How a Great Power Falls Apart
Decline Is Invisible From the Inside
Last week, Londoners elected Sadiq Khan, a human rights lawyer and a former member of Parliament for the Labour Party, as their first Muslim mayor. Khan was predicted to win, but in the last minute an ugly row over anti-Semitism in the party ranks threatened to derail his election and forced Khan to denounce Ken Livingstone, a former London mayor who is stalwart of the Left.
Livingstone had floated the myth of a pact between Adolf Hitler and Zionist leaders, a trope often used by Holocaust deniers. The former mayor later went on to justify himself and others in the party who have now been accused of anti-Semitism by explaining on the BBC that real anti-Semites hate their Jewish neighbors in Golders Green, a North London neighborhood, apparently condoning hatred of Jews living in Israel.
Calling for the expulsion of Livingstone, Khan promised to be mayor “for all Londoners” and chided the party leadership for its failure to act against anti-Semitism in the party. But the party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has found it difficult to acknowledge the well-documented presence of Holocaust deniers within his party. It has now emerged that 50 members have already been suspended for anti-Semitic remarks.
The row over anti-Semitism in the Labour Party has significance far beyond the immediate leadership battles. Combating the new threat of anti-Semitism in Europe is inextricably linked to the fight against terrorist extremism. Khan may unexpectedly be the person to bring change. Some years ago, Khan described British Muslims who worked with the government’s anti-extremism initiatives as “Uncle Toms.” He has now apologized for this slur and is poised to take the lead in combating anti-Semitism and latent Holocaust denial in the party.
REASONED RHETORIC, MUDDLED REALITY
Accusations of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party were set off by the election of Malia Bouattia as president of the National Union of Students. Bouattia had refused to support a resolution condemning the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) and was recorded describing Birmingham University as “something of a Zionist outpost.” When challenged, Bouattia defended herself by repeating a frequent claim by the British left: “For me to take issue with Zionist politics is not me taking issue with being Jewish.” One of her defenders, Raza Nadim, from the Muslim Public Affairs Council, attributed the criticisms of her to “the power of the Zio lobby.” Alex Chalmers, a former chair of the Oxford University Labour Club, complained to the BBC that members of the student group regularly used the word “Zio” when speaking of Jews.
It is a common argument that decrying Zionism is categorically different from anti-Semitism because Zionism—support of a Jewish state—is a political belief system, and Jews need not be “Zionists.” True, but as the row within the Labour Party shows, in practice, the term’s usage is muddled. On Twitter, Khadim Hussain, a Labour councilor from the central city of Bradford, complained that an excessive focus on Anne Frank and “the six million Zionists that were killed by Hitler” had caused people to overlook the deaths of millions of Africans. The councilor not only substituted “Zionists” for “Jews” but also, presumably, intended to suggest that the Holocaust was a lesser crime than slavery. Slavery is a great crime against humanity, but it cannot be used to belittle the gravity of genocide against the Jews. By 1945, most European Jews—two out of every three—had been killed. In the span of four years, six million people, a third of all Jews in world, had been exterminated.
Naz Shah, a member of Parliament from Bradford, was initially forgiven when she apologized for saying that the relocation of all Israelis to the United States was the cheapest solution to the Palestinian problem, but she has now also been suspended from the Labour Party.
Bigotry often involves such word games. An experimental study by Paul Sniderman and Louk Hagendoorn found that Dutch people who held prejudiced views about Muslims used the terms “Turks” and “Muslims” interchangeably. Therefore, we should not be surprised to discover that “Zionist” is for some people synonymous with “Jewish” and that the ugly new term “Zio” has been used as a synonym for “Jew."
This could be dismissed as mere Twitter babble, but the consequences of such language are grave. Jihadist street preachers have used anti-Semitism to recruit followers. In Europe, religion does not drive young Muslims and converts to Islam to the flame of jihad. Hatred does. And terrorists and their supporters have exploited anti-Semitism to justify their violence.
WHEN ANTI-SEMITISM LEADS TO TERRORISM
In September 2011, a television crew filmed members of Forsane Alizza, a French extremist group, chanting for the death of Jews. A commentator on French news remarked that it had been a while since that call was last heard in Paris. A list of intended Jewish targets was found in the possession of the leader of Forsane Alizza when he was arrested. The group was banned in 2012, but the type of Islamist extremism it represented has only grown. Not to be outdone, right-wing demonstrators marched through the streets of Paris in January 2014, singing the French national anthem and chanting, “Juif, la France n’est pas a toi”—“Jew, France is not yours.” Fouad Belkacem, the leader of Sharia4Belgium, a knockoff of a British group that has been accused of recruiting fighters for Syria, was initially jailed on hate speech charges related to gays and Jews. Now he is serving a 12-year sentence for enlisting young men to fight in Syria.
