Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence

31.Memorandum submitted by the Parliamentary Committee Against Anti-Semitism


  1.  The Parliamentary Committee Against Anti-Semitism is a Westminster-based All Party Group that was set up in 1991 in response to increasing levels of anti-Semitism triggered by the first Gulf War. Towards the end of the 1990s the work of the PCAA reduced in proportion with the reduction in the number of recorded incidents. However, the beginning of the second intifada, followed by the war on terror has led to a notable increase in anti-Semitic acts in the United Kingdom and across the world and a consequent increase in the level of activity of this All Party Group.

  The committee's purposes are to monitor and survey anti-Semitism wherever it arises, to take action to prevent further anti-Semitism, to help relieve the distress of the victims of anti-Semitism, to promote inter-faith contact, dialogue and co-operation, and to organise conferences, seminars, visits and other activities as may assist in achieving these purposes.

  The Parliamentary Committee Against Anti-Semitism also provides parliamentarians, academics, journalists and members of the public with up-to-date information on anti-Semitism, anti-Semitic incidents and the efforts being made to combat them in the United Kingdom and abroad. The PCAA commissions research, arranges briefings, publishes bulletins and provides a forum for debate and discussion on the subject.

  Membership of the committee is restricted to members of parliament, and associate membership to both ex-members of Parliament and distinguished individuals involved in the life of parliamentary and government institutions. At present there are around 100 parliamentary members in the UK.

  The Parliamentary Committee is a constituent member of the Inter-Parliamentary Council Against Anti-Semitism, whose members include Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of Germany, Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel of Austria and HRH Crown Prince Hassan Bin Talal of Jordan.


  2.  The primary purpose of this submission is not to present the facts and figures associated with the rise of anti-Semitic incidents in the UK over the past four years. That there has been an increase is clear and can be corroborated by the Police, the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia and other recognised reporting bodies. Rather, it is to discuss some of the reasons behind this escalation, to evaluate its effect and bring to the Committee's attention some of the concerns of the Parliamentary Committee Against Anti-Semitism.

  3.  After a period of remission owing to the horror of the Holocaust, the ancient prejudice of anti-Semitism has recently resurfaced, catalysed by the onset of the second intifada in Israel and the Palestinian territories (beginning in October 2000), the terrorist attacks on the United States (September 2001) and the US-led coalition's invasion (and current occupation) of Iraq (Spring 2003 onwards). These three events have had a very significant effect on the number and degree of anti-Semitic incidents and sentiment in the UK and across the world. Since the autumn of 2000, numerous synagogues have been attacked, tens of cemeteries have been desecrated, and individual Jews have been regularly subjected to serious violence.

  4.  In addition to this rise in incidents, there has been a parallel development in the intellectual and public arenas, which has seen previously taboo anti-Semitic sentiments attain acceptability in some quarters and even political capital in others. It is perhaps this element that causes the greatest concern. Some experts fear that there is considerable intellectual resistance to acknowledging this threat, and most political analysts still treat anti-Semitism "like a hiccup that will soon give way to regular breathing".1 However, the gravity, quantity and frequency of such occurrences justify the concern of all right-minded people.

  5.  The three aforementioned events in particular have led to an atmosphere in which Jews, both in the UK and abroad are once again held responsible by certain sections of the population for the current instability in the Middle East which in turn has increased the perceived (or actual) threat of terrorism felt at home. The writer, Howard Jacobson recently remarked that, "suddenly it doesn't feel safe to be a Jew again". In the words of an (anonymous) opinion leader, polled as part of research commissioned by the Parliamentary Committee Against Anti-Semitism, "anti-Semitism has become an issue again since 9/11. In the Post 9/11 world anti-Semitism is acceptable again".2


  6.  What is the essence of this new, latest wave of what has been termed "the longest hatred"? At its core, this new version of this old prejudice has mutated to accommodate a significant shift in public opinion. The strength of overtly racist philosophies was dealt a fatal blow by the horrors of the Holocaust. This new form of prejudice is much more in tune with the themes of the new millennium. Ironically, it is based on anti-racism. The sin of the Jews is no longer deicide, nor are they are accused of possessing sinister racial traits. In the modern world, the methods of the anti-Semite are far subtler. It is anti-Semitism with a "social conscience", often based on human rights and the demand of a homeland for the Palestinian people. Today's Jewish "collective crime" is Israel. The Jews stand accused of supporting a racist state, and as such, they are collectively deserving of reproach. These people are using the veil of criticism of the state of Israel to mask their anti-Semitic sentiment.

