There is to be a debate in Manchester town hall about flying the Palestinian flag following a 2,500-strong petition. The idea was put forward at the height of 2014 conflict in Israel/Gaza but critics say it would harm community relations. The move is bound to anger Communities Secretary Eric Pickles who recently claimed that councils which invent their own “municipal foreign policy” by flying the Palestinian flag are behaving “irresponsibly.”
Meanwhile, anti-Semitic incidents have soared by 80 per cent in Manchester over the past year. Incidents have included verbal abuse, physical attacks, vandalism, desecration of cemeteries and the boycotting of Kedem, a Jewish cosmetics shop. In 2014, 269 anti-Semitic hate crimes were recorded in Manchester – up from 131 in 2013 and 127 in 2012. Together Manchester and London represent three-quarters of all anti-Semitic hate crime in Britain.
According to Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan, anti-Semitic reactions to tensions in the Middle East are the single biggest contributing factor. “We know from our figures that international events – such as the escalation of hostilities in Gaza – have had a significant impact within our communities and has motivated a large number of these hate crimes,” he stated.
Manchester has a good record when it comes to tackling hate crime. According to police, a hate crime is a crime committed against someone because of their disability, race or ethnicity, religion or belief, sexual orientation and transgender identity. For the first time in the UK, police in Greater Manchester will officially record if a person who belongs to an alternative sub-culture has been a victim of hate crime.
This begs the question, should Greater Manchester Police lead the way once again by categorising anti-Zionist rhetoric and imagery as a hate crime? After all, the fifty-day protest outside Kedem in Manchester last year was clearly designed to incite racial hatred. When an individual or group threatened to harass a person or a group of people because of their pro-Israel attitudes, that is incitement to hatred. In the case of the Kedem protests, incitement took the form of words, pictures and videos. It also included information posted on YouTube and other social media.
In other words, much of the violence committed against Jews in Manchester during 2014 can probably be attributed to anti-Zionism. Of course, anti-Zionism is a form of anti-Semitism, but it also something more. It is a hatred of the State of Israel and her supporters – both Jew and gentile. Because many anti-Zionists like to claim they’re not anti-Semitic, we also have to make a distinction. Without defining what it is we are trying to combat, how can we ever hope to defeat it? Anti-Zionism must be exposed as a particular kind of hatred if it is to contested.
Moreover, because a tiny minority of Jews are anti-Zionist, the term ‘anti-Semitism’ can be problematic. Anti-Zionism and anti-Zionist, then, are useful epithets that can be directed at both gentiles and Jews who incite hatred against the Jewish State and her supporters. In my view, anti-Zionism should be treated with the same public disgust as homophobia and misogyny. In other words, anti-Zionists should be publicly and legally ostracised.
Under UK law, “incitement to racial hatred” was established as an offence by the provisions of of the Public Order Act 1986, although it was first established as a criminal offence in the Race Relations Act 1976. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 made publication of material that incited racial hatred an arrestable offence. Laws against incitement to hatred against religions were later established under the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006. The offense of “incitement to racial hatred” refers to deliberately provoking hatred of a racial group, distributing racist material to the public, inciting inflammatory rumours about an ethnic group, for the purpose of spreading racial discontent, making inflammatory public speeches and creating racist websites. All of this can be applied to the proliferation of anti-Zionist rhetoric and imagery in Manchester and elsewhere.
Let us not forget that Zionism was born out of Europe’s inability to accept Jews into their societies. After crusades, inquisitions, forced conversions, countless pogroms and the industrialised murder of six million Jews, the only option left to the Jewish people was/is to have a homeland. Now after having achieved the goal of Jewish self-determination in the Middle East, along comes anti-Zionism, which essentially denies Jews to a homeland. So where are Jews expected to go? Europe has made it clear that Jews are not welcome. Therefore, with nowhere else to go, the only logical alternative is the disappearance of the Jewish people. That is anti-Zionism and it is a form of racial hatred.
In other words, the core of the anti-Zionist worldview is the irrational and hateful belief that the Jews are not entitled to exist as a people, especially in their historic homeland in the Middle East.
Of course, criticism of Israeli policies – like criticism of any other country – is part and parcel of rational public discourse. Indeed, Israel’s media and Knesset members are not afraid of critiquing their own society. But drawing comparisons of Israel to that of the Nazis is a form of hate speech. Terms of abuse such as “Zio-Nazi” and “Zionists are the Nazis of the Middle East” should be classed as hate speech. Defacing the Israeli flag with a swastika is incitement to hatred and must be seen as such.
Applying double standards by requiring of Israel a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation is incitement to hatred. Denying Israel’s right to exist and/or calling for the State of Israel to be dismantled or destroyed is a form of hate speech. Calling for a war against an entire country and attempting to abolish the Jewish State is incitement to genocide.
Until the police and the authorities understand that anti-Zionism is a particular problem, then no progress will be made. Perhaps one solution is to tackle anti-Zionist on campuses. When he was Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks spoke about the intimidation of Jewish students in Britain as “part of a long, slow, insidious process intended to undermine academic freedom and it must not be tolerated.”
For example, the University and College Union (UCU) has repeatedly called for a boycott of Israeli academics. In May 2011, UCU members voted to disassociate itself from the EU working definition of anti-Semitism. In disgust, four leading Jewish academics in Scotland quit the UCU and the British government called on the Equality and Human Rights Commission to investigate the union. At the same time, the UCU was given notice of the intent of a Jewish UCU member to sue for breach of the UK Equality Act (2010).
According to Lesley Klaff, senior lecturer in law at Sheffield Hallam University, by allowing anti-Zionist expression on campuses, university authorities are in breach of their own equality, diversity and anti-harassment policies in relation to Jewish staff and students. Such policies, she says, “are required by law to promote equality of opportunity for minorities and to protect them from harassment and ethnic hostility.”
Another solution to the problem of anti-Zionism is to demonstrate to students that supporting Israel is liberally progressive. Israel is a world leader in innovating green technology and the advancement of animal welfare. It has a free press, a trade union movement and several co-operatives. Women are guaranteed gender equality, Israeli Arabs have the right to vote and homosexuals enjoy full civil rights. These values, which are in short supply in the Middle East, are exactly the kind of values which progressives and students should champion.
At the same time, Israel advocates must continue to protest against the presence of anti-Zionist guest speakers at university events, and challenge the charities, organisations, NGOS and churches that set up their Israelophobic stalls during Freshers’ week. We also need to educate people. We must explain to students that it was Islam, not Zionism, that colonised Palestine in the seventh century and built a mosque on the Temple Mount. We must explain to people that the Palestinians and the Arab states collaborated with the Nazis and then rejected the UN partition plan because they didn’t want to share the land with Jews. We must point out that on at least six occasions since 1948, the Palestinian Arabs have refused the offer of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.
In short, a sustained campaign is needed – a campaign which highlights the progressive nature of Zionism and exposes the reactionary intolerance of those who wish to dismantle the only democracy in the Middle East. Meanwhile, we need a debate in the UK and the wider European Union over whether legislation is needed to to outlaw racist hate speech, which is used to incite violence.