We should be supporting efforts to agree a definition of Islamophobia, not supporting the likes of Tommy Robinson

JCORE executive director Edie Friedman asks, if a definition of antisemitism is needed, why not one for Islamophobia?

December 18, 2018 09:19

“If we saw people arguing against Judaism in the way we see those on the right argue against Islam, we would have a problem with it,” Rabbi David Mason told the JC recently.

“As the Jewish community is facing antisemitism from the far left, we have to be clear about what we see on the right as well. One thing I worry about… is too many Jewish people who are sympathetic to those on the more extreme right."

Today one of the most disturbing manifestations of the resurgence of the far right is the growing popularity of Tommy Robinson.

The former leader of the English Defence League is able to mobilise large crowds at his rallies and is reported to have around a million Facebook followers.

A cursory look at the support and funding for his Islamophobic campaigning makes for some uncomfortable reading, appearing to show a number of Jewish benefactors. Support for people like Tommy Robinson should be anathema to Jewish values and we must have no truck with it. 

The increase in anti-Muslim attacks should sound alarm bells for us, as we know only too well from our own history that attacks on one community make all communities feel vulnerable.

Perhaps drawing inspiration from the campaign for the adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism, a number of Muslim organisations are now asking the government and political parties to adopt a definition of Islamophobia.

But a Home Office minister told parliament: “We do not accept the need for a definitive definition, but we know that Islamophobia is clearly recognised and that we have very effective monitoring of race-hate crimes.”

If the Government has accepted the need for a definition of antisemitism, why not one for Islamophobia? A definition could be a useful tool to combat the increase in anti-Muslim attacks. The Islamophobia monitoring group Tell Mama has reported a big increase in such attacks in 2017 with a 40 per cent increase in London. The victims are disproportionately women and most attacks are face to face rather than on social media – all adding to feelings of fear and anxiety.

In May, an advertisement appeared in the national press under the banner “We Muslims have one word for Jews. Shalom.” It read: “As British Muslims, we believe that the time has come to speak out.  For far too long, anti-Semitism has gone unchecked. Sadly it has become entrenched across society. Its poison can be found in all political parties and among followers of all faiths, including Islam…

"As Muslims, we believe that our future peace, security and prosperity in this great country cannot be ensured while the Jewish community feel under threat.”

This solidarity was again expressed by many Muslim organisations after the horrific attack at the synagogue in Pittsburgh in October.

Given our own concerns to have an accepted definition of antisemitism, should we not also show support for a definition of Islamophobia?

Dr Edie Friedman is the founder and Executive Director of The Jewish Council for Racial Equality, JCORE

December 18, 2018 09:19

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