This very clear and measured report was commissioned to assist the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism. Ben Gidley, a Senior Researcher at the University of Oxford’s Centre on Migration, Policy and Society, explores the impact of events in the Middle East on antisemitic discourse in the UK.
It seems certain that last July’s spike in antisemitic incidents was connected to Operation Protective Edge. This report sets out to investigate trickier questions about the nature and degree of antisemitic discourse associated with protests against Israel, and the effects of the way the media reported both on the conflict and the demonstrations (p.2).
The report emphasises the importance of context in determining antisemitism. Whereas a Palestinian flag is not antisemitic if carried in a protest outside the Israeli embassy, the presence of the same flag would have a clear antisemitic charge outside a kosher deli or synagogue (p.4)
Some cases are more complex. Gidley suggests that the phrase ‘child murderers’, if directed at Israel, is ‘potentially legitimate criticism’ (p. 5). But it may trigger sensitivities due to the antisemitic blood libel trope. Inevitably there are grey areas where sincere disagreement or misunderstanding may occur.
In fact most of the placards visible at demonstrations against Israel were not antisemitic, the report concludes (p. 6). However there were some exceptions, mostly focused on familiar tropes:
Variations on the historic blood libel, malicious uses of Holocaust comparison, attributions of Jewish collective responsibility or dual loyalty, and images of Jewish power.
Many children did die in Gaza, and it’s not surprising that Israel’s critics focus on this issue. However, it’s equally unsurprising that ‘British Jews, sensitive to the use of the blood libel in triggering pogroms historically, may be likely to experience accusations of antisemitism through this lens.’ (p. 7) And, when the phrase ‘child murderers’ moves away from the street protest and is pinned onto a synagogue – then clearly the boundary has been crossed.
Holocaust comparisons are another common vector for antisemitism. ‘Holocaust inversion’ casts Israel as the new Nazis, Palestinians as the new Jews, and, just a little more subtly but hardly less offensively, Jews are blamed for not learning the correct lessons from the Holocaust (p. 8).
There’s some very precise analysis of the mechanisms at work in the cross-pollination between far left anti-Zionism and far-right antisemitism.
In many cases, anti-Israel activists in perfectly good faith recirculate material from far right provenance. Thus casual and unwitting low-level forms of antisemitism circulating in the wider culture can reinforce and draw people towards more ideological forms of antisemitism.
Presumably this re-circulation occurs without antisemitic intent, but it legitimates and normalises ideologically antisemitic discourse. Those already exposed to casual forms of Holocaust inversion in anti-Israel context are more receptive to Holocaust denial; those already exposed to casual forms of Jewish power allegation are more receptive to complex ideologically driven conspiracy theories. (p. 10)
Gidley then expands on the importance of recognizing that actions or words may have no antisemitic intent yet still be ‘objectively’ antisemitic in their impact (p. 11).
In its discussion of the media, the report emphasises the need for the Jewish press to report antisemitism responsibly, and not use hyperbole to create unnecessary tension. But it also rightly insists on the need for ‘mainstream Britiain to understand and take seriously the insecurity of the community.’ (p. 13)
Finally, a worrying tendency to overlook or dismiss accusations of antisemitism is analyzed, and identified as a particular danger when Israel receives such disproportionate scrutiny in the media, particularly the left wing media.