On the 12th of January 2022, I was confirmed as an elected deputy with the Board of Deputies of British Jews, representing a small but proud community in a market town in England’s northeast. The Board’s decades of selfless service, standing up for Jews since its inception more than 250 years ago, is why I am immensely proud of my association with this exceptional organization that commits to conducting itself in the highest moral and professional standards. My brief experience, however, shows that there are a few misconceptions that led to what some perceive as unprecedented polarization and division within the Board, as demonstrated during the debates ahead of the vote to censure JNF UK over reported anti-Muslim remarks made by its senior leadership.
The day of the vote on 23 January my colleagues who met me for the first time were surprised, some shocked, to see me, a chap with an Arab Muslim name, addressing and urging them to oppose the motion to censure JNF. The two main reasons I opposed the motion are as follows:
Confusing legitimate concerns with Islamophobia
One of the controversial remarks that attracted criticism was pertaining to Muslim immigration to the UK and how it allegedly threatens the future of Jews in Britain. Whilst there are thousands of law-abiding British-Muslims who continue to enormously contribute to British society, including talented healthcare professionals whose skills are nothing short of life-saving, our current immigration system is incapable of separating the wheat from the chaff, making immigration from countries where antisemitism is at the core of the collective national identity, a threat to British Jewry.
Most recently, for instance, Moataz Matar, a radical, Islamist broadcaster, and notorious antisemite, was welcomed in the UK. Despite his public support for Hamas and its militant arm, Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades and its indiscriminate missile attacks against Israeli civilians – an offence under the UK’s Terrorism Act 2000 – Matar found a haven in London and was welcomed by like-minded Islamist radicals who continue to express antisemitic views and deny Israel the right to exist, often referring to it as “the Zionist entity.”
It is mystifying why our security and immigration officials granted entry to a prominent Islamist radical who promotes antisemitism and invites support to proscribed organizations under UK laws, particularly that his views are available in the public realm and shared with tens of millions across the Middle East. I wrote to the Home Secretary regarding this suspected security blunder on December 20th, 2021. I am yet to receive a response.
Here is where misunderstandings often happen. Neither I nor any JNF UK official are calling or ever called for a blanket ban on immigration from Muslim countries – that would indeed be racist. We are, however, raising a legitimate concern. Matar will, I fear, reinforce and contribute to the unprecedented rise of antisemitism that we have been experiencing in the UK. A leading pro-Palestine, radical Islamist, he is likely to be found amongst antisemitic gatherings taking to the streets of our capital, calling for our daughters to be raped, during the next wave of escalation in the Middle East, similar to what we experienced in May 2021.
Suppressing, dismissing, or delegitimizing arguments supported by established social and political science disciplines over fears of racism accusations
Another highly divisive issue, whether here in the UK or across the Atlantic, is around a correlation between demographics and politics. A JNF leader received harsh criticism for stating that “The demographic of British society is changing.” and suggesting that an increase in the number of Muslim immigrants to the UK is changing society as we know it. Here, too, is a legitimate concern supported by research yet denied and dismissed by many due to fears of racism accusations.
Examining the market for halal, or kosher, meat, for instance, shows that society is indeed changing. The community I represent is comprised of about 20 Jews. The nearest kosher shops are tens of miles away, whilst halal meat is available in almost every major supermarket, within spitting distance from where I am. Likewise, halal meat was available in abundance in Croydon, London, where I lived, while Kosher meat was hard to find. These are the simple rules of capitalism. Businesses are eager to fulfill the highest demand – they are unlikely to invest in kosher food for a community of 20 Jews when the halal meat industry is booming, and is expected to continue to substantially grow, according to industry experts.
In politics, too, demographics has a significant effect. Last year, 2021, saw a video of a Liberal Democrat, potential London mayoral candidate Geeta Sidhu-Robb going viral. She had urged Urdu-speaking, Muslim voters during her 1997 general election campaign for the constituency of Blackburn not to vote for Labour politician Jack Straw, warning them “Jack Straw is a Jew. If you vote for him you’re voting for a Jew.”
While one can argue that her actions represent her, not the British-Muslim community, it is difficult not to wonder why she believed the announcement that Straw is Jewish would dissuade Muslim voters from voting for him. British Election Study data shows an overwhelming support for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour, with 85% of Muslims supporting the party under his leadership, despite his antisemitic and anti-Israel views.
Moreover, leading Muslim communal organizations recognize the growing impact of demographics in politics. According to a report by Religion Media Centre, “The Muslim Council of Britain says Muslim voters could have a significant impact in 31 marginal seats [in the 2019 general election]”, while “The Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND) group says 25 constituencies have Muslim electorates of 20 per cent or more.” It is therefore misleading and ignorant to dismiss the impact demographics has on local and national politics. We are, however, likely to continue to receive criticism from disciples of the cancel culture, regardless of how reasonable our arguments are.
I would like, nonetheless, to end on a call for unity. While I categorically disagree with the motion, and the BDS-like rhetoric and threats to boycott JNF – a proud Jewish organization that does incredible work – I believe that my colleagues on both sides of the argument, Board president, honorary officers, and our talented professional staff, conducted themselves in an exemplary manner. Regardless of our differences, the Board remains the legitimate, democratic representative body of British Jewry that we are proud to belong to and support.
Khaled Hassan is an Egyptian political risk and intelligence analyst with over a decade of experience. His research interests include digital threats, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Arabic-speaking mis/disinformation and propaganda, radicalization, and terrorism.