Anti-Semitism: The Trap Muslims Fall Into When Discussing Israel And Palestine

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Background

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.

Concluding Thoughts

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.

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Stronger Together. The world proves terrorist Brenton Tarrant wrong.

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50 killed including as young as three; a globe in mourning. A white supremacist with a camera strapped to himself hoping to gain fame as a hero and possible martyr for his successful mission in ensuring racial dominance has slaughtered 50 including a boy as young as three. In his sickening, lethal manifesto he purports immigration to be destroying communities and he claims to be acting for many that share in his beliefs, but New Zealand and the world are inspirationally proving otherwise.

Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s prime minister has responded to the atrocity with:

Many of those who will have been directly affected by this shooting may be migrants to New Zealand, they may even be refugees here. They have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home.

They are us. The person who has perpetuated this violence against us is not. They have no place in New Zealand. There is no place in New Zealand for such acts of extreme and unprecedented violence, which it is clear this act was.’

Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg has made this statement:

‘The oneness of God and the fellowship of our common humanity unite us. We must stand as surety for each other in times of threat and danger. We must act collectively against all forms of hatred and bigotry. We must foster friendship and understanding between us and all people. We must work together for the safety and good of all life everywhere.’

At MAAS we are utterly heartbroken as we watch footage of parents who have lost children as young as three and watch the community grief stricken laying flowers at the mosques but whilst devastated we are also inspired by the international outpouring of love for the Muslim community of Christchurch. We are not white, black, Christian, Jewish, Muslim alone we are human and we stand together in humanity. New Zealand comes together and shows us exactly what it means to stand together in solidarity for one another.

Photo of leader

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It’s no laughing matter – time to challenge conspiracy

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MAAS will be building a library of useful aids to challenge anti-Semitism. We will take manifestations of anti-Semitism and provide useful means to help you challenge them. First in this series we are looking at collective blame and conspiracy theories surrounding 9/11. 9/11 has seen hateful narratives created against both Muslims and Jews and in seeing how both of theses narratives have been created, their basis and why they are both false and dangerous we hope that you will have useful information to challenge these perceptions yourself.

Twin towers: The Jews did it! The Muslims did it!

 

Conspiracy theories might seem crazy, sometimes amusing but definitely not worth our time or attention. Wrong. Conspiratorial blaming around the twin towers provides a strong example as to why we must pay heed to conspiracy theories and dedicate time to challenging them.

On September 11th 2001 the Islamist extremist group, al-Qaeda, used four passenger airliners as weapons to attack the United States killing 2,996 people and injuring 6,000 others, causing Wall Street to close, resulting in a global economic downturn and closing civilian airspace in the US and Canada for two days. Despite the catastrophic effects this terror attack had on civilians and the economy, some adopt a belief that all Muslims were tacitly involved, or that it was not an Islamist extremist terror attack at all but an attack by the Jews.

Let us take first the notion that all Muslims are to blame for 9/11:

The thinking is this: 9/11 was perpetrated by Muslims therefore all Muslims are a threat. This kind of thinking saw hate crime against Muslims rise from 28 reported incidents to 481 in 2001 following 9/11.[1] It is the type of thinking that results in consistent spikes in anti-Muslim hate following Islamist inspired attacks. It relies on the belief that all Muslims are ideologically aligned and violently inclined. It is in fact a very easy fallacy to contest; firstly Muslims believe in a number of different interpretations of Islam belonging to a number of branches and can never ideologically be treated as a whole.

A useful parallel to draw here is with the Westboro Baptist Church: this widely reviled Christian sect spreads hate speech and is considered a hate group by nearly everyone, yet no-one would consider this group to be representative of Christian belief and practice as a whole.

Secondly even of those who adopt an extreme literalist interpretation of Islam are unlikely to believe in violent Jihad as a means to achieve religious/ political goals. For example, Saudi Arabians whose dominant faith is Salafi/ Wahabism, which insists on a literalist interpretation of the Qu’uran, and has been accused of laying fertile ground for terrorism, mainly emphasize dawa and reform as a way for spreading their ideology rather than violence.[2]

A useful parallel here is violent attacks perpetrated by the far right: even the most right leaning people in this country abhor far right violence like the killing of MP Jo Cox, yet they continue to disagree with her politics and may be accused of laying fertile ground for future violence. To conclude here there are a plethora of beliefs within Islam and even the distinct minority who adopt a literalist view are very unlikely to agree with violent measures. Therefore, despite the attackers of 9/11 being Muslim it does not follow that all Muslims should be considered a threat.

