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Tuesday, 31 March 2009

On Anti-Semitism and Jewish 'Security'

April 1st

I’ve noticed that this ongoing blog of mine is being monitored by the CST - the self-styled ‘Community Security Trust’ (see the anonymous Comment attached to my February 22nd blog). I’ve been wondering over the last few weeks what to make of this, and how to respond. And I’ve also been doing some casual research on who exactly these people are, who claim that this organisation ‘represents British Jewry to Police, Government and media on antisemitism and security’ (see their website www.thecst.org.uk . (Incidentally, I've found that you can tell quite a bit about someone's - or a group's - attitude towards authority from the words they choose to give a capital letter to in their writing).

I’m sure the CST do valuable and necessary work. They enjoy cross communal support and co-operation in their stated aim, to ‘provide physical security, training and advice for the protection of British Jews’. In addition, they assist ‘victims of antisemitism’ and monitor ‘antisemitic activities and incidents’. (By the way, and I’m sorry to be pedantic, it is actually ‘anti-Semitism’ and ‘anti-Semitic’ – I know in these laissez-faire days, of texting and Twitter and email, almost anything goes in regard to language and spelling and grammar, but I happen to be attached to the outmoded view that language reflects the soul, and that imprecision of language reflects imprecision of thinking. And in these shriven times we need as much clarity of thinking as we can muster. And the so-called ‘people of the Book’ (capital letter) have a historic responsibility as guardians of language. But, as usual, I digress).

So the CST are significant players on the national scene. And increasingly so, as they are pleased to report. Their website boasts of an increased number of offices and staff. In other words ‘antisemitism’ [sic] is good for business. And that’s my problem (or one of them) with the CST. The ambiguity at the heart of their enterprise is that it’s security for us - and it’s jobs for the boys. The greater the perceived risks, the more they say they are needed. But who monitors the self-appointed monitors of anti-Semitism? To whom is the CST accountable? I just ask.

For there is a curious absence of such key information on the CST’s website, a slick affair that contains much practical and helpful information but is as revealing in what it doesn’t say as in what it does.

So just who decides – and how? – what constitutes an ‘incident’? Does a child who hears something in a playground and tells her mum, who then complains to the school, become another ‘victim’ of another ‘incident’? And does the fact that there’s a piece of graffiti scrawled on a wooden fence near my home (look away now if you are easily offended) – Gas Jews Cunts – mean that when I pass by it, as I have done nearly every day for the last five years , I too have become witness to another anti-Semitic ‘incident’? Again, I just ask.

The CST is a charitable trust. Established as such in 1994,they have been recording anti-Semitic incidents in the UK since (a nicely Orwellian touch, this) 1984. And anti-Semitism is real. And we can be thankful that there are those who are prepared to take that reality seriously (though I always thought that this is why we have a police force, and counter-terrorism units, and the rest of the privileges, paid for out of our taxes, of living in a security-conscious democracy). We know there are people who dislike Jews. We know there are those who even hate Jews. This isn’t paranoia, it’s just the grim facts of life.

But somehow it just isn’t good enough for my anonymous Comment-poster to add, as his (why do I know it is a ‘his’?) final words: ‘Just because one’s paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get one’. This genteel British variation on the old cliché - I do love that pseudo-refined use of ‘one’ – does rather give the game away. Because the problem with paranoia is that ‘one’ genuinely cannot tell the difference between reality and fantasy, ‘one’ cannot distinguish between real aggression directed at ‘one’ and projected aggression that originates from inside ‘one’s’ psyche - yet feels as if it is coming at ‘one’ from another person or group. Particularly a group, an undifferentiated ‘they’ (as in his quote above). No wonder the ‘ blogosphere’ has to be monitored so scrupulously – who knows how many ‘they’ are?

Let me be clear here. The CST does important work for the Jewish community. They need our support, particularly financially. Do give them this support if you are so minded. (You can donate online). But don’t suspend your independent-mindedness, your critical thinking capacities in the face of the rhetoric of increased levels of ‘threat’.

