Last week, the Community Security Trust released its annual report on hate crimes against Jews in 2016. It found a record high of antisemitic incidents in Britain, with no discernible reason for this spike.
In response to the release of this report, Baroness Jenny Tonge asked rhetorically if it had been considered that hate crimes committed against Jews were because of Israeli government actions – and suggested that if the Jewish community spoke up against Israel it would lessen the amount of hate crimes.
This is hardly an aberrant comment from this source. In 2015, she tabled a written question in the House of Lords asking whether the British government would press Jewish “faith leaders” to condemn Israeli policy.
According to the definition of antisemitism officially adopted by the British Government in December last year, “Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel” is a contemporary example of how antisemitism manifests itself in public life.
Theresa May said the aim was to “ensure that culprits will not be able to get away with being antisemitic because the term is ill-defined.”
The necessity of an official definition is because, unique among all hate crimes, hate against Jews has largely been defined by the perpetrator and not the victim - in distinct opposition to the findings of the famous Stephen Lawrence Inquiry. The Macpherson Report specifically stated that the police are directed to investigate any incident that a victim believes to be racially motivated.
Tonge’s statement not only fits the newly adopted definition of antisemitism; she also singles out the Jewish people for her outrage.
In her long and dishonorable career in public life spanning almost four decades, Tonge has never blamed any other victims of hate crimes for their oppression.
It would be absurd to suggest that people of Iranian descent should be held responsible for the Islamic Republic’s hanging of gays, people in the Arabian Peninsula for the Saudi regime’s repression of women, religious and minority rights, or Chinese people living in Britain for the occupation and repression of Tibet.
However, Tonge has singled out one people for special treatment in the most despicable way, suggesting that unless they undergo some type of loyalty or ideological test they must be held responsible for any verbal or physical violence that is directed their way.
Her recent statement should serve as a test case for the legally adopted definition of antisemitism. It falls crudely but squarely under the definition and thus surely falls foul of Britain’s hate speech laws.
Offences under these laws carry a harsh punishment of imprisonment or a fine, or both. According to the House of Lords Reform Act of 2014, a Lord could be automatically expelled from the House upon conviction for a serious criminal offence, if resulting in a jail sentence of at least one year.
Pressing forward with steps against Tonge would send a very strong and robust message that the new definition of antisemitism has real meaning and significance and that nobody, regardless of position, is above the law, especially when it applies to hate against a group of people.
If a peer made hate comments against any other minority there would correctly be a national outcry for action, conviction and expulsion from parliament.
The law against hate speech should not create a two-tier system which holds hate against Jews to be qualitatively different from other forms of hate.
If the British authorities really believe in quelling and acting against antisemitism, they should start with an investigation against Jenny Tonge, and send a strong message that 2017 will be the year that hate against Jews will no longer be held to a double-standard in the application of the law and the severity of the crime.
Moshe Kantor is president of the European Jewish Congress