Why ‘Antisemitism’?

JVL Introduction

Jamie Stern-Weiner answers a question many have asked over recent years. Why is antisemitism so potent a political weapon when accusations of Islamophobia or being anti-Hindu fail to resonate.

In contrast to other ethnic communities, he argues, “The British Jewish establishment is formidably organised, amply resourced, and integrated into broader elite networks… able to tap into a sufficiently deep reservoir of public awareness and sentiment, to influence not just its own constituency but the national conversation.”

This article was originally published by jamiesternweiner blog on Wed 20 Nov 2019. Read the original here.

Why ‘Antisemitism’?

In his excellent overview of the ‘Labour antisemitism’ controversy, Daniel Finn analyses the distinct contribution made to this establishment smear campaign by the British Jewish leadership:

What really sets Israel’s British supporters apart is their capacity to smear critics of the foreign-policy consensus at Westminster. This is where they provide an invaluable service for the conservative establishment.

The British Jewish establishment is formidably organised, amply resourced, and integrated into broader elite networks. At the same time, it is able to draw upon and exploit the moral legacy of Jewish suffering, which uniquely resonates in British political culture. Since 2015, this unusual combination of political power with the moral authority conferred by victimhood has been conscripted in the service of a Conservative-led propaganda campaign against the Corbyn project.

Finn brings out Jewish organisations’ unique contribution by way of contrast with a hypothetical Turkish lobbying campaign:

Turkey’s AKP regime routinely accuses its Western critics of Islamophobia and anti-Turkish racism, but if anyone tried to repeat those charges in a British context, it would sound very odd. In any case, there is no particular taboo against Islamophobia in the country’s political culture: the ruling party can run an openly racist campaign against a Muslim candidate without facing any consequences, and the defence secretary can remain in his post after defaming a Muslim cleric as an ISIS supporter.

Charges of antisemitism, on the other hand, are politically toxic. Pro-Israel groups take advantage of this to slander their opponents, and have their accusations signal-boosted by the right-wing press. To complete the loop, anyone who points this out is bitterly denounced as an apologist for bigotry.

The ongoing effort by Hindu nationalists to thwart the Labour Party’s election campaign offers another instructive comparison.

In October 2019, an umbrella group styling itself the ‘British Friends of India’ attacked Labour’s opposition to Indian repression in Kashmir. Just as the Jewish establishment has pretended to speak on behalf of an entire community and framed its foreign policy disagreement with Labour in terms of ‘antisemitism’, so the British Friends of India trumpeted its ‘unprecedented’ list of signatories and accused Labour of having ‘sown the seeds of community disharmony in the United Kingdom’. This initiative was followed up by determined campaigning, reportedly orchestrated by the Overseas Friends of BJP UK, to rally the Hindu electorate against Labour. Conservative-leaning British Hindu organisations have lent their weight to these efforts, characterising Labour’s position on Kashmir as an ‘Anti-Hindu Hate Campaign’ and ‘exhibition of anti-Indian racism’ that has generated ‘real fear for the well-being and safety of British Indians in the UK’. The National Council of Hindu Temples rhetorically queried: ‘For the many and not the few . . . / and not the Hindu and not the Jew?’

But while the Hindu lobbying effort replicates, in certain respects, the Jewish campaign against Labour, it is also worth noting a key difference. Whereas the Hindu campaign has gained traction in its core constituency—a friend reports, in line with others, that in a single morning’s canvassing she encountered three Hindu voters who said they would not vote Labour over its position on Kashmir—it has attracted near-zero interest from the public at large. Does anyone truly believe that Labour is ‘anti-Hindu’? Aren’t claims to this effect transparently an attempt by an ethno-religious group to exploit the rhetoric of anti-racism to defend its favoured state? Who, outside Britain’s Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh communities, knows that Kashmir even exists? By contrast, Britain’s Jewish lobby is sufficiently organised, sufficiently resourced, and able to tap into a sufficiently deep reservoir of public awareness and sentiment, to influence not just its own constituency but the national conversation.[1]

The Hindu lobby could never have served the Conservative campaign against Corbyn like the Jewish lobby has, because accusations of ‘anti-Hinduism’ simply don’t resonate in broad public opinion the way that accusations of ‘antisemitism’ do.


