Salma Yaqoob reflects the grip of antisemitism over the Labour Party

Share this:

There have been calls from many in the Jewish community, The Board of Deputies of British Jews (BOD) and others for the suspension of the Labour Mayoral candidate for Birmingham, Salma Yaqoob. The response is covered in a Jewish Chronicle article here and you can see the response from the Board of Deputies, President Marie van der Zyl below.

Ms van der Zyl called Yaqoob’s claim that Israelis are European colonisers

“A calculated insult to the thousands who fled to Israel having survived the Holocaust and the hundreds of thousands more who arrived in Israel having been persecuted by Arab states.”

She added “no-one who refers to Jews as ‘pigs’ could possibly be considered for high office by any reputable party. Labour must withdraw her from the shortlist for West Midlands Mayor and expel her immediately.”

This was in response to a video that surfaced recently in which it has been claimed Yaqoob peddled conspiracy theories against the State of Israel and has been accused of blatant antisemitism. Yaqoob has also tweeted an article in 2013 describing in lurid antisemitic language about 10 Rothschilds bankers being arrested in Iceland. For many years’ conspiracies around the Rothschilds have been a common antisemitic trope, based on the idea of rich Jews buying political power and rigging international banking in the interests of Jews against everyone else. This has no basis in fact, but that Yaqoob promoted this on her own Twitter account raises serious questions over whether she should be anywhere near elected politics.

The issue of Yaqoob’s record on antisemitism came to the fore, when she spoke at the May 2019 Al Quds Day. This is a rally created by the Iranian regime to celebrate the Iranian revolution and run by the notoriously antisemitic Islamic Human Rights Commission in the UK. In the past this annual rally has resembled an antisemitic hate fest, where Hezbollah Flags until they were recently banned were held aloft and antisemitic comments made. Muslims Against Semitism Co-Ordinator Stephen Hoffman revealed the dubious history of Al Quds Day and its organiser here.

At the rally she questioned the legitimacy of Israel hosting the Eurovision Song Contest saying:

“For years [they] have pretended to be Europeans. The only link is they’re European colonisers.”

This is an example of antisemitism, based on presenting Jews as privileged whites who are part of the elites and use allegations of antisemitism as a tactic to shut debate down. This ignores that many Jews across the world including the UK are Mizrahi Jews, which means they come from the Middle East. There are also many Jews from the Maghreb and many black Jews. The idea that Jews are privileged white Europeans is based on a lie to promote a negative image of Jews.

Yaqoob went on to add another layer to the antisemitic tirade by referring to Israel as a pig. The pig which is not kosher has been used for years as antisemitic imagery.

Labour Against Anti-Semitism (LAAS) in response to Yaqoob stated

“It is beyond belief that she has been shortlisted as a potential candidate for the Mayor of West Midlands, a region with a proud history of tolerance and multiculturalism.”

Yaqoob is no stranger to controversy. She is already a disgraced political figure for her campaign in 2017 as the Respect Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for the 2017 General Election. In this election she was pitted against the current Labour MP for Bradford West, Naz Shah.

Such was the vile nature of how Yaqoob campaigned, Shah was left feeling suicidal. and the Chief Opinion Writer for the Observer, Sonia Sodha wrote about Yaqoob’s toxic campaign in this piece.

Shah herself has spoken movingly about how she was made to feel in this Twitter thread.

A tactic Yaqoob used against Shah was to introduce sectarian politics by attempting to divide the vote along religious grounds when she made reference to Shah not wearing the hijab.

Consequently, its unsurprising surprise that Labour MP Ruth Smeeth in relation to Yaqoob joining the Party said:

“I personally think Salma Yaqoob has no place in our movement, not least because of her behaviour towards Naz Shah in 2017.”

Whilst momentum is building to expel Yaqoob from the Labour Party, it is worrying that she was even allowed to join, let alone be selected to be the next Labour Mayor for the West Midlands. Her record was a matter of public knowledge, which those in Labour in charge of choosing who should be on the short list should have been aware of.

