We are fortunate in this country to have some truly superb Holocaust educators. The Holocaust Educational Trust does a brilliant job in teaching children – and adults – about the worst genocide in history. And Holocaust Memorial Day acts as a national remembrance.
But while it is vital that people are taught about the worst evil of which human beings are capable, it has become increasingly clear that there is a gap between Holocaust education and a more basic understanding of the nature of antisemitism itself, of which the Holocaust is the most obscene example.
Last year, I was told by anti-extremism educator Charlotte Littlewood of her experience in one school. After giving training to a sixth-form about 9/11, a teacher approached her about the session. Why, he asked, had she ignored the ‘evidence’ that 9/11 was organised by the Jews?
Ms Littlewood is the author of a study cited today by the government’s so-called ‘antisemitism Tsar’ Lord Mann in his ground-breaking report calling for all schools to have policies to recognise and combat antisemitism, which should also be part of teacher training. (One might also point out the inherent irony of the phrase ‘antisemitism Tsar’.)
Her study found that recorded antisemitic incidents in schools in England have nearly trebled over the past five years. But a mere 47 schools have any kind of formal, written policy that ‘might make staff more aware of the vicious forms of antisemitic bullying’ – such as making a hissing sound when Jewish pupils enter a classroom in a reference to the Nazi gas chambers
As Ms Littlewood has written of the 9/11 training incident:
‘I am sure that this school, as with all British schools, teaches the Holocaust. I am equally certain that the teacher who pulled me to one side did not realise that he was engaging in a perspective that underpinned Nazi thinking and drives modern-day antisemitism. Many teachers know what far-right, Nazi-style antisemitism looks like, but when Jews are blamed for nefarious power, corruption and murdering Palestinians, identifying antisemitism and why it is a problem is often lost.’
This is the crux of the issue. The success of David Baddiel’s Jews Don’t Count, which brilliantly skewered progressive blindess to anti-Jewish racism – as if Jews (who are seen as ‘white’) cannot truly be the object of racism – is one aspect of this. But it goes deeper, because some of those who think of themselves as being profoundly anti-racist nonetheless harbour stereotypically antisemitic thoughts about Jews – that they are rich, they control the media, they stick together, and so on. They won’t even recognise that these are racist ideas, seeing them merely as statements of fact.
This explains how you can teach the Holocaust and yet not make any impact on dealing with living, breathing antisemitism. Or, to put it another way, the bar for anti-Jewish racism is set at the level of killing Jews. The author Dora Horn deals with this in her book, People Love Dead Jews.
In his report today, ‘Anti-Jewish Hatred: Tackling Antisemitism in the UK 2023 – Renewing the Commitment’, Lord Mann lays out a ‘work plan’ for the next two years, including a debate on whether the term ‘antisemitism’ should be replaced by ‘anti-Jewish hatred’. This is not just about playing with words. One of my obsessions is that the word antisemitism is itself a problem, because it implies that anti-Jewish racism (or hatred) is something quite different from other racism.
In its roots and its manifestation it may be, but in its DNA it is common or garden racism.
The statistics compiled by the Community Security Trust are unambiguous, showing antisemitism on the rise over the past decade. Teaching about the Holocaust is important in itself, but it appears to have had very little impact in countering antisemitism. It is not known as the oldest hatred for nothing.
I’ll give the last word here to the late Lord Sacks, who put it with customary eloquence in 2016:
‘The appearance of antisemitism in a culture is the first symptom of a disease, the early warning sign of collective breakdown. If Europe allows antisemitism to flourish, that will be the beginning of the end of Europe…
‘Let me ask you this. Whether you are Jewish or Christian, Muslim: would you stay in a country where you need armed police to guard you while you prayed? Where your children need armed guards to protect them at school? Where, if you wear a sign of your faith in public, you risk being abused or attacked? Where, when your children go to university, they are insulted and intimidated because of what is happening in some other part of the world? Where, when they present their own view of the situation they are howled down and silenced? This is happening to Jews throughout Europe.
‘How did this happen? It happened the way viruses always defeat the human immune system, namely, by mutating.’
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