Antisemitism has rightly become the focus of media attention in recent months and has lifted the lid on how many antisemites have been operating ‘under the radar’.
Regardless of whether their antisemitism is a product of far-right, far-left or Islamist views, covert antisemites are adept at hiding their underlying extremism. I’ve personally experienced how people can conceal their antisemitism by pretending to care about civil liberties and minority rights.
The majority of my professional life has been devoted to tackling hate speech and hate crime. I founded and was director of Muslims Against Anti-Semitism and from 2012 to 2017. I was the director of Tell MAMA, a national project monitoring anti-Muslim hate and supporting victims.
From 2013 onwards, our small team at Tell MAMA were inundated with an overwhelming number of reports of anti-Muslim hatred. The brutal murder of Lee Rigby on Britain’s streets and subsequent terrorist attacks resulted in an unprecedented spike in the number of incidents. Most of these reports came from sincere members of the public, concerned about the scapegoating of the Muslim community.
In July 2013, a woman called Alison Chabloz started to provide written reports to Tell MAMA. Over months, Chabloz impressed me with her apparent dedication to reporting abuse and defending minority communities against hate crime. I grew to admire her, to the extent that I offered her support when she was sacked from her job overseas and needed help to travel home. I came to regret I had ever let my guard down and trusted her.
Unbeknown to me, Chabloz had lost her job because she had been outed for online antisemitism. Shortly afterwards, this evidence was presented to me, making it very clear that Chabloz was not who I thought she was. Chabloz’s mission wasn’t to defend Muslims, it was to target Jews. She was obsessed with trying to find evidence that would result in Jewish people being investigated and humiliated. I realised that I had not only been conned, but used.
The unpleasant reality is Chabloz is far from alone. Apparent concern for Muslim communities is widely used as an opportunity to marginalise and slander Jews. We see this when opposition to Israel is used as a smokescreen by people who care most about demonising Jews. We see this when the word ‘Zionist’ is used as a convenient insult for all Jewish people. The same tactics are being increasingly used in reverse.
The far-right who fly the Israeli flag at English Defence League marches around the country are not marching in support of Israel. They want to make Muslim communities feel unwelcome and are appropriating the Israeli flag as a hate symbol.
The tactics of people like Chabloz means that, now more than ever, all organisations need to implement due diligence processes to ensure that supporters and advocates are who they profess to be.
My lasting legacy at Tell MAMA was ensuring another Chabloz would not be able to pass through our firewall of checks. Vetting where our information comes from is not just a challenge for organisations.
Everyone who uses social media has reason to be cautious about the images or tweets they share or endorse. Do these come from authentic sources that we sympathise with or are we making ourselves useful to online influencers with more suspect motives?
The best response to the subtle and misleading tactics of extremists who want to sow division between Jews and Muslims is for Jews and Muslims to work together. After finding out about Chabloz, Tell MAMA’s response was not only to strengthen vetting of all communications, but also to redouble our efforts to work with Jewish communities.
I’m so proud of Tell MAMA, Muslims against Anti-Semitism and all the members of the Muslim community who have been real allies of the Jewish community in the fight against anti-Semitism.
It’s a sad truth that extremists are at work where you least expect them and it’s necessary to be more cautious than ever about the information we receive. At the same time, caution shouldn’t give way to cynicism. When Jewish and Muslim organisations work together, we send the strongest message to the extremists and racists who feed off division and hostility. I for one am determined that they won’t succeed.
Fiyaz Mughal founded Tell MAMA and was its director from 2012 to 2017.