Jeremy Corbyn addressing the huge rally at Cable Street 80 in 2016.
In 2014, the Guardian reported that “Antisemitism is on rise across Europe ‘in worst times since the Nazis.'” As far back as 2012, a survey conducted by the EU’s Fundamental Rights agency of some 6,000 Jews in eight European countries – between them, home to 90% of Europe’s Jewish population – found 66% of respondents felt antisemitism in Europe was on the rise; 76% said antisemitism had increased in their country over the past five years.
In the 12 months after the survey, nearly half said they worried about being verbally insulted or attacked in public because they were Jewish. It was commented on then that a process of normalisation, whereby antisemitism is being made somehow acceptable, was happening.
In 2015, it was reported in the Guardian that antisemitic attacks in the UK were at highest level ever recorded. The Community Security Trust recorded 1,168 incidents against Britain’s Jewish population in 2014, more than double that of the previous year.
There were extremely worrying reports of violence, property damage, abuse and threats against members of Britain’s Jewish population. The Community Security Trust, a Jewish security charity which runs an incident hotline, recorded 1,168 antisemitic incidents directed against Britain’s 291,000 Jews in 2014, against 535 in 2013 and 25% up on the previous record in 2009.
Theresa May, the home secretary at the time, described the figures as “deeply concerning” and “a warning to everyone to do more to stop antisemitism in Britain”, while Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, said they were “appalling”.
In 2014, one in five of the incidents were threats or abuse on social media, fuelling claims that Twitter, among others, is not cracking down hard enough on hate-speech. In August, Luciana Berger, the shadow health minister, received a message on Twitter from a 21-year-old neo-Nazi, Garron Helm, that showed her with the Star of David on her head. It used the hashtag #Hitlerwasright and called her a “communist Jewess”. Helm was jailed for four weeks.
Berger was then bombarded with more than 2,500 hate messages tagged #filthyjewbitch. After Helm’s release, more antisemitic tweets began to emerge from his Twitter account. When Ed Miliband tweeted a link to his article about Holocaust Memorial Day, the user of the account tweeted back “Burrrn! lol”.
Berger said she was horrified by the CST figures. “I know from the online hate campaign directed at me by neo-Nazis at home and abroad, that antisemites are using every digital platform to intimidate and harass Britain’s Jews,” she said. “Digital media companies, particularly Twitter, need to sharpen up their acts and move faster to remove accounts being used to spread and incite hate. To date, they have been too lax, and moved too slowly, allowing racists a free rein.”
Cooper called on “companies like Twitter to take stronger action against hate crimes on their platforms”. She outlined Labour’s hate-crime strategy which urged Twitter to speed up its removal of racist and antisemitic tweets, improve its communication of criminal activity online to the police, and prevent offenders simply restarting abuse from fresh accounts from the same IP address.
That was in 2014. The same year I wrote an article about the dangers of nationalism and commented on the toxicity of socially divisive political and media rhetoric. I outlined the dangers of permitting far-right rhetorical flourishes to define and portray the putative “outsider” as an economic threat. This has been used to justify active political exclusion of the constitutive Other.
In 2016, I spoke at a psychology conference in Manchester about the dangers of neoliberal notions of competitive individualism, stigma, and the new era of political-economic scapegoating more generally. I spoke about how neoliberalism, as a totalising doctrine, embellishes our separability from other human beings. It profoundly seperates and alienates us.
Neoliberalism scripts social interactions that are adversarial and hierarchical in nature, rather than social and cooperative. It is the antithesis of collectivism, mutual support, universalism, cooperation, solidarity and democracy. Neoliberalism has transformed our former liberal democracy into an authoritarian state that values production, competition and profit above all else; including citizens’ lives, experiences, wellbeing and social conditions.
I have also written about the dangers of essentialising traditionally marginalised social groups, and rise of eugenic policies more recently, critiquing notions of politically constructed categories, such as an “employment resistant personality” and its easy elision with notions of “improving” the qualities of particular populations, copled with political concerns regarding the reproduction of people with “undesirable” qualities. The recent limiting of tax credit/universal credit support for children in poor families to two children, to “incentivise behavioural change”, has dangerous eugenic consequences.
Furthermore, such a eugenic approach has a profoundly damaging and reductionist focus on individuals, casting them as biologised neoliberal commodities, which obscures wider social problems, such as political-economic neglect, inequality, imbalanced power relationships, poverty, political exclusion, abuse and oppression. These attitudes are shaping social perceptions and relationships.
