Theo Zenou

Why is this antisemitism different from all others?

The four types of Jew-hate today are far-right, Islamist, conspiratorial… and respectable


Students during a pro-Palestine protest at the The University of Texas at Austin on April 24, 2024 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

April 25, 2024 15:51

Antisemitism is on the rise. Since October 7, there’s been a tsunami of anti-Jewish hatred. In the last year there was a 589 per cent increase in antisemitic incidents, according to the Community Security Trust. Antisemitic speech on social media has also shot up. On Twitter/X, in the week following October 7 alone there was a 919 per cent surge in anti-Jewish posts. Other platforms have seen similar trends. TikTok, in particular, has come under fire for letting hate go viral. How can we put the lid on this resurgence of antisemitism?

First, Jews and non-Jews alike have to reflect. We have to come to grips with antisemitism as it exists today. I have tried to do this in a new report for the Henry Jackson Society in which I outline four loci of antisemitism in the UK today: far right antisemitism; Islamist antisemitism; conspiratorial antisemitism; and the new “respectable” antisemitism, which stems from the far left and hijacks the Israel-Palestine conflict to spread antisemitic tropes.

These four types of antisemitism overlap yet are distinct. As such, they demand different policy prescriptions. Take Islamist antisemitism. To counter it, the government must champion Muslim leaders who speak out against Jew hatred and Islamism. Or take far right antisemitism. To stop the spread of Holocaust denial online, Holocaust education must be rethought for the TikTok era. The school curriculum needs to be updated to teach students how to spot disinformation.

But policy must go hand in hand with a new approach to tackling hatred. It will require a paradigm shift in how we fight not just antisemitism but all forms of bigotry – from racism to anti-Muslim, anti-Hindu and anti-Sikh hate.

When hate turns up the script is always the same. Authorities condemn it. Then they beef up security for targeted communities. In recent months, the government has done just that. In February, Rishi Sunak announced £54 million extra to keep Jews safe. In March, Home Secretary James Cleverly unlocked £117 million over four years to keep Muslims safe. Those are necessary steps, of course, but they don’t go far enough.

Think of hate as a disease spreading in society. All we do, at present, is try and relieve its most painful symptoms. Modern medicine works much the same way. We go to the doctor when we’re sick. We’re prescribed medication. At best, we’re cured. But no serious effort is made to prevent us from getting sick again. That’s because modern medicine is about treating symptoms.

Traditional Chinese medicine, by contrast, was about prevention. “Ancient physicians believed that prevention was better than cure,” researchers explain. It’s said that in ancient China you didn’t pay your doctor if you fell ill. The reason: his job wasn’t ultimately to cure you but to keep you healthy. If he failed, then it was considered his responsibility.

We need to channel Chinese doctors in the fight against hatred. We must be much more proactive. The bottom line: the opposite of hate is not the absence of hate, it’s coexistence and harmony. That’s the endgame we should work toward.

In this journey, we should take inspiration from the United Arab Emirates. Under the leadership of Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, or MBZ, the country has led the way in promoting pluralism. As the Economist put it back in 2019: “[MBZ] turned his emirate into an oasis of inter-faith dialogue.” Since 2016, the UAE has even had a Ministry of Tolerance and Coexistence. Its remit: “overseeing and implementing the pillars of the ‘National Tolerance Program’”, which comprises a range of cultural and educational initiatives to foster openness.

We should also take inspiration from Morocco, which has a long history of promoting Muslim-Jewish coexistence. Mohammed VI, the current king, has done tremendous work preserving Moroccan Jewish culture.

The British government needs a forward strategy against hate. The first step: to appoint a Special Envoy for Tolerance and Coexistence. Their brief should be to roll out a high-profile campaign promoting religious pluralism and mutual understanding. This campaign could include inter-community events; the production of a documentary series highlighting the value and history of coexistence; and a social media ad blitz using like-minded celebrities and influencers.

The fight against hatred is too important not to be bold. Yes, we need to improve security against immediate risks. Yes, we need dedicated strategies that target the different forms of antisemitism. But we must also build a more resilient society, one in which hate cannot easily take hold.

Theo Zenou is a research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society think tank

April 25, 2024 15:51

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