The Netherlands and Denmark have historically been deeply committed to the Jewish cause because of their experiences during World War II. They, too, are struggling to contain anti-Semitism. A report published in early 2016 by the Dutch Ministry of Education cites a number of alarming cases. In one, a teacher tried to discuss 9/11 with her class, and a young student of Moroccan origin responded by calling the destruction of the Twin Towers “a Zionist Jewish plot.’’ In another case, a high school teacher in Amsterdam recounted an anti-Semitic incident during a class discussion in the wake of the January 2015 shootings in Paris at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine, and at a kosher market, in which one of the gunmen methodically executed customers after asking them if they were Jewish. A female student, also of Moroccan origin, said, “If I had a Kalashnikov, I’d gun down all the Jews.” The teacher tried to reason with the student. “I asked her to imagine a five-year-old Jewish girl who lives here,” she said, according to the report. “What would she have to do with Israel’s policies? The student had only one message: The Jews should die.” Further, the teacher, the journalist who wrote the report, and the government minister who published it failed to note that the killing of a Jewish girl living in Israel constitutes a crime.
In Denmark, growing anti-Semitism and homegrown terrorist extremism are also conjoined problems. In February 2015, Omar el-Hussein, a former gang member who had declared his allegiance to ISIS, attacked a free speech event in the center of Copenhagen as well as a synagogue, shooting and killing a member of the congregation. Afterward, teachers and classmates alike described the gunman as “a sweet boy” and “very nice.” But they also agreed that on the topic of Jews and Israel, there was no stopping the hatred flowing from Hussein’s mouth.
The members of the Franco-Belgian network responsible for a terrorist campaign against Europe were all at some point influenced by street preachers peddling anti-Semitism. Terrorists sent back to Europe by ISIS have increasingly targeted Jews. Mohamed Merah killed three children and a teacher at a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012 after killing three French soldiers in separate attacks. Mehdi Nemmouche shot dead four people outside the Jewish Museum in Brussels in 2014. Jews were targeted again in January 2015 in Paris, a few weeks later in Copenhagen, and then again in the November 2015 attacks in Paris.
"KILL THEM WHEREVER YOU FIND THEM"
References to the “Zionist crusaders’ war on Islam” permeate jihadist narratives and headlined Osama bin Laden’s famous fatwa from 1996. But bin Laden showed little interest in attacking Israel or Jews per se. This has changed in recent years. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIS, the two jihadist organizations that recruit large numbers of Europeans, now increasingly focus on treating Israel and Jews as the enemy. “Allah has made it clear to us in the Quran that our worst enemies are the Jews and the polytheists,” said Shaykh Abu Sufyan, the vice emir of AQAP, in the second issue of Inspire, the group’s online English-language magazine. A thumb drive belonging to an al Shabab leader who was killed in 2013 contained a document listing, among others, Golders Green, a heavily Jewish North London neighborhood, as a suitable target. The document is assumed to have been written by a British jihadist in 2011. The shift in rhetoric matches up with ground truths. In a video released by ISIS in January featuring the Paris attackers, the central message was to go out and kill Jews and other enemies “wherever you find them.”
I have found in my own research a sharp uptick in the targeting of Jews in recent years. As part of the Western Jihadism Project, my team identified 46 instances of Jews being targeted by jihadist terrorists since 2001. Half of these occurred between 2010 and 2015. Most of the attacks were foiled through arrests, but 22 were carried out. These include attacks on Israeli consulates and embassies, rabbis and synagogues, kosher markets and restaurants, Jewish bookstores, elder care centers, schools, and insults and attacks on Jewish teachers. The Bataclan, the Paris concert hall where 90 concertgoers were killed by suicide attackers on November 13, may have been targeted because the owners were Jewish. Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the ringleader who walked away on the night of the attacks, had plans for a second strike that may have involved attacking a Jewish school. Last month, Turkish government sources warned that plans by ISIS were gearing up to kill Jewish children at schools and youth centers in Istanbul.
Europe has been stunningly ineffectual in curbing growing anti-Semitism in recent years. Between terrorism and rising anti-Semitism, European Jews are asking themselves how safe they are. As for the British Labour Party, if it does not let go of the fiction that rabid anti-Zionism has nothing to do with the dehumanization of Jews, the party risks becoming a Trojan horse and undermining Europe’s postwar promise to guarantee security for its Jews.