The British Labour Party, Anti-Semitism and Tolerance

The Labour party in Britain is tearing itself apart metaphorically speaking with prominent members publically communicating prejudicial beliefs and anti-Semitic comments whether in public or on social media.  The most well-known is the former mayor of London Ken Livingstone who was suspended for expressing openly a bizarre view about Hitler’s support for Zionism and his desire to send Jews to Israel – a state that did not exist at the time.  Another Labour MP Naseem “Naz” Shah posted on her Facebook that the solution to the Arab-Israeli issues was to deport all of the Jews in Israel to the USA by placing the map of Israel in the middle of America. Another inflammatory comment on her Facebook suggested that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal with the implications the murder of 6 million Jews was lawful.  Three other labour party members were also suspended this week, all from the Muslim communities, for various ant-Semitic comments.

Mehdi Hasan who is Muslim himself and a contributing writer for the New Statesman argues that the Muslim community in Britain is infected with anti-Semitism.  He further suggests that whilst British Muslims are targets of prejudice and discrimination, they are also responsible for prejudice, unusually aimed at the Jewish community. “Anti-Semitism isn’t just tolerated in some sections of the British Muslim community; it’s routine and commonplace” (Mehdi Hasan, New Statesman).

In Theory of Justice, John Rawls argues that “An intolerant sect has no right to complain when it is denied an equal liberty.  A person’s right to complain is limited to principles he acknowledges himself” (1971, p. 216). Many people of the Muslim faith in Britain, Europe and Australia protest that they are discriminated against and marginalised and there is no doubt that there is truth in such claims as Mehdi Hasan also proposes. At the same time, anti-Jewish feelings are rampant in many Muslim communities throughout the Muslim world and it appears to have infected the British Muslim community too.  We hear a lot about Islamophobia from the Muslim community but anti-Semitism is rarely mentioned. Of course not all Muslims are anti-Semitic but statistics highlight the prevailing problem.  The 2013 Anti-Defamation League world survey which questioned 53,100 adults in 102 countries about their attitudes and beliefs about Jewish people, found high levels of anti-Semitism in Arab countries.  In fact, the statistics are astounding. Most Muslim and/or Arab countries in the Middle East and North Africa who were surveyed held levels of anti-Jewish attitudes and beliefs which were extremely high.  The survey showed anti-Jewish feelings ranging between 75 to 93 per cent with some exceptions such as Iran with only 56 per cent.  These statistics can be compared to the findings of those in Canada at 14 per cent and Singapore at 16 per cent disapproval ratings – the picture is clear.  It is one thing to be critical of Israel but it is another to create and publish anti-Semitic cartoons reminiscent of Nazi Germany where Anti-Jewish propaganda is taught in schools using the old anti-Semitic mantras.

Mass demonstration conducted in Europe during the European summer of 2014 with slogans such as “Gas Jews” and “Hitler was right” are inexcusable and outright bigoted.  Reputable media reports highlighted that the majority of the protesters were Muslim but some were also left wing supporters.  It is astounding that the left wing parties of Europe will endorse such old enmities and hatreds.  Yet no such protest has as yet occurred in regard to the shameful events in Syria or the oppression of women in Saudi Arabia.

Since 2008 there have been several attacks on Jewish institutions and individuals.  The aim is always the same – to intimidate, terrorise and kill.  For example, in Mumbai in 2008 a young rabbi and his wife were tortured and murdered.  In 2012, another rabbi and his three children were murdered in a Jewish school in Toulouse.  In 2014, four people were murdered in Brussels while attending a Jewish museum. In early 2015, after the attack on the satirical journal Charlie Hebdo, four people were killed in a Jewish kosher supermarket in Paris.  Following an attack on a free speech conference where a journalist was killed in Copenhagen, a volunteer Jewish security guard was killed outside the main synagogue.  “But the policies of the state of Israel are not made in kosher supermarkets in Paris or in Jewish cultural institutions in Brussels and Mumbai. The targets in these cities were not Israeli. They were Jewish as Lord Rabbi Sacks argues.  Nor can every ill in the world be attributed to Israel and the Jewish people.

Reciprocal tolerance is emerging as an important factor in contemporary ideas about acceptance, respect and care.  Tolerance needs to be about reciprocity – “do unto others” and “love thy neighbour” as exemplified by the Golden Rule.  In contemporary time tolerance is about mutual acceptance, respect, empathy and care of others who are different. It not simply “putting up with” or enduring others different from us. Reciprocal tolerances of acceptance respect, empathy and care are applicable to all communities whether they are a majority or a minority within respective societies.