I was asked to write a piece on the sensitive topic of Israel and Palestine and how some Muslims seem to find themselves reciting anti-semitic tropes when discussing the issue. At first, I was reluctant to agree to it, given that such a sensitive topic would be received both positively and negatively from most people on either side of the divide. However, I felt that if this issue wasn’t tackled, then it was just another step towards making a topic that was touchable, untouchable. This isn’t an issue of free speech, but rather an issue of free thought in which we can say what we want about Israel and Palestine, without falling into anti-semitic tropes.
There is no denying that there is significant support for both Israel and Palestine to exist, equally, the contrary appears to be true also. The conflict between the two regions is not an argument I wish to rehearse here but rather how that argument can tend to lead to anti-Semitism both consciously and unconsciously by some Muslims. It is therefore important at this stage to define what anti-Semitism is, in order to ensure that what is discussed, is done so within a consistent framework.
According to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, anti-Semitism is defined as:
“… a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
Rise of Anti-Semitism Worldwide
A report released by the UN in September 2019 authored by Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Ahmed Shaheed, states “the frequency of antisemitic incidents appears to be increasing in magnitude in several countries”. This is very concerning, for both Jewish communities and others that stand with them in solidarity against all forms of hatred and bigotry. The Kantor Center, in their 2018 general analysis report that hostility, discrimination and violence motivated by anti-Semitism have increased worldwide. Furthermore, in the same general analysis, Kantor Center also found a 13 per cent rise in physical manifestations of anti-Semitism. Therefore it is not surprising that in a survey conducted by EU Fundamental Rights Society found that 84 per cent of participants reported that anti-Semitism was a serious problem in their country, whilst 34 per cent avoided Jewish events due to fear of attacks. In addition to this, 38 per cent of participants felt like emigrating because they feared for their safety. It is therefore reasonable to suggest, anti-Semitism has not only always existed, but is rising at a rapid rate. This is displeasing because, whilst we appear to generally have become more tolerant as a society over time, Jewish communities do not appear to be reaping the benefits that come along with that tolerance. It is thus prudent to understand what Muslims can do to not unconsciously support this by listening to what those affected by it say.
All Jews Are The Same
In my call for suggestions to what Muslims can do to not fall into the trap of anti-Semitism, I was inundated with ideas from many people in Jewish communities. The central theme to emerge was to not equate Jews, Judaism and Israel as one entity. For example, the actions of the Israeli government are not the responsibility of Jewish communities worldwide and that not all Jewish communities are the same. I found this fascinating, not so much so because I didn’t believe it (because I do), but rather that anyone would disbelieve it. This is really where the point of contention emerges for me, that if some Muslims believe all Jews are the same, and in their description of Jews they believe some to be evil, then they may believe this is the case for all Jews.
This line of thinking, whereby communities are considered homogenous is dangerous. Not only does it attempt to create a block of people, but it also suggests that any negative action that may happen within that “block”, is, therefore, representative of the entire community as a whole. Many in Muslim communities have experienced this very same issue since the September 11th terrorist attacks. So I find it bizarre that any Muslim would knowingly engage in anti-Semitic tropes? However, my starting point with any individual or community is to assume they are good and they know what is just, and would not engage in anything to the contrary unless it was done so unconsciously. I do not believe all Muslims that do engage in anti-Semitic tropes do so because they know it’s anti-Semitic, I believe it is rather the case that they do so because they do not know what anti-Semitism actually is. But how do you remedy against such a malady?
What Can Muslims Really Do?
Whatever suggestions I make henceforth, are fruitless unless those Muslims that have engaged in anti-Semitism are genuinely willing to change. The desire to be good must override one’s own pride and arrogance and, I am sure that those in Jewish communities are very willing to forgive if the perpetrator is sincere in changing their ways.
Elizabeth Arif-Fear, Muslim writer and activist offers her 13 ways to move towards peace with the Israel-Palestine conflict. This is a helpful starting point for both Muslims and anyone else that has previously engaged in anti-Semitism. For example, point 3 in which Elizabeth Arif-Fear says we must “Listen to those most affected” is a very important one for Muslims. If the logic is, that Zionism is a racist endeavour, then surely Muslims should be thinking about the Jewish communities et al that are living under said endeavour? If Jews are not part of a Muslim’s concern, then it is the Muslim that has the issue, not the Jewish communities.
An example of this is highlighted when Elizabeth Arif-Fear posted a picture, on Twitter in support of Jewish communities regarding the Holocaust. To her surprise, and maybe not to others, Asghar Bukhari a founding member of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee replied with:
“Always one [SIC] muslim puts Jewish victimhood above Blacks, first nation people, Palestinians and everyone else. Shameful”.
If this isn’t an example of not only whataboutery but also minimisation from a Muslim about Jews that suffered under Hitler’s rule, then I don’t know what is? But is this is an isolated action from Asghar Bukhar? It appears not. There is one accusation that does deserve your attention, and that is of Mossad breaking in and entering his home in 2015.
