Guardian article regarding government funding for security guarding at Jewish schools

January 27th, 2012 by CST

CST is astonished that the Guardian has chosen to mark Holocaust Memorial Day by attacking the funding provided by the government to pay for security guarding at Jewish state schools in England and Wales.

This funding is provided to protect Jewish schools against terrorism. This is a real threat: just this week, as we reported on this blog, the authorities in Azerbaijan announced that they had foiled a terrorist plot relating to a Jewish school in Baku.

The Guardian story is misleading as it suggests that the money provided by the Department for Education pays for CST to provide security at Jewish schools. In fact the money is merely administered by CST and distributed in full to the Jewish schools who then use it to employ their own security guards (not from CST). Previously, these guards were paid for by parental contributions at the Jewish schools. CST does not keep any of the grant money and there is no allowance made for CST’s staff time in administering the funds to each school. In the end the project actually costs CST money, the exact opposite of the impression given by the Guardian.

We remain grateful to the Department for Education and the Secretary of State for providing this funding to alleviate the financial burden on Jewish parents, and we are proud of our role in helping this to take place.

CST’s only funding from government remains the grants given under the Ministry of Justice Victims Fund (previously run by the Home Office), which supports our work with victims of antisemitic hate crime. The overwhelming bulk of CST’s funding is provided by voluntary donations from the UK Jewish community.

If the Guardian had contacted CST for comment before running the story, we could have explained all of this to them.

UPDATE: After a complaint from CST, the Guardian have now added a paragraph near the end of their article which reads:

All the money is distributed by the trust to the schools which then employ the security guards. As the trust’s role is essentially adminstrative, none of the money is retained by the trust or pays for any of the trust’s work.

However, this acknowledgement that the grant does not pay for CST’s work is not reflected in the headline or opening paragraph of the article, which have not been amended.

 

Who defines antisemitism, and why does it matter?

January 24th, 2012 by Dave Rich

Ben Cohen has an excellent, thought-provoking article in this month’s Commentary magazine, in which he asks whether it is Jews or antisemites who get to define the word “antisemitism”, and why this matters:

A blurb on a book jacket would seem an unlikely vehicle for the introduction of a new and sinister tactic in the promotion of an ancient prejudice.  But in September 2011, a word of appreciation on the cover of The Wandering Who launched a fresh chapter in the modern history of anti-Semitism. And when the dust had settled—what little dust there was—on the events surrounding the blurb, it had become horrifyingly clear that the role of defining the meaning of the term anti-Semitism did not belong to the Jews. It may, in fact, belong to anti-Semites.

[...]

The truth is that the rising fixation with Jewish power in our time has unwittingly revealed Jewish emasculation instead. Jews do not control the discourse; rather, the discourse controls them.

Nonetheless, if we accept that anti-Semitism has, by exchanging violence for discourse, also been emasculated, does its persistence matter, particularly during a period of history that stands out through the presence of a Jewish state and the absence of anti-Semitic legislation in nearly all the countries where Jews live?

That question can be posed in another way: Do we need to sink to the depths of the 1930s in order for anti-Semitism to be taken seriously? Furthermore, we must ask, do Jews need to be subjected to acts of violence and discrimination in order to remind the wider world who the true victims of anti-Semitism are? And even then, can we be confident that the blame for physical manifestations of anti-Semitism will be placed upon the anti-Semites and not the Jews?

You can read it all here.

Terror plot targeting staff at Jewish school in Azerbaijan foiled

January 23rd, 2012 by CST

Haaretz reports that the authorities in Azerbaijan have foiled an Iranian terror plot to kill staff at a Jewish school in Baku:

Three men were detained last week after planning to attack two Israelis employed by a Jewish school in Baku, the Azerbaijan Ministry of National Security has revealed. Meanwhile, an Azeri commentator considered close to the republic’s president has launched a scathing indictment of Iran.

