For many months, the Labour Party has been in turmoil due to its failure to tackle antisemitism within its ranks. Now we see senior Conservative MP Boris Johnson, a man often talked about as a potential Conservative Party leader, burnishing his credentials with the far right by abusing and denigrating the tiny handful of Muslim women whose religious beliefs lead them to wear a niqab or burqa.
Any Muslims celebrating the extreme Labour left’s anti-Zionism should recognise that much of this is really antisemitism in disguise. While there are many genuine left-wing critics of Israel, mixed among them are Jew-haters who today claim to be friends of the Palestinians but will tomorrow be seeking to ban halal slaughter, circumcision and Muslim faith schools.
People who hate tend to share their hate widely; hatred of “Zionists” readily becomes hatred not just of Jews but also hatred of Muslims. As Rabbi Lord Sacks has written, “The hate that begins with Jews never ends with Jews.”
Similarly, any Jews who rejoice seeing the English Defence League carrying Israeli flags at their demonstrations should remember that people who hate Muslims are no friend of Jews. If they were not so busy hating Muslims, they would be hating Jews. Across mainland Europe, we have seen governments banning halal slaughter and kosher slaughter together, never just one. As well as whipping up scare stories about Middle Eastern Muslim refugees, the government of Hungary spreads antisemitic tropes involving Jewish conspiracy theories and George Soros.
How did we get here?
Historically, European (for the avoidance of doubt, Europe includes Britain) hatred of Jews derived from certain extreme Christian teachings. Read for example what Martin Luther said about Jews. Meanwhile, European hatred of Muslims derived from military conflict against the Arab and Ottoman Empires with Europe fearing conquest.
However, today, European Jews and Muslims can reasonably regard most Christian denominations as friends and supporters. Instead, the greatest threat that European Jews and Muslims face comes from intolerant extreme secularists. This is worst in countries like France where political liberalism defined itself in opposition to religion but can be seen everywhere. A recent notable example was the intolerant belief of Inner North London Coroner Mary Hassell that no recognition of any kind should be given to the special religious needs of Jews and Muslims for speedy burial.
We are stronger together.
When it comes to voting numbers, apart from a small number of concentrated localities, all European countries have proportionately very few Jewish voters. They all have much larger Muslim populations in absolute terms and in proportionate terms.
Conversely, simply because Jews have been in Europe much longer, and therefore seem more familiar, European extreme secularists are more reluctant to act against the freedoms of Jews than they are to act against the freedoms of Muslims. Furthermore, to the extent that extreme secularists understand anything about religion, they typically know something about Judaism from its relationship with Christianity, while generally knowing nothing about Islam apart from the examples they see on television of Muslims behaving badly. Accordingly, Jews are well placed to point out that Islam as a religion is really not that different from Judaism.
In my opinion, pure self-interest requires European Muslims and Jews to act together, regardless of any differing views individuals may have about the Israel/Palestine conflict.
- Mohammed Amin MBE is Co-Chair of the Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester and Chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum. He is writing in a personal capacity.
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