Antisemitism in the UK – The Home Affairs Committee Report 16/10/2016

 

The report begins with nine ‘key facts’ about anti-Semitism in the UK. It is only on page six, paragraph four, rather hidden away, that the report notes that “anti-Semitic crimes represent approximately 1.4% of all police-recorded faith- or race-related hate crimes in 2014-15”. (p.6) Yes, that’s right,  just 1.4% of all recorded faith- or race-related crimes were anti-Semitic crimes in the UK last year.

Nonetheless, the report insists that we should all be extremely concerned with the direction of change, even though figures show a steep increase in some areas like London, but also a steep decline in other areas, such as Greater Manchester.

Overall the rate has increased by 11%. Most of that is explained by social media. Twitter has announced a number of measures to deal with hate crime and abuse on social media. The report could perhaps end here, but it most emphatically does not.

It is imperative that all parties “acknowledge the unique nature of anti-Semitism” (p.56) the report insists. This is the reason for giving special consideration to anti-Semitism despite the fact that the UK is one of the least anti-Semitic countries in Europe while having one of the largest populations of Jews in the world.

According to the report the ‘unique nature’ of the threat is that anti-Semitism takes the form of treating Jews as being a “malign and controlling force”. (p.54) In a year in which the nation grieved the loss of a Labour MP at the hands of a murderer shouting “Britain First” this seems a strange prioritisation.

There is no mention of any anti-Semitic crime amounting to anything other than verbal abuse. Verbal abuse can be extremely unpleasant. It should undoubtedly be taken very seriously. The rise in use of social media is be largely accountable for the rise in this type of abuse. It is an aspect of twenty-first century life that needs careful examination, not just in relation to anti-Semitism, but in relation to many other crimes, including child abuse, stalking and misogyny.

In the light of the report’s determination to demonstrate its special concern with regard to anti-Semitic behaviour in the UK the report praises former Prime Minister David Cameron for his “support for Holocaust education and commemoration” (p.53) and welcomes the fact that “Holocaust teaching in schools is compulsory.” (p.54) There is also an expression of “gratitude to Community Security Trust (CST)” for the “impressive and professional work it does” to “keep British people safe”. (p.53)

There is no clue in the title that the CST is in fact a Jewish charitable foundation that lobbies the Government on behalf of Jewish people living in Britain. Its purpose is not to “keep British people safe” per se, but to act specifically on behalf of one particular segment of British society.

The report says it is “right that funding for [Jewish] security [through CST] should come predominantly from the Government” and recommends that henceforth the “funding stream continues on an annual basis, rather than being dependent on a Government Minister making an announcement at CST’s annual dinner.” (p. 53)  The Jewish lobbyists must be very pleased to hear this pledge of future annual funding for the organisation.

Undoubtedly less pleased must be those concerned with the way in which the report tarnishes the reputation of three women, all, as it happens, non-white: Naz shah (Labour MP, Bradford West), Malia Bouattia (newly elected President of the NUS), and human-rights lawyer Shami Chakrabarti. All the intimations levied against these individuals in this report are speculative, but the damage done to their wellbeing and to their careers must surely be very painful for them to bear.

The leader of the National Union of Students (NUS), Ms Bouattia, is chastised because she does not ‘appear’ to be taking anti-Semitism on campus seriously enough. It is made clear in the report that she is on a one-year probationary ‘grace’ period. The Jewish member of the Anti-Racism Anti-Facism taskforce (AFAF) is henceforth be selected by the Union of Jewish Students (UJS). It is not made clear why it is to become mandatory to have a Jewish student representative from this one particular organisation in the AFAF. While accepting that criticism of Israeli Government policy is entirely permissible the report insists that resources must be made available (in student debates for example) to ensure that both sides of the argument are presented at all times, in other words the report insists that in NUS events the pro-Israel lobbyists must be given a voice.

Though the report states that  “the majority of anti-Semitic abuse and crime has historically been, and continues to be , committed by individuals associated with (or motivated by) right wing parties and political activities” (p.6)  and that “three-quarters of all politically-motivated antisemitic incidents come from far right sources” (p.6) the focus of the report is anything but directed against those on the right of the political spectrum. The Committee casts aspersions on Chakrabarti’s integrity in conducting her own report into anti-Semitism on behalf of the Labour Party, accusing her of corrupt intentions.

Chakrabarti finds, just as the Home Office report finds, that there is no more anti-Semitism in the Labour Party than in any other political party. The Committee criticises Chakrabarti for failing to come up with a working definition of ‘anti-Semitism’. The report recommends the adoption of a new definition of ‘anti-Semitism’. Henceforth, although it continues to be perfectly legitimate for students and others to speak out against the actions of the Israeli government, the use of the term ‘Zionism’, ‘Zionist’ or (worse) ‘Zio’ is to be treated as a (potentially) racist term of abuse.

The UK is one of the least anti-Semitic countries in Europe. Anti-Semitic crime amounts to only 1.4% of all faith- and race-related hate crime.  Yet, among the policy changes recommended in this report is a broadening of the definition of anti-Semitism. Those who may wish to be critical of the Israeli Government, particularly with respect to the Palestinian issue, are likely to feel inhibited if not silenced by this new definition of anti-Semitism. This report can only be seen as a cynical attempt to inhibit freedom of speech and political debate.

 

 

 

 

 

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