The Azeri ministry said it had arrested a cell that planned to “kill public activists,” before it became apparent that the intended victims were two Israeli Chabad emissaries, a rabbi and a teacher employed by the “Chabad Or Avner” Jewish school in Baku. The ministry said that the three men, named as Rasim Aliyev, Ali Huseynov and Balaqardash Dadashov, received smuggled arms and equipment from Iranian agents. The action was apparently planned as retaliation to the gunning down of Iranian nuclear scientists.

“The Azeri security forces acted covertly without alerting us,” said Rabbi Shneor Segal, one of the two targets. “It was published that they originally planned to attack ‘people who look Jewish and hold foreign passports,’ near the school, but when the school guards began suspecting them, they started monitoring the area where I live,” he told Haaretz.

Segal added that the second target was Rabbi Mati Lewis.

This is not the first example of terrorists targeting Jewish schools or their staff. CST’s report (pdf) on the history of anti-Jewish terrorism, Terrorist Incidents against Jewish Communities and Israeli Citizens Abroad 1968-2010, includes 16 examples of Jewish schools being targeted for terrorist attack.

Criticising Israel, and attacking Jews

January 18th, 2012 by Dave Rich

Yesterday’s Guardian included a very good article by Tanya Gold regarding antisemitic discourse and the recent incident of a Nazi-themed drinking game on a London School of Economics ski trip, which resulted in a Jewish participant in the trip having his nose broken after objecting to the game.

Predictably, because the article argued that some attacks on Israel and its supporters have their roots in antisemitism or are themselves antisemitic, today’s Guardian carries a series of letters objecting.

One of the letters, from an LSE alumnus, condemns the ski trip incident but then states:

My own Jewish nostrils are very sensitive to any whiff of antisemitism and I never smelled even a hint of it during my LSE years.

To which I can only say, “lucky you!”. When I studied at LSE the Student Union anti-racism officer banned the Jewish Society from participating in ‘anti-racism week’, on the grounds that they were Zionists and therefore themselves racists. It didn’t take “Jewish nostrils” to detect the antisemitic stench in that act.

Another letter was from Karl Sabbagh, who wrote:

Once again a Jewish writer (Tanya Gold, 17 January) complaining about antisemitism deliberately ignores the distinction between false accusations against Jews over the centuries and justified criticism of the Jewish takeover of Palestine, a land that in living memory had a population that was 90% Arab, including my grandparents. Should the victim of a crime keep quiet because false accusations have been made against the criminal in the past? Let it be said loud and clear – it is entirely possible to criticise Israel without being antisemitic. To deny this is to argue against freedom of speech.

Sabbagh is right: it is entirely possible to criticise Israel without being antisemitic. The way to do this is to make a political argument criticising the policies of the Israeli government, as you would any other. The wrong approach would be to criticise those policies on the basis of Israel’s Jewishness – ‘they act that way because they are Jews’ – or to use criticisms of Israeli policy as the basis of a critique of Jews and Jewishness generally. Down that road lies, well, antisemitism.

Why am I not surprised to find that Sabbagh has in the past been guilty of doing both these things? He has even argued that the Israel-Palestine conflict will not end until “there is no such thing as a Jew”.

Funnily enough, the first example comes from a letter by Sabbagh published on the Guardian letters page during the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza and southern Israel in January 2009. After condemning Israeli actions and the way they were reported in the media, Sabbagh then asked:

What has happened to the much-vaunted “civilised values” Jews and their religion are supposed to have brought to the world? Why are so many Jews, and particularly Israelis, not more ashamed of what is being done in their name?

More recently, Sabbagh contributed a recommendation to the back cover of Gilad Atzmon’s latest book, The Wandering Who? A Study of Jewish Identity Politics:

The Wandering Who? is as witty and thought provoking as its title. But it is also an important book, presenting conclusions about Jews, Jewishness and Judaism which some will find shocking but which are essential to an understanding of Jewish identity politics and the role they play on the world stage.

