BBC presenter Andrew Marr has claimed in an interview with the visiting Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, that “a lot of Jewish friends” and “a lot of Jewish community leaders have said that Israeli government policies are feeding antisemitism in Britain.
Mr Marr asked Mr Netanyahu: “Can I ask you about the condition of Jews in this country because I’ve got a lot of Jewish friends and there are a lot of Jewish community leaders who are very worried about your government and they say that particularly the settlements issue has made it much, much harder to defend Israel in this country.” However, Mr Marr then added: “We have always had antisemitism in Britain but it has been quite quiet for a long time and it is back on the rise.”
Mr Netanyahu correctly answered: “Well, you know, I wouldn’t blame Jews for antisemitism any more than I would blame blacks for racial hatred stirred against them, or anti-gay hatred. It’s because of what they are.” Mr Netanyahu appeared to have more to say, but Mr Marr interjected: “There’s a distinction between Jews and policies.” Mr Marr was correct to draw such a distinction, which makes his suggestion that many Jews think that rising antisemitism in Britain has been fuelled by the political positions adopted by the Israeli government so extremely clumsy.
There is no evidence that Israeli government policy, which has not changed terribly markedly in recent years, has had any impact on rising hate crime against British Jews, nor is there any evidence that there is any policy that the Israeli government could adopt to stem the tide of hatred aimed at British Jews by the neo-Nazis of the far-right, the extremists of the far-left, or Islamists inspired by groups such as ISIS.
Mr Netanyahu responded by paraphrasing a speech given by the Prime Minister at an event to commemorate the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, a British statement which was a major milestone in the fight to establish the modern State of Israel. In her speech, the Prime Minister pointed out that calling for the destruction of the world’s only Jewish state is antisemitic and not a legitimate political criticism.
Mr Marr then moved on to a question about whether Mr Netanyahu would expect good relations with Britain were it run by Jeremy Corbyn.
It is disappointing and concerning that an experienced broadcaster like Mr Marr, who was the editor of The Independent and then the BBC’s political editor, should see fit to conflate criticism of Israeli policies, which is not antisemitic, with rising antisemitic crime.