The Board of Deputies of British Jews, the main representative body of the Jewish community in the UK, managed last week to get itself into a terrible mess.
It issued a joint statement with the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), which not only stated that the Middle East conflict must not poison community relations but also condemned “the targeting of civilians” which was “against our religious traditions.”
This unspecific formulation implied the Board was condemning Israel as well as Hamas for having targeted civilians in Operation Protective Edge. In the row that then erupted, the Board protested that the phrase could only relate to Hamas since Israel never targeted civilians.
But the MCB claimed the Board had agreed the phrase covered both sides. So the Board enabled the MCB to crow – falsely but plausibly – that the Jews had condemned Israel for war crimes.
People were left scratching their heads at how the Board could have been quite so foolish; indeed, how it could have collaborated at all with the MCB which, along with its affiliates, has links to Islamic extremists, a history of support for Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood and whose past leaders have described Israel as “the Zionist terrorist state.”
The explanation lies at root in the UK Jewish leadership’s misguided and dangerous strategy for dealing with Britain’s Muslims.
This error – which is on display in other Western Diaspora communities too – has placed the Jewish community on the wrong side in the struggle against Islamic extremism.
Desperate to build bridges to Muslims through interfaith work, Jewish leaders are minimizing evidence of Muslim extremism which otherwise risks driving the interfaith show off the road.
The Jewish leadership also wants to demonstrate to the wider society that it cares about something beyond Jewish interests.
As a result of all this, it has seized upon the apparent common ground of two similarly beleaguered minorities.
There is some truth here. Both communities are affected by the attacks on infant male circumcision and ritual slaughter of food animals.
However, the mistake the Jewish community has made is to claim that both Jews and Muslims therefore suffer from similar prejudices.
The joint statement with the MCB condemned anti-Semitism and Islamophobia as if they were equivalent forms of bigotry.
Not so. Jew-hatred is entirely irrational.
Anti-Semitism is a true prejudice for which there is never a shred of justification, because it is based on lies, libels and distortions. Of course, individual Jews may behave badly and merit criticism, just like anyone else.
But nothing has ever been done in the name of Judaism which merits the demonization directed at Jews over the centuries.
Islamophobia, by contrast, is very different.
Sure, some people have an irrational dislike of Muslims just as they may irrationally dislike Sikhs or Hindus, or people with black or brown skins.
But Islamophobia is a catch-all phrase used to demonize anyone who makes a legitimate criticism of Islam or Muslims. It is not irrational to fear the murder and terrorism perpetrated in the name of Islam; it is not bigoted to warn against the steady encroachment of Shari’a law or the connections between Islamic charities and terrorist money-laundering in London; it is not demonization to condemn Muslim attacks on women and girls or on freedom of speech. Yet all such opinions are damned as “Islamophobic” in order to silence them.
Those who point out the virulent anti-Semitism in Muslim societies are similarly branded.
Yet Muslim anti-Semitism is a clear and present danger to Jews around the world. In France, Muslims have attacked synagogues, torched Jewish shops and kidnapped and murdered Jewish people. Muslims have driven Jews out of Norway and Sweden. In the Netherlands, the chief rabbi’s house has repeatedly been attacked.
Last year, the British Muslim journalist Mehdi Hasan wrote: “Anti-Semitism isn’t just tolerated in some sections of the British Muslim community; it’s routine and commonplace...
As a community, we do have a ‘Jewish problem.’ There is no point pretending otherwise.”
Anti-Semitism is the principal driver of murderous Islamic rage, not just against Jews themselves but against the Western world which Muslims believe the Jews control. It is the core not just of the war against Israel but the jihadi holy war against the West.
It is astounding that no Western leader sees fit even to mention this. It is even more astounding that, desperate to appease Muslims, the Jewish community leadership in Britain is silent about Muslim anti-Semitism.
Instead – surreally – the community attacks those who warn of the Islamic threat as Islamophobes, claiming they are as bad as anti-Semites.
Defending such equivalence in the joint statement, a Board of Deputies spokesman said: “Racism is racism whether it’s against Jews or Muslims, and we have a religious and moral imperative to condemn it.”
Oh dear: the Board doesn’t even seem to grasp that Islam is not a race but a religion.
Surely, the religious and moral imperative for Jews is to fight the Islamic jihad against life, equality and freedom. Yet amazingly, the community leadership has made it instead a religious and moral imperative to attack those who are fighting Islamofascism.
It has thus empowered the Islamists, who can now boast that the Jewish community joins them in condemning as bigots all who utter a word of criticism of Islam, Islamic practices or Muslim behavior. And in helping silence such criticism, the Board has made all those who are threatened by Islamic excesses even more vulnerable to attack.
For the Jewish leadership, though, as for liberal British society, anti-Semitism is only to be acknowledged amongst neo-Nazi or right-wing groups. Left-wing or Muslim anti-Semitism is air-brushed out of the picture.
Seeking in this way to buy off both the Muslim community and politically correct liberal society suggests a pathological absence of communal confidence.
Of course it is hard for Britain’s 280,000-strong Jewish community to have confidence in the face of (at a conservative estimate) three million British Muslims.
But cravenness won’t save them from either Islamic anti-Semitism or liberal disdain.
Melanie Phillips is a columnist for The Times (UK).