Eurasia Diary -Jeremy Havardi’s Exclusive Interview
Today, most antisemitism comes from the left and from Islamist groups
Interview by Seymur Mammadov
Exclusive interview with the director of the B’nai B’rith UK’s Bureau of International Affairs, Jeremy Havardi
Mr. Havardi, how do you assess the level of anti-Semitism in the UK?
– I believe that most people in Britain are not particularly antisemitic, judging by recent opinion polls, though a significant number of people share at least one or two negative opinions about Jews. Today, most antisemitism comes from the left and from Islamist groups who both peddle conspiracy theories about alleged Jewish power and use traditional antisemitic tropes to attack Israel and Zionism. There is an unhealthy obsession about Jews that animates their discussions and feeds their addictive worldviews. One is seeing evidence of this at the moment within the Labour movement which has taken a decisive lurch to the left. They associate Jews with ‘excessive’ political and economic power and perceive Israel as a bastion of colonialism and First World power. I think that within these groups, antisemitism is definitely on the rise. There are also some far right and extreme nationalistic groups in the UK whose members hold unpleasant views about Jews and other minorities. Their influence is much smaller than their left wing counterparts, however.
What steps are being taken by Jewish communities and European organizations to combat anti-Semitism?
– Jewish communities are trying to highlight the abuse that ordinary Jews are experiencing, both at universities, in academic circles, within political organisations and elsewhere. Groups such as the Campaign against antisemitism and the Community Security Trust actively monitor antisemitism and ensure that the issue remains in the public spotlight. The result is that that those with racist views are being publicly exposed and held to account for their bigotry. Other groups meet with the government to ensure that vulnerable Jewish communities are fully protected. As the Director of the B’nai B’rith UK’s Bureau of International Affairs, I meet with Ambassadors every week, pointing out how hatred and prejudice is on the rise in foreign countries and asking what measures are taken to protect Jews from attack. We face an uphill struggle but it is vital that the work continues. We are also concerned by intolerance shown towards other minorities and recognise that while hatred may start with Jews, it does not end there.
How are the Jews integrated into the social and political life of Great Britain?
– Jews have always been integrated into the political, economic and social life of Great Britain. Despite being a small minority of less than 0.5% of the population, Jews make a remarkable contribution to so many areas of communal life, including politics and academia, science and medicine, the media and the world of arts and culture. This is equally true of Jews in European countries.
The European Parliament (EP) approved by a majority of votes the working definition of anti-Semitism, developed by the International Alliance in memory of the Holocaust. According to the adopted working definition, anti-Semitism is “a special kind of attitude towards Jews, which can be expressed in hatred towards them.” What new opportunities will this decision of the European Parliament open for European Jews?
– I think that the new definition makes it easier to understand today’s antisemitism. This hatred is not just about attacking or hating Jews because of who they are. It is about holding Jews to a double standard, of demonising the Jewish state and invoking conspiracy theories about allegedly malevolent Jewish power. Hopefully, if the definition can be adopted across the western world, it will help to differentiate reasonable discussion and debate from prejudicial and baseless rhetoric.
Let me ask you about the Jews in Azerbaijan. What do you know about the life of Jews in our country?
– Jews have played an important role in Azerbaijan’s history and culture though most have left the country in recent decades. The Jewish community enjoys warm relations with the government and it is encouraging to see close bilateral ties between Azerbaijan and Israel in recent decades. I have not been to Azerbaijan but would very much love to visit.