Worrying About Antisemitism

I have an article up on CiF. Here it is. 

The Community Security Trust is a cross-denominational Jewish organisation, which provides advice on protecting religious and communal buildings and events from attack. 

Now, there are a number of people who have it in for the CST.  Here, for example, is the British National Party’s Lee Barnes:

Last week the CST put 500 troops on British streets to patrol two parades to celebrate Israel; They call them volunteers, I call them a militia. … a Zionist Para-Military Militia…this shadowy racist organisation … etc.

Lee Barnes may appear mad to you: as indeed he is. However, he was merely echoing the sentiments of Ken Livingstone, who in 1984 claimed that the Board of Deputies was organising

“paramilitary groups which resemble fascist organisations”.

Antony Lerman is also vexing about the CST. Unlike Barnes and Livingstone, he doesn’t think that it is a paramilitary fascist organisation. Rather, he thinks that it is a waste of money, an expression of misplaced priorities, and potentially even harmful to the development of a self-confident Jewish identity.  I can’t tell why he feels so strongly about the CST, but he does.  

Lerman argues:

It could hardly be the CST’s wish to frighten people so much that they withdraw into themselves and curtail the kind of public expression of Jewish culture that is an essential part of the multicultural tapestry of British society. And yet there must be a danger of this happening, if it’s not happening already.

Lerman’s article is a riff in response to:

an online survey of the views of Jewish leaders and opinion-formers in 31 European countries on the major challenges and issues concerning European Jewish communities? Asked what were the most serious threats facing their communities, they ranked antisemitism ninth in a list of 12 items. The first eight threats were all internal: for example, loss of Jewish identity, lack of Jewish knowledge and declining numbers.

Lerman’s conclusion is that concern about antisemitism is misplaced and damaging. This is what he says:

I can’t help feeling that it’s partly the exaggeration of the severity of the threat of antisemitism which provides fertile ground for the circulation of stories and rumours suggesting that the authorities have cravenly appeased antisemites, stories that either have no basis in fact or are distortions of reality

His remedy is as follows:

It seems obvious that the CST should take a special initiative and put some of its surplus cash into struggling groups who are working in myriad ways to improve community relations between Jews and others. 

This is an odd argument. I can think of no reason why one couldn’t support both interfaith and anti-racist projects. Loads of people do both.  You pays your money and makes your choice. 

Lerman also believes that talking about antisemitism makes Jews frightened, and that this is a bad thing. However, as Lerman points out, the religious leaders whose views were surveyed are evidently not preoccupied by racism to the exclusion of all other issues. Lerman seems to be worrying, merely, that one day Jews might get too frightened about antisemitism. Even though this isn’t, in fact, happening. 

The bottom line is this. Britain is not a country in which antisemitism is widespread among ordinary people. Nobody sensible would suggest that it is.  The CST does no such thing. It merely collects and publishes data on those attacks which do happen, while advising those who ask, how best to stay safe. 

The concern, rather, is that there are a number of extreme groups which are peculiarly fixated with Jews, some of which are given to violent and apocalyptic rhetoric, some of which are terrorist organisations that have carried out spectacular attacks on Jews inside and outside Israel. 

When Hamas says:

“They have legitimised the killing of their people all over the world by killing our people.

you really should take it seriously.  It isn’t scaremongering to say so. The Operation Crevice bombers had a list of synagogues and Jewish organisations, when arrested. Bombs in Buenos AiresGhriba and Istanbul say that Lerman’s complacency is misplaced. 

Certainly, there are countries in which antisemitism is very much part of the religious and political culture. The leaders of very many Muslim-majority countries have openly expressed antisemitic views. Middle Eastern television routinely shows defamathons, including incitement to religious genocide by clerics, and shows like “The Diaspora“. 

However, in secular, tolerant Europe – with the possible exception of Spain– the problem isn’t widespread popular antisemitism. Rather, what we have seen is an increasing tolerance of certain sorts of antisemitism. A section of progressive thought that I think of as the  ’London Review of Books Left” has worked very hard to push two theses. First, that there is a huge and incredibly powerful Jewish lobby. Secondly, that the apparent genocidal antisemitism of Islamist groups isn’t really something to be concerned about, or is exagerated, or is best understood as ‘resistance’, or is otherwise to be played down.

The downplaying of Islamist antisemitism, the provision of alibis for genocidal racists, the painting of any anti-racist that takes antisemitism seriously as part of a sinister Zionist plot. 

It is that casual attitude towards antisemitism that depresses me most of all.