising the term ‘Zionist’ means, in practical terms, demonising most Jews. You only have to read Monday’s Independent column by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, which ascribes all manner of racist hatreds to ‘Zionists’ – as ever, the word is not defined further – before alighting on UK Jewish faith schools as the locus of this incitement, to see how this demonisation takes place.

To promote a view that implies that 72% of British Jews are inveterate Islamophobes is obviously dangerous, in its potential to encourage antisemitism. Yet the way Jews define Zionism, and the way the likes of MPAC or iEngage do, is radically different: the JPR survey also found that most British Jews who self-define as Zionists support freezing West Bank settlement building and giving up land for piece. The Zionism/Islamophobia narrative presents a monolithic, wholly negative view of Zionism, that is really just another stereotype.

Another reason why this is a dangerous development is that it does nothing to combat Islamophobia. Jews understand racism and prejudice all too well, and most serious efforts to combat racism over the past 40 years have had Jewish community involvement at some point along the way. There is no widespread phenomenon of Jews carrying out hate crimes against other minorities. Nevertheless, Islamists and others, perhaps distracted and encouraged by the sight of EDL supporters waving Israeli flags, think that by tilting at Zionism they are combating Islamophobia. They are doing nothing of the kind.

It has often been said that antisemitism is not only damaging for Jews, it also damages antisemites. It renders them stupid and ineffective, good only for promoting futile anger and hatred. There are important and real distinctions to be made between anti-Zionism and antisemitism, but this is one example of something they have in common. This latest anti-Zionist trope is bad for its victims and it is bad for its proponents and those who stand with them. Worse still, it is very damaging indeed for the struggle against Islamophobia. By picking upon an imaginary target that is so closely associated with another British minority, it not only deepens mistrust between communities; it leaves the real (and far more complex) causes of Islamophobia free to keep on wreaking havoc.

Johann Hari: “servile” British governments

February 8th, 2011 by Mark Gardner

Writing in The Independent on Friday 4th February, Johann Hari provided the latest example of grotesquely overblown claims in mainstream media about the strength of the pro-Israel lobby.

…we are so servile to the demands of the country’s [Israel’s] self-harming government, and to its loudest and angriest lobbyists here, that our governments obey. 

The myth of Jewish power dominates antisemitism. If Jewish power tricks others to go to war, or imposes tyranny on its behalf, then for the good of society, surely Jews must be exposed and routed. (Hitler had a more Final Solution to this same problem.)

Hari does not, of course, go this far. He makes no mention of Jews: as either being the lobbyists, or not being the lobbyists. Rather, he simply says “its loudest and angriest lobbyists here”. What will his readers take him to mean? And who will they think he’s talking about?    

The plural, “our governments obey”, is also very important. It is not just this Government, or a particular previous Government. Rather, it is “our governments” that “obey”. Deliberately or not, the plural adds a conspiratorial punch. It is every government that is “servile” (here…and perhaps overseas? In America too?)  

So, Hari effectively leaves it all to the reader’s imagination

  • Who are these lobbyists? How can we recognise them?
  • Are they actually British? Are they Zionists? Can pro-Israelis be British, or will they always be a fifth-column?
  • What else do “our governments obey” them on? What can we, (authentic) people, do about this?

The real head-shaker in all of this is that Johann Hari and his editors have sternly opposed antisemitism in the past and no doubt remain sincerely and utterly opposed to it.

I say that Hari and The Independent hate antisemitism, not for legal reasons, nor to heap sarcasm or scorn: but because I firmly believe that they do hate antisemitism. And yet, it fits their worldview to write and publish such risky nonsense, typifying in miniature, how large sections of the liberal-left commentariat

  • Grotesquely over-exaggerate the influence of a non-defined and amorphous pro-Israel lobby, that is more conspiracy myth than it is tangible reality
  • Are either ignorant about the enduring motifs and dangers of antisemitism; or simply dismiss those risks in their urgent mission to expose and combat the machinations of the all-powerful lobby
  • Utilise the kind of loose, dangerous, over-hyped language that they would recognise and condemn in other contexts, particularly if they were directed against Muslims, Blacks or homosexuals.