We have written about Atzmon’s book previously, here and here. We described it as “quite probably the most antisemitic book published in this country in recent years”, a judgement we stand by. Atzmon attacks “Jewishness”; praises what he calls “Jewish self-haters”; claims the credit crunch was a Jewish conspiracy; and argues that in the future people might think Hitler was right about the Jews. He even cracks Jewish jokes which are not that witty, whatever Sabbagh thinks.

In a public meeting to promote the book, Sabbagh explained why he contributed this approbation:

When people write words which are put on the back of books and then are attacked for defending the books, the usual response is to say “Well I don’t agree with everything in the book but I defend this man’s right to write it.” I’ve written something on the back of this book and it’s not so much I don’t agree with everything in it; I agree with everything in it that I can understand, but there’s an awful lot that I can’t because I’m not a philosopher, but I’m very impressed by the depth of scholarship in this book”.

On the particular question of Jewish identity and its relation to the Israel-Palestine dispute, Sabbagh endorsed Atzmon’s critique of Jewish identity as a negative force and made the astonishing claim that there will not be peace until “there is no such thing as a Jew”:

I think the question of Jewish identity is related to the question of how people understand the Israel-Palestine situation, and if the inconsistencies can be exposed by writing like Gilad’s to the point where actually there is no such thing as a Jew other than somebody who’s not defined as anything else, then it might help to break the solid wall of pro-Israeli feeling that there is in the world and help some kind of solution to come about that is not happening at the moment.”

As Tanya Gold wrote in the Guardian:

Antisemitic discourse is now mainstream and to say it all comes from the crimes of the Jewish state feels disingenuous and a denial of the past. Antisemitism is too old to sprout anew from nothing.

I couldn’t have put it better myself.

LSE students, Nazi drinking games and antisemitic assault

January 15th, 2012 by CST

The London School of Economics student newspaper, The Beaver, today reports on an appalling antisemitic assault that took place on an LSE Athletics Union ski trip over the Christmas holidays:

LSE students are facing disciplinary action after participating in a Nazi-themed drinking game during the Athletics Union’s ski trip, held at a French mountain-side resort in December 2011. Tensions escalated, resulting in two students engaging in an altercation, one of whom sustained a broken nose from the incident.

‘Nazi Ring of Fire’ involved arranging cards on the table in the shape of a Swastika, and required players to “Salute the Fuhrer.”

A video featuring students making antisemitic comments was uploaded to Facebook, but has since been removed.

It is bad enough that some LSE students thought a ‘Nazi-themed’ drinking game was appropriate behaviour; it is even worse that a Jewish student was himself abused and assaulted when he objected to the game.

To their credit, LSE, the Students Union and the LSE Athletics Union have all condemned these events and disciplinary measures have been promised. CST utterly condemns what occurred and will support LSE Jewish Society and the Union of Jewish Students throughout this process.

We are also heartened by the editorial in The Beaver, which sets out the need to address this outrageous antisemitic behaviour with appropriate moral clarity:

It has come to light this week that, on the LSE Athletics Union’s ski trip to Val d’Isere, a small group of LSE students were involved in the deplorable activity of playing a Nazi-themed drinking game. A Jewish member of the group objected to this behaviour and was the victim of a tirade of antisemitic abuse which led to an altercation in which his nose was broken.

The Beaver condemns this behaviour in the strongest possible terms. Behaviour of this variety is unacceptable, backwards and saddening. In a community as international, multicultural and diverse as that which we have at LSE, it is all the more shocking that behaviour of this level of insensitivity, arrogance and stupidity can occur. Antisemitism, like all forms of discrimination, is absolutely inadmissible, and something that should be confined to the past. However, in a deeply regrettable trend, this variety of casual antisemitism is apparently undergoing a worrying resurgence and appears, in recent years, to have become widespread within university communities and on a wider stage. Similarly egregious events have taken place in recent years; in 2010, at the University of Huddersfield a comparable ‘Hitler drinking game’ was initiated; in November 2011, within the Oxford University Conservative Association there were allegations of students singing antisemitic songs; and more recently, sacked MP Aidan Burley was present at a Nazi-themed stag party (though he denies being involved in the activities).

