Comment: Antisemitism is an ideology, not a grievance

Hatred of Jews is coupled with hatred of the freedoms that characterise modernity and secular democracies


The horrific terrorist attacks in Copenhagen over the weekend, following those in Paris last month, reveal the deep hatred of liberal modernity that lies at the heart of antisemitism.

In both cities, the murders of Jews followed violent assaults on free speech. In Paris, cartoonists were killed for having dared to depict Muhammad as they depict countless other people. In Copenhagen, simply the act of discussing the right to depict Muhammad in that way was sufficient to attract the terrorists’ bullets.

There is little value in trying to find a rational explanation for this murderous irrationality. Instead, true explanations lie in an understanding of irrational ideologies and their use of antisemitism.

As Martin Kramer wrote about a different terrorist atrocity against Diaspora Jews over twenty years ago, ‘only someone persuaded of the existence of a world Jewish conspiracy against Islam’ could imagine that killing Jews in the Diaspora will benefit Palestinians.

Similarly, only someone who sees a Jewish plot behind every perceived ill that befalls Muslims and Islam could move so smoothly from killing cartoonists to killing Jews.

There has been much debate over whether Europe is the arena for a ‘new antisemitism’, different from the old fascist or ultra-nationalist versions that arose in Europe from the late 19th century and gripped much of the continent during the 20th. In this theory, the new antisemitism emanates from minority communities rather than indigenous elites and is focused on Israel rather than individual Jews.

In fact, the jihadist murders in Paris and Copenhagen show that the new antisemitism is not so different from the old. Hatred of Jews is coupled with hatred of the freedoms that characterise modernity and secular democracies, all wrapped together by conspiracy theories.

Cambridge historian (and official historian of MI5) Christopher Andrew warned, correctly, that:

“We cannot understand what al-Qaeda think they are fighting against and what they mean by ‘Jews and Crusaders’ unless we explore their conspiracy theories.”

Andrew suggested a decade ago that intelligence agencies should appoint an ‘Officer for Fanaticism and Conspiracy Theory’.

We cannot understand jihadist murders of Jews unless we appreciate that antisemitism is an ideology, not a grievance.

It is easy to call the publication of Muhammad cartoons ‘provocative’, as Hugh Muir did for the Guardian, or to ascribe the murder of European Jews to anger over Palestine, as Seamus Milne did in the same paper after Paris.

Easy, and perhaps comforting, but also wrong.

This is ‘slaughter as political protest’,  Muir tells us. The idea that jihadist terrorism is simply an overheated, misguided expression of a legitimate or understandable ‘protest’ is too superficial an explanation for mass murder.

For sure, anger over Palestine is deeply held, but most who hold it do not attack Jews as a result. Similarly, many Muslims dislike depictions of their Prophet but few kill as a result.

Muir’s admonishment not to be ‘provocative’ by publishing cartoons of Muhammad is even more troubling. For by this logic, continuing to be Jewish in Europe, to visit synagogues or kosher shops, is also ‘provocative’. When faced with jihadist murderers bent on killing Jews, everyday Jewish life becomes ‘provocative’.

Better to recognise that jihadists have assaulted Europe’s core values and also highlighted the reluctance of some to stand by those values. “With rights to free speech come responsibilities”, Muir writes. Sometimes one of those responsibilities is the responsibility to defend the right of free speech against those who would remove it through the barrel of a gun.

Jews are often described as the ‘canary in the coal mine’ of Europe: the early warning of toxins circulating in society that will bring disaster for all. This is not a particularly edifying analogy. The miners’ canaries, after all, were supposed to die first in order to save the lives that really mattered.

There is a deeper truth to the analogy, though. Secular liberal democracy has proven itself to be the best guarantor of religious freedoms and the most hospitable type of society for minorities of all kinds. Jews have enough experience of all the various political systems in Europe’s history to know this fact better than most.

Free speech, with all the risk of offence that it brings, is essential for the protection of minority rights. It is part of the price we pay for our freedom. The best way to ensure that Jews have a future in Europe is to ensure that secular, liberal, democratic Europe has a future of its own.

Dave Rich is deputy director of communications at the Community Security Trust (CST)

31 Responses to “Comment: Antisemitism is an ideology, not a grievance”

  1. Nabilam Nabilam

    israheili intel is running a worldwide propaganda op with

    its agents running stories about “rising tide of anti semitism”. but

    it is all a lie, just propaganda designed to get sympathy for the “poor

    jews, i.e. zionist thugs” who are committing mass murder in gaza. Just google:

    tide of anti semitism…………you can see the operation for yourself.

    Second, see the link below for an example of the zio mafia trying to turn
    legitimate ciritism of israheil into a crime. under their definition saying
    “that sure was horrible of israheil to mass kill all those kids last
    summer” or “israheil killng all those kids in gaza reminded me of the
    warsaw ghetto” would be hate speech and therefore a crime.


  2. Leon Wolfeson

    Thanks for helping prove the article entirely correct.

  3. Anthony

    I was very encouraged reading this article until I got to the end and saw who wrote it. I was encouraged because (it seemed) here was a non-Jewish writer with a clear understanding of antisemitism and the conspiracy-theory that underpins it. But of course I was wrong because again it falls to a Jewish organisation to make this point. I appreciate Left Foot Forward for providing a platform but why does it need a member of CST to make these points?

    Aside from leaving me feeling that Jews stand more or less alone on antisemitism there is another, more serious, reason to be disappointed. The truth is that the conspiracy lie that Jews secretly do or seek to run the world certainly lies at the heart of modern antisemitism. Yet essentially the same conspiracy lie is widely pushed couched in terms of Israel or Zionists. George Galloway got very upset on Question Time that people felt that he was responsible for antisemitism. Yet he was on Press TV giving his “theory” that when chemical weapons were used in Syria it was Israel that secretly supplied those weapons to Al Qaeda ( Once we recognise that belief in a ludicrous global Jewish conspiracy underpins antisemitism then let’s also recognise that belief in a ludicrous global Israeli/Zionist conspiracy is exactly the same!

  4. Leon Wolfeson

    Quite. For example, if there was that sort of conspiracy, I’d have a far higher paying job.

  5. sebbysteiny

    It falls to the Jews to speak out because at the moment, only Jews are dying as a systematic campaign against an ethnic group and facing the risk of widespread persecution via BDS.

    Until others start dying too, people don’t care and will simply go about their lives hoping the forces of hate don’t touch them.

    It will of course and they will either join in or be persecuted by it.

    At the moment, any Jew can be beaten up and the crowd will excuse it as long as the word “Zionist” or “Israel / Gaza” is mentioned.

    I don’t claim that legitimate criticism of Israel is not anti-semitism. But it has been a long time since I last heard much genuinely legitimate criticism of Israel. Blatantly racist anti-Israelism largely dominates the discussion now.

    This pattern has happened many times in history. So far, we Jews who die first have not been able to find an answer to prevent either the anti-semitism of the minoriity or the wide-spread tollerance of anti-semitism from growing further.

    But we must find an answer and we need it now.

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