When mainstream leaders stand up against extremism the community is stronger (Part 1)

10th July 2019

The well-known minor reality TV contestant turned rightwing agitator, Katie Hopkins, is following a well-worn path in her quest to become an international celebrity on the Islam-bashing circuit.  In turning to the Jewish community for support, she presumably imagines that fear of Muslims will be her greatest ally. The other indispensable plank of the strategy is the usual co-option of Jewish pride in the State of Israel in order to enrage Muslims, who are expected and required thereby to be provoked into a foaming rage. Hopkins has upped her game from posing in an IDF t-shirt to visiting Israel itself in order to gain Zionist brownie points from the credulous.

The visit to Israel enabled Hopkins to promote one of those “Europe is being Islamised” documentaries that the far right are so fond of, incorporating the usual flatulent nonsense of “Judeo-Christian values under threat”, as if Christian Europe hadn’t actually spent most of the last two millennia attempting to persecute Jews into extinction. The rantings of the Roderick Spodes of the European far right are, in this case, of less interest than the reaction to them of the Jewish communities who are the target of this self-serving and mendacious charm offensive.

In this case, the cry of “Eulalie Soeurs” comes from the mainstream leadership of the Jewish community. As I have previously written, support for the far-right within the community comes from a small bucket of rancorous nincompoops trying to look far more numerous than they are. Support for the far-left within the community tends to follow the same pattern. But, as ever, the extremists rely on the support and protection of those who, rather than cheerleading, will quietly mutter amongst themselves that “well, at least someone is actually saying / doing something.”

It is worth considering that Binyamin Netanyahu’s overtures to anti-Muslim demagogues may have encouraged his supporters to look kindly towards the right. Equally, the bond between the antisemites of the hard left and the clerical fascists of Islamism causes widespread alarm beyond the Jewish community. Despite the pressure that must inevitably arise from this, it is hugely encouraging to see that the mainstream reaction, led by the president of the Board of Deputies and the Community Security Trust, has been of unambiguous, scathing condemnation.

Nonetheless, the emergence of a clear groupuscule which is identifiably Jewish and aligned with the far right should be taken seriously. Not only are their views inherently contemptible, but also divisive. They risk disrupting the solid front hitherto displayed against the far right by the Jewish community. We have already been appalled at the invention of a plethora of impressively initialled astroturfing organisations in order to protect Jeremy Corbyn from the consequences of Labour Party antisemitism. Similarly, it has long been the practice for antizionist demonstrations to deploy a prophylactic phalanx of Neturei Karta zealots in their vanguard. Both are revolting. But a store of additional repugnance must surely be reserved for people stupid or malign enough to actually try and establish a relationship between Judaism and the far right.

There should now be serious concern about the activities of those attempting to propagate the venom of the “Stop Islamisation” narrative. It is entirely reasonable to express concern about the ongoing threat of Islamist political violence, or the attempts by groups like MEND to use the term “Islamophobia” to stifle political debate. But “Stop Islamisation” agrees with Islamism about one thing – the portrayal of Muslims and Islam as an intimidating, monolithic entity. Anyone with a reasonable understanding of British Islam understands that it is made up of numerous communities, traditions and styles of Islam. Bradford Mirpuris are not Tower Hamlets Bangladeshis, West London Arabs or North London Turkish Cypriots. “Stop Islamisation” thrives on drowning this out in a flood of fear and paranoia. It ignores or denies the vast amount of work now done by Government and civil society organisations to combat extremism in Muslim communities.

Mainstream Jewish organisations must hold the line against the far right. Centre right organisations, whether Jewish or Zionist must do the same. We have seen many times how often a beachhead for extremist viewpoints has been followed by the wholesale proliferation of their views. What is significant in this case, however, is the power of the mainstream institutions to demonstrate leadership in getting ahead of the issue.

The threat of the far right, unfortunately, is not the only challenge to mainstream authority. There are many other issues where a failure to grasp the nettle, combined with a reluctance to wash dirty linen in public, has allowed the harms of extremist views and behaviours to take root. In my next article, I will discuss some of the areas where more needs to be done to confront extremist views and behaviour within sections of the strictly orthodox Jewish communities.

Daniel Jonas is chair of Nahamu, which opposes the harms of extremist views and behaviours within the Jewish community.