Of course, both the detail and context of Hari’s accusation about our servile governments obeying is greatly important. If the accusation is true, then both author and publisher have performed a public service and should be applauded.

Hari was actually writing about the upheavals in Egypt. His column was entitled “We helped to suppress the Egyptians”. It notes how, “very few British people would praise a murderer and sell him weapons…British foreign policy does not follow the everyday moral principles of the British people, because its not formulated by us”

Hari then wrote how former MP Lorna Fitzsimons had assured “a conference for Israel’s leaders” that they could ignore British popular opinion as UK foreign policy “is an elite issue”. He says this is “repellent but right. It is formulated in the interests of big business…access to resources, and influential sectional interest groups.”

Hari’s mention of the Israeli leaders’ conference suggests where he’s leading, and “influential sectional interest groups” hints at the same destination: but, he’s not quite there yet, because he then explains that “our governments” give “three reasons” for their Middle East behaviour. Hs article covers each in turn, Oil…Israel and the ‘peace process’…Strongmen suppress jihadism”.)

It is whilst covering the second of these three “reasons”, that Hari actually spits it out

…we are so servile to the demands of the country’s [Israel’s] self-harming government, and to its loudest and angriest lobbyists here, that our governments obey. 

There are many reasons for the centrality of Egypt to the Middle Eastern peace process; and for Britain’s failure to oppose years of Egyptian eagerness to physically and politically seal Gaza. It is preposterous to simply lay this at the door of British governments’ servility to pro-Israel lobbyists (and American financial aid to Egypt).

You need firm proof to start playing fast and loose with antisemitic conspiracy themes, particularly in an article that premises itself upon the notion of British democracy being betrayed on foreign policy issues. Britain plays a smallish role in Egyptian and Gazan affairs, but it is plain wrong to say that this is all anti-Palestinian, never mind that it is due to successive governments being servile to pro-Israeli lobbying.

Personally, however, I cannot think of any aspect of British government policy that would justify the extent of Hari’s accusation. Neither can I see how it fits with all manner of previous criticisms, explicit and implicit, that British governments, ministers, party leaders and prime ministers have made of Israeli policy. (Unless these are all simply smoke and mirrors.)

Still, who knows? Perhaps this servility is why Israel beat England & Wales to host the forthcoming European Under 21 football championships. Or, perhaps the servility is only employed for the really serious things in life: like wars, blockades and propping up the leadership of the Arab world’s leading country.     

The word “servile”, according to the Collins English Dictionary –

servile [ˈsɜːvaɪl]

adj

1. obsequious or fawning in attitude or behaviour; submissive

2. of or suitable for a slave

3. existing in or relating to a state of slavery

4. (when postpositive, foll by to) submitting or obedient

[from Latin servīlis, from servus slave]

There is simply no justification for an anti-racist journalist to use such absolutist rhetoric in an anti-racist mainstream daily newspaper. British governments do not behave like slaves to Israeli politicians and their UK based minions. It is ignorant, divisive and dangerous to say, or imply, otherwise.

It is worth noting that only last month CST had a similar (but not identical) complaint against The Guardian’s Comment is Free website, where an author accused America of

slavish subservience to Israel

The Guardian’s Readers Editor responded seriously to CST’s concerns. After proper discussion, they regrettably opted to keep the word “subservience”, but the word “slavish” was removed, as was a reference to

Israeli-American global domination

Of course, British policy in Egypt and Gaza does not amount to “global domination”, but surely that is what the British end of this would either be, or would aim to be: just a junior part in a bigger, global conspiracy.

