IN late July, an Iranian cleric, Ayatollah Mohsen Araki, intimated that he has no problem with Jews but clearly regards Israel — the Jewish state — as a major cause of bloodshed in the Middle East.
Is that antisemitism? A local authority (Brent) with a significant Jewish population has recently adopted a convoluted definition of antisemitism in which the denial of the Jewish right to self-determination is deemed to be antisemitic.
But so — apparently — is the denial of a contingent Palestinian right. Is that antisemitism?
In a moment, I’ll attempt to answer these questions. First I want to address the findings of two new surveys of British antisemitism, published by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research and the Campaign Against Antisemitism.
The JPR survey achieved headlines in the national media because it purported, allegedly, to show how very marginal anti-Jewish prejudice is in contemporary British society. It found that:
n SEVENTY per cent of British people hold a “favourable” attitude towards Jews.
n A MERE five per cent of Brits hold a multiplicity of anti-Jewish prejudices. And that “the existence of strong, sophisticated, perhaps internally coherent and at times even ‘learned’ antisemitism, where open dislike of Jews is combined with developed negative ideas about Jews, does not exceed 2.4 per cent of British adults”.
n ONLY 12 per cent of the population of Great Britain have “hard-core” negativity towards the Jewish state.
Yes, over two-thirds of British people do hold “favourable” attitudes towards Jews. But only if the options held open to them — in terms of their perception of Jewish people — are defined in a particularly narrow way.
Once these definitions are broadened, we learn that less than 40 per cent hold “very” or “somewhat” favourable opinions about Jews, while over five per cent held “somewhat” or “very” unfavourable views.
So if these percentages are to be believed, only a minority of British adults can be classed as, in any sense, philosemitic.
Of the remainder, it appears that more than half couldn’t care less, one way or the other, while many — perhaps as many as 2.5 million adults — are out-and-out Jew-haters. Why do these British Jew-haters hate Jews? The JPR survey makes it clear that Jew-hatred in contemporary British society has three epicentres: the far-right, the broad left, and adherents of the Muslim faith.
On the far-right, we observe a range of blatantly racist mindsets, grounded in pseudo-science and certainly heavily nationalistic and xenophobic.
These individuals must certainly remain a cause for concern, but we need to maintain a sense of proportion.
We are dealing here with an exceedingly small group of the politically marginalised, whose bark is generally much worse than their bite.
In any case, they make no secret of their antipathy to anything and everything Jewish. They are easy to spot.
But this is not the case when we shift our focus to the left, because in this case we are dealing with individuals and groups who insist that they could not possibly harbour a shred of racism but who, in fact, display deeply antisemitic tendencies.
To quote the JPR report: “Levels of antisemitism among those on the left-wing of the political spectrum, including the far-left, are indistinguishable from those found in the general population.
“Yet all parts of those on the left of the political spectrum
...exhibit higher levels of anti-Israelism than average”.
And according to the CAA, whose researchers analysed millions of social-media posts, antisemitism among Labour officials is eight times worse than such prejudice in officials of any other party.
“Anti-Israelism,” as the JPR report makes clear, is a prejudice that in principle cannot be considered separately from antisemitism. There is a spectrum of hostile prejudices that flow seamlessly from the one to the other. This is blatantly obvious in the case of Muslims.
To quote the report again: “Levels of both antisemitism and anti-Israelism are consistently higher among the Muslim population of Great Britain than among the population in general.
“The presence of antisemitic and [my emphasis] anti-Israel attitudes is 2-4 times higher among Muslims compared to the general population.”
A cleric who blames Israel for the violence that is an everyday feature of life in the Middle East is an antisemite.
But so is an English local authority whose apparent willingness to condemn anti-Jewish prejudice is contingent on supporting a Palestinian right of self-determination.
In both cases we are confronted with Israel-bashers, but the Israel-bashers of Brent are all the more dangerous because they seem oblivious to the anti-Jewish prejudice that informs their political outlook.