Glasgow Jewish Educational Forum

Archive for January, 2009

Antony Lerman briefs ACPOS

Posted by Admin on January 28, 2009

On Wednesday 21st January, Antony Lerman, former Executive Director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, addressed the ACPOS Religion and Faith Reference Group on the subject of antisemitism. This event was facilitated by GJEF at the request of ACPOS (Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland), and officials in the Scottish Government. Mr Lerman’s lecture was very well received and afterwards there was a lengthy discussion about this important issue. GJEF would like to thank ACPOS for their invitation and excellent hospitality.

Summary of Antony Lerman’s briefing to ACPOS:

The upsurge of antisemitic incidents since the beginning of the Israeli bombing and invasion of Gaza shows that antisemitism is alive and well. But the fact that these incidents are directly linked to the Israel-Palestine conflict shows also that antisemitism today is a complex phenomenon.

Although the word ‘antisemitism’ was coined in the late 19th century, it has come to refer to Jew-hatred going back to the birth of Christianity. Hundreds of years of persecution and discrimination culminated in the most virulent form of antisemitism—based on ‘scientific’ racism—which was adopted by the Nazis and led to the Holocaust.

After the Second World War, antisemitism did not disappear, but it became less acceptable to express antisemitic views in public. With the development of human rights legislation and laws to combat racial incitement, and the commitment of governments to protect their Jewish communities, antisemitism gradually declined. With the collapse of communism in 1989, Jews practically everywhere were free to choose to be Jewish or not for the first time and the 1990s saw a flowering of Jewish culture.

However, growing hostility to Israel after the collapse of the Oslo accords, which built on the development of anti-Zionism from the 1970s onwards, was seen by many to have an antisemitic element. With the outbreak of the second intifada, the anti-Jewish activity witnessed at the UN anti-racism conference in Durban and the 9/11 attacks, the opening of the 21st century saw a resurgence of antisemitism. Many see this as a ‘new antisemitism’—hatred of the collective Jew in the form of the state of Israel. But others deny that there is such a separate form of antisemitism and insist on keeping a distinction between anti-Zionism and antisemitism, even though they do sometimes overlap.

Combating antisemitism today requires sensitivity to, and an understanding of, the complexities of the problem. Monitoring antisemitism is extremely important, as the All Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism, which produced a report and recommendations in 2006, stressed. However, recording antisemitic incidents, which police forces across the country are all being urged to do, is only one part of monitoring antisemitism. One of the problems facing both law enforcement agencies and researchers is that, while antisemitism is a form of racism, it’s different in some important respects. For example, anti-black racism manifests itself clearly in discrimination. Jews in the UK suffer no discrimination to speak of.

In the Jewish community, the Community Security Trust plays a very important role in monitoring antisemitism and providing security for Jewish premises and events. However, as a private organization it is not always clear whether it can strike a balance between intelligence-driven action and community accountability, between the need to ensure heightened awareness of its assessment of the threat posed by antisemitism and the need to ensure that community life can carry on as normal.

Looking ahead, it is important to remember that the current rise in antisemitic incidents as a result of the fallout from the Gaza conflict does not necessarily mean that there has been a rise in underlying hostility to Jews. Jews were once seen as ‘the canary in the coalmine’—when society’s democratic structures were collapsing, Jews would be the first in the firing line. This is no longer true. Other groups are the primary targets of most racists today. This doesn’t mean that antisemitic acts, when they occur, are any less troubling, but it does not help to combat the very real antisemitism that exists by exaggerating the threat it poses.

The recession we now face is likely to make life more difficult for some minority groups and especially for refugees and asylum-seekers. To the extent that this spills over into an increase in open expressions of racism, we will all be disadvantaged by the resulting coarsening of relationships in society.

Dealing with antisemitism requires a proportionate response. Policy-making at whatever level will not succeed if the threat is either exaggerated or underestimated. Sadly, we will never rid the world of racism and antisemitism completely, but we can do a very great deal to create the conditions which reduce hatreds to a level where they do as little harm as possible.

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