Sunday, 1 May 2016

Antisemitism, Islamophobia and criticism of Israel - reply to Hugo Rifkind

Dear Hugo 

Thank you for reading my blogpost Antisemitism, Islamophobia and criticism of Israel. This is my reply to your question on Twitter about the link I made between antisemitism and Islamophobia.

I agree that there is no fundamental causative link between antisemitism and Islamophobia. For most of history, when antisemitism has been in its most pernicious form, it has been in places where there were no Muslims, let alone any Islamophobia. 

However, I think that those concerned primarily with tackling antisemitism in the UK in 2016 should make the link. The reason is simple - it would help their fight against antisemitism.

There is little now of the strain of antisemitism that existed in the UK in the first half of the twentieth century. The focus of most modern antisemitism in the UK is Israel/Palestine. A swathe of issues to do with religion, race, Israel and more have become inextricably linked, world-wide, since the founding of Israel and since 9/11.

Those fighting antisemitism, need to think hard about how what they are saying is being received by people who are not already sympathetic to them. If people think (rightly or wrongly) that they are being lectured to by hypocrites or by people with double standards, they will not engage.

If a British Muslim is angry about Islamophobia or if someone in the UK is highly critical of Israeli treatment of the Palestinians and feels they are being prevented from speaking out, then they are unlikely to be particularly receptive to exhortations to tackle antisemitism. They might well feel differently though if they believed that Islamophobia was being tackled with as much urgency and vigour as antisemitism and that they could feel confident that they could speak out on Israel without being branded an antisemite.

I believe the best way to tackle antisemitism in the UK in 2016, is to relentlessly press the following three messages.

Antisemitism is vile and must not be tolerated.
Islamophobia is vile and must not be tolerated.
Criticism of Israel is legitimate.

Best regards



  1. I would add:

    Criticism of Islam is legitimate.

  2. Graham, I think your addition can be improved:

    Criticism of the behaviour of any state in the world is legitimate

    Criticism of religious extremism in any religion is legitimate

    Criticism of any "revealed truth" religion is legitimate.

  3. Caroline Bottomley1 May 2016 at 19:35

    Really excellent debate here, thanks again Tom London

    1. Caroline Bottomley1 May 2016 at 19:36

      and other commenters of course

  4. @Strategist: I quite agree. Any ideology or system of thought/governance can and, indeed, should be criticised.

    I was just going for symmetry.

  5. Yes, I agree, and meaning criticism in the sense of subjecting to analysis, rather than the more common meaning of "having a go at".

    Perhaps a phrase better than "criticism of [x] is legitimate" is "free speech on the subject of [x] should be defended".