Opinion

Diana Neslen, an orthodox Jew, has been active all her life in fighting racism and fascism, in South Africa and in Britain, and also a leading campaigner in the struggle for Palestinian rights.

Here she questions the selective indignation of leading Jewish bodies and their failure to organise against the growing threat of antisemitism on the right.


Football Lads Alliance on the street, October 2017


Do they really care about antisemitism?

In the morning of Friday 23rd March, 2018, Luciana Berger, ex-Chair of Labour Friends of Israel, asked Jeremy Corbyn for an explanation about a 6-year old facebook post that had recently re-emerged. (See Jonathan Cook’s account of the politics of the event here).  At 6.15pm Ms Berger tweeted that the response from the leader’s office was totally inadequate because it failed to understand the hurt and anguish occasioned by antisemitism.  Her actions seemed to set off a flurry of activity culminating in a massive protest called by the Jewish Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council under the banner ‘Enough is Enough’ on 26th March.  To the untrained eye it seemed as if the ‘anguish and hurt’ was so great that Jewish people en bloc came out with extreme urgency to express their concerns.

However there was something disingenuous about the impression given that this protest was related to concerns so deep that within two days a motley crowd could form to express their distaste.  The protest itself was extremely well organised.  Placards expressing the slogan ‘enough is enough’ were much in evidence.  And all manner of people including representatives from the DUP and Lord Tebbit, people not known for a commitment to antiracism, attended.

The board are sticklers for religious observance so it was surprising that they responded with such alacrity to Berger’s tweet which was sent at 6.15pm when Shabbat began at 6.04pm.  Once Shabbat begins no work is supposedly permitted and that includes switching on electricity.  But  clearly reading tweets and acting upon them in order to organise a major protest at short notice means desecrating the Shabbat, something normally beyond the pale. Shabbat is holy and nothing takes place until the following evening.  It sounds almost impossible for organisations, even those as well managed as the various Jewish groups involved to orchestrate such an event within one day.  So it is reasonable to assume that rather than being a sign of immediate outrage, this was a well prepared ambush, calculated to use the oncoming Passover festival with its chorus of Dayenu (enough) to attract a crowd big enough to excite the national media.

The Tory party, delighted at this gift arranged a special debate about antisemitism in the Labour party which gave a number of Labour MPs the opportunity to attack their own party. But the majority of complaints were of toxic social media posts, many of which related to the political stances of the MPs, couched in totally unacceptable language.  Criminal offences were mentioned but these were committed by the far right.  However while all the studies show that antisemitism from the far right is far more dangerous to Jews than anything emanating from the left, this was not the forum in which right-wing antisemitism was considered worthy of amplification.

The impact of these events was absolutely electric.  The media could not get enough of this story.  It hogged the reporting, the opinion pieces and Labour MPs were grilled on antisemitism whatever other topic they were supposed to be addressing.  Antisemitism was a given except the definition was hazy and evidence of other than social media posts which offended people was very difficult to discover. Marc Wadsworth, who was accused of antisemitism by Ruth Smeeth but while the charge of antisemitism could not be made to stick, he was, because of the preceding furore, expelled for ‘bringing the party into disrepute’.

But give the accusers their due.  They say they are concerned about antisemitism.  It is pertinent therefore to discover whether the evidence supports their protestations.

There are very real dangers in our world.  Throughout the world we note that it is not the extreme left that is in the ascendant but the extreme right.  The extreme right is characterised by promotion of division and racism, by attacks on vulnerable minorities, and by veneration of strong men and of violence.  The rise of the far right is always a warning sign and historically when the far right is on the march it is minorities, including Jewish minorities who become targets.

On 9th June the far right mounted an ominous show of strength in the streets of London.  The ostensible reason was to protest against the imprisonment of the self-confessed far right criminal Tommy Robinson.  At least 10,000 mostly men took part.  Unprepared police forces were subject to violence and precious few offenders were arrested.  Nazi salutes were strongly in evidence and the crowd cheered the virulently racist and xenophobic speeches from the platform.

This march evinced chilling echoes for those of us with historical memories.  There is for many Jews no escaping a sense of déjà vu.  Fascists start by marching and end somewhere very different.

At last it seemed as if here was a chance for the Jewish community to unite in common purpose.  Even those who give unqualified support to Israel must surely see that only by uniting against the initial germs of fascism in our own country will we protect ourselves from imminent danger.

So it was with curiosity that I checked the Jewish press, the mainstream Jewish organisations social media platforms, and even the CST for some sign that they recognised the dangers confronting minorities including Jewish minorities.

Clearly at a time when Nazi salutes are brazenly being raised in the streets of London it would seem natural for Jewish organisations to sound the alarm.  The Jewish Chronicle had extensive negative coverage of the in-house lawyer appointed by Jeremy Corbyn to oversee its processes in dealing with ddisciplinary matters, including accusations of antisemitism.  There was also some coverage of the desecration of tombstones in Manchester but there was nothing about the march or the Nazi salutes.  The Board of Deputies sent a message of support to those protesting against the Al Quds march, which took place the following day 10th June, because Hezbollah flags are flown.  It had nothing to say about the fascist march.  Mark Gardner of the CST penned a blog on the Al Quds march and seemed relieved that the Football Lads Alliance, who were much in evidence on the march, had other fish to fry and were moving on from their ‘Jew obsessed days’ to target Muslims.  He did warn attendees at the Al Quds march not to mix with the fascists who shared CST’s views about the demonstration.  In fact there is anecdotal evidence that his warning fell on deaf ears as the two groups seemed to unite against a common foe.

Let us be quite clear.  It is Israel that has called for the proscription of Hezbollah flags.  In this the Jewish community are following Israel’s lead. But surely the Jewish community should recognise the danger to all of us posed by the upsurge in fascist activity. The people who attend the Al Quds march do not desecrate cemeteries or attack young Jews like the fascist who was jailed for an attack on my son. It is interesting that while the peaceful Al Quds march attracted the full panoply of public order provision, probably in response to false alarm calls from the Jewish community, the far more violent and alarming fascist demonstration was inadequately policed.  Clearly the Jewish community do not feel threatened by the real antisemitism that is the bedrock of fascism; rather they dance to a tune orchestrated from Israel.

Thus do we need to ask:  Do they care about the safety of Jews in this country or are they only mouthpieces for a belligerent country in the Middle East? Israel is the country praised without qualification by the new racists and antisemites in Europe and the United States. Israel has now made common cause with the extreme right and is indeed a country on which right-wing authoritarians model themselves.  Therefore it would seem that in the battle against real antisemitism, the major Jewish organisations seem to have sold the pass and their protestations about antisemitism are so much hot air.