Antisemitic Discourse Report 2016
6 September 2017
CST’s new report, Antisemitic Discourse in Britain 2016, looks at the presence of antisemitic ideas or language, and discussion of antisemitism in general, in mainstream media, politics and public debate last year. Explicit prejudice or hostility towards or about Jews, simply for being Jewish, is rarely voiced in British public life; but antisemitism became a national political issue in 2016, while media discussion of the subject was more prominent than it had been for many years.
This occurred largely because of the controversy over antisemitism in the Labour Party, which peaked in April 2016 with the suspensions of Naz Shah MP and Ken Livingstone for alleged antisemitic comments. This topic was front-page news and the subject of three investigations or inquiries by the Labour Party; written about in opinion columns in national newspapers; and argued about repeatedly at Prime Minister’s Question Time in Parliament.
In particular, Livingstone’s claim that Hitler “was supporting Zionism” before he “went mad and ended up killing 6 million Jews” provoked outrage from many politicians, media commentators and others. His statement was rooted in old Soviet anti-Zionist propaganda effectively equating Nazis and Zionists, and brought this ex-Soviet propaganda into the centre of contemporary antisemitic, anti-Zionist, and anti-Israel discourse within and around the Labour Party.
Specific allegations of antisemitic comments made by Labour Party members, activists, councillors and other office holders were linked to a broader concern inside and outside the Jewish community that antisemitic stereotypes and conspiracy theories, often expressed through the language of anti-Zionism, have become widespread and accepted in large parts of the anti-Zionist and anti-Israel left. The Labour Party and its leadership took steps to address the issue of antisemitism, including through the Chakrabarti Inquiry and its recommendations, but many British Jews were unpersuaded that these were sufficient or effective.
Other political parties, including the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and the UK Independence Party, also had to address allegations of antisemitic comments made by members or office holders. One such complaint led to Baroness Jenny Tonge leaving the Liberal Democrats in anticipation of being expelled by the party.
This report also looks beyond the main political parties, including at the problem of antisemitism on the internet. it was revealed in 2016 that Google searches relating to the Holocaust or to Jews repeatedly returned antisemitic search results and direct users towards antisemitic websites. It was suggested that neo-Nazi or other extremist activists deliberately manipulate Google’s search algorithms to ensure that this is the case. Google altered their search results after this problem was highlighted.
The report also examines surveys published in 2016 that suggested antisemitic attitudes are more prevalent amongst British Muslims than in the general population. This was particularly the case in relation to conspiracy theories about alleged Jewish power and influence in politics, media and finance.
Several important steps were taken in 2016 to combat antisemitism and antisemitic discourse, which is recognised in the report. These included the Government’s decision to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism (known as the IHRA Definition), which includes several examples of discourse that may, depending on the context, be considered as antisemitic. This definition has since been adopted by the Labour Party, the National Union of Students, the Scottish and Welsh governments and several local authorities, and is used by the Crown Prosecution Service when assessing potential prosecutions for antisemitic hate crime.
Other steps taken to combat antisemitism included the Government action plan on hate crime, Action Against Hate; a report on antisemitism from the Home Affairs Select Committee; and the decision to proscribe the neo-Nazi group National Action under the Terrorism Act 2000.
In addressing the phenomenon of antisemitic discourse in public life, CST recognises the complexity and nuance often present in efforts to identify antisemitic speech that often comes from people who are not consciously or knowingly antisemitic, and who may not understand or appreciate the impact their words have on many Jewish people. CST distinguishes between this kind of language and antisemitic hate incidents, which are detailed in the separate Antisemitic Incidents Reports.