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A Few Minutes with Gideon Falter

As anti-Semitism simultaneously worsens in the US, Gideon has a message for American Jews: Act now before it’s too late

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ith a Labour Party that has just readmitted (and then suspended) an anti-Semitic MP and a leader who speaks of his “friends” in Hezbollah, Jew-hatred in Britain has made a shocking comeback over the last few years. Gideon Falter, chief executive of the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, is determined to do something about it. The CAA is a grassroots organization that has brought legal and media tools to the fight, and aims to force authorities to live up to their obligations to combat the rising tide.

Using a zero-tolerance approach, the group has gone after the far right and the far left, pursuing both individuals and organizations. The strategy has paid off with successful convictions against Holocaust deniers, forcing Penguin, a major publisher, to withdraw a Rothschild conspiracy book; and most recently the investigation of the Labour Party by the government human rights watchdog.

As anti-Semitism simultaneously worsens in the US, Gideon has a message for American Jews: Act now before it’s too late.

 

Labour’s anti-Semitism problem has shocked Britain’s Jewish community, and many in the UK besides. But what made you actually get up and do something about it?

In 2014, during the Gaza war, there was an outpouring of anti-Semitism in the UK. I felt compelled to take action when I saw a photograph of a man parading down Oxford Street in London with a sign saying “Save Gaza, Hitler you were right.” There are laws against discrimination which are enforced when it comes to any other minority, but for some reason not the Jewish minority. Without anything to deter them, anti-Semites become bolder and bolder. So in 2014 we called a demonstration outside the Royal Courts of Justice, demanding zero-tolerance enforcement of the law against anti-Semitism.

From there I went to see Theresa May and set out what we thought the authorities needed to be doing and found that she and her officials ideologically understood that rising anti-Semitism was a threat to all of society, not just Jews. We started to gather volunteers, including some of the most formidable lawyers and media professionals in the UK. Now we have 1,100 volunteers, a mix of Jews and non-Jews, and we’re the leading voice against anti-Semitism in the UK. We’re like a start-up, so we’re able to move fast and achieve very high impact at low cost.

 

What new tools have you brought to the table?

We’ve done three things. Firstly, we’ve pioneered a much more aggressive media campaign to put anti-Semitism on Britain’s front pages. Secondly, we have litigated. We’re the only organization bringing lawsuits against anti-Semites. These include private prosecutions and also suing the Crown [the British government] to force it to prosecute anti-Semitic hate crime, such as Holocaust denial. I am particularly proud that the Equality and Human Rights Commission has now agreed to investigate anti-Semitism in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party.

Lastly, we have pioneered a much more forthright approach to public policy. We are unafraid to bang our fists on table and demand the same rights as everyone else.

 

Outgoing prime minister Theresa May has spoken up in support of your work. How well do you think the authorities have responded in practice?

I think that the government response has been lacking. They want to help us, but they haven’t dealt with the circumstances in which anti-Semitism has festered.

There was a time when anti-Semitism was spread by extremists in small meetings, but now social media has become a way to radicalize the mainstream. Social media contains such a large collection of Jew-hatred that it makes Der Sturmer appear pale in comparison. Universities have also becoming hotbeds of anti-Semitism. By failing to take drastic action against anti-Semitism on campus, the authorities have allowed hatred a foothold in Britain. They’ve created an incubator for the anti-Semitism now bursting out on streets and in the mainstream.

They could force universities to take action, and they’ve been far too slow to act on social media.

 

Last year’s anti-Semitism protest outside Parliament made international waves. Was that a turning point for the Jewish community?

I wouldn’t say that the rally was the turning point; that came in 2016. In 2015 our political investigations unit, which was tiny at the time, came to me to discuss someone called Jeremy Corbyn. I said, “Who’s Jeremy Corbyn?” I hadn’t heard of him. As we looked at his background, we saw someone on the wrong side of anti-Semitism throughout his career.

Initially, after Corbyn’s election in 2015, there was shock but also an expectation that he could be educated. That hope quickly evaporated. In 2016, moderate MPs mounted a failed coup, which saw Corbyn reelected, so it became obvious to him that there was no majority in the party to remove him because of anti-Semitism. He could factor in criticism as a cost of doing business. Since then he has acted cynically to defend and protect anti-Semites.

The readmission of Labour MP Chris Williamson to the party a few weeks ago, even while under investigation for anti-Semitism by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, shows that the party has become an existential threat to the future of British Jewry.

Support for Labour has until recently been around 25%, despite the facts about anti-Semitism being widely known. Does that figure show that this is the true level of anti-Semitism in the UK?

Anti-Semitic prejudice in Britain has actually been falling. We conduct an annual poll with YouGov, the UK’s premier pollster, and the numbers holding at least one anti-Semitic opinion have been falling from 45% in 2015 to 39% in 2016 to 36% in 2017 and so on. I’m not aware of any other country in the West where that is the case.

That’s thanks to anti-Semitism within the Labour Party, because the British public has been treated to an in-depth discussion about anti-Semitism on the front pages of our newspapers. The more people talk about anti-Semitism, the more that the public understands what it is and rejects it. Most British people are decent and abhor what is happening in the Labour Party.

 

Trends seem to show the US taking the same route as Britain on this issue. Based on your experiences so far, what lessons do you have for your counterparts in America?

American Jews need to act now to prevent the anti-Semitism raging at British universities, on social media, and in politics from engulfing the United States too. We are already seeing the same trends. They should be aggressive in using the tools that democratic societies possess to put a high cost on this hatred. We stand ready to help.

It’s very upsetting to see what is happening in Britain. This is an existential battle; we cannot afford to lose.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 769)

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