14 February 2023

The Prevent review suggests that in Britain antisemites can still act with impunity


‘Jews don’t count’, they say, except perhaps in the malign statistics of hatred. Last week’s Shawcross review of the Prevent programme shone a light on just how pernicious and deep-seated antisemitism is among those judged to be at risk of becoming terrorists. 

Shawcross looked at a number of ‘Channel‘ referrals and was alarmed by what he found. Channel is the part of Prevent, past the initial screening triage, where those judged to be genuinely risky potential extremists get tailored intervention from counter-terrorism professionals.

While the language used in virtually every official description of the Prevent programme is achingly neutral on this process, bingeing on the verbiage of ‘vulnerability’ and ‘safeguarding’, when you get to Channel things are more straightforward: you’re a potential terrorism risk to others. To illustrate the point, in the latest government Prevent statistics, of the 6,848 referrals in the year ending March 2022, only 13% were adopted as a Channel case.

Shawcross found a prevalence of ‘extreme antisemitism’ in the Channel cases he dip sampled. What’s striking is that antisemitism is an equal opportunities hatred. It is mobilised by extreme left, right and Islamist ideologues and their followers. Perhaps this explains a pre-eminence of obsessive, ‘fanatical’ violent hatred towards Jews in the cases he examined – behaviour that included the professed desire to murder and bomb Jews and the burning of synagogues.

Perhaps the hatred was to some extent animated by what was happening in Israel and Gaza in the timescale covered by the cases. In 2021 a pro-Palestinian rally drove through a Jewish part of London with the occupants observed on widely circulated video shouting , ‘Fuck the Jews, rape their daughters’ through a megaphone. The state’s response, eventually, was to decline to prosecute those identified because of ‘insufficient evidence’. In November of the same year, the Metropolitan Police failed to secure any arrests or convictions for another widely publicised antisemitic attack on a group of Jewish teenagers celebrating Hanukkah on a bus in central London. The BBC were later censured by Ofcom for ‘significant editorial failings’ for asserting in reports of the incident that the occupants of the bus provoked the attack.

It’s quite possible that such a pathetic and supine response to these hate crimes has encouraged antisemites to think themselves unimpeachable and untouchable. Righteousness kills.

The latest 2022 census data shows that people identifying as Jewish comprise just 0.46% of the population of England and Wales. They would all fit into a city the size of Sunderland. Great hatred, little room. Jews are disproportionately attacked for their religion and their very existence is conflated with that of the state of Israel to justify othering one of this countries smallest ethnic minorities. 

The Community Security Trust, a Jewish charity that analyses antisemitic hate crime, continues to report historically high levels of antisemitic attacks in Britain both online and on the streets. Its latest annual report shows a worrying number of young people under 18 drawn into antisemitic behaviour, just the sort of young people who eventually make it on to the Prevent radar. In over 50% of the cases, one or more ideological themes was present, including glorification of the architects of the Holocaust and other Nazi-related rhetoric. The CST relates this to the increasing influence of the far right on young people. 

Shawcross was right to say that the Government needs to investigate whether his dip sample of Channel cases is representative of a wider trend. Furthermore, he makes the crucial point that while these are disgusting behaviours, as is the toxic anti-Muslim hatred that clearly exists, they will certainly not all be forerunners of terrorist attacks.

Prevent is not the right vehicle to contain virulent antisemitism. It merely treats the symptoms of a well-entrenched pathology. Mission creep has meant it is treating far too much and often not well enough. But there does need to be a wider societal response – and a much more muscular one – to the relative impunity and official indifference that people who hate Jews prosper under. In particular, the state must taken on the people who Shawcross calls the ‘chronic’ radicalisers – those whose barely legal activities and narratives legitimise extremism that targets Jewish people. Some of the bravest people I know are British Muslims engaged in this work. They are detested by Islamists, tired, isolated and fearful because the state is not on the field with them.

That sort of impunity is an incubator for the smaller number of people who have murder in mind and in deed. Jews must count. If they don’t, who is next?

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Professor Ian Acheson is Senior Advisor to the Counter Extremism Project.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.