David Collier, an independent investigative journalist focused on exposing antisemitism, spoke to a September 12th Middle East Forum Webinar (video) about the ideology and drivers of antisemitism in the anti-Israel movement in England, Scotland and Ireland.
Collier conducted his investigation fully undercover over a period of years by "immersing" himself via social media in the groups he infiltrated in England, Scotland, and Ireland. Starting in England, Collier said the information shared between "Facebook friends" in these groups consisted of materials "such as Holocaust denial, Rothschild conspiracy, the Jews did 9/11." Having observed the composition of people at demonstrations in support of these "causes," Collier was able to "quantify" that forty percent of the people who attended in England, and fifty percent in Scotland, are "hardcore antisemites." Collier was able to quantify his findings in this way, he said, because of his extensive online personal connections to the individuals involved. While investigating the situation in Scotland, he became aware of a "bridge" between the "Scottish independence movement and Irish Republicans", and so he decided to investigate the situation in Ireland. There, Collier said, he was "shocked at what I found."
Collier noted that the British and Scottish governments are "relatively" pro-Israel, moderating the antisemitic elements in their societies. In contrast, the Irish government, in a "top- down approach," actively encourages "anti-Israel activism" and has legislated in favor of the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement (BDS) against Israel. Collier said there is even a "sitting Irish politician" who "liked" a Facebook post saying, "Hitler wasn't wrong." Collier was further shocked that "not a single newspaper" would report on the politician's action because "the media is also extremely hostile to Zionism [and] the state of Israel."
Collier said that the problem encompasses Ireland's members of parliament as well as its media, where any antisemitism from the left is compartmentalized and attributed to "anti-Zionism." The only antisemitism the media will report on is from "the hard right." He raised the example of Alan Shatter, Ireland's Jewish former minister of justice in 2014, who was subjected to false allegations by antisemitic and anti-Zionist members of parliament. After Irish media fueled these conspiracy theories against Shatter, Ireland's Supreme Court determined in 2019 that the justice minister had been wrongly condemned and his rights violated. During the years Shatter underwent his ordeal, he endured antisemitic abuse on social media and the street, had his political career ruined, and his reputation damaged. Despite these abuses, Shatter received no apology from the Irish government, and the travesty of justice was completely ignored by the media. Collier is firmly convinced that Shatter was "hounded out of power" because he is Jewish.
Collier said there are different causes behind the virulent anti-Zionist/anti-Israel atmosphere in Ireland. The first is the "distinct anticolonial strand going through the whole of Irish politics" which is evident in the rise of Sinn Fein, "historically the Republican Independence Movement" political party. Many Irish people, who "hate England," mistakenly believe "Britain gave the Jews Israel" and are convinced that the Jewish State epitomizes "settler colonialism." Ironically, as Israel was being established post-1945, the Zionists fought to oust the British from its mandate in Palestine.
The second cause of rampant antisemitism in Ireland is found in the country's "strand" of "classic antisemitism," now seen coming from both the "far left and the far right." Collier pointed out that even though the Irish were "officially independent" during World War II, "many of the Irish Republicans sided with the Nazis." The third cause of Irish antisemitism is rooted in the second — particular "ideologies within Christianity", which are "very strong in the Irish Catholic Church." The church is replete with belief in "replacement ideology, supersessionism, or the idea ... the Christians are the new Jews."
That the Jews have returned to their ancient homeland in Israel creates a "major ideological problem" for the Catholic Church, driving it to align with the Palestinians. Collier said that Christian charities will donate to anti-Israel non-governmental organizations (NGO's), some of which are affiliated with Palestinian terrorist groups. He said an exception in Ireland to the widespread antisemitism is that Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, and whose predominantly Protestant citizens identify with the British, tend to be pro-Israel.
The fourth and final issue driving Irish antisemitism, Collier said, is attributable to "Islamist extremism." Whereas the U.S. and England experienced Islamist attacks after mistakenly, over the past three decades, "placing the bar for extremism far ... too high," he said Europe is "paying a deep price for it now." In Ireland, which has not experienced a large influx of Muslim migration, the antisemites there share the same "anti-colonial, anti-imperial" messages with Islamists, whom "they've accepted ... wholesale." The Islamists, essentially, are "coming in speaking the same anti-colonial, anti-imperial messaging, that the Irish do." Collier said, "anti-Zionist rhetoric," unabashedly rife on Irish streets, also creates a "hostile environment" for Jewish students on campuses. He said there are mosques preaching hate, Irish universities with Islamist academics, and the local church, all in league "bashing the state of Israel."
Collier believes that Sinn Fein's growing popularity will be accompanied by an "escalation" of antisemitism in Ireland, which he tracks through social media. He is dismayed at the trends because he said Hitler and the Holocaust "didn't just happen." Rather, their emergence can be traced back to "European antisemitism and beyond it, Christian antisemitism."
Collier is alarmed at what he sees taking place "on the ground" in Ireland, where the government and the people are "in tune with each other." Having experienced the rise in antisemitism and anti-Zionism in Scotland, as well as on U.S. campuses, Collier decided to "go public" in 2019 and expose his findings when he saw Jeremy Corbyn's rise in Britain's Labour party. "We were almost Ireland," he said, and what worries him now is "the lack of pushback" from "wider society" against the spread of antisemitism.
The most effective tack he used in discussions with antisemites was "to try to raise their level of cognitive dissonance" and bring them to the point of where they actually "question themselves." He would explain to them how Jews in the 1930s, rather than "colonial invaders," were refugees whom the local populations attacked. He would use analogies unrelated to Israel or Jews, pointing out the current situation in Europe, where "if a group was attacking our refugees today," these same antisemites would say attackers were "far right Nazis" and anti-immigrant.
Collier said the antisemites he interacted with would "turn the Holocaust on its head." They would say the Jews were the Holocaust's victims, not the Zionists. "I've always said, 'If you're talking to people about Jews or Israel, ... they don't see straight.'" He said that going undercover to investigate the "culture" of antisemitism required him to "desensitize" during the years of his immersion, but "I knew I was there for a greater purpose, I just got through it."
Responding to a question on the more general issue of the rise of antisemitism in Europe, Collier said that "it's been rising everywhere and a lot of it in my mind is tied into the growing problem with Islamist extremism within Europe. I think that they're interlinked."
Marilyn Stern is communications coordinator at the Middle East Forum.