We are not “in the gutter” with the far right – but those who spread fear and hatred cannot be allowed to go unchallenged

Published in the Quilliam Journal, 14th May 2019

On Saturday, Glyn Secker – one of the luminaries of the astroturfing organisation “Jewish Voice for Labour” – accused the UK Jewish community of allying with the far Right.

Claims of this sort provide good examples of the “two-campism” of the type that has become synonymous with Corbynism. That perspective pits the “community of the good”, which includes “the people” and “the oppressed” against “the community of the bad”, which includes “the 1%”, “imperialists”, “occupiers”, “enemies of the people”, “Rothschilds”, “Zionists”, “shape-shifting space lizards” and so forth. Partisans of this world view naturally play up, wherever possible, the supposed alliances of “class enemies” with each other. Everyone concerned has noted that far Right activists deploy the symbols of the State of Israel for a range of reasons: to taunt Muslims, to disguise their own antisemitism, and to attempt to co-opt Jews or pacify their natural concerns with the nature of that politics.

Attempts by the likes of Tony Greenstein and Glyn Secker to portray the whole of the community as allied with the thuggish behaviour of the EDL and Steven “Tommy Robinson” Yaxley-Lennon have largely failed. The new campaigning groups such as the Campaign against Antisemitism and the Israel Advocacy Movement have been careful to distance themselves from anti-Muslim incitement, whether from “nativists”, the alt-right or the Kahanist fringe. Mainstream Jewish bodies have also made themselves abundantly clear on this point. Most people are entirely capable of distinguishing between machete-wielding mujaheddin and their work colleagues, neighbours and friends.

But there are some that are receptive to the fears stoked by the far Right. Many Jews are terrified of Islamist violence. This concern has evolved, in more than a few cases, into a full-blown fear of Muslims in general. Generally, the expression of that mistrust goes no further than sarcastic social media comments about “The Religion Of Peace™” or the sharing of monotonous memes and articles from dubious sources. 

I have previously pointed out that the worldview of hate preachers such as Yosef Mizrachi is eminently aligned with the rhetoric of that part of the political spectrum. On a theological level, the political prejudices of the far Right are dangerously compatible with the “hashqafah” (worldview) of Rabbi Avigdor Miller, who Mizrachi considers his spiritual mentor. R Miller’s lectures are still widely used for “mussar” (“moral instruction”), particularly in strictly orthodox circles.

The spread of intolerant streams of religious discourse is a challenge. Mainstream rabbinic authorities are still far too lax in opposing this development. Worse, they can act as enablers: outsourcing education to kiruv (“outreach”) organisations that regularly employ arguments from the Millerian playbook.

Tellingly, the restaurant that was to have hosted Mizrachi in Manchester also received a visit from “Tommy”. His supporters point to the Israeli flags at his rallies. They point out how he can’t be a racist, because he “has a Muslim bodyguard”. Trumpian talking points about George Soros, “floods of immigrants” and “leftist control” are faithfully and uncritically rehearsed. 

It is easy to sneer at such people. They lack critical skills. They rarely appear in leadership roles in the community. That, in turn, contributes to their sense of exclusion from a “cosmopolitan elite” that they believe rules their community. Moreover, their Jewish education is in many cases minimal, making them ideal fodder for ethno-religious chauvinism and ill-informed hellfire preaching.

But are these people any more significant, numerically or in terms of their influence, than Neturei Karta: the photogenic figleaving darlings of the anti-Zionist Left? At present: no. But we have seen how quickly a fringe can grow, if it is not confronted. 

Our current challenges with Corbynism’s institutional antisemitism have focused on the threat to us from the far Left. Extremism of this type represents a clear and present danger to our place in British society, and should not be downplayed. But we would be foolhardy to ignore the siren calls of the far Right. They may appear to approve of Israel as a Jewish state – it offers them somewhere to deport us to, no doubt. But you would truly have to be a nincompoop to ignore what happens when the far Right gets its hands on nail bombs and assault rifles. 

Retreat into the ghetto serves neither us nor wider society. Our best recourse, as ever, is to build a harder, more secure centre ground. To resist two-campism and Nelsonian blindness. To confront fear and hatred with stubborn, uncompromising criticism. To build an inclusive, open model of society – not with sloppy, performative displays of virtue, but with hard work and investment in trust, cooperation and education.