By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
Everyday brings a new anti-semitism scandal in the British Labour party. It began with Naz Shah, an MP from Bradford West who had tweeted that a meme asserting that Israel should be relocated to the United States. Labour has been wrestling in recent hear with a number of caustic members who obsesses of Israel. Vicky Kirby has claimed “Hitler was a Zionist God” and claimed Jews have “big noses” and was suspended, twice.
Ken Livingston rushed to defend Naz Shah and got himself suspended for claiming that Hitler had supported Zionism before going “mad” and killing 6 million Jews. It was also revealed that Labour had “secretly” suspended 50 members. Reports claimed that Labour was “unable to cope” because its “compliance” unit doesn’t have enough staff and that it has gained many new members since Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader.
In the most recent scandal it was revealed that former mayor of Blackburn, Salim Mulla had tweeted last year that Israel was behind ISIS attacks in France and a killing of a Japanese journalist. “Is this a coincidence. You bloody daam right it is.” he wrote on Twitter. It was a “Zionist game” being played. Burnley Labour councillor Shah Hussain also attacked Jewish soccer player Yossi Benayoun, suggesting he that he hadn’t been “kicked hard enough in the head’ during a game and that “your country is doing same thing Hitler did to ur race in ww2 [sic].” In addition Nottingham city councilor Aziz Ilyas was suspended for suggesting Israel should be relocated to America.
But the real issue Labour, the UK and other countries face is that suspending a few politicians doesn’t actually change anything. Judging by the comments on Facebook and Twitter about the suspensions there is a deep well of support for these politicians. Many believe that the suspensions are part of a “right wing” agenda and that in fact those suspended are the real victims. Many respond to stories of anti-semitism by tweeting “Jews are not a race, so one can’t be racist against them” and “anti-semitism as a word is the real problem, Arabs are semites too and Zionism is the real racism.” The real problem is that racism cannot simply be suspended, it has to be rooted out, confronted and educated again.
In a Facebook post I saw yesterday at the group ‘Days of Palestine’, numerous commentators responded to images of Israeli police by saying “Hitler didn’t finish the job” and “Hitler was right”, and the same commentators argued that “Israel=Nazism.” This is the kind of rhetoric which is normal in many sectors in the UK and elsewhere. The same people, for instance, that argue Israel and Zionism is “behind ISIS” are the same ones that when ISIS appeared said that ISIS was merely “resisting US imperialism.” The same people who argue ISIS appeals to “disenchanted youth” who are “seeking meaning” are the same ones who also think ISIS is actually an Israeli Mossad-CIA plot. On the one hand they think ISIS has a kind of legitimate grievance, and that it is run by Israel.
The same people who argue Jews have “big noses” are the ones who then claim that “Jews are not a race” and “Arabs are also semites.” But if they think that Arabs are semitic, then wouldn’t hatred of semites bother them?
What no one wants to address are the roots of anti-semitism and the kind of distasteful, conspiracy laden rhetoric that always finds “Zionism”, “Zio” or “Israel” as the center of all problems. One place to look might be surveys of the British public, particularly the Muslim public from which many suspended Labour members draw their political support. A program broadcast on Channel 4 in April asked “what Muslims really think” and revealed homophobic and anti-Jewish views. However coverage of the story then focused on Muslim reactions to the show. The conclusion? It’s “sensationalist“. Rachel Shabi dismissed the “dodgy” views of some by concluding that actually we should “beware” to look at intolerance because it “cements a divide” and paints Muslims as intolerant. BBC focused on Muslims using humor to mock the report. Aatif Nawaz concluded that “Antisemitism is wrong. Homophobia is wrong. Misogyny is wrong. Surely in 2016 people can just take that as given? British Muslims are good people, so don’t buy into the scaremongering.” Newsweek critiqued the report as “misleading” and “controversial” and didn’t even mention the issue of anti-semitism. Emma Barnett at The Telegraph that by revealing intolerant views “we’ve made Muslims feel isolated.” Another newspaper concluded that the report didn’t reveal anti-Jewish views because “most” are not anti-semitic. “61 per cent of people questioned viewed Jewish people favourably, while an additional 14 per cent of British Muslims had a sort-of middling opinion of Jewish people.”
