Progressively Speaking: Is there a Jewish obligation to tackle Islamophobia?
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Progressively Speaking: Is there a Jewish obligation to tackle Islamophobia?

 Rabbi Mark Goldsmith takes a topical issue and looks at a progressive Jewish response

Worrying times: A Worcestershire mosque daubed with a swastika
Worrying times: A Worcestershire mosque daubed with a swastika

In 2017, the Community Security Trust (CST) recorded 1,382 antisemitic incidents in the UK.  Tell MAMA, the Muslim organisation which measures anti-Muslim attacks, recorded 1,201 anti-Muslim incidents in the UK.   Torah reminds us we “know the heart of the stranger” (Exodus 23:9), which means Jews should certainly feel an obligation to help prevent Islamophobia and all forms of religious and ethnic hatred.

The Talmud principle of mipnei darchei shalom, pursuing caring relationships between people of different faiths for the sake of peace for all, strengthens the obligation (Gittin 61a).  The CST has put that into action for many years by sharing its expertise with Tel MAMA and other faith community protection organisations. The Board of Deputies has done the same, navigating the complex waters of Muslim community representation to find partners to share our common interests.   There is no one Muslim organisation with the Board’s scope of representation.

A recent issue of common interest has been the need for a universally accepted definition of antisemitism and Islamophobia.

Without these, how can we expect our government authorities, national organisations such as political parties and educators effectively to call out and act against hate and those who spread it?

These definitions  must not be so broad that they categorise legitimate debate about a faith, its principles and effects as hatred, and they must not be so narrow that they make acceptable traumatic and delegitimating attacks on a faith and its adherents.

The near-universal acceptance of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism has been a good example of practice and gives the whole country a baseline for where debate stops and hate begins.  There is no such broadly accepted definition of Islamophobia.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on the issue of finding a definition of Islamophobia has this month got into hot water with the extremist nature of some groups it has consulted.

A definition of hatred of Jews or Muslims we can all sign up to must be built from a consensus of the broad sweep of a community and will
inevitably be unable to take in extremist views.

  •  Rabbi Mark Goldsmith serves Alyth Synagogue 
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