The Prime Minister’s speech

February 7th, 2011 by Dave Rich

Prime Minister David Cameron gave a keynote policy speech on terrorism, extremism and multiculturalism on Saturday, which has already generated a huge amount of commentary, both agreeing and disagreeing with what he said. Some of the criticisms of the speech have accused him of saying or meaning things that he clearly did not say or mean, sometimes quite ridiculously so. He has been accused of not mentioning the far right; of failing to distinguish between Islam the religion, and Islamism the political ideology; and of wanting a monocultural Britain. None of these things are true, as you can see if you read the speech in full. Much of this criticism reflects party politics or entrenched interests, while typifying the bluster that often obscures intelligent discussion of this issue.

Some people blunder into this debate without thinking. Cameron quite rightly sets out two very important parameters: that this is about politics, not religion; and that the far right should be rejected at every step. Firstly, he distinguishes very clearly between Islam and “Islamist extremism”:

We should be equally clear what we mean by this term, and we must distinguish it from Islam.  Islam is a religion observed peacefully and devoutly by over a billion people.  Islamist extremism is a political ideology supported by a minority.  At the furthest end are those who back terrorism to promote their ultimate goal: an entire Islamist realm, governed by an interpretation of Sharia.  Move along the spectrum, and you find people who may reject violence, but who accept various parts of the extremist worldview, including real hostility towards Western democracy and liberal values.  It is vital that we make this distinction between religion on the one hand, and political ideology on the other.

So Cameron identified this as a political challenge posed by a political ideology that has both violent and non-violent forms. Crucially, he then made the same point that Baroness Warsi recently made, that Muslim religious observance does not equate to political extremism:

Time and again, people equate the two.  They think whether someone is an extremist is dependent on how much they observe their religion.  So, they talk about moderate Muslims as if all devout Muslims must be extremist.  This is profoundly wrong.  Someone can be a devout Muslim and not be an extremist.  We need to be clear: Islamist extremism and Islam are not the same thing.

Cameron then rejected those on the “hard right” who conflate the two, and who argue for extremism to be opposed by suppressing Muslim religious activity:

On the one hand, those on the hard right ignore this distinction between Islam and Islamist extremism, and just say that Islam and the West are irreconcilable – that there is a clash of civilizations.  So, it follows: we should cut ourselves off from this religion, whether that is through forced repatriation, favoured by some fascists, or the banning of new mosques, as is suggested in some parts of Europe.  These people fuel Islamophobia, and I completely reject their argument.

Some people have said that Cameron should have explicitly condemned the English Defence League, who were marching in Luton on the same day that he made this speech. He could have done this, but then he did not name any specific extremist groups, Muslim, white or otherwise, in his speech. The above passage, though, is a thorough rejection of everything the EDL stands for.

Later on in the speech, Cameron tackles the policy of ‘Lambertism’, which tries to co-opt non-violent Islamists as partners to combat Islamist terrorism, even if those non-violent Islamists hold views which diverge from Western liberal democratic norms. Before addessing this point in detail, it is worth noting the comparisons Cameron uses to describe the flaw in this policy:

As others have observed, this is like turning to a right-wing fascist party to fight a violent white supremacist movement.

And:

Well, I say, would you take the same view if these were right-wing extremists recruiting on our campuses?  Would you advocate inaction if Christian fundamentalists who believed that Muslims are the enemy were leading prayer groups in our prisons?  And to those who say these non-violent extremists are actually helping to keep young, vulnerable men away from violence, I say nonsense. Would you allow the far right groups a share of public funds if they promise to help you lure young white men away from fascist terrorism?  Of course not.

Cameron takes it as a given that everybody rejects right-wing fascist extremists. He assumes, rightly, that nobody  would use non-violent far right groups to counter neo-Nazi terrorism. In so doing, he sets right-wing fascism and white supremacism as his benchmark for extremism. This is why those people who have accused Cameron of parrotting EDL propaganda are so wide of the mark. The editorial in today’s Guardian even claims that Cameron did not make “even a passing criticism of the EDL – instead confining his remarks to ‘Islamist extremism’”. It is as if the Guardian (and others) did not even read his speech.