“120. Despite significant press and public attention on the Labour Party, and a number of revelations regarding inappropriate social media content, there exists no reliable, empirical evidence to support the notion that there is a higher prevalence of antisemitic attitudes within the Labour Party than any other political party. We are unaware whether efforts to identify antisemitic social media content within the Labour Party were applied equally to members and activists from other political parties, and we are not aware of any polls exploring antisemitic attitudes among political party members, either within or outside the Labour Party. The current impression of a heightened prevalence of antisemitism within in the Labour Party is clearly a serious problem, but we would wish to emphasise that this is also a challenge for other parties.”
The rise of antisemitism in our society prededated Momentum and Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party. Yet this past week I have experienced abuse online – on Twitter in particular – on the basis of my political beliefs. I support Labour party policies. I do not support antisemitism. I challenge it. As someone who has written a lot about prejudice, discrimination and oppression more generally, and as someone who holds strong principles of internationalism, inclusion, equality and I also value and have a deep respect of diversity, I was deeply upset at being accused of being an “apologist”, “complicit” with antisemitism, and of supporting a party where it is “rife”.
If you point out that this is untrue, the next outraged accusation is that you are “in denial”, “evil”, “disgusting” and that you “don’t care”. Many of these posts were directly aimed at linking Corbyn and Momentum with antisemitism. However, that does not address the antisemitism and the growth of prejudice, intolerance and oppression more generally in our society. It does nothing at all to ensure that everyone takes responsibility for challenging antisemitism, by passing it off as merely “Labour’s problem”.
The growth of social prejudice, which was politically directed at traditionally targeted social groups, predated Momentum and Corbyn’s leadership. However, that does not mean that the Labour party has no responsibility in addressing these issues, both within its membership, and within wider society.
Abusing people because of intolerance and discrimination based on the political beliefs they hold does not address antisemitism, nor is it right to devalue the need to by directing prejudiceand hatred at those on the Left. People have a fundamental human right to hold political beliefs without being discriminated against. The right have been trying to pathologise legitimate democratic opposition for a long time now. The language they use is an attempt to discredit Her Majesty’s opposition, and impose a one party state.
Nothing contributes more to the rancor of political discourse than the indiscriminate use of political labels as partisan and prejudiced epithets. Terms and phrases like “cult”, “snowflake” ,”leftard”, “virtue signaler”, “Communist”, “Marxist” ,”Putin’s useful idiots”, and of course recently, there is the irrational and guilt by association tag “antisemite” and “apologist” are being bandied about by pundits, politicians and those on the right (and some of the left wing neoliberals) more generally.
This oppressive language entailing the wide use of such terms of abuse, aimed at discrediting people on the grounds of their political beliefs, has become so normalised, that when you point it out, people cannot see it for what it is. The practice of labeling persons is dehumanising, it’s a way of dividing, outgrouping and turning human beings into an “it”. When labels are used as weapons to attack and discredit a person, a group, a politial movement, or ideas, they are insidiously irresponsible and repressive. They exploit base emotions and encourage a dangerous mindlessness that buries reason along with its victims.
In the face of such profoudly toxic divisions in our society, it is worth remembering this. Jewish people, trade unionists, socialists and other groups once stood together, side by side, united in the battle of Cable Street, for example. In solidarity, they fought together against the growth of fascism in the UK.
Depiction of the Battle of Cable Street.
Let’s also not permit other expressions of prejudice and oppression to be taken out of our collective history. It is important to remember the other victims of the Holocaust, too, who include disabled people, Roma people, socialists, communists, trade unionists, other political dissidents including anarchists, gay people, poor people, Polish people, Jehovah witnesses and Afro-Germans, as well as Jewish people, among other groups.
Living among us today remain Jewish survivors of the Holocaust. The Holocaust was an unparalleled atrocity, it mobilised global opinion against eugenics and antisemitism, powerfully stripping it of the terrible prejudice, discrimation and oppression status at its heart, that had been fostered in many European countries. But that does not mean it vanished. The more recent wave of antisemitism is expressed in slightly different language, but the prejudices and hatred behind the rhetoric are the same, which is plain to see.
