CST Blog

Turning a blind eye to antisemitism: Amnesty and co.

20 December 2018

This article, by CST's Director of Communications, Mark Gardner, originally appeared in the Jewish Chronicle under the headline 'Ignoring antisemitism may now be Amnesty International policy' on 19 December 2018:

Amnesty has, in just over a year, issued two reports on misogyny, racism and social media that make no mention of antisemitism. This, despite CST and our partners, such as the Antisemitism Policy Trust, having extensively evidenced the abuse that Jewish women suffer, especially MPs.

Amnesty’s behaviour typifies how a depressingly large number of people in the anti-racism world repeatedly blind eye antisemitism.

I know this, because colleagues and I have experienced it so many times over the years, whether in private confidential meetings, full blown public conferences, media arguments, or anywhere else, including when I met with Jeremy Corbyn alongside the Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council.

It is always the same. The people you meet sincerely believe themselves to be opponents of antisemitism, but still manage to leave you, and their followers, in no doubt that they are incapable of taking antisemitism seriously, unless it comes from the far right.

The reason for this is because they understand racism as being about colour and measures of achievement. For them, the social and economic condition of white Jews cannot be compared with that of oppressed Muslims and people of colour. If you can turn the Jews into Zionists, then it becomes even worse, because Zionists and Israel are forever damned as vital parts of the oppression that causes racism in the first place.

Zionism and Israel are never far from this. It is rare to find an anti-racist group that both ignores antisemitism and Israel. Mr Corbyn’s refusals to accept the IHRA definition of antisemitism have made this even worse. Israel is no longer just a racist regime. Instead, our desire for it, in a post-Holocaust world, is damned as “a racist endeavour”.

So, you can either be pro-Israel and racist, or anti-Israel and anti-racist.

In these circles, the request that British Jews must condemn Israel as a trade for concern about antisemitism is seldom explicitly made, because such language would obviously stink of racism: but the stench of the demand is always lingering.

Ultimately, the strength of anti-Israel feeling simply overwhelms any desire to stand alongside mainstream Jewish communities and to meaningfully oppose contemporary antisemitism, a position that is encouraged by a noisy handful of anti-Zionist Jews who hold nothing but contempt for the concerns of their co-religionists.

In the specific case of Amnesty UK, their ignoring antisemitism seems not only to be the accidental by-product of a worldview. Rather, it may actually reflect official policy.

In March 2015, a resolution at their annual conference “to campaign against antisemitism” was defeated, the only motion not to pass at the conference. Three months later, following criticism of the decision, Amnesty’s Chair claimed that his new Board had decided that Amnesty International UK will be proactive in responding publicly to incidents of anti-Semitism in the UK”. Other promises were also made.

Go to the Amnesty website and try searching for these responses to antisemitism. They appear not to exist. This, despite unprecedented media coverage of antisemitism, despite the fears voiced by British Jews about their future and despite CST repeatedly recording record number of anti-Semitic incidents.

Amnesty know how we feel about this. The rejected antisemitism resolution followed an ugly public argument in 2013, when they publicly defended one of their staff who had  made an antisemitic joke against MPs Luciana Berger, Louise Ellman and Robert Halfon.

For me, Amnesty’s attitude comes down to my personal experience with a senior Amnesty researcher in October 2015, when we gave the keynote speeches at a high level EU Colloquium on combatting antisemitism and anti-Muslim hatred. I detailed the escalating levels of antisemitism across Europe and said: “If Jews cannot lead a normal life here, they will either leave, or hide their identities and cease to be Jewish in any meaningful sense.

"We need moral support and it matters when our concerns are ignored by so many of those to whom we instinctively turn for anti-racist solidarity, including Amnesty International who are on the panel today.”

I never heard from the researcher again, nor from any of his colleagues. Three years later and three years worse off, we still instinctively expect this support, we need it more than ever, but we are still being denied it.

This matters because Jews will fight antisemitism alone, but we will never win alone.

To halt and reverse the current trend, we need all those who claim an air of moral superiority and leadership to stand up and be counted.

This goes for churches, trade unions, politicians, academics and anti-racism groups, of which Amnesty is one of the most important.

Every time they turn their backs on us, we become further isolated and antisemitism is emboldened. Their silences could hardly be louder.

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