Now let us turn to the conspiracy theory that Jews were behind 9/11:

Hezbollah’s television station Al-Manar ‘reported’ that 4,000 Israelis employed at the World Trade Centre did not show up for work that day because they were told in advance of the attacks. This then became central to the conspiracy that it was Israel and the Jews, not Al-Qaeda, that perpetrated 9/11. [3] In fact it is estimated that 400 Jews died in the attack.[4]

Unfortunately, a conspiracy theory like this is not surprising: there is a concerning popular point of view that Jews control world affairs. A recent CNN survey showed that 28% of Europeans believe that Jews have too much power over business and finance.[5]

Again, we see a diverse and complex group treated as a whole. This is complicated further by conflating being Jewish with actions of the state of Israel. Jews hold a variety of different political and ideological views, and not all Jews believe in the Zionist ideology (the belief in a right to a Jewish homeland) and then many Zionists do not agree with Israeli state action.  So to treat all Jews as a whole and to consider all Jews to be supporters of and actively involved in Israeli state action is again a fallacy.

Both theories have elements of collective blame. Collective blame is the punishing of the whole for the actions of a few.  In these examples Muslims are collectively blamed for terrorist attacks and Jews are collectively blamed for disasters according to an association with Jews and power, wealth and global control.

The problem with collective blame, according to neuroscientist Emile Bruneau co-author of Interventions highlighting hypocrisy reduce collective blame of Muslims for individual acts of violence and assuage anti-Muslim hostility[6] is that “If you collectively blame an entire group for the actions of individuals, it makes it totally reasonable to exact your revenge from any person from that group… You get a cycle going on where each cycle is motivated to commit violence against totally innocent members of the other group.”[7]  The obvious example here is the Holocaust. The Jews were blamed for the economic problems Germany faced and were painted as a threat to national security and prosperity. As the nationalist propaganda began to take root, the majority of German citizens accepted, encouraged and even participated in the mistreatment of Jews under Nazi rule. To give an even more direct example, Kristallnacht, when 267 synagogues were destroyed and an estimated 90 Jews murdered by the SA and civilians, was seemingly in response to the assassination of the Nazi German diplomat by a German- born Polish Jew, but can be seen as a direct result of shifting blame collectively, where one Jewish person’s actions were used to instigate aggression of the whole community.

As this article has shown, conspiracy theories and collective blame should not be treated as a joke. In the fight against the rise in both Anti-Muslim hate and anti-Semitism conspiratorial thinking, sweeping generalisation and collective blame must be consistently challenged. An easy way to do this is to get accustomed to the common conspiracy theories, do some research on the facts and keep them ready for potential discussions that head in this dark direction. Pointing out hypocrisy and ‘fake news’ are the best way to challenge the theories. As well as pointing out how dangerous conspiracy theories and connected collective blame can be.

It may also be useful to consider why conspiracy theories are formed at all. Conspiracy theories are often created to either shift blame from a certain group or pin blame on another group. It is no surprise then that Jewish conspiracies surrounding 9/11 are widely held across the Middle East. Another reason may be to make sense of reality when it goes against set beliefs, for example: those who do not believe that we had the technology to go the moon, may adopt conspiracy theories advocating that the moon landing was faked. They can also empower the conspiracy theorists with a sense of superiority as they might feel they know something others don’t, and that they have unmasked something that those in power do not want them to know.

As David Baddiel put: ‘Conspiracy theories are a way for idiots to feel like intellectuals.’

[1] http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/conspiracy_files/6341851.stm

[2] https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CHRG-110shrg40579/html/CHRG-110shrg40579.htm

[3] https://web.archive.org/web/20110604144105/http://www.adl.org/ADL_Opinions/Anti_Semitism_Arab/911_Conspiracies.htm

[4] https://web.archive.org/web/20021010020906/http://www.thejewishweek.com/bottom/specialcontent.php3?artid=362

[5] http://edition.cnn.com/interactive/2018/11/europe/antisemitism-poll-2018-intl/

[6] http://pcnlab.asc.upenn.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/CB_R1_accepted_10-10-17.pdf

[7] https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2017/11/30/16645024/collective-blame-psychology-muslim

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Muslims Against Anti-Semitism is proud to have run this campaign in a national newspaper highlighting the need to tackle anti-Semitism.

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We are committed to ensuring a national debate on challenging hate and in particular, against the oldest hatred in the world. This advert shows our commitment to challenging the hatred of anti-Semitism where we find it, and particularly within small entrenched sections of Muslim communities.

“We Muslims have one word for Jews – Shalom!”

These are some of the wonderful comments we received on the campaign:

I can only stand up and salute you . This is the way forward. Probably the single most important page I have ever seen in a lifetime of reading The Times

As a Jew so thrilled to have heard about your adverts. A perfect example of the true beauty of Muslim faith. Well done

This gives me so much hope and it does not go unappreciated one bit. Thank you x

What a beautiful and welcome message from the Muslim to the Jewish community! Many thanks to Muslims Against Anti-Semitism for this beautiful olive branch. Please share this as it is so refreshing to see good news on social media… we all need it. ps… I feel the same!

In times when the reasons to be hopeful about the future of humankind seem to be waning, messages like this are sorely needed.

This ad in The Times has made my day. Thank you Muslims Against Anti-Semitism

To people in MY country (the U.S.) who say that “good” Muslims never speak up for Jews. Here’s proof you are wrong.

Ramadan Mubarak and thank you for your courage and friendship. I will strive to be as good an ally to Muslims facing hate in my country. Blessings.

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