Bukhari is reported to believe that Mossad broke into his home and stole one of his shoes. It is his belief that stealing both shoes served little purpose and that stealing one was necessary in order to let him know that they had been. Since posting it on Twitter, it received considerable attention and the hashtag #MossadStoleMyShoe began. Of course, he was ridiculed for such a risible accusation, but when anti-Semitism is taken to ridiculous extremes, then it is no wonder many people on opposing sides are brought together to laugh at him. Asghar Bukhari has since taken down that post and it is likely he will be defined by it for the remainder of his career.
Whilst this is an example of a ridiculous anti-Semitic event, there are others that are not so. But there is another issue which I would like to turn your attention to, and that is of the Jewish allies.
The Anti-Semitic Jewish Allies
In a Muslim’s quest to be less anti-Semitic, it is worth reminding them that whilst conflicts will always exist between adherents of religions and people from different regions, snakes will emerge to capitalise on this misery. One such individual is Katie Hopkins. There are plenty of documented instances in which Katie Hopkins appears to be anti-Muslim, whether it is the articles she writes, the interviews she gives or what she tweets. It is unlikely that anyone would disagree that in her pursuit for fame, bashing Muslims is her modus operandi.
Sir Mick Davis, the former Conservative Party CEO was aware of this and how it would manifest in the real world. In an article for the Jewish Chronicle, Sir Mick Davis states:
“We cannot defeat antisemitism by teaming up with people who mindlessly hate Muslims. Our fight against bigotry cannot be fought alongside bigots.”
This point hits the nail on the head because, whilst some Muslims may feel like people such as Katie Hopkins are only supporting Jewish communities as a means to hate Muslims, it is not the case that Jewish communities are willingly opening their doors to her. Sir Mick Davis advances his position further:
“These people are not our friends. Once they’re done with Muslims they will turn their attention to us. For them, difference is intolerable and something to be feared and vilified. Seeking common cause is a cynical ploy and sometimes the misguided and foolish are taken in.”
If some of those Muslims that are actively engaged in anti-Semitism realise that Jewish communities face a common bigoted enemy in Katie Hopkins, then this could potentially bridge the divide they are facing. It is both the responsibility of Muslim and Jewish communities to find common ground against those that wish to use either one of them in their campaign of hate and bigotry. But as Sir Mick Davis highlights, the charge of anti-Semitism appears to be rooted in three sections of society; the Far Right, the Far Left and the Islamists.
Anti-Semitism – The One Ring Of Racism To Rule Them All
The phrase, anti-Semitism is the one ring of racism to rule them all was first coined by Maajid Nawaz, the founding director of the Quilliam. A strong proponent against anti-Semitism, Maajid Nawaz regularly takes on anti-Semites from the Far Left, Far Right as well as Muslims on his weekly LBC show.
In November of last year, Maajid Nawaz explained succinctly and with conviction on his LBC show how anti-Semitism was uniting fascists. But it isn’t just Islamists that can be anti-Semitic, so to can ordinary Muslims and they can end up doing so without even realising. For example, with the current conflict appearing to escalate in Iran since the killing of General Qassem Soleimani, a caller named Shabir decided to instead talk about Israel. Maajid Nawaz responds with probably the best answer anyone could give, and which underlies the thesis of this article when he tells Shabir:
“It’s such a cliche to drag Israel into this debate. Listen to yourself. And you wonder why people think you’re anti-Semitic. Why are you dragging Israel into a conversation that has nothing to do with it?”
It is like, Israel is a magnet that The Far Left, The Far Right and Islamists are attracted to. No matter what happens, they can always rely on Israel to exist, in order to blame it for everything bad that happens in the world. But ordinary Muslims can also get caught by this trap and it is therefore important for them to recognise when they are appearing to be in agreement with those that would ordinarily do harm to them. Shabir subsequently admitted his mistake and the call ended.
Although the topic was about what Muslims could do to ensure they did not fall into the trap of anti-Semitic tropes, it seems to be a difficult endeavour if Muslims themselves are not willing to change. Most of what is covered in this piece sets out the scene of what Jewish communities are facing worldwide and our focus should be on that. But in the pursuit of reducing anti-Semitism, we must tackle those that engage in it innocently, because there are some and they too are the victims of anti-Semitic propaganda.
Muslims such as Shabir exist everywhere, bringing up Jews and Israel at every opportunity they can, but in most cases, it is likely they do not even know why they are? Given that the Labour Party which is the official party of opposition is under investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission for anti-Semitism, just goes to show that anti-Semitism has reached mainstream politics. This is exactly the cover that anti-Semites need to push through with their hate and bigotry and take unknowing Muslims with them.
The way forward for Muslims finding themselves unknowingly reciting anti-Semitic tropes is, to recognise what they are, and, to take a step back and put themselves in the shoes of Jewish communities. It is only through empathy can we work towards ridding ourselves of this malady. Much of what Jewish communities have been facing for centuries, have Muslims more recently been facing since the September 11th terrorist attacks. For nearly two decades, Muslims have been portrayed as the other, have been made to feel like they are terrorists and their religion is the driving force behind it, but the similar sentiment has existed for Jewish communities since the death of Jesus. So rather than bringing up Israel into every conservation, why not try and argue the case for Israel having the right to exist. If you find that difficult, then you have found your biggest reason for why you are consciously or unconsciously reciting anti-Semitic tropes.
Being anti-Semitic is a choice, so make the right one.