When “militant Zionist” just means “Jew”
12 April 2016
Antisemitism comes in lots of different guises. It can be blatant, subtle or hidden. It can invent new antisemitic charges, or rely on a reservoir of old antisemitic language and images. Or, sometimes, it just swaps the word “Zionist” for “Jew”, in the naïve hope that doing so will change an antisemitic statement into a political one.
This is what appears to have happened in an online campaign against Tell MAMA, an organisation that works to combat anti-Muslim hatred. CST’s relationship with Tell MAMA is no secret. We advised its Director, Fiyaz Mughal, before and after he set it up and CST’s former Chief Executive, Richard Benson, is now one of its two co-chairs.
We are proud of this cooperation with Tell MAMA, which means that Muslim victims of hate crime benefit indirectly from CST’s experience tackling antisemitism.
It is also a positive example of Muslims and Jews working together to reduce prejudice rather than being divided by it.
Some people, though, seem to dislike this approach to anti-racism. One of them is Muhammad Dilwar Hussain (better known as Dilly Hussain) of the Islamist blog, 5 Pillars. Hussain is angry because Fiyaz Mughal criticised the use of the racially-loaded phrases “Uncle Tom” and “House Muslim” by another Muslim journalist, Channel 4’s Assed Baig.
As part of his public criticism of Fiyaz Mughal, Hussain has tweeted that Tell MAMA is, in his words, “run by Zionists who support murder of children” and that it supposedly has “militant Zionist patrons and trustees”.
Hussain has written a longer Facebook post in which he attacks Tell MAMA because he believes “their board of trustees and patrons are infested with hardcore Zionists.”
Yesterday Hussain’s 5 Pillars blog posted an article that was even more specific, saying “Tell MAMA’s co-chair is the pro-Israeli Richard Benson.” (This link is to the Google cache version; the original appears to have been taken down). The article was taken from another Islamist blog called Coolness of Hind.
To be clear, CST is a British organisation that works to combat antisemitism and anti-Jewish terrorism in the UK. We work across the religious and political spectrum of the Jewish community. We do not advocate or lobby on behalf of Israel, nor do we require that CST staff have any particular political views about Israel. Most British Jews do feel a fundamental, emotional connection to Israel while having widely varying views about its politics.
Richard Benson’s leadership of Tell MAMA draws on his experience in communal security and combating hate crime. The idea that this work makes him a “militant Zionist” or a “hardcore Zionist” makes no sense.
This is not the first time that Tell MAMA has been attacked for working with CST. The Muslim lobbying group MEND did so previously. Their Chief Executive at the time, Sufyan Ismail, also swapped the word “Zionist” for “Jewish”, warning a Muslim audience in Greater Manchester not to work with Tell MAMA because they had a “pro-Zionist pretty much heading it”. Ismail also said that the “Israeli lobby” had lost a vote in Parliament for the first time in 300 years. Again, this only made sense if he meant “Israeli” as a synonym for “Jew”.
No surprise that MEND’s Azad Ali has tweeted a link to this latest attack on Tell MAMA.
This language reflects a more serious problem with antisemitic conspiracy theories in parts of British Muslim life. A new opinion poll by ICM shows that antisemitic attitudes are much more common amongst British Muslims than in the population as a whole.
For example, 35% of Muslim respondents agreed that “Jewish people have too much power in Britain”, compared to 9% of the population as a whole. 39% of Muslim respondents agreed that “Jewish people have too much power over the media”, compared to 10% of the population as a whole. 26% of Muslim respondents agreed that “Jews are responsible for most of the world’s wars”, compared to 6% of the population as a whole. Several other questions produced similar responses.
Antisemitism is bad for Jews, obviously, but it is also bad for antisemites. It renders them stupid, impotent and unable to overcome their real problems. Arguing that Muslims working to reduce anti-Muslim hatred should not cooperate with Jews who have experience in tackling antisemitism is a perfect example.
In this atmosphere, it is more important than ever for Jews and Muslims to work together to reduce prejudice, suspicion and fear between our communities. Happily, there is a great deal of interfaith and inter-communal activity across Muslim and Jewish life which provides an encouraging model of Jewish-Muslim relationships.
CST will continue to work with Tell MAMA as our contribution to this effort. We hope that in doing so we can help to combat anti-Muslim hatred and counter antisemitic attitudes at the same time.