By Jeff Sparrow
Barnaby Joyce, ever the defender of Australian beef exports, has been trying to hose down his colleagues’ “concerns” about halal certification. “Unless [meat is] halal certified, we can’t sell it,” he said on Monday. “That means the whole processing line becomes unviable.”
He has a big task ahead of him: Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie and Liberal MP George Christensen have questioned whether there is a link between terrorism and halal certification, and South Australian senator Cory Bernardi has called for a parliamentary inquiry into the “halal certification racket”.
The press has been pondering the Halal question too, for some time. Andrew Bolt wondered out loud whether the federal government should set up its own certification scheme for the sake of transparency. “Halal certification has become a big business,” wrote Paul Sheehan in the Fairfax press in 2013.
On Tuesday the ABC released an extensive fact check on the question, declaring the claimed terror link doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. This was, in part, a response to demands made at the Reclaim Australia rallies, where some demanded that “halal certification should be banned and made illegal”.
Perhaps without realising it, by questioning halal certification in this way critics of halal replicate a traditional antisemitic preoccupation.
As the US Anti Defamation League (ADL) explained in a 1991 article, “attacks on the labelling of food with the symbols for kashruth (traditional Jewish dietary laws) have been a standard ploy of anti-Jewish bigots in the US for decades”.
The ADL quotes a pamphlet entitled The Kosher Food Swindle, published by a North Carolina KKK outfit:
American families are paying tribute to Jews every time they sit down at the table to eat and in many instances, polish their shoes, silver or wrap the leftover Thanksgiving turkey. Why? Because Jews have discovered a way to coerce business to pay taxes directly to Jewish organizations and pass the cost on to the consumer.
Today, Halal Choices, an Australian website linked to the Islamophobic Q Society, makes precisely the same point, but about Muslims. “Do you really want to pay another tax,” it asks – “an Islamic religious tax?”
Of course, the anti-halal campaigners aren’t concerned simply about tax. They also assert that halal food funds terrorism. Walkley award-winning cartoonist Larry Pickering, in a post linked to by Halal Choices, explains:
Islam has found a way to force every Australian family to donate to the Islamic cause and you’ve been living under a rock if you think terrorism isn’t one of its causes. Impossible you say? I thought so too, until I searched for a list of foods that are Halal compliant.
Nothing new there, either. If you’ve got the stomach, you can listen to David Duke, a former grand wizard of the KKK, offering “a detailed exposé of the Kosher Food Racket, the extortion and theft of billions of dollars of your food prices for the causes of Jewish racism and extremism”.
It’s not a coincidence that the anti-halal crusade echoes the rhetoric of traditional Jew-baiting. As Mattias Gardell explains:
The tradition of Islamophobia is, like antisemitism, rooted in the medieval Christian hostility to the ‘enemies of God’ … Many stories told about Jews in medieval and early modern Europe were also spun around what were then termed Moors, Saracens or Red Jews: Muslims were devil-worshipping, sexually deviant, man-eating monsters; Muslims ritually defamed the cross and consumed the blood of ceremonially slaughtered Christian children in blasphemous communions.
The shared origins of the two hatreds means that, in the context of the ongoing wars in the Middle East, Islamophobic conspiracies can easily supplant traditional antisemitic rhetoric.
Today in Europe, rightwing parties – many of which have a history of antsemitism stretching back to the 1930s – emphasise their hostility to Muslims as much or more as their dislike of Jews.
Why? Once upon a time, antisemitism could be more-or-less openly expressed both on the left (Jewish financiers and the money power) and on the right (the Jew as rootless interloper and Bolshevik) and thus served as a useful fulcrum for fascist claims to represent a third way, beyond socialism and conservatism.
In the wake of the Holocaust, and the concerted anti-racist struggles of the second half of the 20th century, overt antisemitism has become (with rare exceptions) impermissible in mainstream politics. By contrast, the “war on terror” has legitimated and popularised hostility to Muslims.
Again, like the old antisemitism, Islamophobia can bridge the gap between the traditional left and right. It’s pushed by Christian conservatives but also by self-styled US liberals, like talk show host Bill Maher and new atheist Sam Harris, allowing fascists and right-wing populists to get a hearing they’d never receive with old school Jew-baiting.
Of course, that doesn’t mean the far right has abandoned antisemitism. There’s no incompatibility between the two hatreds. Think of the boot-boys on the Reclaim Australia march, the guys with swastikas tattooed on their heads. They might be rallying against Islam now but does anyone imagine they’ve renounced their old views about the Protocols of Zion?
Still, Reclaim Australia even received an offer of free legal advice from Daniel Hakim from the Australian Jewish Communal Lobby, who told Melbourne’s Herald Sun that “My community has a very legitimate security concern and we agree with a lot of the tenants (sic) of the Reclaim movement”.
Of course, we’re still talking – in Australia at least – about relatively tiny numbers. For all its bluster, Reclaim Australia could only mobilise minuscule demonstrations that were outnumbered by counter-protesters.
Nonetheless, the protests reveal the remarkable double standard applied to bigotry directed against Muslims.
For instance, the Boycott Halal campaign – with some 70,000 likes on its Facebook page – can already claim some victories, with the Fleurieu Milk Company announcing it would drop its halal certification “out of fear the campaign would damage the company’s brand”.
Other businesses say they’re approached by anti-halal agitators up to three times a week. If that kind of constant harassment was being directed at kosher food producers, we’d be dealing with a national scandal.
After the Reclaim Australia rally, Ghaith Krayem from the Islamic Council of Victoria noted the double standard faced by Muslims.
“The commonwealth has been quick to call on our community and leaders to speak out against extremism and hate preaching, yet when these are directed at us they have remained silent,” he said.
He’s right. But the problem’s deeper than that. Think of Abbott’s recent national security speech, in which he said that, while he’d heard western Muslim leaders speak of Islam as a religion of peace, he wished they would “say that more often, and mean it.”
If, after an Israeli airstrike on Gaza, a political leader called on all rabbis to clarify where Judaism stood on violence, he or she would be rightly denounced as a bigot. So why do different rules apply to Muslims?
Reclaim Australia might remain a fringe group, condemned by all the major parties, but a certain level of Islamophobia now goes almost unnoticed.