Tolerance is Not Enough | Dan Mikhaylov
Despite Western advancements in human rights, anti-Semitism retains considerable durability. In 2019 alone, the Community Security Trust, a non-profit organisation committed to ensuring the safety of Jewish communities in Britain, registered as many as 1,805 anti-Semitic incidents in the United Kingdom. Although our society publicly champions tolerance, this was the fourth year, during which such instances were burgeoning, and promises not to be the last: the coronavirus pandemic has prompted even more Internet users to propagate Jewish conspiracy theories.
The situation is even worse on university campuses, where this hateful behaviour has been running rampant since the beginning of the century, and where anti-Semitism often appears under the guise of solidarity with Palestine. None other than the London School of Economics and Political Science – one of the nation’s most reputable educational establishments – connived at an exhibition commemorating the Hamas fighters involved in the 2015-16 Knife Intifada terror attacks that took the lives of 38 Israeli civilians and three foreign tourists.
Jewish societies nationwide have been pressured into paying extortionately high security costs only because British universities remain inept at combatting and deracinating anti-Semitic rhetoric and agency. This reticence to intervene needs no particular introduction: being called out for labelling the University of Birmingham a “Zionist outpost” has not prevented Malia Bouattia from becoming the president of National Union of Students, an umbrella organisation that represents 600 student communities across the UK. Nor were two members of the NUS National Executive Council deprived of their positions after posting Nazi slogans and offensive stereotypes concerning the Jews’ physical appearance. If universities and the NUS brook anti-Semitism at the very top, it is dangerous to imagine how little action is undertaken against it on their campuses.
Our response to anti-Semitism has not delivered. Although Westminster has attempted to enshrine tolerance into law by passing hate crime legislation, it remains poorly applied to instances of discrimination against Jewish students. The 2010 Equality Act prescribes the higher education sector eliminate harassment and cultivate amity between students of different religious beliefs under the Public Sector Equality Duty clause, but as the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee’s anti-Semitism report demonstrates, this provision has not been universally upheld. The Education Secretary’s recent request that universities adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism as a starting point for fighting hate crimes has attracted even less enthusiasm. The director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism at the University of London, David Feldman, whom we would expect to have supported the government, urged universities not to comply with this “divisive” move.
Evidently, preaching tolerance is insufficient to rid our public discourse of caustic anti-Semitism. Rather than cultivating peaceful coexistence, university communities have succumbed to authoritarian mob rule. Their stakeholders seem content with this arrangement. Correspondingly, our current approach, which relies on the aforementioned authority figures’ willingness to collaborate, is no longer trustworthy. A truly Conservative government needs to curtail anti-Semitic practices in higher education and change how their perpetrators perceive Judaism and Israel. Advocating for the polysemous, structureless liberal notion of tolerance has proven unsuccessful: it could prevent exponents of anti-Semitism from speaking their mind in public, but makes no provisions to educate them. What we need is a conservative solution to this problem.
This conservative solution is philo-Semitism. It is conservative, since it entails recognising the Jewish communities’ enormous contribution to British history and culture and incorporating this into the overall promotion of tradition, and it could become a better solution than tolerance, since it emphasises commonality and cohesion as opposed to mind-your-own-business diversity. Whereas tolerance presents an ambiguous answer to the comparably inconsistent system of anti-Semitic beliefs that caricature Jews as simultaneously rich and poor, capitalist and socialist, elites and pariahs, philo-Semitism provides a coherent approach, which targets not the victims of anti-Semitism, but their perpetrators.
Implementing this principle in education could take multiple forms. Firstly, it is incumbent that the British national curriculum includes lessons about Jewish heritage and history in Britain to make the youths comprehend and appreciate it. Besides explaining how Britain’s Jewish prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli, championed voter enfranchisement and labour protection, teachers should mention such scientific innovators as John Vane and Rosalind Franklin, whose discoveries expanded our understanding of the universe and boosted Britain’s prestige on the international stage.
Secondly, ideas should be taught in conjunction with their origins. Many Renaissance and Enlightenment concepts, which Westerners take for granted, have their origins in the Old Testament: international borders, societal responsibility, and freedom of speech. Even popular sovereignty “has always spoken with a Hebrew accent”, in the words of the nineteenth-century German poet, Heinrich Heine. After all, it was the revelation of the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai that inspired and substantiated John Locke’s renowned theory of political obligation. Recalling that God committed himself to the covenant with the Jews, despite wielding seemingly absolute authority, Locke argued that sovereignty was not absolute, but conditional on the ruler’s commitment to the rights of the ruled and amenable to annulment if those rights were no longer protected. Since Britons teach and cherish these traditions, we should also teach and cherish their Hebrew roots.
Thirdly, conservatives should welcome public initiatives, designed to celebrate Jewish heritage. In Germany, for instance, the federal government has been preparing events to commemorate the 17 centuries of Jewish history in the country. The UK could follow suit by institutionalising a Jewish heritage month at our universities, showcasing the good in the British Jewish history and culture as well as demonstrating the benefits that British Jewry has had on Britain as a country. Such events would project an overwhelmingly positive and unifying message, which would supplement and strengthen the proposed philo-Semitic changes to the national curriculum.
At the most basic level, conservatism preaches returning to our society’s foundations. These inform us that anti-Semitism has produced some of the worst atrocities in human history. Therefore, allowing the highly corrosive social phenomenon of anti-Semitism to disseminate is indefensible. Fighting it with tolerance is impossible: it could convince Jew loathers that anti-Semitism is socially unacceptable, but not that it is outright irrational. Tackling anti-Semitism the right way requires accomplishing both objectives, and philo-Semitism has the potential to deliver what we require.
Dan Mikhaylov is a Policy Fellow of The Pinsker Centre, a campus based think tank which facilitates discussion on the Middle East, global affairs and free speech. The views in this article are the author’s own.