[1] This distinction is overlooked by Omar Khan, of The Runnymede Trust, when he writes that ‘geography—the relative diversity and spread of Britain’s ethnic minorities—provides insulation against’ efforts ‘to mobilise individual ethnic communities on the basis of narrow appeals to that group, without offering a wider political vision’. This might generally be true, but in the case of the Jewish community, ‘narrow appeals’ may form part of a broader public relations strategy.

Jamie Stern-Weiner, Israeli-born, London-raised, now a DPhil candidate in Area Studies at the University of Oxford. He is editor of Moment of Truth: Tackling Israel-Paletine’s Toughest Questions, published by OR Books.

Comments (5)

  • Benny Ross says:

    Jamie, I agree with almost everything you’ve said here, but I find the attempt to turn Hindus against Labour potentially very sinister. I don’t usually espouse conspiracy theories, *BUT* there are some people who benefit from the demonisation of Labour (as “anti-semitic” or just generally evil, dangerous etc) and who would be happy to see it identified as “the Muslim party”. Not just to turn Jews and Hindus off from voting Labour, but more worryingly as a covert signal to the white British majority. We’ve seen that Johnson has no qualms about using Islamophobia, nor about risking a resurgence of communalism in Ireland. In a potentially volatile situation, the right may well try to drive wedges between Muslims and the rest of the population, including “respectable” minorities (i.e. those with a higher median income / greater percentage of professionals). This could lead to some very ugly and dangerous outcomes. It behoves us all to remain vigilant — and to do all we can to get Labour elected with support from all ethnicities and religions.

  • Tim says:

    “…the moral legacy of Jewish suffering, which uniquely resonates in British political culture”.

    And why is this? Could it be guilt over the fact that we/Churchill knew the holocaust was happening and decided not to act? Israel has exploited this shamelessly ever since…

  • Allan Howard says:

    The so-called Campaign Against Antisemitism posted this vile black propaganda piece on their website a couple of days ago in relation to the debate between Corbyn and Johnson, and they manage to condence TWO falsehoods into the headline:


    Needless to say, it is a lie – a falsehood – that Jeremy lied, and it is also a falsehood that the audience laughed (when Jeremy responded to the question about A/S), and anyone who watched the debate will be aware that THAT is the case. But then again, the CAA black propagandists probably realise that even of those who watched the debate – and I assume that most of the people who visit the CAA website are Jewish – they will believe the CAA that THAT is what happened. And the CAA propagandists realise, that even though they put a link to the debate (and at the end of the article mentioned where that particular part of the debate begins), the vast majority of people who DIDN’T watch it when it was aired, won’t bother to watch it.

    This is probably as good an example as any of the fact that the CAA blatantly lie to their readers about Jeremy Corbyn (and in the quotes they give to the MSM) and, as such, please share far and wide with anyone you know that has been duped by the whole smear campaign during the course of the past four years or so. And ask THEM to share it and so on. And perhaps JVL could contact the CAA and ask them for an explanation, even though they won’t respond of course. But then THAT’S the point in doing so.


  • Chris Proffitt says:

    What an excellent and enlightening though very worrying article. You show clearly how manipulation of politics is achieved.

  • Mujju says:

    The right wing Hindu (ie fascist) attack on Labour dates back to the Ed Milliband election due to Labour’s focus on equality and opposition to the caste system. There was one speaker (Indian ethnicity) at this year’s conference who basically supported India’s invasion of Kashmir, and the ‘Howdy Modi’ event in the US was attended by Trump & Modi. It is not a surprise that people that support social justice will vote Labour, whilst nationalists and xenophobes will not.

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