  7.  After the Second World War, it became unacceptable to admit to hatred of Jews. However, professing to hating the Prime Minister of Israel or claiming that "Israelis behave like Nazis" is far from being out of bounds. Whilst not everyone who dislikes Ariel Sharon is guilty of anti-Semitism, condemning an Israeli politician does not risk the raised eyebrows that demonising Israelis, or Jews, would do in this post-racist age. Employing emotive language is often used in this context. In our era, the word "Nazi" itself stands for limitless evil. An example of this is the now debunked myth of the Jenin "massacre" (April 2002). Words like "blitzkrieg" were used3 with the obvious, if subtle, intention of comparing the actions of modern day Israel to Hitler's Germany. Recently, a former German government minister referred to Israel's anti-terror strategy as "Vernichtungsfeldzug" against the Palestinians, "a war of annihilation", using a term normally applied to the Nazi war against the Jews. 4 This comparison suggests a moral equivalence between Hitler's Nazis and Sharon's Jews. According to Chief Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks, "the mutation is this: that the worst crimes of anti-Semites in the past—racism, ethnic cleansing, attempted genocide, crimes against humanity—are now attributed to Jews and the State of Israel, so that if you are against Nazism, you must ipso facto be utterly opposed to Jews".5 Drawing analogies between Jews and the ultimate symbols of evil, is preparing the groundwork for a justification of their destruction.

  8.  In addition to the demonisation and deligitimisation of the Jewish State and its policies, another familiar anti-Semitic tactic is being employed to blame the Jews for the current global instability, namely their ability to manipulate world events to their own advantage. Conspiracy theories abound regarding "Zionist" involvement in the attack on the World Trade Center. The War in Iraq is attributed to bellicose Jews in the White House and Pentagon. It is suggested that Britain's involvement in the Iraq war is a result of the undue influence of a British "Jewish cabal" that surrounds the Prime Minister, which is tied to the even more influential and powerful cabal of Jewish hawks in Washington. Anti-Semitism feeds on the notion of Jewish power—the myth of a vast, sinister power exercised through financial clout, control of the media and shadowy political connections. The popular fabrication that the "Jews run America" is becoming more and more widespread in Britain (on the Right and Left). This myth is equally common in Spain, Italy, France, Germany and many other countries in Europe today. This supposed clique of powerful, influential, wealthy Jews are all connected with Israel, because these Jewish hawks, so we are told, are all Likudniks—supporters of Ariel Sharon. The lines between the Jewish and the Israeli lobby are constantly blurred and the connotations can be sinister. This is a discourse already rampant in the Middle East where it often assumes the ugly contours of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. A significant difference between the Western and the Middle Eastern versions is that the former is not government-sponsored whilst the latter is.


  9.  One purpose of this submission is to identify some key episodes that have, over the past four years either contributed to, or are indicative of, the current situation. One watershed came in January 2002 with the publication of The New Statesman cover that depicted a golden star of David piercing a supine Union flag under the caption "A Kosher Conspiracy?" The imagery was unmistakably anti-Semitic—that dominant, wealthy Jews constitute a sinister Fifth Column. Perhaps the most recent crossed red line was the welcome given to one of the world's most radical Islamist leaders, infamous for his links to outlawed terror organisations, hateful rhetoric towards Jews, homosexuals, Sikhs and Hindus, and a supporter of domestic violence.

  10.  Other recent watershed moments further a field that have contributed to the increased threat have been: the murder of the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, masterminded by British-born Omar Sheikh, and who was forced to state that he was Jewish before his throat was slit by his captors in Pakistan; large scale attacks against Jewish targets in Tunisia, Turkey, Morocco, France, that have all claimed lives; and the notorious "Jews run the world by proxy" speech by the outgoing Malaysian Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohammed.

  11.  The content of Dr Mahathir's address to mark the opening of the OIC (Organisation of Islamic Countries) conference in October 2003 did not contain any accusations that the Jews have not been subjected to over the past 2 millennia (most notably in the mediaeval Blood Libels or the infamous Tsarist Russian forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion). However, it can be seen as a modern defining moment for three reasons. Firstly, the purveyor of outbursts of this kind was, until this point, expected to be a white supremacist or other extremist individual at the very edge of political and social life. Secondly, the forum for this address was one of the most significant assemblies in the Muslim world (indeed, the OIC conference in Putrajaya, Malaysia was the first major gathering of Islamic countries after 9/11) rather than an obscure Internet chat-room. Thirdly, and almost certainly most significantly, the global response to this invective was muted and much of the Muslim world even welcomed Dr Mahathir's contribution. Such a turn of events was unimaginable up until this recent upturn in global anti-Semitism.

  12.  The modern, globalised world has ensured that anti-Semitism is spread faster and further than ever before. In this era of mass media, instant communication and cable television, there is no longer a need for holding mass rallies to spread the sort of genocidal anti-Jewish propaganda that Egyptian and Syrian television broadcasts to millions of homes. Such rhetoric is overflowing in the Middle East and is now easily available in homes in this country. According to the Police and other reporting bodies, there is a direct correlation between an increase in such rhetoric and increases in violent incidents. 6


  13.  Having discussed some of what this group believes to be the causes and manifestations of current anti-Semitism, it is necessary to consider how it is affecting the lives of British Jews.