It is important to note that Yaqoob isn’t necessarily the problem per se, but rather a symptom of the Labour Party’ lack of leadership on rising antisemitism in the party since Jeremy Corbyn became Labour Party leader in 2015. Indeed, it has become such a problem that the Equalities and Human Rights Commission is currently sifting through numerous submissions on examples of antisemitism in the Labour Party, as part of its inquiry in to antisemitism in the Labour Party.

Since Jeremy Corbyn became Labour Party leader, antisemitism has increased in the UK. Although its not solely due to the rising antisemitism in the Labour Party given the rise in far-right antisemitism, it has been a significant factor.

The Community Security Trust (CST) reported a 10% increase in antisemitic incidents in the first half of this year, totaling 892. That is the highest figure the CST has ever recorded for antisemitic incidents for the first half of the year and a 10% rise on the 810 antisemitic incidents from January to June 2018.

The highest monthly totals in the first half of 2019 were February and March, with 182 and 169 antisemitic incidents respectively. These are the joint-fourth and sixth highest monthly totals ever recorded by CST. They occurred when issues relating to Jews and antisemitism were prominent in news and politics due to the continuing controversy over antisemitism in the Labour Party.

February saw several MPs leave the Labour Party, some of whom cited antisemitism as a prominent reason for their decision.  

There was also a 46% rise in online hate against Jews compared to the first six months of 2018. High levels of online antisemitism happened during periods in which antisemitism was high on the political agenda within the Labour Party. You can see the CST report in full here.

Where Labour was once the natural home for Jews for many, it has now left many feeling homeless. In September 2018 data from polling carried out by Survation for the Jewish Chronicle showed that 85.6% of British Jews believe that there are high or very high levels of antisemitism at all levels in the Labour Party. This has risen from a similar poll for the Jewish Chronicle by Survation in 2017, where the number was 69%.

This trend of Jews feeling that antisemitism is an ongoing serious problem in the Labour Party is supported by the October 2019 poll by Survation for the Jewish Chronicle. The polling results revealed 78% of British Jews surveyed would prefer a no deal Brexit to a Jeremy Corbyn Government.

Commenting on the poll Wes Streeting, the Labour MP for Ilford North stated:

“I’m afraid this poll reflects what I hear on the doorstep in my own community, but seeing it so starkly presented is devastating – not least for significant numbers of Jews who clearly want to vote Labour but can’t because of Jeremy Corbyn

Given our very public failure to tackle antisemitism within our ranks who can blame them?”

For decades Jews were driven from their homes, massacred, portrayed as puppeteers controlling the banks, the media and global politics. Alongside these forms of antisemitism, we also see Jews being questioned if they’re Europeans, should be allowed to take part in singing competitions and referred to as pigs. We learn nothing from history if we don’t challenge this and beat it.

I firmly believe if you replace Jews with any other race there would be more outcry at what is happening in the Labour Party, but it seems too many believe that antisemitism against Jews is not as important as hate against other minorities.

If the Labour Party are serious about tackling antisemitism, it must look more closely at its leadership, which appears to be a magnet for antisemites. If, as some do, claim the leadership isn’t attracting antisemites, then it is utterly failing at tackling them. Due to this it is losing many Jewish party members and Jewish allies who abhor the grip antisemitism has over the Labour Party.

Either way, this situation is untenable and the Jewish community should not be made to feel like the Labour Party and the UK is no longer their home. Sadly, that sorry state of affairs won’t change whilst people like Salma Yaqoob are not only allowed to be members of the party, but election candidates.

Author

Wasiq is an educational and political analyst. His areas of expertise include government policy, countering hateful extremism and social cohesion.

To find out more, please visit www.wasiq.co.uk 

Share this:

What antisemitism feels like

Share this:

What antisemitism feels like

 “Antisemitism is 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.”

IHRA Working definition of antisemitism

Since Jews lived on this earth they’ve been hated, mocked, laughed at, disliked and seen as nefarious controllers of the world just because they were Jewish. Their views, skin colour, origin, gender, economic level, gender, sexuality etc does not matter to these people, all antisemites’ see is a Jew to blame all the world’s problems, to hate, to dump all the fears of the other on.