I take to heart what the CST says on its website: ‘The ethos of the CST is that the Jewish community is responsible for its own security’ . But I happen to think that my security is also served by asking questions, raising concerns, voicing my hesitation before going along uncritically with unexamined notions of ‘threat’. If there are vested interests at stake in the promotion of a lurid picture of rising ‘antisemitism’ [sic] in the UK, then the issue of what threatens us becomes rather more complex than it might seem to the casual observer.

An over-zealous promotion of the notion of threat is bad for our mental health and our emotional well-being. We can get trapped in a hall of mirrors where we don’t know what is real and what is a mere reflection of our own aggression. And in the long run it could prove counter-productive to our physical safety – as our puffed-up self-assertiveness gives rise to real antagonism at our self-justifying stance and victim-mentality language and behaviour.

9 comments:

  1. From: Mark Gardner, Director of Communications, CST.

    Howard Cooper - CST uses 'Google alert' to let us know when Community Security Trust appears on websites, blogs etc. 'Google alert' has brought your article to CST's attention.

    1. CST is not monitoring your blog, not now, not previously. So, you needn't worry about how to respond.

    2. I have no idea who left a comment on your blog on Feb 22nd. Perhaps you should call in Scotland Yard.

    3. The spelling of antisemitism. CST takes the view that "Semitism" is not something that is sufficiently concrete for anyone to be "Anti". Nevertheless, history has left us with this term "antisemitism", so, we reluctantly stick with it, but remove the capital letters (of which you know so much) and the hyphen. You can check the wikipedia entry on antisemitism (spelt "antisemitism") for more: the salient part is here (and you can follow up the wikipedia references etc, as obviously you can't believe everything you read on the net):

    "Usage
    Despite the use of the prefix "anti," the terms Semitic and anti-Semitic are not directly opposed to each other (unlike similar-seeming terms such as anti-American or anti-Hellenic). Antisemitism refers specifically to prejudice against Jews alone and in general[1][2][5], despite the fact that there are other speakers of Semitic languages (e.g. Arabs or Assyrians) and that not all Jews speak a Semitic language. (In fact, at the time of the origin of the term, most Jews spoke Yiddish or Ladino, both Indo-European languages.)

    Both terms anti-Semitism and antisemitism are in common use. There are some arguments over which term is to be preferred. All major dictionaries prefer a hyphenated form anti-Semitism or antisemitism. Scholarly consensus appears divided. Some scholars favor usage of the unhyphenated form antisemitism to avoid possible confusion involving whether the term refers specifically to Jews, or to Semitic-language speakers as a whole.[6][7][8][9]"

    4. You waltz around the salient issues of a. increased terrorist threat, and b. increased numbers of antisemitic incidents. It is stupid and immoral of you to infer to readers that CST hypes the threat to help with 'jobs for the boys'.

    terrorism in UK - check statements from Police, Govt, MI5 about the scale of the terrorist threat facing UK. Check about the durability of the threat and the huge resources going to meet it. Check how the level of threat in UK compares now with 5 or 10 years ago. Please, if you are honest, do so. Or perhaps you think these numbers are irrelevant to antisemitism, or perhaps you think that this threat is a fictional ruse by Big Govt to distract attention from err..what exactly?

    antisemitic terrorism - go to Mumbai for the latest update on how Jews should be attacked as part of the pro Al Qaeda jihad. Spend a bit of time checking how many jihadi plots against Jews have been disrupted around the world since 2001 when Ayman al Zawahiri (ie Al Qaeda chief of operations) called for Jews around the world to be targeted. Who knows, perhaps you might even spare a thought about those terror attacks that did succeed - Djerba, Casablanca, Istanbul, Mumbai.

    terrorism & Gaza - perhaps you could also check the explicit calls for attacks in UK, and attacks against Jews. Who knows, maybe you could also consider the pro Jihad graffiti in Jewish neighbourhoods that followed those calls. Or, perhaps, the attempted arson on Brondesbury Park shul that just so happens to be the nearest shul to the Hamas activists in Cricklewood.