Perhaps the most saddening element of the event, in addition to the hugely offensive nature of the behaviour of those involved, is the inactivity of those on the fringes, who allowed the events to unfold; not only did they fail to intervene, but turned it into a spectator sport, videoing it on a camera phone.

The idea that casual antisemitism is acceptable as a joke and can be used in a way that will not cause offense is utterly wrong. Whether they realised this or not, these members of the LSE student body offended an entire community through their actions. ‘Casual’ discrimination in any form perpetuates prejudices and enforces negative and false perceptions of races, religions and social communities. The widespread nature of remarks and actions like these mean that the views of many within student communities – and our society as a whole – have been inevitably changed for the worse. If such actions go unchecked, our university will not be the safe place that it can, and should, be for everyone. Our student community is admirably diverse and accepting of others. To protect this tradition, this type of behaviour must be stamped out. Now.

 

MEMO confirms Raed Salah faces charges for inciting racism in Israel

January 13th, 2012 by Dave Rich

One of the central allegations against Israeli sheikh Raed Salah, which led the Home Secretary to order his exclusion from the United Kingdom, was that he made a speech in Jerusalem in 2007 which invoked the antisemitic ‘blood libel’ and which led to a riot, and that he faces charges in Israel for inciting racism and inciting violence as a result.

The response of Salah and his British supporters, principally the Middle East Monitor (MEMO) organisation that invited him to the UK, was to deny that he had ever made the comments, and to claim that he faced no such charges.

Seven months after those initial and forthright denials, and notwithstanding several confusing and contradictory statements since then, MEMO have finally confirmed what CST has been saying for months: that there is indeed a case against Salah for inciting racism and violence still “pending before the Israeli courts.”

The story began on 16th June 2011, when MEMO published a statement from Salah’s office in Israel which read:

It has been claimed that he repeated a “blood libel” by saying, “among those whose blood was mixed with the sacred (Jewish) bread”; this is an absolute lie and a malicious fabrication. Sh. Raed was questioned by the Israeli authorities over allegations that he made such a remark, which he refuted categorically challenging them to provide any shred of evidence and they could not.

On the same day, MEMO issued a press release of their own which claimed:

A specific allegation was made with regard to ‘blood libel’ in Harry’s Place and apparently adopted by other sources. Sheikh Raed was questioned with regard to that statement by the Israeli authorities and he refuted their claim. Hence no charges were brought against him in this regard.

However, MEMO later changed their press release to read:

Memo would like to make a correction to this press release. While the release states “Hence no charges were brought against him in this regard” we would now like to clarify that while charges were brought against him, he was never convicted due to lack of evidence.

This was the first example of MEMO changing their position, from claiming that no charges had been brought to admitting that charges had been brought but implying that Salah had been tried and acquitted, or that the charges had been dropped.

This was the line peddled by MEMO’s editor Ibrahim Hewitt in another article on 6th July:

Charges of blood libel have been levelled at him in Israel as well as in Britain; the strange thing is that in Israel he has been found not guilty of such ridiculous charges

Unfortunately for Hewitt, on the very same day as his article CST published a set of Israeli court indictments, obtained from publicly available sources which MEMO (or any UK journalist) could have accessed, proving that Salah did still face charges for inciting racism and violence at the Jerusalem speech.

Embarrassingly for MEMO, by this stage their inaccurate claim that Israel had not prosecuted Salah for antisemitism, or that he had been tried but not convicted, had even made it into a Guardian editorial.

At this point MEMO quietly stopped claiming that the ‘blood libel’ comments were fabricated. Instead, they settled on a new (if faintly ridiculous) defence: that he did make the comments, but he was talking about Catholic persecution of Jewish and Muslim children during the Spanish Inquisition.

