Anti-Semitism in the UK is back on the radar and rightly so. It started two days ago when David Ward the Liberal Democrat MP for Bradford East became the latest person to use the Holocaust Memorial Day to lambast the Jews, he said that;
“Having visited Auschwitz twice – once with my family and once with local schools – I am saddened that the Jews, who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust, could within a few years of liberation from the death camps be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza.”
Unbelievably he continued to mount a very public defence of his comments on his blog and on Sky News and has dug himself an ever deepening hole by refusing point blank to apologise. The story in full has been covered here and the British charity responsible for the security of UK Jewry the Community Security Trust also condemned Ward on their blog here.
What’s really upsetting here is the way in which a Member of Parliament is so happy and comfortable making comments slamming the Jews. He clearly doesn’t see his own comments as anti-Semitic nor does he regard them as an unfortunate gaffe, as far as he is concerned his comments reflect an accurate world view and it appears he is not alone. The UK website Asian Image, which refers to itself as “The voice of the Asian community” covers the story with the headline “MP condemns treatment of Palestinians” entirely missing the sensitivity with which Jews might see an MP lambasting us for not learning enough from the Holocaust on the eve of commemorating the very event which almost saw the eradication of European Jewry.
And herein lies the root of the problem of anti-Semitism in the UK. I was born and grew up in London. I am not visibly Jewish, save perhaps from when I walked to shul on Shabbat and I never encountered a single instance of anti-Semitism. No one ever came up to me and attacked me, no one ever shouted anti-Semitic abuse at me. I know that some of that is due to luck but I also feel it represents a greater a laudable disdain in British society for that kind of nonsense and I feel proud of the UK for it.
But when it comes to the Jews that’s only half of the story, for there is more to anti-Semitism than the street level hatred. There’s another side to attacks on Jews in the UK and that is excellently displayed by the comments expressed by Ward. Essentially the feeling that pervades seems to be that when it comes to the Middle East Jews who don’t hang their heads in shame and do their best to enunciate that Israel has nothing to do with them are themselves guilty…of something.
There’s this ugly attitude that for Jews to be offended by any kind of attack on all Jews is unacceptable if Palestinians are mentioned somewhere in the sentence. Suddenly Jews offended by Ward’s words become labelled Zionists and therefore taking offense merely as supporters of Israel rather than as human beings who have been wounded by hateful speech.
Criticising Jews for not learning enough about loving their fellow man whilst being the victims of a death machine the likes of which the world has never seen is beyond the pale. Unlike being a victim of out and out anti Jewish violence this purposeful conflation of Jews with the very worst human scum is something that I have been in contact with often in the UK.
In short it’s not enough for a Jew to stand up and point out an incident of anti-Semitism but now they have to go get down to the nuts and bolts of every statement to which they might feel offended and explain why and then argue the point as if it is a political opinion. Uniquely among ethnic minorities in the UK Jews have to actually argue with people as to their right to feel offended and explain right down to the minutiae just why a person’s comments are offensive.
I know that I certainly find this rather infuriating and unfair. I think MPs such as David Ward might want to remember that the Holocaust wasn’t some kind of cathartic communal learning experience nor was it the great event that allowed us to get our own country, the Holocaust was systematic death, nothing to do with Israel, nothing to do with Palestine everything to do with Jews and certainly not an excuse for him, or anyone else to label us all as Nazis.