This is why antisemitism is such as wide-ranging ideology, coming from across the political spectrum and hiding in many guises and continually metamorphosing like the three headed monster, who every time you think you have killed comes back bigger and stronger in a different guise. Jews have been blamed for capitalism and communism, greed and poverty. If something troubles you, antisemitism tells you the Jew is the eternal scapegoat.

The heart-breaking thing for me and so many Jews and non-Jewish allies fighting antisemitism is that the situation seems to be getting worse and worse. I’ve been monitoring, speaking out and attempting to root out antisemitism in the UK since 2012 and I wish I could say the situation has improved by then, but it has significantly worsened.

A report in July 2014 by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research ‘The Exceptional Case? Perceptions and experiences of antisemitism amongst Jews in the United Kingdom’ found that from 2009-2014 70% of UK Jews said antisemitism had grown. Then there were the problems those Jews faced who were observant. The report discovered that 60% of Jews who were traditionally observant sometimes avoided public display of Jewishness such as wearing a kippar.

In 2018 the Community Security Trust – which is monitors antisemitic crime incidents across the UK recorded a record 1,652 antisemitic incidents, a 16% rise on the 1,420 incidents recorded in 2017.

These are all statistics but behind them are personal stories like mine.

I was born in 1990. When I was around 5 to 6 being Jewish was great. I ate cool food at Jewish festival. I also had lots of non-Jewish friends who found it cool I was Jewish.

By the age of 7, being Jewish became a burden, as I was bullied simply for being Jewish. Its this bullying which to this day has robbed me of a lot of self-belief and I believe is a key reason why I am so susceptible to depression. The bullying continued till secondary schools and I did react in ways that did not help. I didn’t want to be Jewish, all it caused me was problems.

There were still some fantastic times, when I felt blessed being Jewish. I still remember the wide grin encompassing my whole face on my Bahmitzvah aged 13 (A ceremony when a Jewish man come of age). Reading from the Torah, I felt the presence of God and the loving embrace of my family and friends who had come to experience the joy of my Bahmitsvah.

Age 14 to 16 was tough. Alongside, all the teenage hormones which can make life nightmarish, I spent lots of time desperately trying to fit in with ‘the cool kids’ by hiding my Jewishness and if pressed making a joke of it. I went along with the antisemitic taunts masquerading as banter, which were like a dagger to my heart, but which I greeted outwardly with a nervous smile and a hollow laugh. Most of the jokes were around Jews being money grabbers, selfish and greedy. There was the ubiquitous dropping of coins and jokes about Jews getting sweaty in banks with all the money around. Sometimes it got sinister, the idea that Jews were in charge of the world – and given that why was I not rich. I tried to convince myself it was all banter.

At 16 I moved to a new school and resolved to never hide my Jewishness again. Its an important part of my identity and I will always be proud of being Jewish. Throughout university even when I saw antisemitism at Leeds University where I studied, I never again hid my identity.

At the age of 22 when I entered the world of work, I saw how antisemites would pretend they were anti-Zionist, but in their anti-Zionism frequently expressed antisemitic tropes. Terms like ZioShill, ZioNazi and Rothschild Zionist were the latest word accessory for antisemites.

The last two years have been a living hell for me when it comes to antisemitism. Every week I monitor pro-Corbyn Facebook Groups and Far-Right Facebook groups. The sewer of antisemitism which I monitor and record, is like an open sewer in these groups. Jews are all called disloyal, Zios, smear merchants, liars, part of a global Rothschild or Soros, whingers, string pullers, warmongers and much more. Indeed, what I’ve recorded goes to 100s of pages. It makes me feel as a British Jew that I am under attack and unwelcome in the country and I am not alone as one of over 300,000 Jews living in Great Britain feeling like this.

I hope I have given you a small insight in to the human impacts of antisemitism and why as fellow humans, we need the Muslim community to be #ActiveAllies in combatting antisemitism, as you should expect of the Jewish community when it comes to Islamophobia.

About Stephen Hoffman

Stephen is a young British Jew with a passion for writing and speaking out against intolerance.

From a young age, Stephen has been interested in the world and people around him. It is this which leads him to want to work to bring people together to challenge prejudice.