The question of whether non-violent extremists are part of the problem or part of the solution lies at the heart of the policy debate regarding counter-terrorist policy. Lambertism argues that they are part of the solution; the Prime Minister clearly sees them as part of the problem:

As evidence emerges about the backgrounds of those convicted of terrorist offences, it is clear that many of them were initially influenced by what some have called ‘non-violent extremists’, and they then took those radical beliefs to the next level by embracing violence … instead of ignoring this extremist ideology, we – as governments and as societies – have got to confront it, in all its forms.  And second, instead of encouraging people to live apart, we need a clear sense of shared national identity that is open to everyone.

This does not just apply to Islamists: David Copeland, the neo-Nazi nailbomber, was a member of the British National Party before moving on to the more extreme National Socialist Movement.

But if non-violent extremists are part of the problem, then how should they be treated?

Governments must also be shrewder in dealing with those that, while not violent, are in some cases part of the problem.  We need to think much harder about who it’s in the public interest to work with.  Some organisations that seek to present themselves as a gateway to the Muslim community are showered with public money despite doing little to combat extremism.  As others have observed, this is like turning to a right-wing fascist party to fight a violent white supremacist movement.  So we should properly judge these organisations: do they believe in universal human rights – including for women and people of other faiths?  Do they believe in equality of all before the law?  Do they believe in democracy and the right of people to elect their own government?  Do they encourage integration or separation?  These are the sorts of questions we need to ask.  Fail these tests and the presumption should be not to engage with organisations – so, no public money, no sharing of platforms with ministers at home.

An example of what Cameron is talking about occurred last year, when the Indian Muslim preacher Zakir Naik was excluded by the Home Secretary for “unacceptable behaviours”. Naik challenged this ruling (unsuccessfully) in the High Court, and according to media reports received the support of some very senior civil servants in the Home Office.

I will not go into Naik’s well known views in depth here. He does not directly incite terrorism in the way that, say, Anwar al-Awlaki does, but he has presented an ambiguous attitude to terrorism and expressed obnoxious, contemptuous views about people of other faiths. He supports the death penalty for people who leave Islam and preach other faiths, and also for homosexuals. His exclusion drew the following condemnation from the Muslim Council of Britain:

The Muslim Council of Britain deplores Home Secretary Theresa May’s uncharacteristically intemperate move to ban the renowned Indian mainstream Islamic scholar Dr. Zakir Abdul-Karim Naik, from a speakers’ tour in the UK, reported in the media (Daily Telegraph, 18th June 2010), apparently because of his `unacceptable behaviour’ and that his visit `would not be conducive to the public good’.

The Home Secretary’s action serves to demonise the very voices within the world ready for debate and discussion. The tour would have been a golden opportunity for young Muslims who are eager to hear the true messages of Islam which promote understanding between communities.

Inayat Bunglawala, on Comment Is Free, framed his opposition in free speech terms, while on his personal blog he described Naik as:

incredibly popular … Naik has a huge international following and tremendous pulling power. If the UK authorities had any sense, they would utilise Naik’s talents to reinforce the anti-terrorist message.

This is the problem in a nutshell. Naik’s contempt for non-Muslim faiths is clear. The idea that he could “promote understanding between communities” is ludicrous. Presenting him as a “mainstream Islamic scholar” is, if anything, likely only to generate more Islamophobia. Naik has previously argued that 9/11 was an inside job, so the idea that he could be an asset to anti-terrorist messaging is also a non-starter. There is an argument that, despite his vile views, Naik’s exclusion is wrong on free speech grounds, but you can only make this argument if you are prepared to acknowledge just how much Naik’s views contradict core liberal democratic values. This is not the argument that Bunglawala and the MCB chose to make. I do not suggest that the MCB or Bunglawala share any of Naik’s views, but they clearly failed to empathise with how those on the receiving end of his rhetoric, and wider British society, would perceive him. When Cameron spoke of “organisations that seek to present themselves as a gateway to the Muslim community … despite doing little to combat extremism”, it is this kind of obfuscation that I suspect the Prime Minister had in mind.