    Or: take a look at some of the publications on CST website where much of this is covered: the reports on terrorism; antisemitic incidents; and discourse.

    antisemitic incident levels - the same patterns are reported from around the world. Significant increases post 2000 in every diaspora community, with surges occurring in immediate response to overseas 'trigger events'. Do you think the tens of thousands of French Jews who have bought 2nd homes or emigrated (to Israel, Canada, Florida mainly) are all part of a big CST ruse to help with the UK fundraising? Or does antisemitism only happen 'over there'?

    5. CST's accountability: We are a registered charity. We have trustees. Believe me, we have more than enough Real Enemies (note capital letters) out there who try most months to trip us up.

    6. "What is an incident?...I just ask." This is despicable, and this is where I will get personal. You pose as some kind of fair, interested, knowledgeable person and then don't even take the time to check what we do and don't count as an incident. The accusation about our incident stats comes regularly, but it comes from Real Enemies (note the capitals), and I shouldn't have to waste time explaining it to someone who's blog says they are a rabbi.

    It is all on our website in the publications section. Check either the incidents report, or the report that is entitled "Definitions of antisemitic incidents". (The clue is in the title). Check them, then see if you want to pursue the matter.

    - Anyway, enough already.

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  2. CST publications may be accessed via this page:

    http://www.thecst.org.uk/index.cfm?content=7&Menu=7

    ReplyDelete
  3. Mark,
    Some random thoughts on your speedy response.

    1) Thank you for taking time out to respond so immediately to my blog – though it is perhaps strange to say (your point 1) that nobody connected to the CST is monitoring this blog when your opening comment reports that the CST uses Google to monitor web traffic and blogs. Some confusion, surely?

    You see, I didn’t take this monitoring personally – I think I’m usually able to distinguish between what might be objectively the case (eg that the CST monitors stuff to look for potential problems) and a more paranoid response “Oh my God, surely they are not monitoring ME”.

    2) This confusion between what is objective and what is subjective lies at the heart of one of my blog’s expressed concerns. You neatly illustrate this potential confusion when you describe me as ‘stupid and immoral’ (point 4 above) before moving on (point 6) to ‘this is where I will get personal...’ (as if everything before that is just objective facts).

    3) I never suggested – how could I? - that anti-Semitism isn’t a real and present phenomenon. What I did was raise a legitimate question about how anti-Semitic incidents are defined, and by whom. Your website, which I’d consulted, didn’t really help – it appears to be comprehensive and objective but is actually based on the paradoxical and circular argument with which it begins the pages on Definitions: ‘...an antisemitic incident is a malicious act...where there is evidence that the incident has antisemitic motivation or content’. Thanks for that.

    4) I’m reassured to know that as a charity you have trustees. So that completely disposes of the question of who monitors those doing the monitoring...Again, thanks for that.
    5) Re the spelling of anti-Semitism – not perhaps our greatest worry as Jews, but I suppose I did raise it...I hadn’t realised that Wikipedia was now the default resource for discussing language. Sadly, I’m old school – the 2-volume New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary is good enough for me (and Longmans; and Collins).

    But, as you so rightly say, enough already. You must be a very busy man.
    HC.

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  4. Howard

    I am a congregant which is why I read* your blog, the user name is one I have used for years, I didn't mean to be anonymous.

    Nick Kramer

    Both bresent and past tense.

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  5. Apologies Nick - glad to know my paranoia is in full working order! But as you so so deftly said: 'just because one is paranoid, doesn't mean...' etc etc. It opened up a fruitful theme I think, and one I hope to pursue on another occasion. We need all the shared conversation we can get on the issues that we face - one of the benefits of community, I think.

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  6. This reminds me of a talk I once attended given by Clive Lawton, in which he recounted the warnings he did not heed to remove his kippah in public when in a Muslim north African nation, I forget which. He confessed to receiving a lot of attention for his choice of head covering, almost all of which was along the lines of “Hey, I like the Jews, but you should be careful”. Not once however did he actually encounter any antisemitism...