  14.  The visits paid by Stephen Byers as incoming chairman of the parliamentary group illustrated many of the key issues. On one occasion, Mr Byers was approached by a Sixth-Former in Manchester who confessed that she was unlikely to go onto university because she was scared of what would await her as an identifying Jew. Her concern came as a result of the reports she had heard from various friends and family members of the hostility that some Jewish students were experiencing because of their faith and sympathy towards Israel. It became apparent that she was far from the only young person being deterred from university or apprehensive in what they termed "the current climate". Evidence was garnered during this and other trips that this particular age-range was not the only one to be affected by such disquiet. Attacks on synagogues, cemeteries and individuals, in addition to the perceived hostility in the national press have all combined to make British Jews feel increasingly under siege.

  15.  However, according to the research conducted by Populus, it is not widely understood that Jews are victims of racism. The research suggests that the perceived success and wealth of British Jews, combined with a difficulty in identifying them from the wider population means that many do not recognise that anti-Semitism exists and that it is a form of racism. It is also suggested that vigilance against other forms of racism is a widely accepted concept in the UK, and yet when Jews are the subject of racism, they are accused of paranoia or overstatement. It should be accepted by all right-minded people that anti-Semitism is a human rights issue. Slandering, defaming, attacking, oppressing or intimidating a Jewish person, is to commit an anti-Semitic act as well as a racist one.

  16.  A complicating factor in this equation is the part played by the state of Israel. However, ethnically and religiously motivated hatred, violence and prejudice, wherever it occurs, should earn unconditional condemnation; sympathy and support for the victims should not be conditional on their behaviour or political convictions. It is increasingly the case that, because rage over Israel's policies can provide the pretext, condemnation is often too slow and increasingly conditional. Regardless of the expressed motive, Jewish people and Jewish institutions are being targeted.


  17.  The mutation of anti-Semitism now evident in the Western world (especially Western Europe) is very different from the state-sponsored anti-Semitism encountered a generation ago in Hitler's Germany or Stalin's Soviet Union. Today's anti-Semitism in the West is not nurtured by systematic, government-imposed discrimination against Jews. Moreover, national governments and multi-national organisations (OSCE, EU and most recently, the UN) are taking the first steps towards addressing the problem. However, there is an urgent need to acknowledge that the traditional sources of anti-Semitism have been supplanted by new ones that are more nuanced about expressing their prejudices. The new anti-Semitism is coming simultaneously from three different directions: first, a radicalised Islamic youth inflamed by extremist rhetoric; second, a left-wing anti-American cognitive elite with strong representation in the European media; third, a resurgent far right, as anti-Muslim as it is anti-Jewish. And, as Jonathan Sacks suggests, "it is being fed by the instability of globalisation, the insecurity of the post-Cold War international arena, and the still-undischarged trauma of 11 September".7

  18.  After the horrific car bombs in Istanbul and the burning of a Jewish school in Paris in November 2003, The Guardian conceded that "a new wave of anti-Semitism is on the march across the globe". Its leader article acknowledged that the Anglo-Jewish community had good reason to feel "unsettled, uncomfortable and fearful", following random attacks on schools, synagogues and cemeteries"8. Anti-Semites feel emboldened again. Their prejudice, suppressed out of guilt but lying latent for the past 50 years, is finding its way back to the mainstream.

September 2004
Rt Hon Stephen Byers MPChairman
Rt Hon the Lord Merlyn-ReesPresident
Rt Hon the Lord Hunt of Wirral MBEPresident
Rt Hon the Lord Campbell of Croy MCVice President
Rt Hon the Lord Archer of Sandwell QCVice President
James Clappison MPVice Chair
Louise Ellman MPVice Chair
Andrew Dismore MPTreasurer
The Lord Janner of Braunstone QCSecretary


  [1] Prof Ruth Wisse: Commentary Magazine, "On Ignoring Anti-Semitism"—Oct 2002.

  [2] Populus report on Anti-Semitism (March 2004).

  [3] Daily Mail, "Bombshell as Bush turns his anger on Israelis"—5 April 2002.

  [4] Norbert Blüm: "Der deutsche Tonfall", Die Zeit, 11 April 2002.

  [5] and [7] Pre-amble to lecture delivered by Chief Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks to the Parliamentary      Committee Against Anti-Semitism—January 2002.

  [6] See Community Security Trust (CST) incident figures 2000-04.

  [8] The Guardian, "Our Dulled Nerve" (Leader)—18 November 2003.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2005
Prepared 7 January 2005