In merry olde England, a very troubling trend

In merry olde England, a very troubling trend

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

LONDON — Israel Apartheid Week caused a rightful ruckus in the States, but next time American Jews think they have it bad they ought to see what British Jews encounter almost weekly. After a week across the pond, I can say anti-Semitism is well and alive in Great Britain.

For example, the Conservative Party announced it was going to delay the release of its report into Parliament member Adrian Burley, 32, who took part in a “Nazi-themed” stag party held in France in December. In a video of the event, a guest wears a Nazi uniform and the group is seen toasting the Third Reich and the names of senior Nazi officials. While Prime Minister David Cameron did remove Burley from his position as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Transport Secretary due to his “offensive” behavior, Cameron did not take away his duties as parliamentary whip, pending completion of a formal investigation of the party by French authorities.

Elsewhere, a student at the London School of Economics running for student union trustee, suspended for 48 hours for two campaign violations, compared his punishment to Nazi book-burning. According to the LSE student newspaper, he also compared his suspension to Jews waiting to be taken to the gas chambers. Citing him for “trivializing the Holocaust,” the LSE Student Union then disqualified his candidacy.

A program at Queen Mary College of the University of London, sponsored by the Palestinian Solidarity Society, included as featured speaker Azzam Tamimi, director of the Institute of Islamic Political Thought in London. Tamimi is a supporter of Hamas and an advocate of suicide bombings. The other panelists consisted of outspoken critics of Israel; Israel advocates were not permitted to attend.

Among the panelists was Baroness Jennie Tonge, a Liberal-Democratic whip in the House of Lords and a frequent critic of Israel. Earlier in February, Tonge also had been featured in a program at Middlesex University’s Free Palestine Society. According to the tape of that conference, Tonge declared:

“Beware Israel. Israel is not going to be there forever in its present form. One day, the United States of America will get sick of giving [70 billion pounds] a year to Israel to support what I call America’s aircraft carrier in the Middle East — that is Israel. One day, the American people are going to say to the Israel lobby in the USA: enough is enough. Israel will lose support and then they will reap what they have sown.”

Appearing on a 2004 panel at a university while still a member of the House of Commons, she previously had remarked that she could consider becoming a suicide bomber. In 2009, she was removed from the Lib-Dems front bench when she accused the Israeli military of harvesting organs in Haiti after the earthquake.

Nevertheless, Tonge remained a party whip until last month. After the tape of the Middlesex University event emerged, Nick Clegg, the Lib-Dem leader in the House of Commons, responding in part to demands from Jewish leaders and some of those in the Opposition, called on her to apologize. Tonge resigned from the Lib-Dem Party instead, whereupon Clegg announced she would no longer sit with the Lib-Dems in the House of Lords and he removed the whip from the baroness.

There has never been a parliamentary ethics investigation or an internal party call for her dismissal. One wonders if there would have been a similar level of tolerance if a politician were to proclaim similar anti-black, anti-Muslim, or anti-gay remarks. Apologists will no doubt explain her remarks are not anti-Semitic, but only an expression of anti-Israel feeling and sensitivity for the Palestinians’ plight.

On the positive side, there are Muslims and Jews who are reaching out, even on college campuses, to try to find common ground and constructive engagement. At the annual Community Security Trust (CST) dinner last week, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, gave a ringing vote of support for CST’s work combating anti-Semitism and its highly regarded, close working relationship with the police. He also reiterated the government’s strong support for Israel.

Overall, however, the attitudes toward Jews and Israel in the public arena remain troubling. Admittedly, no one was beaten up; but, what is tolerated in the name of free speech speaks legions.

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