When Katie Hopkins announced to her 943,000 Twitter followers that she would be screening her film "Homelands" in Israel, my heart sank.
For the uninitiated, Hopkins is a UK reality TV star turned far right shock jock and online troll who seeks out opportunities to demonize and dehumanize migrants, religious minorities, LGBT folk and others with bombastic, divisive and overtly racist language.
Hopkins has used her media platforms to call refugees "cockroaches" and declared "we need a final solution" following the Manchester Arena ISIS bombing. She has said Islam "disgusts" her, accused Congresswoman Ilhan Omar of leading the "Islamification" of the U.S. and referred to London Mayor Sadiq Khan as the "Muslim mayor of Londonistan."
Her film, co-produced by Janice Atkinson, a disgraced outgoing member of the EU parliament and member of its Marine Le Pen-founded far-right Europe of Nations and Freedom faction, is openly marketed as pushing the same kind of "white genocide" narrative that fuelled the synagogue and mosque massacres respectively in in Pittsburgh and Christchurch.
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That Hopkins sees Israel as a natural home for her work shows just how far the Jewish state has drifted. It’s not surprising a UK far right provocateur would expect a warm welcome when Netanyahu himself has welcomed leaders like Orban, Duterte, Bolsonaro and Salvini, and Likud MKs have eagerly met with far-right politicians from Germany and Austria.
British Jewish activists, aware of the damage such a hate speaker could do, urged venue after venue in Israel to cancel. Three venues in Raanana and Jerusalem realized in time they didn’t want to provide a platform for Hopkins, but at the last minute a white knight in the shape of the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem, Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, rescued her, securing the Jerusalem venue of Beit Uri Zvi as a last-minute stand-in.
Hasson-Nahoum, the first British citizen to hold her position, is responsible among other duties for Diaspora engagement and tourism. British Jews have been vocal and open for years about the threat that racists like Hopkins pose.
That includes the representative body for UK Jews, the Board of Deputies, who told the Jewish Chronicle in reference to Hopkins in particular that "the vast majority of our community will remember Jewish history… [let’s] be clear that the far-right are no friends of ours."
After agreeing to meet Hopkins earlier this year in Israel, Jewish Agency Spokesman Yigal Palmor said: "I regret engaging in this. I misjudged what she stands for in the UK," and noted his meeting "in no way constitutes approval for her views on Muslims and minorities."
On Twitter, Hasson-Nahoum has refused to say whether she shares these sentiments, preferring to double-down on her supposed commitment to "free speech."
The furthest she has gone is to say (after she’d helped organize the screening) is that Hopkins "is a provocative voice in the UK," and that if "anti-Zionist BDS movies" can be shown in Jerusalem, then why not Hopkins. That had echoes of what Hopkins herself tweeted after the screening: that she was "disrupting the nonsense of the Arab pandering leftist media."
But the fact is that denying platforms to hate speakers works: Hopkins was fired for racism and incitement from talk-radio station LBC and from the Daily Mail, where she was a columnist. Since then her influence has waned significantly.
Alt-right figure Milo Yiannopoulos, formerly of Breitbart, racked up more than $2m of debt in 2018 when he became persona non grata for paid speaking events. Far right figures from Alex Jones to Laura Loomer have been kicked off Facebook. UK far right figure ‘Tommy Robinson’ – already banned from Twitter - was banned from Facebook for inciting racial hatred, particularly against Muslims.
Hopkins herself is banned from entering South Africa because of her racist views. She shares a platform with Holocaust deniers. She enthusiastically meets up with senior figures in Germany’s far-right AfD and the Nazi-founded Austrian Freedom Party, which Israel itself boycotts.
But Hasson-Nahoum is unable to see that offering a platform to Katie Hopkins creates a space for the spreading of hatred within Israel. And it is a catastrophic failure to understand the threats facing the exact same diaspora communities with whom she is supposed to engage.
An argument between the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem and British Jewish activists over a film screening may seem like the height of Jewish Twitter parochialism, but it exposes the growing chasm between Israel and the Jewish Diaspora. Diaspora theorist James Clifford stated that homecomings are, by definition, the end of diaspora, and two generations after the founding of the state, this is becoming clearer.
Israeli politicians, not least Israel’s most recent Diaspora Minister Naftali Bennett, proactively act against the interests of Diaspora Jews, most infamously by his comments to U.S. Jews after 11 Jews died in the Pittsburgh shootings denying there was any upsurge in anti-Semitism in America. They then cry betrayal when these same diasporas refuse to toe the political line demanded by the Israeli government.
That the Deputy Mayor for Diaspora engagement and tourism saw fit to host Hopkins shows either a woeful inability to understand her brief, or a genuine belief that facilitating the screening of an openly Islamophobic "documentary" is of benefit to Jerusalem, the State of Israel, or her own political career. Either of these call into question her fitness for political life in a city my own family has resided in since 1925.
The political climate for British Jews has worsened over the past few years. Many community activists have worked hard to push back against the racism and anti-Semitism creeping into our politics and society. So when elected officials like Hasson-Nahoum enable and support figures on the far-right - who dress up as opponents of anti-Semitism and lovers of Israel to signal boost their hatred of migrants and minorities - is more than demoralizing.
We will only be able to really root out anti-Semitism once we can decouple the idea that anyone anointing themselves crusaders against anti-Jewish hate, champions of pseudo "Judeo-Christian values" and self-declared "supporters of Israel" gets a free pass for the racism they direct against others.
We must stand together with the minorities targeted by vicious troll influencers like Hopkins, not to mention strongman autocrats in the mould of Orban and Bolsonaro, and not roll out the red carpet for them in Jerusalem.
Amos Schonfield is a youth worker and community organizer based in London. He is a board member of Yachad, the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement in the UK, who he represents at the Board of Deputies. Twitter: @AJSchonfield
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