Some people have criticised Cameron for mixing up counter-terrorism, extremism and multiculturalism; policy areas that, in their opinion, are quite separate. Mehdi Hasan argued that the EDL ”are violent extremists and yet they are not a product of “multiculturalism”, failed or otherwise”. I’m not sure that’s correct. The EDL acts in many ways as a traditional far right group, and has many followers with a track record of activity in the BNP, but it has reframed its activity in the language of culture, not race. Understanding how this has happened, and how it will play out, is very much a work in progress: Hope Not Hate and John Cruddas MP were amongst the first to recognise this, and Suzanne Moore’s article in Saturday’s Guardian summarises its questions and confusions well. The point is that identity and culture play a role in contemporary political extremism.

How this affects jihadi terrorism was addressed in a paper written last year by Thomas Hegghammer, which tried to answer the question why Muslim foreign fighters – mujahideen – had been an increasing presence in conflicts involving Muslim states or territories since 1980, but not before. This is a slightly different phenomenon from al-Qaeda’s global jihad, but as Hegghammer points out, “most al-Qaida operatives begin their careers as war volunteers”. After analysing a large number of conflicts and testing various factors, he concluded that the key factor was the development, in the late 1970s, of a pan-Islamic political identity, created by Muslim Brotherhood activists based in Saudi Arabia and exported via international Muslim organisations. He wrote:

To increase awareness of global Muslim affairs, these activists constructed a pan-Islamic identity discourse emphasizing the unity of the Muslim nation and highlighting outside threats. Like many other identity discourses, it was alarmist, self-victimizing, conspiratorial, and xenophobic. It was a victim narrative that highlighted cases of Muslim suffering around the world, paying particular attention to what Samuel Huntington called “fault line conflicts.”

No one ideologue can be credited with articulating the discourse; rather it developed gradually through incremental rhetorical escalation. Many of its themes echoed those of earlier pan-Islamists and anticolonial activists, but the Hijazi pan-Islamist discourse was more alarmist and more global in outlook than any of its predecessors.

This is a crucial refutation of Lambertism, because this “identity discourse” is not limited to violent Islamists. It is a narrative commonly found in the propaganda of non-violent Islamists, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, the Jamaat-e-Islami and their various followers and offshoots around the world, including many in Britain. It is an identity and a discourse often shared by the non-violent groups that Lambertism advocates partnering with, to prevent Islamist violence. This is deliberate: the theory is that they ‘speak the same language’ as violent Islamists, and this gives them a credibility they can use to turn around those thinking of joining violent groups. In reality, non-violent Islamists reinforce the very narrative and identity that, as Hegghammer explains, is the key component behind violent Islamist militancy, and without which it cannot take place. Rather than partnering with these groups, Hegghammer advocates strategies to undermine this identity discourse, including doing exactly what Cameron proposes:

First, those seeking to prevent foreign fighter recruitment need to recognize that the recruitment message relies not primarily on complex theological arguments, but on simple, visceral appeals to people’s sense of solidarity and altruism. Western governments should therefore worry less about the spread of ultraconservative Salafism than about populist anti-Western reporting by the television network al-Jazeera and the rapid spread of audiovisual propaganda on the internet. Moreover, a long-term policy to stem foreign fighter recruitment must include strategies to undermine pan-Islamism, for example, by spreading awareness of factual errors in the pan-Islamist victim narrative and by promoting state nationalisms and other local forms of identification. (my emphasis)

This is the theory behind the Prime Minister’s demand that ”we must build stronger societies and stronger identities at home.” Multiculturalism is a much-disputed term, the meaning of which is very much in the eye of the beholder. The Chief Rabbi addresses the issue in the context of Cameron’s speech in some depth in today’s Times (£). I would only add that it is important not to confuse culture with values. Cameron is clearly not arguing that the many and varied cultures in Britain should disappear or be merged into one. Allegations that he desires a monocultural Britain are not serious. Rather, he makes two points. Firstly, that British identity should be be underpinned by a set of common values:

Freedom of speech, freedom of worship, democracy, the rule of law, equal rights regardless of race, sex or sexuality.

And secondly, that the state should actively promote these values as part of a strong British identity; something which, he argues, multiculturalism as practiced in the UK has not always done. I don’t think either of these points are as contentious as others have argued; furthermore, they sum up the Jewish experience of successful integration into this country.

The test of this speech will be its implementation, and it is here that the Government needs to be fully joined up. To take one example, Cameron’s desire “that immigrants speak the language of their new home” needs to be backed up by the provision of English classes for new immigrants. But the starting point for any new policy has to be a statement of principles, and as such this speech was an important and valuable step forward.

Stars in their eyes

February 4th, 2011 by Dave Rich

There are some people who cannot watch a major crisis without seeing the hidden hand of “Zionists”, or Israel, directing events, influencing decision makers and generally interfering to prevent things from turning out how they properly should. The current crisis in Egypt is a case in point.

Many people have commented on how Israel-related issues have been relatively absent from the demands of the protestors in Egypt. This is despite anecdotal evidence that the regime is trying to paint the pro-democracy protestors as Israeli spies, or backed by Israel.

However, as the world watches the people of Egypt literally fighting over who should get to decide their future (whoever said the revolution will not be televised?), and new and old media fill up with commentators of every variety offering the contents of their crystal balls to the world, examples of observers outside Egypt finding ways to insert Zionist meddling into the story are not hard to find. The phenomenon ranges from the mainstream to fringe commentators and from the thoughtful to the fanciful; and that is without even looking at Stormfront or MPACUK, both of whom see Zionists everywhere even at the best of times.

Starting in today’s Independent, Johann Hari examines various ways in which “we” are culpable for the repression of the Egyptian people. The second of these relates to Israel and Egypt’s support for the peace process. The sting comes in this line:

we are so servile to the demands of the country’s self-harming government, and to its loudest and angriest lobbyists here, that our governments obey.

Maybe I am missing something, but as I watch Egyptian pro-democracy demonstrators trying to oust their regime on the streets of Cairo, my first thought is not that the British government is “servile” to Israel’s “loudest and angriest lobbyists”.

Another commentator who has been offering his opinion on events in Egypt is American newspaper man Mort Zuckerman, the guest this week of the Henry Jackson Society. On Wednesday the Guardian reported his warning against the possibility of the Muslim Brotherhood coming to power. This is no idle fear, and one shared by many people, including many Egyptians. But for iEngage – ever alert to the slightest suggestion of Islamophobia - Zuckerman seemed to be the emissary of something bigger, and more sinister: “Zionists warn Tories About Mubarak Aftermath“, was how they headlined the story.

The Muslim Association of Britain, which according to the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office is the Muslim Brotherhood’s representatives in the UK and therefore speaks with some authority on the MB’s position, also sees Israeli machinations trying to prevent the Egyptian people from achieving freedom and democracy:

We also call upon the US and the EU (including Britain) to stop over-looking the aspirations of the Arab world of freedom and democracy and instead linking them to what and how Israel wishes to see things happen. We condemn the Israeli propaganda in trying to spread the fear factor from the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions for democracy, by painting them as a threat to a stable middle-East.

The Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) condemns the attitude of some Western governments in favouring the whim of the Israeli attitude towards the legitimate aspirations of the Arab people, in its quest for freedoms, dignity and in trying to acquire genuine and solid democratic structures regardless of whether it occurs in Palestine, Tunisia, or now Egypt. It will not be further tolerated that Israel will keep pushing the EU and US governments towards a stance in which stability should be a priority upon freedoms and democracy in Tunisia and Egypt.