It is not “whataboutery” – an attempt to deflect from one injustice by referring to the suffering of others – to discuss the rise and impact of social prejudice more generally, and to point to other social groups that have been politically marginalised and othered. There is no hierarchy among groups who are oppressed and persecuted. As I have said on many occasions, prejudice multitasks and grows. This was a point made only too well by Martin Niemöller, a German anti-Nazi theologian and Lutheran pastor. He is best known for a widely-paraphrased statement, of which he made different versions, one of which is “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out-because I was not a Socialist ...”. Pastor Niemöller understood the dangers and horror of bystander apathy.
Prejudice, discrimination and oppression is part of a political-social process that tends to affect more than one traditionally marginalised social group over time.
In the UK, disabled people are also experiencing an unprecedented rise in experiences of hate crimes, discrimination and oppression. A United Nations inquiry, prompted by disabled people, verified that disabled people’s human rights have been systematically and gravely violated by the government, because of their extremely punitive policies and the systematic withdrawal of lifeline social security support. We live in fear for our future. Yet currently, we stand alone in our fight for justice, dignity and freedom. Yet the only way we can fight oppression is by standing together in solidarity to face it.
The rise of antisemitism is a global phenomemon, and is directly linked to the rise of other forms of prejudice
The Jewish Socialists’ Group has expressed a serious concern at the rise of antisemitism, especially under extreme right wing governments in central and Eastern Europe, in America under Donald Trump’s Presidency and here in Britain under Theresa May’s premiership. The recent extensive survey by the highly respected Jewish Policy Research confirmed that the main repository of antisemitic views in Britain is among supporters of the Conservative Party and UKIP.
The group say: “This political context, alongside declining support for the Tories, reveals the malicious intent behind the the latest flimsy accusations of antisemitism against Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party. These accusations have come from the unrepresentative Board of Deputies and the unelected, self-proclaimed “Jewish Leadership Council”, two bodies dominated by supporters of the Tory Party.
“Between now and the local elections the Tories would love to divert the electorate on to accusations of antisemitism against the Labour Party rather than have us discussing austerity, cuts to local authority budgets, the health service, and social care. Many Jews within and beyond the Labour Party are suffering from these policies along with the rest of the population, and oppose them vehemently.”
The group goes on to say: “The Jewish Socialists’ Group includes many members of the Labour party, and we know many Jews who have joined or re-joined the Labour party enthused by the progressive leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.
“Labour is the party that brought in anti-discrimination legislation at a time when many Tory members were open supporters of and investors in apartheid South Africa. The Tories are the party that have dished out the harshest treatment to migrants and refugees, especially when Theresa May was Home Secretary. Shamefully, they are still refusing to accede to the proposal of Labour peer, Lord Dubs, who came to Britain as a Jewish refugee on the Kindertransport, to take in a small but significant number of unaccompanied child refugees from Syria.
“We have worked alongside Jeremy Corbyn in campaigns against all forms of racism and bigotry, including antisemitism, for many years, and we have faith that a Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn and Labour-led councils across the country, will be best placed to implement serious measures against all forms of racism, discrimination and bigotry.
Corbyn has spent his entire political life fighting all forms of prejudice, discrimination and oppression. We should all do the same.
Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett named the rise of the far Right in various countries, the refugee crisis and the Internet as major factors spurring an increase of antisemitic incidents around the world, as he presented the annual antisemitism report to the government in January, 2018.
In his opening comments, Bennett noted that while the number of violent antisemitic incidents recorded around the world decreased, the number of general antisemitic incidents had increased. “Antisemitism is the dangerous fuel feeding our enemies for generations,” he said. “We must ensure every Jew in the world can live a safe and proud life.”
“Also in 2017, we saw a strong antisemitic presence online,” Bennett said. “Much of this discourse was related to the changes in governments around the world, the refugee crisis and the visibility of antisemitism in social media. We must act with all available tools against current antisemitism to ensure the security of the Jewish People, in Israel and the Diaspora.”
Presenting the report ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which was marked on January 27, the ministry highlighted the record number of antisemitic incidents recorded in the UK in the first half of 2017 – there was a 78% increase in physical attacks and a 30% increase in the number of overall antisemitic incidents.
The ministry also flagged the rise of the far Right in Germany and the influx of refugees to the country as factors that have negatively impacted the Jewish population. A study released in December by the American Jewish Committee’s Ramer Institute for German-Jewish Relations in Berlin found that antisemitism among Muslim refugees is rampant and requires urgent attention. A new edition of Adolf Hitler’s antisemitic manifesto Mein Kampf also became a bestseller in German bookstores in 2017, the report noted.
Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, who attended the cabinet meeting, addressed the link between the far Right and antisemitism, noting that 15 years ago he proposed a method to distinguish antisemitism from legitimate criticism of Israel among the left, but today extremists from both sides of the political spectrum must be addressed.
“Today we are witnessing a new and alarming phenomenon: The rise and emboldenment of right-wing political parties in Europe that profess support for Israel while supporting such antisemitic measures as outlawing circumcision and kosher slaughter, as well as historical revisionism of the Second World War and the rehabilitation of Nazi soldiers,” he said.
“On the one hand, they proclaim that they stand with Israel, while on the other hand, they target and harm Jews. We see this in Austria, for example, where the local Jewish community has announced that it will boycott the official Holocaust commemoration ceremony in Vienna if ministers from the far-right Freedom Party attend the event. I have counted at least seven such political parties across Europe.”
“We do not need and should not court such double-faced support, on either the right or the left,” Sharanksy said. “We must remain vigilant and not permit antisemitism to go without opposition and protest under the cover of convenient diplomatic stances or intercommunal bridge-building. I note both phenomena with alarm and demand that we do not play into the hands of antisemites, regardless of their political affiliations.”
The rise of the far right in the US was also flagged in the report, and specifically the violent “Unite the Right” rally, which was held in Charlottesville in last August.
The report also noted that the “continued increase of hate discourse among radical left-wing movements, which is mainly felt on college campuses.”
The picture in general in the US, is cause for concern. The Anti-Defamation League’s annual report on antisemitism released in November found that there was a 67% increase in antisemitic incidents across the US from January 1 to September 30, 2017, in comparison with the same period in 2016.
According to the FBI’s 2016 Hate Crime Statistics report, Jews, African Americans and Muslims are targeted more often than any other religious or ethnic group in the United States. The report found that more than half of the racially-motivated incidents in 2016, 54.2%, targeted Jews.
“This figure is especially prominent in light of the low percentage of Jews in the US population,” the Diaspora Affairs Ministry’s report said. It also noted that the statistic was high when compared with attacks against other minorities: A quarter of the targets reported were Muslim, 4.1% were Catholic, 1.9% Eastern Orthodox and 0.5 Mormons.
Troubling statistics also emerged from Ukraine, with double the number of antisemitic incidents being recorded in comparison with the previous year, according to the report.
This included dozens of despicable acts of vandalism against memorials, museums and synagogues.
Additional findings highlighted by the ministry were extracted from a PEW survey conducted in 18 Central and Eastern European countries and published in May 2017. The ministry emphasized that the survey had found that 20% of citizens of those countries aren’t willing to accepting Jews as fellow citizens and 26% wouldn’t want Jews as neighbors. Only 42% would be willing to accept Jews as family. The attitudes expressed toward Muslims and Roma’s, were more negative.
About 57% of respondents said they would be willing to accept Roma’s as fellow citizens, 37% would be willing to accept them as neighbors and only 19% as family members.
Meanwhile, 65% would accept Muslims as citizens, 55% would accept them as neighbors and 27% as family.
My own thoughts and concerns about the growth of social prejudice more generally over this over the last few years summarised here. They are echoed by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who spoke the Park East Synagogue in New York City In January. The Secretary-General warned against rising antisemitism and discrimination, saying that the world must “stand together against the normalization of hate.” Guterres spoke about the recent appearance of neo-Nazi groups and the violence they have espoused.
“They are less crude and more dangerous,” he said, adding that oftentimes, groups have tried to rebrand themselves so as to appear more gentle towards Jews. White supremacist groups, for example, often tout their main cause as reaffirming “white culture” and “white pride,” but in doing so, vilify other ethnic groups, including Jews.
“The neo-Nazi threat is growing,” he told the audience, which included Holocaust survivors. “Some still seek to deny or diminish the fact of the Holocaust.”
Guterres added that now more than ever, organizations are using social media to rally groups that espouse hate.
The UK government’s policies must lead by example and must be predicated on respect for human rights and the rule of law. We must also, as a nation, support those citizens around the world and within our country who are struggling for human dignity and liberty. That is what any civilised nation must do.
Many of our right wing politicians and pundits are so busy trying to discredit and demonise any person speaking from the Left that they fail to recognise their own profound antisemitism. Trying to discredit a left-leaning Jewish group on the basis of their political beliefs, is antisemitic.
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