Ruth Tenne: All- Party Inquiry into Anti-Semitism

By Ruth Tenne

A recent  article in  The Jewish Chronicle  (29 March 2007) reports that " concern over  increasing Anti-Semitism in Britain is reflected in the government’s broad acceptance of the grim conclusions of last year’s Parliamentary inquiry into hatred directed at the Jewish community ".  it goes on to say that "In a 20-page command paper that will be presented to Parliament, ministers have backed action on the majority of the inquiry’s recommendations and expressed understanding of communal anxieties" the  JC’s article   points out that "the government highlighted the importance of anti-Semitic incidents being recorded — and that prosecutions resulted from police investigations. It is working with police forces to identify better and more consistent ways of collecting and managing data on hate crimes. The Crown Prosecution Service has accepted the inquiry’s call to account for the low number of prosecutions for anti-Semitic activity"

Unfortunately, The All Party Inquiry into Anti-Semitism and the Government’s follow-up recommendations fail to recognize that a multi-racial and multi-faith society ought to have a coordinated and consistent policy whereby no ethnic or, religious, group, should be considered in isolation from other such groups.  Thus, an inquiry into Anti-Semitism which singles out one particular religion may constitute an unwelcome precedent that may lead to undesirable, if not harmful, effects. Moreover, the follow-up   report   takes a dangerous step  by  stating that   rhetoric about Israel and Zionism, “from the far right to the far left and Islamic extremists alike, employs anti-Semitic motifs that are consistent with ancient forms of hatred towards Jews"

This seems to suggest that peace organizations and   activists who criticize Israel may be under the danger of being subjected to a witch hunt reminiscent of McCarthyism   and the un-American activities campaign of the 50s. A similar danger equally applies to universities where the report   points out that anti-Semitic activities are “all the more regrettable for occurring in places where [Jewish students] should be free to study unhindered by prejudice and harassment”.  

The above statement is clearly inflammatory and opens the way to accusations and counter- accusations against any political and social activity on the campus   which deems to be undesirable by Jewish students or   the Union of Jewish Students. This  may  also legitimize  the imposition of   pressure on academic  lecturers  who seem  to  criticize Israel’s policies .Such an example could be seen  by the recent pronouncements  of the UJS and the Jewish Board of Deputies against the appointment of the reputable Israeli historian  -Ilan Pappe –   to the Chair of the History Department  at Exeter University.  The Chief Executive of the Board has recently told that "after taking full advantage of all the freedoms accorded to him in Israel, a country he has so shamelessly attacked, Pappe has decided to set up shop here. ….  the uncomfortable fact is that in the lecture theatres and seminar rooms at Exeter, many impressionable young minds will be exposed to his partial and biased views.”

Similar , though more harsh and dangerous , precedents take place in USA where academics who express critical  views  of Israel’s   policies are hounded and ,on occasions ,lose their posts due to  unacceptable pressure from the Jewish   lobby there. The vile campaign and attempts by  the pro-Israeli lobby to prevent  the granting of  a university tenure to Professor Norman Finkelstein   – who is a staunch critic of Israel’s constant violation of human rights – is a case in point.

 Sadly, various forms of harassment   by Israel’s apologists are quite wide-spread in Britain.  In the course of my work with peace organisations in Britain I encountered, along with my colleagues, the phenomenon of "reversed Anti-Semitism"- namely, being claimed to be anti-Semite by Jewish groups and individuals who could not tolerate the fact that a Jew, or an Israeli like myself, is prepared to criticize Israel’s policies and its treatment of the Palestinians.  

In the light of my experience I felt compelled to submit an unsolicited submission to the All-Party Inquiry Into Anti-Semitism which was set up by the British Parliament in November 2005.  This included the following points:

-For historical reasons Anti-Semitism is referred solely to the Jewish race. Yet, the definition of modern  day  Anti-Semitism  may have direct bearing on , or implications for, other religious and ethnic groups (who may also be part of the Semitic race) . An inquiry into Anti-Semitism ought, therefore, to be concerned with the manifestations of hatred and abuse directed at any religious and ethnic group (e.g.   Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, etc.)  , and consequently embrace a much wider agenda.

-In light of the British Government’s policy, and its strategy document – Working together – Cooperation between Government and Faith Communities – any working definition of Anti-Semitism should equally apply to other religions or ethnic groups. This will also correspond with the British Government’s plan to set up a new Commission for Equality and Human Rights.

-The all-embracing definition of Anti-Semitism, as well as that of other religiously-motivated abuses, should be tightened up in order to prevent it being exploited as an emotional term which may trigger an  outrage and highly-charged statements by some interest groups (e.g. the Jewish community and Israel’s lobbyists on one hand and Muslim groups on the the other hand). That is to say, that the definition of Anti-Semitism and of other religiously-motivated offences ought to be closely related to the existing Race-Relations Act which has long been  seen as an integral part of the British society and  of its legal and law-enforcement bodies

-The monitoring of Anti-Semitism and other religious, or race- hatred incidents should be conducted in an objective and methodological way. Therefore, it has to be defined by precise categories referring to the type and severity of the abuse – e.g.  Hatred-inciting public utterances as compared with malicious damage, arson and violent attacks against the members of a faith group   . A public body should, therefore, be set up to monitor and record all religious, or  race , aggravated offences   rather than to leave it to partisan groups which are set up by the community in question. Thus, reports published by the national media ought to refer to the (statistical) records issued by a public body rather than to inflammatory accounts issued by certain interest groups – which may   carry the risk  of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy   . Furthermore, religious-hatred incidents, such  as anti-Semitism, or Islamophobia, should be  compared and considered in relations to the rise in violence in the host society rather than to   be regarded in isolation from the present political, social, and economic circumstances (e.g. hostility towards asylum-seekers  which  may ignite hatred towards Muslim refugees ,and the volatile situation in the Middle-East that  triggers hostility towards both Muslims and Jewish people).

Sadly, the All-Party Inquiry and the Government’s follow- up report did not seem to take notice of the above points. Nor did the Inquiry appear to pay attention to submissions made by Jewish groups who do not agree with the line taken by the Board of Jewish Deputies, or the Zionist Federation. This may jeopardize    community relations as well as hinder future    harmony between different   faith and religious groups. The Muslim Community in Britain –  whose  size is   four  times larger than that of the Jewish community and is disproportionately    represented in Government and Parliament  –  ought to request  a similar inquiry into the widely  prevalent phenomenon    of Islamophobia, and demand   that the  recommendations of the Inquiry into Anti-Semitism will equally apply to faith  aggravated  incidents against Muslims. If the Government chose to ignore the political and social  marginalization of the Muslim community , and   to regard the views of Israel’s critics as being an implicit   form of Anti- Semitism,  it  may face the danger of  engendering  a perilous  and inexcusable  rift  in  Britain’s pluralist  society .  Such a policy   may stand in a stark contrast to the Government’s declared efforts of "wining the hearts and minds” of disaffected communities and their members.

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