One thing that has been very clear so far during this crisis is how little the American and European governments can actually influence events in Egypt. Lobbying by Israel, even if it is taking place on the scale claimed by the MAB, is unlikely to change that. So how would Israel actually try to dictate the course of the Egyptian revolution that is unfolding?

As ever, Iranian TV has the answer.

First, the Islamic Republic News Agency reported that Israeli commandos had infiltrated into Cairo:

According to the latest reports, a group of Israeli commandos have entered the Egyptian capital city to create tension and unrest in that city.

Informed sources told IRNA that by appointing the country’s intelligence chief – General Omar Suleiman /main negotiator with the Zionist regime/ – as his deputy, President Hosni Mubarak has in fact shown a green light to the Zionist regime for interference in his country’s domestic affairs.

An eye witness told IRNA by phone that suspicious attacks on trade and residential units and assassination of specific persons in Cairo have created uncertain situation in the country.

The witness referred to a rumor saying that the Israeli agents have infiltrated into the people in order to lead the public protest to violence and civil conflicts.

Then, a few days later, Press TV reported that  an Israeli spy, identified by Press TV as “A member of Israeli General Staff Reconnaissance Unit, Sayeret Matkal”, had been arrested in Egypt. They even posted some rather undramatic footage of two unidentified men looking rather bemused as they are led out of a cafe by men in uniform. Needless to say, no evidence is offered by Press TV that they are even Israeli, much less spies or members of Sayeret Matkal.

Press TV has also reported that Israel delivered three plane-loads of riot control equipment to Egypt last Saturday, including “a large supply of internationally proscribed gas to disperse crowds.” This report apparently originated with an NGO called The International Network for Rights and Development. It has been reported quite widely, including on the Muslim Brotherhood’s own Ikhwanweb and by Middle East Monitor.

However if you want to check the original source of this story you can’t, because if you google “International Network for Rights and Development” the only results are variations on this story. It appears to have no website, nor to have ever said or done anything else. It is possible that it is an Arabic NGO and that its name has been mistranslated into English in a way that has never happened before, and so would not show up on google for anything else; or alternatively, that this is another one of those conspiracy stories that emerges in the Middle East, usually about Israel, from a source that has never been heard of before and disappears without trace immediately afterwards. It is difficult to tell who first reported the story – which might indicate its source - but Middle East Monitor is the earliest example of it that I have found.

This ‘Ziocentrism’, which insists on placing Israel at the centre of any Middle Eastern story, also leads people to assume their positions on any given crisis according to how it may affect Israel. Middle East Monitor is headed by Daud Abdullah, who spoke further on Israel’s role in the crisis at a meeting for “Solidarity with the Egyptian Uprising” in London on Wednesday evening. Few of the people at the meeting showed similar solidarity with Iranian pro-democracy protestors in 2009. Most of Abdullah’s speech is about Egypt’s relationship with Israel, rather than the internal issues in Egypt which seem to be driving the uprising, and he has no doubt who is stiffening the backbone of the Egyptian regime:

[From 2:30] The greatest casualty no doubt will be Israel…this is why they have sent messages to Europe and to Washington, urging to give Mubarak a free reign, let him deal with his people in the bloodiest of manner. This is why they have offered their resources to Mubarak and Suleiman, Omar Suleiman, so that they can crush this popular resistance.

Again, Daud Abdullah does not explain how he is party to confidential messages between the  Israeli, European and American governments.

At the same meeting, the rapper Lowkey shared his thoughts on the current crisis. He began by stating [0:35]:

I have so much belief in the people of Egypt that if there is democracy, if there was democracy, there wouldn’t be an American or an Israeli government left standing in the Middle East.

