This week Bradford West MP Naz Shah and former Labour Mayor of London Ken Livingstone were suspended from the party after being accused of making anti-Semitic remarks. As the political fallout continues we ask a panel of writers, including former Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind and Prospect Editor-at-Large David Goodhart, what exactly is anti-Semitism? Can it be distinguished from anti-Zionism? And at what point does legitimate criticism of the Israeli government turn into unfair singling out of the country—and of Jewish people generally?
Inadequacy and immaturity
Malcolm Rifkind, former Foreign Secretary
In the early 1970s I was on the short list to be the Conservative candidate for the Scottish Borders seat then held by the Liberal David Steel. At a drinks meeting with some of the local party worthies in Melrose, an elderly lady asked me if I was Jewish. When I confirmed that I was her only remark was to say “I don’t think there are many synagogues in the Borders.”
When I became Foreign Secretary in 1995 my Jewish background was of little or no interest to the British public and media, though of great interest to the Israeli Press. Anti-Semitism of the kind that flourished in Britain and most of Europe before the Second World War is not significant in Britain today. The Jewish community lives and breathes by British values and is well integrated.
What has changed is the deep controversy about Israel and the Palestinians. Jews in Britain share in that controversy. I, like many British Jews, have been deeply critical of the Israeli West Bank settlements policy while remaining a strong supporter of the State of Israel.
Those, like Ken Livingstone, who deliberately, or through ignorance, allow their distaste of the Israeli Government to lead them to hold Jews in general as deserving of insult or opprobrium should be ashamed of themselves. They demonstrate their own inadequacy and immaturity.
It appears across the…