As a student at Leeds University, Stephen was active in the Jewish society and since graduation, he has held a number of roles including working in UK Parliament for an MP and for a variety of campaigning groups, which has involved him monitoring and campaigning against antisemitism and other forms of hate.

Share this:

The Colour of Cows in Scotland: Why Fighting Antisemitism Is A Fight Against Islamophobia

Share this:

When asked the reasons of our fervour against antisemitism, we might be tempted to scoff at the questions and the suspicions that an obviously Muslim organisation fighting so vociferously against antisemitism might engender, yet we resist the temptation to dismiss such concerns out of hand. Not only because we understand there are so many other issues our brothers and sisters from all faiths might want us to consider, like islamophobia, Israel and Palestine, on one side of the spectrum, and gender equality, and homophobia on the other, but because we firmly believe in the power for change our approach will bring to all issues. Let me elaborate.

We are keenly aware of all the problems our society and communities face, and in an ideal world, every humanitarian organisation should deal with all issues at all times, and perhaps our exclusive focus on such a divisive topic might be a justifiable reason to view our endeavour with surprise or even mistrust.

It is, however, not just a case of arbitrarily picking a controversial issue for the sake of it, but rather of believing that creating a momentum within the Muslim community towards the fight against antisemitism, is a way towards a solution to all the most pernicious and problematic issues all our communities face, and specifically a catalyst in the fight against islamophobia.

This is more logical than the counterintuitive nature of the statement might suggest: bias, the cause of prejudice, is rooted in natural, and seemingly benign assumptions we all quite innocently and automatically make in our attempt to make sense of the world. The cognitive processes we employ in our day-to-day decisions, favour an all-encompassing approach to reality and human interaction, without which the level of information needed to deal with reality in a totally unbiased way would be too great.

Consider the famous joke in Mark Haddon’s award-winning book: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time:

“There are three men on a train. One of them is an economist and one of them is a logician and one of them is a mathematician. 

And they have just crossed the border into Scotland (I don’t know why they are going to Scotland) and they see a brown cow standing in a field from the window of the train (and the cow is standing parallel to the train). 

And the economist says, ‘Look, the cows in Scotland are brown.’ And the logician says, ‘No. There are cows in Scotland of which at least one is brown.’ And the mathematician says, ‘No. There is at least one cow in Scotland, of which one side appears to be brown.'”

In Haddon’s book the joke is told by the protagonist to extol the superiority of maths over all the sciences, but it is a good example of how our brain works, and how complex reality requires a lot of data processing.

The case of the cow in the field in Scotland is a simple example of a rather simple reality, the problem is that we tend to make observation about very complex realities in the very same simplistic way. This is not because we are foolish or careless, but because, as already seen above, we cannot be wasting time every time we glance outside the window of a moving train to consider all possibilities.

The consequences of these cognitive shortcuts are insignificant when it is a cow in a field quickly disappearing from view, but become problematic when we apply this quick decision making to the complex realities of human behaviour and belief. As The Guardian’s science correspondent Hannah Devlin puts it in her article Unconscious bias: what is it and can it be eliminated?

“Scientists believe that stereotypes in general serve a purpose because clustering people into groups with expected traits help us navigate the world without being overwhelmed by information. The downside is that the potential for prejudice is hard-wired into human cognition.”

And this is why the colour of the cow is ultimately so important: by rejecting our normal cognitive processes when dealing with complex realities, we are less prone to fall prey to prejudice, and it is also why by challenging our most difficult issues, like antisemitism in Muslim communities, we are better placed to engage with an open mind with other issues that affect us all.

Furthermore, by visibly engaging with worthy campaigns, whose influence will benefit people we do not normally affiliate with, we win more support for causes which more directly affect us.

Put simply, when we hear a Priest lending support to LGBT+ tolerance, an imam eloquently exposing antisemitism, or a rabbi vociferously opposing islamophobia, we are not only more likely to sit up and listen, but we might also give a better chance to ideas and concepts we might have not been entirely open to up to then.

Lou Fioravanti is a Senior Researcher with Muslims Against Antisemitism.

Share this: