Chief Rabbi right to call out ‘see no evil hear no evil’ mantra on anti-Semitism

The Chief Rabbi is absolutely right. Speaking at the Global Forum for Combatting Anti-Semitism in Jerusalem, he said “our journey is a frustrating one……the rule today is that around the world, Muslim faith leaders are keeping schtum”, (on anti-Semitism).

The fact that there has not been one single Imam who has publicly spoken up about the need to tackle anti-Semitism within and beyond Muslim communities, is telling. Whilst in no way am I suggesting that this is inherently a ‘Muslim’ issue, I am saying that anti-Semitism has remained unchallenged within sections of Muslim communities and for far too long. Imams who have a pastoral care role, do not speak openly about the need to counter anti-Semitic discourse and their silence, is partly because they fear a backlash from their congregations. In the end, many Imams do not want to shake the status quo since mosque committees hold their employment in their hands and most of the mosque committees are made up of males over the age of 60. What goes on in the mosque is within the collective domain of these senior citizens; forget pluralism or increasing the diversity of voices and age groups, so you can imagine where tackling anti-Semitism sits.

The fact is that those who have publicly spoken up against anti-Semitism are mainly social activists or social commentators and they can be counted on one hand. Which is why the Chief Rabbi’s frustration is so real and palpable.

It seems as though the Middle East conflict has developed even higher walls of Jericho around Muslim communities here, so much so that when tackling anti-Semitism is mentioned, the drawbridge rises and the moat fills. Yet, there have been many examples of when Muslims have been persecuted and when Jewish communities came to their defence.

Jewish communities have taken many steps over the last 30 years to try and build stronger relations with Muslim communities, though reciprocity lasts only so far as having a meal together, some selfies and a general ‘We are children of Abraham’ response to these well-intentioned overtures. Take for example, the story of Sally Becker, the ‘Angel of Mostar’ who managed to get aid into Mostar when it was being besieged in the war against Bosnia in the mid-90’s. She worked with all sides to save lives and many Muslim lives were saved by her actions. This British Jewish woman single-handedly got up and went to Bosnia to save lives.

Alternatively, when the Victoria Islamic centre burnt down in Texas in February 2017, the local Jewish community gave Muslims the key to their synagogue so that they could worship. Or take when the Somali Bravanese Centre was burnt down in June 2013 due to arson and the Muswell Hill synagogue in North London stepped in and provided emotional and material support to the Bravanese Muslim community. Or take the ‘Trump ban’ which denied visas to a number of Muslim majority countries. Who were the community who rallied and demonstrated and who stood with American Muslim communities? It was local Jewish communities. So exactly what will it take to bring down Jericho’s walls once again so that Imams can start to speak up against all forms of hatred, including anti-Semitism within their congregations?

My impassioned pleas may well go unheeded and with some continuing to selectively hear what they want. To this, I say, you fear growing levels of Islamophobia, yet you should also be concerned about anti-Semitism. For those who hate Jews, will also more than likely hate Muslims. I also say this to Imams who turn a blind eye to anti-Semitism within some parts of Muslim communities. Is this what God wants, that we selectively pick and choose whose human rights are to be defended or do we defend the rights of all people? I always hear the ‘Islam is peace’ narrative that is promoted by many Imams so as I see it, anti-Semitism is a war against the human rights of all Jews, so does Islam not warrant us to speak up against this abuse and hate?

I have had 20 years of working within Muslim communities and there are changes afoot which are positive. Let me also re-iterate the fact that there is a growing sense of intolerance against Muslims and this needs to be challenged with every cell and sinew in our bodies as I have made the case for anti-Semitism to be challenged. Yet, do not think for a second that the gains made, mean that they are set in stone. This is why we, collectively, must always push boundaries for the greater good.

Granted, people can make mistakes and look the other way in their lives and in their use of language, though the key is as long as they learn from these mistakes. We all make them and which is one element that makes us human. Yet, what I am talking about is that the wall of continuing silence around anti-Semitism within Muslim communities and which desperately needs to end. How sad and depressing it is that the Chief Rabbi had to pubicly express what is patently obvious. Hearing his words, the phrase ‘L’Shana Haba’ah B’Yerushalayim’ plays out in my head. Till next year in Jerusalem, Chief Rabbi.


About the Author
Fiyaz is the Founder and Director of Faith Matters, which works on countering extremism, community integration and monitoring hate crime work. He is also the Founder of the national Islamophobia Monitoring Group, Tell MAMA, and was it's Director from 2011-2016. He has worked on supporting better Muslim and Jewish relations for over 17 years.
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