A cross-party committee of MPs have released a new report on Antisemitism in the UK. This was in response to an increase in prejudice against Jewish communities, coupled with a rise in far-right and extremist activity.
The report begins by defining antisemitism and examining the recent increase in antisemitic incidents, before turning to the response of Government and the justice system. It also looks at antisemitism within the specific contexts of university campuses and political parties.
In writing the report, the committee took evidence from people representing the British Jewish community, and also the three main political parties. They also spoke privately to two Jewish Labour MPs who have been subjects of online antisemitic abuse, as well as the former London mayor Ken Livingstone, who has been publicly suspended from the Labour party due to allegations of antisemitism.
What did the report find?
One of the report’s main findings is that according to a recent Yougov survey, as many as one in twenty adults in the UK could be described as ‘clearly antisemitic’, agreeing with multiple racist statements such as ‘in business, Jews are not as honest as most people’ and ‘Jews think they are better than other people’. Between 2013-14 and 2014-15, police recorded that antisemitic crime increased by 97%. However, this shocking statistic masked a worrying disparity between the number of antisemitic incidents reported across different police forces. The committee recommends that, where necessary, police are given training on identifying and responding to antisemitic offences, and also calls on Twitter to take stronger action against antisemitic abuse online.
The report also suggests that the UK government should adopt a single definition of antisemitism, and proposes a modified version of one agreed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. This definition states that antisemitism ‘is a certain perception of Jews, that may be expressed as hatred toward Jews’. It lists contemporary examples of antisemitism, including ‘making mendacious, dehumanising, demonising, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective’.
The definition also goes into the ways in which contemporary criticisms of the State of Israel can be framed in an antisemitic manner, for example holding Jews collectively responsible for Israeli government actions, or using symbols or images associated with classic antisemitism to characterise Israel or Israelis. The report however suggests an addition to this widely used definition in order to make clear that it is not antisemitic to criticise the government of Israel, or to hold the state of Israel to the same standards as other liberal democracies.
Link with British political parties?
Where the report has sparked most controversy has been in its conclusions about antisemitism within British political parties, and how their leaders have responded to allegations that have been made. It specifically criticises the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, suggesting that he may not ‘fully appreciate the distinct nature of post-Second World War antisemitism’. In particular, the committee refer to the fact that antisemitism often paints Jews as being a malign or controlling force, rather than an object of derision as in many other forms of racism. They argue that Corbyn’s ‘reluctance to separate antisemitism from other forms of racism, has created what some have referred to as a ‘safe space’ for those with vile attitudes towards Jewish people’.
Shami Chakrabati’s report
Shami Chakrabati’s report into antisemitism within the Labour party was criticised for not distinguishing between antisemitism and other forms of racism, and the committee express an additional concern that it may not have been sufficiently independent in the light of her elevation to the House of Lords shortly after its publication. They state that although Chakrabati was asked to clarify with the committee when this appointment was first discussed with her, she did not respond to their inquiries.
The Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron, also comes under fire for not explicitly condemning antisemitic remarks made by members of his own party, and the report expresses disappointment that the Conservative party ultimately declined to send either their leader or chairman to give evidence to the committee.
Jeremy Corbyn responded to the report on Facebook by defending the independence of the Chakrabati inquiry and arguing that the report’s ‘disproportionate’ focus on Labour ‘risks undermining the positive and welcome recommendations made in it’. There has been no response as yet from the Liberal Democrat or Conservative leadership.
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