The Muslim Council of Wales takes seriously the dangers of anti-Semitism, and commits itself to addressing, challenging and combating anti-Semitism in society.
As part of our work building relationships, we are proud to have been the first Muslim organisation to host the Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, Ephraim Mirvis. In addition, we have held collaborative interfaith events, such as a talk by a Holocaust survivor (Ruth Barnett) in a mosque, exhibitions on Jewish and Muslim solidarity, and we regularly meet with representatives of the Jewish faith.
Many proponents of anti-Semitism envision a society in which the religious and ethnic identities of minorities are eradicated, and so there is often a strong overlap with Islamophobia. This operates in reverse too; those who engage in Islamophobia can easily turn their rhetoric, hatred, and violence, towards Jewish communities. Given this, it is incredibly important Muslims and Jews cooperate in tackling both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.
We utilise the following definition of anti-Semitism, and will implement it to ensure it is institutionally understood. It is taken from the European Union’s Campaign Against Antisemitism.
“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
For comparison, we operate with the following definition of Islamophobia from the University of Berkeley.
“Islamophobia is a contrived fear or prejudice fomented by the existing Eurocentric and Orientalist global power structure. It is directed at a perceived or real Muslim threat through the maintenance and extension of existing disparities in economic, political, social and cultural relations, while rationalizing the necessity to deploy violence as a tool to achieve “civilizational rehab” of the target communities (Muslim or otherwise). Islamophobia reintroduces and reaffirms a global racial structure through which resource distribution disparities are maintained and extended.”
We note that while there are many similarities between Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, there are also significant areas of difference.
Jewish history in Europe, for example, has included significant acts of violence, most notably the Holocaust, but also other acts of discrimination, exclusion, and persecution. This has been embedded within European cultural memory, European institutions, language, and cultural idioms.
Another point of difference between Islamophobia and anti-Semitism is that European relationships with Muslims have been largely predicated on empire and imperialism, and this has a lasting impact on contemporary relationships. This large-scale global exploitation, violence, and oppression not only affects relationships between Muslim citizens in European countries, but also the relationships between states in the West and Muslim-majority countries.
Nonetheless, the mobilisation of ideas, rhetoric, and violence against Muslim and Jewish minorities are comparable, especially around issues of integration (or lack thereof), of divided loyalties, and of religious traditions accused of being “incompatible” with Britain/the West/modernity. Another similarity is the paradox of power. Jews and Muslims are often spoke about as infiltrating society or controlling its politics while simultaneously accused of being “culturally backward” and degenerate.
An area of tension for some Muslims and Jews is how criticism of the state of Israel can be perceived as anti-Semitic. For many reasons, Jerusalem, the occupied territories, and the state of Israel, are a complex and emotive topic for Muslims and Jews.
The Muslim Council of Wales recognises that at times Israel is used as a “stand in” for Jews, and age-old anti-Semitic tropes are used and mobilised in criticising Israel. We recognise this is painful and dangerous. The Leader of the SNP in Westminster, Angus Robertson MP, argued that in pursuing support for “the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people,” some individuals start using “language and imagery” that draws “repeated accusations from the 20th and 19th centuries about Jewish ownership of the press or the financial system and so on”.
We believe it is possible to criticise Israel and fight for the rights and freedoms of Palestinian people without being anti-Semitic, and as such, will maintain a zero-tolerance policy against any anti-Semitism used when campaigning for Palestinian rights and critiquing the Israeli state.
There will, we believe, be areas in which the answers are not entirely clear, where there may be disagreement as to whether something is legitimate criticism of Israel or anti-Semitic, and as such, we wish to work with our Jewish colleagues and partners to resolve these issues as and when they arise, with a spirit of cooperation and commitment to each other’s rights, and a sacred recognition of each other’s humanity.