Then on 27th November, MEMO published a 52-page booklet (pdf) giving their version of events in “The Sheikh Raed Affair”. Funnily enough, we could not have done a better job of summing up MEMO’s confusing claims over the blood libel charges.

On page 11, they give their original position that he was never charged:

Sheikh Raed was questioned by Israeli authorities about the anti-Semitism allegations at the time they were first circulated and no charges were ever brought against him.

On page 9, they admit that he has been charged, but claim it was only after he came to the UK in June 2011:

Prior to coming to Britain in June 2011, Sheikh Raed had never been charged with anti-Semitism inside Israel itself. However, since the UK exclusion against him, two indictments in Israel have been issued.

But on page 8, they say that the charges were first laid in 2007:

In 2007, he was indicted for inciting violence and racism after it was said that a speech he gave led to public disorder. He was also accused in the media of having invoked an ancient blood libel against Jews.

Phew! It is hard to know what to think. Either he was never charged with inciting violence and racism, or he was charged in 2007 but the charges were dropped, or he was charged in 2007 but acquitted, or he was not charged until 2011.

Helpfully, MEMO have now clarified matters, quoting a statement by Salah’s Israeli lawyer Hussein Abu Hussein:

With regard to the other cases linked to Sheikh Raed that remain pending before the Israeli courts, Abu Hussein said, “there are two more cases; the first relates to Sheikh Raed Salah’s alleged incitement during his Friday sermon in Wadi al-Joz, and the second relates to Israeli police claims that Sheikh Raed attacked a police officer on his return from performing the Hajj pilgrimage a few years ago.”

All this confusion could have been avoided a long time ago. As Haaretz reported at the time, Salah was first charged with inciting racism and violence in January 2008 (not 2007, the year he made the speech, as MEMO wrongly claimed in their booklet). This is why, in 2010, Salah was quoted in the Jerusalem Post as saying “all of the four remaining cases against me should be closed”. Presumably Salah’s Israeli lawyer, and Salah’s office in Israel, knew these facts back in June 2011. It is just a shame that MEMO (“Our unique selling points are to provide reliable primary sources of information”) could not be relied upon to relay the basic facts accurately at the time.

Zero tolerance and the principles of anti-racism

January 9th, 2012 by Dave Rich

Events surrounding Liverpool Football Club in recent weeks provide a good example of why certain principles of anti-racism are so important, and what happens when a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to racism appears to be compromised.

Last month, the Football Association announced that Liverpool’s star striker, Luis Suarez, had been found guilty of verbally insulting the Manchester United defender Patrice Evra during a match at Anfield in October, and of making reference to Evra’s skin colour in the process.

As the FA’s lengthy and detailed report (pdf) of their investigation explains, Suarez admitted making reference to Evra’s colour during the course of their argument on the pitch, although he denied some of the more explicitly racist remarks of which he was accused by Evra. The FA Commission which heard the case decided that, on the balance of probabilities, Evra’s claims were accurate and that “Suarez used the word “negro” or “negros” seven times in the penalty area. On each occasion, the words were insulting.”

It is not my purpose here to rehearse all of the arguments in the FA report (full disclosure: I am a lay advisor to the FA’s Antisemitism & Islamophobia in Football Taskforce, but that is not the capacity in which I am writing this blog and I had no involvement in the Suarez-Evra case). My concern is more about Liverpool’s reaction to the initial FA charge and its outcome.

One of the fundamental principles of anti-racism is that, when a person makes a complaint that they have been the victim of racial abuse, you have to take that complaint seriously. Whether they are right or wrong,  whether a subsequent investigation vindicates their complaint or not, your initial response must respect their perception that they have been racially abused. This basic standard was set in stone by the MacPherson Report into the murder of Stephen Lawrence, who found that black people were habitually treated with scepticism and scorn by police officers when they tried to report racial abuse.

