CST Discourse Report: Gaza Conflict and UK Antisemitic Discourse

18 Nov 2010 by CST

(This is the 4th in a series of sections and summaries from CST’s recently released report, Antisemitic Discourse in Britain in 2009. The full pdf can be accessed here. 58 pages, including graphics. The below pages, 18 and 19, can be accessed here.)

The Gaza conflict in December 2008 / January 2009 excited a wave of fury and scrutiny from many political activists and some mainstream circles. The conflict triggered more antisemitic attacks in the UK than any other single event in recent memory.

Anti-Israel discourse during the Gaza conflict included distinct echoes of far older antisemitic themes that may not be deliberate on the part of their proponents, but can still have antisemitic consequences.

Antisemitic incident levels were wholly unprecedented during the Gaza conflict and did not subside to pre-conflict levels until May. In total, more antisemitic incidents occurred in the first six months of 2009 than in any entire year previously on record.

Longer lasting political and social negative impacts against mainstream Jewish communities derive from Israel being treated as a racist pariah state; and by some as a new Nazi Germany.

Resonance and Reinforcement of Antisemitism

Jews were not the target of media scrutiny of Israel or demonstrations against Israel. Indeed, Jews played full roles in both the media scrutiny and anti-Israel demonstrations. Nevertheless, some of the news coverage, and much of the public demonstrations, echoed the following deeply rooted antisemitic motifs and themes:

  • Jews are intrinsically evil and set against the rest of humanity
  • Jews are bloodthirsty and kill innocents: children in particular
  • Jews are vindictive

These themes, directed against Israel and Zionists, rather than Jews per se, culminated in a contemporary antisemitic charge:

  • Israel is the new Nazi Germany

The Israel-Nazi Germany comparison is directly hurtful and damaging to Jews. Those who make the comparison want to shock and enrage their audience.

The Nazi charge appeared repeatedly on anti-Israel demonstrations: made by organisers, speakers and demonstrators. It takes the Holocaust away from Jews and replaces Palestinians as its victims...  

Furthermore, allegations in both mainstream media and anti-Israel demonstrations implied that pro-Israel or Zionist lobbies were ensuring that the USA did not stop the Gaza conflict; and similarly preventing meaningful intervention from Britain. It was also implied that the BBC’s refusal to show a charity appeal for Gaza was due to this same pressure. Taken together, this echoed three widespread and interlocking Jewish conspiracy themes:

  • Jewish conspiracy controls politicians
  • Jewish conspiracy controls the media
  • Jewish conspiracy facilitates wars against non-Jews

The overwrought claim that the defeat of Israel and/or Zionism holds the key to bringing about a new, fair and better world was repeatedly seen at anti-Israel demonstrations. This echoed the motivation of antisemitism throughout the ages, namely: 

  • Jews must be defeated in order to save the world

All of this adds to the complexity surrounding what responsibility lies with commentators and activists when Israel and/or Zionism is being discussed; and how this responsibility should reflect the (hotly disputed) reality of both Israel’s actions and those of its Jewish supporters. 

At the very least, influential critics of Israel should know the volatility of the subject matter. Accordingly, their language should be precise and should avoid being open to easy interpretation as supporting deeply ingrained antisemitic notions about Jews. 

Antisemitic Impacts of Media and Public Discourse

A small number of antisemitic incidents[1], including those summarised below, made direct reference to mainstream media discourse about the Gaza war. (This demonstrates that antisemitism may be sparked by such material. It is not to allege that the media discourse cited was in any way illegitimate or antisemitic.)

A Jewish organisation in London received an email reading: “Just watching the report on Gaza, on the BBC. The hatred for your people that didn’t exist before certainly exists now…The next Jew I see, I will spit in his face.” (This was sent during a BBC Panorama documentary on Gaza.)

Several Jewish organisations received hate-mail featuring a cartoon from The Times about the Gaza war with writing on it: “God will curse the filthy YIDS, They kill our Wives, they kill our KIDS! Steal our Land, Bomb our houses to BITS, God won’t forgive the Israeli GESTAPO SHITS.” (The photocopies of the cartoon had further handwriting down the side, reading "THE JEWBOY IDEA OF A FAIR FIGHT", and then listing the supposed relative military strengths of Israel and Hamas.)      

The head of a Jewish organisation received a telephone text reading:  "u fuckin jew u r dead I know u live" (sic). The caller then phoned directly and held the phone to his/her television, which was playing a news report of events in Gaza (4 January 2009).

Rowan Laxton, a senior diplomat at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was heard to shout “F**king Israelis, f**king Jews” whilst exercising in a gym and watching a news report from Gaza.

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[1] Of the 924 antisemitic incidents recorded by CST during 2009, 23% included the perpetrator making a reference to Gaza. It is clear that the conflict had a profound impact on the level and nature of antisemitic incidents during 2009. This is detailed in CST's Antisemitic Incidents Report 2009 a full pdf of which can be accessed here. (35 pages including graphics.)


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