In the midst of heightened discussions on anti-Semitism, its rise, and the importance of eradicating it, we see a number of strands related to this being raised in the British Muslim community.
In May 2018, a group called ‘Muslims against Anti-Semitism’ took out a full page advertisement in major UK newspapers the Telegraph and the Metro, condemning anti-Semitism. While recognising the right of Palestinians to a sovereign state, “we must be ever vigilant against those who cynically use international issues to vilify Jews or promote anti-Semitic tropes”. Included in this group, are the leaders of Faith Matters, a Muslim anti-extremism group; the Association of British Muslims, and Tell MAMA, a national project which records and measures anti-Muslim incidents in the United Kingdom.
In October, this was followed by comments by Lord Ahmad, a Conservative peer and the prime Minister’s special representative for freedom of religion and belief, after delivering an address at the United Nations General Assembly, where he spoke of the renewed commitment by the British Government to eradicate Anti-Semitism, and prevent genocide.
In his later comments, he stated his belief that there has been “a real step change among progressive-thinking imams” in the Islamic community towards those who “peddle hatred against the Jewish community.” He drew upon his own Muslim identity, continuing that “It is precisely because I am a Muslim that I speak out against anti-Semitism”, and that his “faith is the source of ending hatred: we stand up for commonality and humanity. I am very much committed to standing up against anti-Semitism and there are many notable Muslim communities who are doing great work in this regard”. He also spoke about the diversity of Britain, and the idea of different faiths speaking up for each other; that “The tapestry of Britain today is enriched by this legacy between our faiths, and our attitude to combatting hatred.”
There has also been a number of inter-faith events presented as a way to bring ‘communities together’. ehangir Malik, Chief Executive of international aid charity Muslim Aid, writing for the Jewish News/Times of Israel Blog, spoke of Mitzvah Day, which took place on Sunday 18 November at The East London Mosque. He described it as “Britain’s biggest interfaith day of social action”, where those of the Jewish and Muslim faith came together to make a thousand bowls of chicken soup for the local homeless population. He called it a “wonderful way to bring our two communities together in a part of London meaningful to us both and to spread a positive interfaith message around the world.” and as important for Jewish and Muslim young people to know the commonalities between them.
While the gesture of goodwill is commended, concerns have also been raised regarding events like Mitzvah Day, and how they can serve as a kind of ‘faithwashing’ of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. In an article posted by 5Pillars, it is mentioned that Mitzvah day is sponsored by ‘Our Israel, Our Future,; among other organisations with strong links to Israel, and was attended and endorsed by Israel’s ambassador to the UK Mark Regev. His attendance is especially symbolic of the complexity of the situation, because he rose to notoriety among the Muslim community in Britain, when he was frequently featured on British TV as spokesperson for the Israeli Government during the 2014 Israeli war on Gaza. The writer warns that working with groups who have such links to Israel creates a divide between ‘moderates’ and ‘extremists’ and that those who create such relationships may limit their criticisms to certain aspects of Israeli policy in order to maintain those relationships, and subsequently creating a normalisation of Israeli brutality .This discussion mirrors a similar debate that took place in the American Muslim community in 2014, when a delegation of Muslim American commentators participated in an interfaith trip to Israel sponsored by the Shalom Hartman Institute. Concerns were raised then that the struggle for Palestinian rights was being recast as a religious conflict among interfaith partners.
Recent developments also speaks to the intra-Muslim tensions surrounding the claim of anti-Semitism, with accusations being thrown in an attempt to discredit. In January 2017, Fiyaz Mughal, the director of Tell MAMA, told the Home Affairs Select Committee that his organisation had been subject to attacks that it was too ”Jew-friendly”, specifically naming Mend and Cage. MEND responded that it had never made comments against Tell MAMA, stating that “It is inconceivable that we, as an organisation committed to fostering partnerships and collaborations with other groups in society to tackle all forms or hatred, would indulge in pernicious victimisation of Jewish people. The accusation is an abominable slur and were it not for the power of absolute privilege which constrains our ability to meet this outrageous claim with firm legal action, we would engage it forthwith.”