UK expert Dave Rich offers advice on confronting the recent explosion of antisemitism

July 30, 2021 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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At a time of rising antisemitism, the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council’s latest webinar guest was Dave Rich, Director of Policy at the U.K’s Community Security Trust.

Dave Rich

The CST advises and represents the UK Jewish community on matters relating to antisemitism, terrorism and extremism.

Rich, who has written and studies widely on these subjects, spoke on “Antisemitism in 2021”.

He explained that what happens in one country influences others, as antisemites learn from each other. The theme of Israel being the same as the Nazis, he said, is ubiquitous in anti-Israel propaganda, and all over teenagers’ Instagram pages, making it very challenging for Jewish students. The equation was everywhere in reactions to the recent Israel-Hamas conflict, including homemade placards at London demonstrations – demonstrating people thought that was the most important thing to say.

Together with this modern antisemitic narrative were older themes, including Binyamin Netanyahu as a devil and a snake, Jews doing to Palestinians what they did to Jesus and Israel acting as it does because it is a Jewish state, showing extreme hatred of Israel meshes with old antisemitic tropes. Other examples are claims Israeli money controls governments and Zionists planned the 9/11 attacks to allow Israeli expansion.

He reported there was a huge escalation in the numbers of antisemitic incidents during the conflict, with a record 600 reported to the CST in a month, including a vicious assault on a rabbi.

He explained there is a three-way relationship between incitement and antisemitism online and in demonstrations, and hate crime on the street – mostly in the form of shouted abuse. The levels of hatred triggered by Israel are like no other foreign issue.

So, he added, “it is antisemitism being expressed in different ways, but it also fuels [that expression]. It encourages it… and whenever Israel has a conflict, that is why antisemitism surges in our own countries.”

He added that the COVID pandemic has also been a factor, increasing frustrations and emotions, and generating its own antisemitic narrative.

That narrative has three main themes. The first is that COVID is good because it kills Jews. He showed an image with the tagline, “If you have the bug, give a hug. Spread the flu to every Jew” and the word “Holocough” at the bottom, created by US neo-Nazis.

The second is the “Jew Flu” conspiracy that Jews created either the virus or a hoax pandemic to engineer economic collapse. He added, “And it’s just an example of how antisemitic conspiracy theories will latch on to anything going on in the world and find a way to fit it into their worldview that everything bad that happens in the world, Jews, Zionists, Israel – some combination of them are behind them.”

The third is that Israel is equivalent to COVID – COVID is deadly and spreads and the whole world needs to fight it, and Israel is the same. He noted that “we could do the same talk every year and there will be new narratives, there’ll be new images that pick up on anything going on in the world of significance and especially anything negative and twist it to give it an antisemitic perspective.” The challenge, he said, is to make sure government, police and social media companies also recognise this phenomenon.

Traditional antisemitism comes from the far-Right, but the COVID-related type, he said, spread through conspiracy networks that are neither far-left nor far-right, but mixed. Most Gaza-related antisemitism came from the far-left or radical Muslims.

Antisemitism is core to the extreme-right, with huge numbers of antisemitic images on fringe social media channels, where the far-right encourage violence against Jews.


He added that behind the far-right worldview is antisemitism, and the anti-immigration and anti-Muslim belief sits on a foundation of antisemitic conspiracy theory, the replacement theory that Jews are conspiring to replace the white race, which leads to terrorism. That level of violence is fundamental to the far-right, but not the far-left, he said, adding that “one of the features of antisemitism globally is the number of different directions that it can come from,” especially in the online world where the boundaries between extremes really become blurred. For example, right-wing antisemitic content is often spread on left-wing social media.

Therefore, he said, “we have to be looking in all directions when we try and find solutions to antisemitism. We have to find solutions that don’t just rely on dealing with one particular type or finding allies from one particular part of society, but can… treat it as a kind of whole picture threat to society and to the fundamentals of democracy, really, and find allies on that basis.”

He said there were many reasons the recent conflict saw worse antisemitism than previous fighting, despite fewer casualties. It started around the Al-Aqsa Mosque, bringing a religious element with more powerful emotions. Social media has changed since 2014, with the main platforms being the image-based Instagram and TikTok, and celebrity influencers circulating images globally getting millions of views. There’s also the pandemic making reactions to everything more extreme than normal.

Lessons learnt from British Labour’s antisemitism issues apply broadly, he said. Radical left ideas incorporating antisemitism and creating space for it to exist in many parties, and left-wing parties aren’t good at keeping out extreme-Left influence, especially with ideas being shaped online.

On what we can do about antisemitism, he said, “It’s really important to know how to explain what antisemitism is and to explain what Israel is and what it means for Jewish people… there is so much ignorance and so much misinformation goes around about Israel, about Zionism, about antisemitism.”

University campuses, he said, have been a big problem for a while, and antisemitism now comes from staff as well as students. Especially in humanities and social science disciplines, academics are expected to sign kind of loyalty statements that say Israel is apartheid, which becomes core to their scholarship and defines what is acceptable. It is therefore especially important that universities adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of Antisemitism and then use and apply it.

He said we can’t ignore social media – the idea that Israel shouldn’t exist and is a racist, colonial hangover is very influential, especially among youth. We need to change the narrative with a better, broad-brush story about the place for Israel in this world, “to suck the energy out of this eliminationist fervour that wants to see Israel just wiped from the map.”

Many countries are going through a period of reflection about racism, he said, so people see racism as the way to understand everything. The anti-Zionist narrative sees not a conflict, but racist oppression by white people, so the anti-colonial narrative gets a lot more purchase now.

He said many people of the left, like Jeremy Corbyn, see themselves and even their entire self-identity as anti-racist, so they see allegations against them of antisemitism as simply a Zionist smear. The far-left is where the energy is on the left, so the leftwing mainstream tends to get dragged further left.

To counter antisemitism, he said, it’s crucial there’s a cost, whether criminal prosecution, bans from social media or ostracism. Governments can ensure there’s appropriate legislation, fund security for the Jewish community, properly investigate antisemitism and terrorism and show leadership. But beyond that, we need changes in society, as governments can only go so far, and the radical left doesn’t listen to government.

“So”, he concluded, “those are the forms of leadership we need in society, especially from those bodies that are traditionally anti-racist and anti-discrimination, whether that is trade unions, whether it’s churches and religious leaders, whether it’s other kinds of opinion formers and so on, to basically make sure antisemitism is socially unacceptable and that there is…a cost, even if it’s an informal cost, that people suffer for expressing these views.” We also need proper regulation of social media to stop hate online, he added.


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