Is the government prioritising other forms of extremism over antisemitism?

The antisemitic terrorist attack that took place in the US highlight a major security concern – that the British government appear to be prioritising other forms of extremism over antisemitism.

A British man of Pakistani heritage – 44-year-old Malik Faisal Akram – took four Jews hostage at Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in the Texan city of Colleyville. His demand was for the alleged terrorist Afia Siddiqui to be released from a US prison so that they could both die together in jihad (holy war).

Akram could have chosen anyone as a hostage, but he chose Jews. He could have chosen any building to carry out his terrorist attack, but he chose a synagogue. Why did he choose Jews and their place of worship? Because he was an antisemite. This is confirmed by an exclusive recording obtained by the Jewish Chronicle – where Akram is found ranting “f***ing Jews” whilst on the phone to his brother during the siege.

But why was Akram allowed to travel to the US despite being on the radar of MI5 and signposted to Prevent? Because the British government are either unable to adequately tackle extremist antisemitism, or they are not willing to. Either way, a serious failure has occurred and a full investigation will be needed.

But when it comes to extremism and terrorism, the government do have a track record of getting it right. Following ISIS’s declaration of an Islamic State in Iraq and Syria – just under 1000 British citizens made their hijrah (migration) to the region in order to support the newly established state. Amongst those who travelled there was the so-called jihadi bride Shamima Begum.

Begum was found by Times journalist Anthony Loyd in the Al-Hawl camp in Syria. During her time in Syria, it is alleged that she was part of the Hisba also known as the ‘morality police’. As part of their duties, the Hisba would mete out punishments against anyone flouting ISIS laws in regards to how to dress and behave. But perhaps that charge against Begum is insignificant in comparison to her allegedly stitching suicide vests on jihadist militants. Begum told Loyd that seeing severed heads in bins did not phase her. It was quite clear at this point, Shamima Begum presented a real and dangerous threat to the UK.

The then Home Secretary Sajid Javid agreed and revoked her citizenship. He did it on the grounds that it was conducive to the public good. He was correct in his analysis and subsequent decision, because he based it on the information that was available to him at the time.

Yet that did not stop the matter being taken to the court of appeal where the case was heard. The government won again and Begum remains in the Al-Hawl camp to this day. Efforts to bring her back remain on the cards for her legal team and the Government are now forced to engage in a lengthy legal battle to keep her out.

The government were able to take such a step because it was appropriate and proportionate. But it doesn’t appear to have taken a similar course of action when it comes to extremist antisemitism. During the month of hate, between May and June 2021, a number of pro-Palestine protests took place up and down the country. Rampant antisemitism was on full display, and in some cases, right in front of law enforcement officers.

For example, when an individual who was part of a splinter group of protestors shouted: “We’ll find some Jews there. We want the Zionists. We want their blood” – the police didn’t arrest him, but instead escorted the group away from the main demonstration. When blatant displays of antisemitism are not dealt with robustly and in a timely manner, one is forced to question the capabilities of law enforcement or the intention to tackle it.

That extremist antisemitism appears to have been an afterthought in comparison to other forms of extremism is a shameful indictment on the authorities and the British government. The Jewish community deserve to be treated as any other victims of extremism. That they appear not be, suggest that the government and law enforcement, whilst trying to tackle the issue, seem to be losing the fight against it.

Wasiq is an academic specialising in extremism and terrorism. Follow him on Twitter: @WasiqUK