Analysis |

British Parliament Took a Brave Stance Against 'Goysplaining' anti-Semitism

A special committee's report, which states that Jews should be allowed to flag what constitutes anti-Jewish speech in their eyes, is a landmark document.

Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer
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Protests against anti-Semitism outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London on August 31, 2014.
Protests against anti-Semitism outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London on August 31, 2014.Credit: AFP
Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer

The anti-Semitism report by the British Parliament’s Home Affairs Select Committee is a fascinating document in many ways. For a start, it’s one of a kind. No parliament has ever published such a detailed and reasoned report on the hatred of Jews in its own country.

What makes it even more unique is that Britain, according to a number of surveys, is the least anti-Semitic of any European country with a significant Jewish community. The report seriously tackles one of the most difficult questions in 21st-century political discourse – how to define anti-Semitism when it is more often disguised as anti-Zionism.

And though for most of its work the committee was chaired by a Labour Party MP and had other Labour MPs sitting on it, the panel unanimously endorsed conclusions criticizing both Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his handpicked investigator into anti-Semitism in the party, Shami Chakrabarti, for failing to address the issue.

No one who has closely followed the toxic debate over left-wing anti-Semitism in the last year or so will be remotely surprised by these conclusions. The report singles out three Labour notables Corbyn, Chakrabarti and former London Mayor Ken Livingstone as prime examples of “the failure of the Labour Party consistently and effectively to deal with antisemitic incidents in recent years,” which has risked “lending force to allegations that elements of the Labour movement are institutionally antisemitic.”

Corbyn, “despite his proud record on fighting racism,” according to the committee, does not “fully appreciate the distinct nature of contemporary antisemitism, and the fact that it is perfectly possible for an ‘anti-racist campaigner’ to express antisemitic views.” Therefore “his lack of consistent leadership on this issue has created what some have referred to as a ‘safe space’ for those with vile attitudes towards Jewish people, exacerbated by the Party’s demonstrable incompetence at dealing with members accused of antisemitism.”

Chakrabarti, a human-rights lawyer and now a baroness and Labour’s shadow attorney general, was selected by Corbyn to issue her own report on anti-Semitism in the party. According to the committee, she “has thrown into question the independence of the Labour Party’s inquiry” in accepting a seat in the House of Lords from Corbyn shortly after writing her report. It was a report “ultimately compromised by its failure to deliver a comprehensive set of recommendations, to provide a definition of antisemitism, or to suggest effective ways of dealing with antisemitic incidents.”

Tourists stand on Westminster Bridge near the Big Ben clock tower at the Houses of Parliament in London, U.K.Credit: Bloomberg

‘Zionist outpost’

Livingstone, who has been suspended from the Labour Party, was criticized for his repeated remarks that Adolf Hitler supported Zionism. He repeated these statements knowing full well how offensive they would be to the Jewish community.

The committee also focused on the new president of the National Union of Students, Malia Bouattia, who famously described a university with a significant Jewish presence as “a Zionist outpost” and refused to allow the Union of Jewish Students to appoint a representative to the NUS anti-racism committee, as it has done in the past. The committee blamed Bouattia for “failing to take sufficiently seriously the issue of antisemitism on university campuses.”

But that much is already known and unremarkable to anyone who has been paying attention. Important is the committee’s valiant attempt to define what can be constituted as anti-Semitism in modern Britain, and by extension, in Western political discourse.

The report states what should be obvious but sadly is not that the starting point for any discussion on anti-Semitism should be what the Jewish community and Jews themselves feel is anti-Semitic. This is important because unlike other forms of racism and bias against ethnic minorities, gay people and women, the subjective opinion of the targeted group has not been taken into consideration.

Instead, with Jews there is all too often a tendency toward “goysplaining,” where non-Jews condescendingly explain to Jews why they are wrong at being offended. No other minority is treated in such a fashion, and this report, which categorically states that Jews should also be allowed to flag what constitutes anti-Jewish speech in their eyes, is a landmark document.

Which leads to another important conclusion that while “it is not antisemitic to hold the Israeli Government to the same standards as other liberal democracies,” the word “Zionist” is all too often nowadays “used as a proxy for the word ‘Jew.’” ...“[T]he word ‘Zionist’ (or worse, ‘Zio’) as a term of abuse, however, has no place in a civilised society. It has been tarnished by its repeated use in antisemitic and aggressive contexts. Antisemites frequently use the word ‘Zionist’ when they are in fact referring to Jews, whether in Israel or elsewhere.”

This is a brave conclusion that alone warrants the report’s 70 pages.

Jeremy Corbyn and Shami Chakrabarti, the independent lawyer who conducted an inquiry into anti-Semitism in the Labour party, present findings at a press conference in London, U.K., 30 June, 2016.Credit: Jonathan Brady, AP

Far leftists and rightists

There was something very sad about the committee’s open hearings, and about the fact that there was a need to hold such events in this day and age. Watching Corbyn and Livingstone trying to weasel their way out of past statements and notorious hatemongers they’ve endorsed was particularly pitiful.

But those hearings also brought home the fact that while Livingstone was once mayor of London, and Corbyn is now the leader of what is supposed to be the main opposition party, both men are marginal and thoroughly discredited politicians. Livingstone is regarded as a figure of derision, while Corbyn’s Labour is destined, according to all the polls, to a long period of national irrelevance.

The committee commissioned its report following a rise of anti-Semitism in Britain. But this rise is attributed only to verbal and mainly online abuse, not to physical violence against Jews, cases of which are nearly nonexistent. By every objective parameter, except abuse online, Jews’ situation in Britain has never been better, and the committee’s very existence proves just how much anti-Semitism is not tolerated outside a few pockets on Labour’s far left, among the tiny neo-Nazi skinhead groups and in a few deluded student unions.

This important report points out the isolated pockets of anti-Semitism in Britain and helps to further marginalize them. When in France, Belgium and Denmark, Jews have been murdered, and in the United States, Donald Trump has risen as a presidential candidate openly appealing to neo-Nazis and white supremacists, it’s hard not to argue that the Jews of Britain are safer than any other community in the world.

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