Today’s debate on Question Time was heated and at times frustrating, given that audience members began to shout over the speakers through regular interventions. Today’s report from the Community Security Trust makes for stark reading. The report states that 1,168 incidents of antisemitism were recorded in the past year and with a 25% rise on the previous high in 2009, when operation Cast Lead took place in Gaza. The figures are also double the number of cases which were picked up in the previous year.
We have stated many times that antisemitism is a scourge and as the Chief Rabbi said only a few weeks ago, it is a light sleeper. Yet today’s Question Time raised a few troubling issues, ones that politicians should reflect on.
The first point to be made is that those who query whether there was a rise, or whether some of the statements made on-line or off-line were caused because of the Govt of Israel’s actions should read the CST report. It is clear, concise and has a specific methodology. It is also important to stress that the actions of the Israeli Government should not be conflated and placed as a burden on Jews in the UK. This is, in fact, the same trope which is used against Muslims where terrorism is blamed on all Muslims even though they have no control over the situation. Allied to this, calls are made to Muslims as a whole to apologise for the actions of their co-religionists.
Criticism of State Policies
Criticism of Israel does not necessarily fall into the bracket of antisemitism and the right to criticise Israeli domestic or foreign policy is a fundamental right just as criticising any government’s policy or sets of policies are. However, criticising only one state and focussing all criticism on that state may be driven by antisemitism and the context of the individual is therefore important in making that assessment.
Furthermore, comparisons between anti-Muslim hate and antisemitism in a way that tries to play into a ‘competitiveness of victimisation’ are unhelpful. It is morally objectionable to try and say that antisemitism or anti-Muslim are worse than the other. Both of these social ills need tackling, particularly where there are some strong similarities between the two, whilst acknowledging that there are also some differences which are unique to each phenomenon.
Who Speaks for Anti-Muslim Hate?
We also need to acknowledge that much of the discussion today was rightly about antisemitism given that CST’s report has just been released. Troublingly though, it must be said that no other speaker on the panel mentioned anti-Muslim hate, (sometimes referred to as Islamophobia), so it was left to Parliamentarian Galloway to raise the depressing topic of anti-Muslim hate. (There was one reference made by Shadow Education Minister Tristram Hunt to a mosque being attacked in his constituency though the vast majority of the discussion on anti-Muslim hate was raised by Galloway.)
So herein lies the problem. Galloway raised a legitimate issue, that of the fear now being felt within Muslim communities and he repeated, in no uncertain terms, the need to tackle both antisemitism and anti-Muslim hate. Additionally, one cannot dismiss the fact that Galloway is someone who is seen as controversial by some because of his views on the Middle East.
So when Galloway raises the issue of anti-Muslim hate, it is easy for some viewers to just dismiss his views and in doing so, dismiss the very real fact that anti-Muslim hate is a problem which sadly affects Muslim communities in our country. In contrast, if another politician was to have confirmed that anti-Muslim hate is a real and ongoing issue it may have helped to overcome some of the dismissiveness of individuals who were not willing to listen to what Galloway had to say, because it was Galloway who was talking about anti-Muslim hate.
Maybe one of the markers of our success in TELL MAMA is when politicians on Question Time raise issues around anti-Muslim hate and do so with some confidence, armed with facts and with a desire to highlight the issue. Until then anti-Muslim hate will remain something that a select few set of MP’s will raise and even then, partly due to the fact that they have a large number of Muslim constituents.
There is a lot of work for us to do, but what we can say is that maybe next year, a few more politicians will feel able enough to highlight the need to counter anti-Muslim hate and antisemitism.