On December 3 in London, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said that it is time to “clean away antisemitism and Islamophobia”. He added, “We will not let antisemitism, Islamophobia have a role in our streets, our schools, our towns”.
While ending hatred of all sorts is an excellent objective, the way that Welby expressed that objective is misguided. Welby is not alone in doing this. Conflating antisemitism and Islamophobia has become a common practice in the media and among well-meaning politicians and other public figures.
But while both antisemitism and Islamophobia are legitimate problems, conflating the two, especially in the context of the Gaza war, leaves two wrong impressions:
- That antisemitism and Islamophobia are two problems of similar magnitude.
- That the war is due to both forms of hatred to the same or similar extent.
Islamophobia is a much smaller problem than antisemitism.
Muslims are a big portion of the world population. At over two billion, they are 25 percent of the world population. They are over 50 percent of the population in 50 countries, and in the West, where they aren’t a majority, they are a growing and confident minority. An insecure minority would not be openly demonstrating against Israel in large numbers.
Jewish people, on the other hand, are only 15 million or less than 0.2 percent of the world population. Jews are a tiny minority everywhere except in Israel which is demonized by most of the world for that very reason.
Jews have suffered from the scourge of antisemitism for many centuries, and that scourge is now at an all-time high. Jews have also been forced out of many countries, particularly in the Middle East. According to the World Jewish Congress, “Until the 1960s, approximately one million Jews lived in Iran and other Arab countries having arrived in the region more than 2,000 years before. Nowadays, it is estimated that only around 15,000 remain”.
Muslim populations, on the other hand, are growing everywhere, including in countries where they are not currently in the majority. According to the Pew Research Center, “The number of Muslims in Europe has grown from 29.6 million in 1990 to 44.1 million in 2010. Europe’s Muslim population is projected to exceed 58 million by 2030. Muslims today  account for about 6% of Europe’s total population, up from 4.1% in 1990. By 2030, Muslims are expected to make up 8% of Europe’s population.”
Muslims are growing in numbers and in confidence while Jews, who often speak up against Islamophobia, are made to feel insecure everywhere, including in Israel, especially after October 7 which exposed Israel’s vulnerability if it can’t deter genocidal groups like Hamas. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an American anti-hate Jewish group, is an ally of Muslims against Islamophobia. American Muslim organizations, however, are openly anti-Israel and don’t even acknowledge the October 7 massacre.
Antisemitism and Islamophobia are not similar, and we should not pretend or imply that they are. By acting as if they were similar, we are victimizing Jews even more.
About the second point, it’s important to remember that in the Gaza war, the attack on Israel was heavily motivated by antisemitism. As the ADL explained, Hamas hatred against Jews and their intention to massacre Jews has never been a secret. But Israel’s response has nothing to do with Islamophobia. It is about protecting the security of Israeli citizens.
In fact, some of the hostages kidnapped by Hamas on October 7 are Muslim. Israel negotiated their release and the release of Jewish hostages indiscriminately.
It is counterproductive to draw false equivalencies because it confuses the issues, and it fails to address the core problem: rejection of Israel due to Arab antisemitism. That’s the reality, as ugly as it is. Justin Welby and others should go right to the core problem and state it bluntly. It wouldn’t please everyone, but it is more likely to help. Whitewashing Arab antisemitism by conflating antisemitism and Islamophobia will not help, and it is in fact likely to cause more harm by encouraging ignorance of the facts.
One of the people confused by all the talk of equivalencies in this conflict appears to be Pope Francis. He said that “dialogue is the only path to peace”, showing that he has no clue how Hamas operates or what motivates them. He went even further when he referred to Israel’s actions against Hamas as “terrorism”. I would like to believe that Pope Francis is not a hater, so the only way to explain these comments is to believe that he is deeply confused and deeply misinformed.
The truth makes some people angry because they have become accustomed to having their hatred appeased rather than confronted. But no matter how many niceties Welby and others express, Arab antisemitism, the core issue in this war and in every conflict that has ever occurred between Arabs and Israel, will not magically disappear. It must be denounced, again and again and again, until it is understood by all people of good faith.