    Which brings me onto the “Anti-Semitism” vs. “antisemitism debate. I’m not sure of the precise etymology of the term, but it is clearly slightly more complex than a simply an (incorrect) combination of “anti” and “Semite”. “Semite” does not mean Jew. It refers to all the people of, approximately, the Arab peninsula, of whom the Israelites constitute a small minority. “Anti-Semitism” implies being against these people, the proper noun marked with the capitalisation. However, we all know, unambiguously, what is understood by “antisemitism". I answer the inevitable accusations of extreme pedantry on a note of hope: that use of the term “Semitism” serves to emphasise the fraternity of and similarities between Jews and Arabs.

    Ben Langleben

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  7. Howard

    Insurance investigators collecting statistics on industrial accidents found that the ratio of minor, major and fatal accidents was relatively constant across different firms. By monitoring the minor accidents it is possible to identify organisations at risk of more serious accidents.

    I believe the CST collects its incidents for the same reason, to identify problems before they become serious. I do agree that the interminable recitation of what is generally loutish behaviour is faintly rediculous.

    Or to put it another way, I have heard it said we could reduce Anti-Semitism ( or antisemitism) significantly if only Jews would park considerately outside sybagogues.

    Thanks for the phone call

    Regards

    Nick

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  8. Howard

    You must be doing something right when your blog post gets this much comment.

    It has always been a problem for those involved in trying to secure our community to find the right balance between keeping our community alert to risks and not being accused of over exaggerating (and I speak as someone who has stood on guard outside the shul for more years than I care to count).

    It is a sad reflection on the society that we live in that we need a CST, maybe one day that won't be the case but until then they deserve our support and occasionally a check to ensure that they remain accountable and balanced.

    steven

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  9. They can be a bit officious - or over-zealous, however. About 3 years ago I went to an 'Opinion Soup' public event in north London organised by the Jewish Community Centre for London. I brought my digital camera which they inspected with considerable interest before I entered the auditorium. The 'inspector' said that really he ought to ask me to open it up but was satisfied if I merely showed that when I pressed the button it actually took a picture. He didn't show any sign of obvious relief when it didn't explode or anything. Still the exercise of power may have felt good, but I shouldn't conjecture on this.

    I sat in the second row and took a few photos during the couple of hours. Afterwards one of the CST guys approached me, telling me that I'd taken some photos, as if he thought I'd done so in some sort of dissociated state, and some of them might have been of CST staff and would I please show him the pictures (I don't know what he'd have done had they been on a film roll).

    He was able to identify a rather small and underexposed (I hadn't used flash) image of one of his colleagues on each of two of the photos, which he asked me to delete there and then. Not wanting to be a troublemaker over such a trivial matter, I obliged. Not everyone would have.

    You probably saw the story in the paper the other day about the police making an Austrian tourist do a similar thing over red buses in London (and a few tube stations). (By the way, I first heard about the police and photos at a digital photo workshop for amateur photographers. At that time you could take pictures but not if you deployed a tripod. Some thought it was because you could take more details (for terrorism) of a building using a tripod, others that it was simply a health-and-safety issue to avoid having pedestrians tripping over it; a few considered a tripod an offensive weapon.

    Anyway, in the CST incident, they were being silly because anyone who wanted to take a picture for sinister purposes at the north London event would not have sat in the front openly waving a camera (they'd have used a mobile phone, or more likely, a little tiepin device).

    I suppose quite a lot of 'security' is really for public reassurance purposes.

    By the way, I don't read your blog nor do I subscribe to google alert - I'm here because someone showed me your letter in this week's JC and I rather liked it so checked you out on, umm, google ...

    Wholly irrelevantly, but on the subject of the JC letter, I'm very skeptical about speaking of the Israel-Palestine conflict in psychoanalytic terms. I haven't read Jacqueline Rose's books on this, but I've heard her speak and read some pieces of hers, one, I think, in the LRB and I'm not convinced.

    Dr Brian Robinson

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