This drew wild applause; and he concluded his speech with the strategic insight that [5:32] ”the path to the liberation of Jerusalem runs through Cairo“. This has long been a central doctrine in Egyptian jihad, as Reuven Paz (pdf) explains:

One of the most important doctrines of the Egyptian Jihad from its birth in the late 1970s, has been what Ayman Al-Zawahiri and before him Muhammad Abd al-Salam Faraj phrased as follows: “The way to liberate Jerusalem moves through the liberation of Cairo.” Zawahiri wrote it in several of his books, including “Knights under the Prophet’s Banner,” published in December 2001. Faraj referred to this notion in his famous book “The Neglected Duty,” [Al-Faridhah al-Gaebah] which has been circulated by the Egyptian Jihad since 1980.

Lowkey gives no indication as to whether he is consciously echoing Ayman al-Zawahiri, or whether he has reached the same analysis as Egypt’s most famous terrorist leader all on his own.

For all that this meeting was meant to be in support of the people of Egypt, these two speakers at least seem more concerned with how the current crisis affects Barack Obama and Bibi Netanyahu than how it affects the average man in the Cairo street. But then that is what Ziocentrism does to you.

CST Antisemitic Incidents Report 2010

February 3rd, 2011 by CST

Today, CST releases its Antisemitic Incidents Report 2010, which can be downloaded from the CST website (pdf).

The report shows that CST recorded 639 antisemitic incidents across the UK last year, the seond-highest annual total since CST began recording antisemitic incidents in 1984. This is 31% down on 2009, which was to be expected as 2009 saw a record high number of incidents due to antisemitic reactions to the Gaza conflict. However, it is 17% more than the 2008 figure of 546 antisemitic incidents, and continues the decade-long trend of rising antisemitic incident levels.

In addition to the 639 antisemitic incidents, CST received reports of a further 372 incidents that, on investigation, did not appear to be antisemitic and so were not included in the annual total. These 372 non-antisemitic incidents mainly consisted of criminal activity affecting Jewish people or property, suspicious behaviour at Jewish locations and anti-Israel activity that was not antisemitic.

Since the year 2000, we have seen a significant increase in antisemitic incident levels, triggered by repeated antisemitic reactions to events in and around Israel and the Middle East. In 2010, however, there was no comparable ‘trigger event’, but CST still recorded the second-highest number of antisemitic incidents since we began this work in 1984. How to explain this?

Detailed analysis of the antisemitic incidents reported to CST during 2010 showed that the most common type of antisemitic incident was random verbal abuse on the street, directed at people who are visibly Jewish. The most common type of perpetrator was a white adult male, and if they shouted something abusive, it was more likely to be about Auschwitz than about Gaza.

At root, this is basic, street-level antisemitism, coming from racists who would just as readily attack other minorities too. We saw the same basic picture in 2007 and 2008 when the Israeli-Palestinian situation was also (relatively) quiet, yet there were still many hundreds of antisemitic incidents.

We should not over-simplify the analysis: those who commit antisemitic attacks do so for lots of reasons and many of the 2010 incidents still included references to Israel.

But what we learn is that when Israel is in the news, two things seem to happen. Firstly, it dominates the thinking and actions of anti-Jewish bigots, be they white, Muslim or of whatever origin.

Secondly, some people get so carried away by their hatred of Israel that they lose control and attack Jews, revealing deep prejudices which they probably never knew they had.

When Israel is not dominating the news, this layer of Israel-related antisemitism is stripped away, and we see the bedrock of unadulterated antisemitism that persists year in, year out. This then provides the starting point for even worse incident levels should a significant “trigger event” occur, such as the Gaza conflict in 2009.

There is much talk of a ‘new’ antisemitism, although ‘contemporary’ would be more accurate. This is real and important, but risks distracting us from the fact that, beneath the surface, the ‘old’ antisemitism is still there – and growing.

A version of this article appears in today’s Jewish Chronicle.

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