Yet from day one, Liverpool’s attitude to Patrice Evra has been the complete opposite of this. When Liverpool Manager Kenny Dalglish was first informed of Evra’s complaint, his response was: “hasn’t he [Evra, not Suarez] done this before?” Media reports the next day suggested that Liverpool wanted Evra himself to be banned for making what they claimed were false allegations. In the hearing itself, Liverpool argued that Evra had invented the allegation against Suarez and maliciously pursued it, knowing the damage that would do to Suarez’s reputation. Even after the FA Commission ruled against Suarez, Liverpool stuck to this line and repeatedly questioned Evra’s honesty. Neither Liverpool nor Suarez have apologised to Evra for the hurt that he says he felt.

The idea that black people invent allegations of racism for personal or professional gain is itself a racist trope and is not something to be levelled lightly.

Another principle of anti-racism is the need to create an environment that is hostile to racism and is supportive of people who suffer from it. This is in order to deter people from making racist expressions and to encourage people to report incidents of racist abuse, as racism (like all forms of hate crime) is habitually under-reported to the police and other agencies.

Again, Liverpool’s actions have undermined all their previous good work in this area. The club’s decision for their manager and players to wear t-shirts bearing Suarez’s name and image, in immediate response to his having been found guilty by the FA Commission, was the most striking expression of their determination to stand by their star man – despite his admission that he had referred to Evra’s colour during the match in October.

Years of promoting anti-racist messages were undone in an instant, and it may well take years for Liverpool’s reputation to recover. Veteran Equalities campaigner and Chair of Kick It Out Lord Ouseley was moved to accuse Liverpool of hypocrisy.

Liverpool claimed that cultural and linguistic differences between Uruguay and Britain effectively rendered Suarez innocent. Even if this were true (and the FA decided it was not), those who understand racism know that its dynamics ignore intellectual nuances. It was inevitable that at least some of Liverpool’s supporters would take the club’s stance as a green light to refer to an opponent’s skin colour in the midst of an argument.

This is why many people were not surprised when, on Friday night, another allegation of racism was made by a visiting player at Anfield – Oldham Athletic defender Tom Adeyemi, who complained that he was racially abused by a Liverpool supporter. If, as some media reports suggest, the alleged offender was wearing a Luis Suarez t-shirt at the time, the connection will be even more stark. As professional footballer Darren Byfield tweeted on the night:

Byfield is not the only black player to express his dismay at Liverpool’s unqualified support for Suarez, even after the FA Commission found against him.

A fan has been arrested for the alleged abuse of Adeyemi. Liverpool immediately apologised to Adeyemi and gave the police their full support, but the difference between their reactions to the two cases is inescapable.

Now Liverpool, by one of football’s more mischievous acts of fate, have been drawn to play Manchester United at Anfield in the 4th round of the FA Cup later this month. Suarez will still be banned, but presumably Patrice Evra will play. And if anything is inevitable in football, it is that Evra will be roundly booed by Liverpool fans every time he touches the ball.

Although there is a risk that Evra will be racially abused by Liverpool fans as Adeyemi was, it is more likely that the barracking he receives will not be explicitly racist; and yet, it will be hard to ignore the fact that the only reason why he, amongst all the visiting United players, might get singled out for abuse, is that he was racially abused by a Liverpool player and complained about it. For this, he will get booed by a predominantly white football crowd, many of whom will be wearing t-shirts bearing the image of the Liverpool player who racially abused him. If this occurs, then quite unwittingly (but utterly predictably), Liverpool’s actions will have constructed an environment in which race is an issue, and a black player will be booed and heckled by white fans precisely because race is an issue.

I will finish with one final thought, and it is a thought that should have influenced Liverpool’s actions right from the start. Will black footballers and fans now consider Liverpool Football Club to be a more or less welcoming place for them to play or visit than it was before all this began?

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