Anti-semitism is a bit hard to judge when surveys don’t ask the correct questions. Some surveys note that 25% of people in the UK think Jews “chase money.” But what about simpler questions such as “Hitler was right?” or “Jews deserved the Holocaust?” or “Zionism is Nazism?” or “Jews control England” or “the world would be better without Jews?” or “ISIS is run by Jews and/or Israel”? The levels of hatred of Jewish people and the view that Zionism is at the heart of all the world’s problems, does not need a complex survey question to tease out a bit of anti-semitism, such as questions that have been asked like “Jews care more about Israel than the UK.” One survey noted that “26 per cent of British Muslims believe that Jews are responsible for most of the world’s wars, compared to six per cent nationally; while 27 per cent said that people hate Jews because of the way Jews behave.” This is paired with a view that Jews talk “too much” about the Holocaust. So not only are Jews hated for “causing all the world’s wars” but then they are hated also for talking too much about being hated, and of course for “how they behave.”
However when such surveys are reported the media reaction is to claim that actually the real victims of such information are Muslims who are then stereotyped as intolerance and “isolated.” Or media reports that “only” one third think Jews are responsible for all the world’s problems. Never is there an attempt to confront anti-semitism and intolerance. Never is there an attempt to demand responsibility. If one third of Scottish people felt that Jews cause all the wars in the world and deserve to be hated, one would assume that viewing Scottish people as intolerant of Jews and racist doesn’t make Scottish people the victims of “scaremongering”, but rather the victimizers.
There is a tendency to think in the UK, and in other places, that racism and intolerance, especially towards Jews, can simply be hidden away. If surveys show racism, then the racist people are “victims” of the survey which has “manipulated” them. If the survey shows racism among say 40% of people, the headline is “60% are not racist”. If the survey shows racism, then the idea is that these racist views are merely “dodgy”, not a serious problem.
The politicians who write abuse at Jewish soccer players, who blame ISIS on Jews, who claim Jews should be deported en masse, are suspended for their views, rather than confronted and forced to explain them and debate them and then go back to teach their community and supporters why they are wrong. In many cases the politicians don’t even think they are wrong. Ken Livingston believes that Hitler supported Zionism, just as he has not admitted he was wrong to claim “Israel” existed in 1932. He defends his ignorance and in fact among many people on social media, his decision to link Zionism and Nazism has gained credit of “exposing” the connections between some Labor Zionists and Nazi organizations when Jews were fleeing Hitler. Many have concluded that Livingston was right, not that he was wrong. There is no evidence that suspending Naz Shah or others have made the large numbers of people who agree that Israel should be “removed to the US”, challenge their beliefs. The only result is that now politicians will be more careful on social media, not that their views will change.
The real result of the Labour investigation into anti-semitism is that anti-semitism will probably grow and gain legitimacy because there is no attempt to challenge it and educate against it. Those people who believe that ISIS is actually run by Israel has not been reduced. The number that say “Jews are not a race” and deny anti-semitism exists, or feel the Holocaust should not be taught in schools, has not been diminished.
To reduce and eradicate racism and ignorant stereotypes requires education and ostracizing racist people. Anyone in the US who says the ‘n-word’ is immediately castigated. Any politician in the US who bashed a Chinese basketball player over China’s actions in Tibet would be made a laughing stock and seen as racist. But in the UK there is evidence that the anti-Jewish views are probably gaining these suspended politicians an image of being martyrs and folk heroes. They speak “the people’s” language. Their twitter views were not challenged in 2014 or 2015, it took until 2016 to challenge them. That means that in their circle it was entirely normal to think ISIS is in fact a Zionist conspiracy. No one ever asks why the same people who think that will also have excuses for ISIS as “fighting imperialism and suppression”. Because no one wants to dare challenge these ignorant and often racist views.
Instead, whenever society is confronted by surveys showing large amounts of ignorance and intolerance, the concept is to make excuses. When politicians repeat the ignorance they learned in school and which was prevalent where they grew up, they are suspended but no one ever says, let’s confront this, lets discuss it out in the open. Instead the idea is to just quietly hope it doesn’t rear its head for a while.
When 30-40% of people hold viscerally, obsessive, anti-Jewish views, it isn’t a small minority. If 30% of Americans hated black people, it would be a national emergency. But the UK has allowed ignorance, stereotypes, hatred, intolerance, conspiracy theory and hate to thrive. You can’t just suspend that hate, or it will continue to grow. It’s not just about people hating Israel or “just” about the Jews. With ignorance and intolerance of one group, there will be intolerance of others. Recent reports on attacks on Ahmadi Muslims, for instance, show that what starts with the Jews won’t end with Jews. Next will come conspiracy theories and blame and attacks on Muslim minorities, on other minorities, until the UK resembles the kind of fascist ignorance that was normal 100 years ago.