Campaign Against Antisemitism is determinedly apolitical, as should be the fight against antisemitism. Unfortunately, as our database of antisemitism in political parties shows, some parties fight antisemitism, and others let it rise, and even throw fuel into its ravenous flames.
This week, the contrasting approaches of our political parties were once again thrown into stark relief.
Britain celebrated her role in the creation of the State of Israel by marking 100 years since the Lord Balfour declared that “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object” with Government-sponsored events and a visit by the Israeli Prime Minister. The establishment of the State of Israel was a moment of salvation for the Jewish people in the wake of centuries of persecution reaching a murderous crescendo during the Holocaust. It was a rare occasion on which the United Nations lived up to its promise to foster peace “based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples”. Had Israel been established sooner, it could have saved many of the millions of European Jews who were denied refuge by the nations of the world even as the fires of Nazi Germany’s crematoria consumed them.
As Britain celebrated the Balfour Declaration of 1917, it was against the backdrop of a 2017 in which the far-right has regained its furious confidence and powers of seduction, in which the anti-racist left has fallen into the clutches of the avowedly antisemitic far-left, and in which the new disease of radical Islam marches to the drumbeat of ancient Jew-hatred. Today, the establishment of the State of Israel is used as a battering ram with which to puncture the anti-racist fortifications built to protect society under the slogan “Never again” as the Nazi furnaces were doused and the consequences of their brutality cast an indelible stain on humanity. The damned enemy of society scheming in the shadows to bring about its downfall is euphemistically known as the “Zionist”. “Israelis” are sanctimoniously accused by false guardians of slaughtering babies and harvesting the body organs of innocents. Israel is hailed not as the ultimate protection against those who would revive the plans of Nazi Germany, but as the reincarnation of Nazi Germany. The Holocaust itself is regarded by too many not as humanity’s most important lesson, but as a fraud perpetrated by a vast Jewish conspiracy in order to justify the establishment of Israel as a base from which to exert their global hegemony.
It is no coincidence that extremists of the far-right, far-left and Islamists have in common their belief that “Zionists” are behind the world’s ills, and that Israel must be boycotted, bullied and battled against until it is wiped out “from the [Jordan] river to the [Mediterranean] sea”.
In these circumstances, Theresa May fought off opposition and insisted on celebrating the Balfour Declaration with a ceremony that Jeremy Corbyn snubbed, sending Emily Thornberry in his stead. When the Prime Minister took to the podium to deliver her remarks, she focused not merely on Israel and the quest for peace in the world’s least peaceful region, but she looked the new antisemitism in the eye and named it: “As we work together towards Balfour’s vision of a peaceful co-existence we must be equally clear that there can never be any excuses for boycotts, divestment or sanctions: they are unacceptable and this government will have no truck with those who subscribe to them. Neither can there ever be any excuse for antisemitism in any form…this means recognising that there is today a new and pernicious form of antisemitism which uses criticism of the actions of the Israeli government as a despicable justification for questioning the very right of Israel to exist. This is abhorrent and we will not stand for it. That is why the United Kingdom has been at the forefront of an international effort to create a new definition of antisemitism which explicitly calls out this inexcusable attempt to justify hatred.”
As antisemitic crime surges in Britain, there is much to criticise in the authorities’ approach to fighting it, the fight can only be won if our Government leads with the clarity of purpose exhibited by the Prime Minister.
Simultaneously, this week an opposite political struggle played out. MEND, a Muslim organisation supposedly established to fight for the British values of tolerance and pluralism was comprehensively outed by the media and the Henry Jackson Society think-tank over its connections to extremism and antisemitism. The media berated MPs who planned to address an event by MEND, and all but the Labour Party’s MPs withdrew. As MPs Wes Streeting and Stephen Kinnock faced the wrath of the media for insisting on speaking at the event, many wondered at their allegiance to MEND, whose founder decried “300 years of the Israel lobby” (since Israel has only existed for 69 years, the statement only makes sense as a reference to the period that British Jews have been permitted to live in Britain following the expulsion of 1290) and which circulates articles claiming antisemitism is sometimes wielded as “a political tool to silence legitimate criticism of Israel policies”.
MEND looked to be truly on the brink but for the support of the increasingly embattled Messrs Streeting and Kinnock, until their steadfastness became comprehensible when the cavalry arrived: for MEND, rescue came at the hands of Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition. MEND’s isolated event in the Houses of Parliament was thrust into the approving embrace of what polls say is the most popular political party in Britain, when Mr Corbyn himself arrived to address those gathered in support of MEND, and to invite the organisation to help the Labour Party to develop policies on “race and faith”. As Mr Corbyn mumbled platitudes about opposing racism and division, he sent the clearest possible signal that he had no fear of protecting those very vices. An organisation with demonstrable links to extremism and antisemitism was on the verge of being ousted from polite society, when Mr Corbyn pushed through and gripped MEND to his bosom.
This week could not have been a clearer demonstration of the precariousness faced by British Jews. As the Prime Minister looked the new antisemitism in the eye and named it, the electorate’s favourite to replace her grabbed it by the hand and defended it from reason and opprobrium.
Gideon Falter is Chairman of Campaign Against Antisemitism