Saturday, 4 August 2018

Let's not pretend anti-Semitism is Labour's problem

At one of my first Lib Dem conferences I signed up to the Liberal Democrat friends of Palestine. They seemed focused on peace in the Middle East, a two state solution and challenging the Israeli government on the issue of Palestinian human rights.

Since then of course, we've had the interventions from David Ward, the former MP for Bradford East, whose unhelpful comments focused on Jews rather than the State of Israel. I accepted that he was probably not the best representative of the LDfP.

There is much in the news about anti-Semitism at present - and rightly so. It is perfectly reasonable for people to criticise the often shameful actions of the Israeli government without making statements about Jewish people. Anti-Semitism is both a real problem and unacceptable in a modern society, and needs to be called out whenever we encounter it.

Of course, anti-Semitism is Labour's problem, right? No, it's everyone's problem.

Today the LDfP shared this on their facebook page.

It clearly has nothing to do with the Palestinian question. Nether does it say anything about the government of Israel and its actions. It does, however, suggest "Jews are bad" or at least are doing bad things to nice Christians. The article it links to is a "report" from the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation and relates to an incident involving one apparently Jewish man. This story is then followed up with various unconfirmed accounts, many lacking in specific detail, suggesting similar attacks on Christians are typical - along with some sensationalist claims: "I know Christians who lock themselves indoors during the Purim holiday." The impression being created are that Christians live in fear for their safety because of widespread Jewish attacks. No reference is made to the wider Jewish-Christian relationship and local inter-faith dynamics; the article therefore lacks any meaningful context.

Whether or not these incidents took place I don't know. But using them to generate headlines like this, focusing on "Jews" and Jewish intolerance should be unacceptable. People of all faiths deserve the right to live in peace, but framing the narrative in this way leads to obvious and incorrect conclusions being drawn.

LDfP know exactly what they're doing sharing this. It does not lend itself to constructive discussions on either the political situation or inter-faith relationships. It simply paints Jews as the problem - a challenge to peace and religious tolerance. The excuse offered by LDfP that "we do want to publicise and educate on not just the Israeli government's behaviour through racist policies, but also the behaviour of some, not all, Israeli Jews" is also deeply unsatisfactory. Why focus on Jews at all, irrespective of how many, rather than simply challenge all types of intolerance? When focusing on the behaviour of "some Israeli Jews", is it helpful to do so in a way that focuses on Jewish identity?

Is this post anti-Semitic? I'll leave you to answer the question. I would suggest the original article is, especially in the use of that particular unflattering picture of two obviously Jewish men to make its point. The men depicted have nothing to do with any of the alleged incidents described. Using stock images of Jewish people in this way is dishonest, and the implication is obvious: it is Jews who are the problem, rather than specific individuals. Low-level, casual anti-Semitism is still anti-Semitism.

I'll no longer be following the Liberal Democrat friends of Palestine - there are alternative places where someone who is pro-Palestine but not anti-Israel (and certainly not anti-Jewish) can discuss politics and religion sensibly. Anti-Semitism is a growing problem and against that backdrop this kind of thing is unhelpful to say the least. LDfP regrettably seem to prefer to reinforce anti-Semitic feelings rather than challenge them. 

Let's not pretend this is Labour's problem, as if that party has a monopoly on anti-Jewish rhetoric. If we're serious about consigning anti-Semitism to history, we should do more than point fingers at our political opponents. At the very least, we need to steer our conversations away from the focus on "Jews" and "Jewish people", call out lazy stereotyping and be very careful which voices we lend credibility to.

Update: LDfP have now removed that post. I thank them for acting quickly and trust in future they steer clear of sharing articles that promote negative stereotypes of specific groups of people.