Here is a conversation I am tired of having. A Gentile friend or acquaintance will express shock and surprise when I say that there has been an increase in anti-Semitism in Britain. Often they claim not to have heard anything about it– for example several people have told me they had not known that the Hyper Cacher was a kosher supermarket– and they say they just don’t understand it. ‘What do people have against Jews?’ they ask. ‘I’ve never understood it.’
I’ve come to recognise this as a warning sign.
If I explain what is going on in my world, and describe the nature of today’s anti-Semitism, I can be absolutely certain that I will then watch their faces– or online responses– harden. They will take on a tone of self-righteous indignation and resentment as they explain that what I am describing is not anti-Semitism, and that I have got it wrong. They will tell me that they personally are not anti-Semitic, just anti-Zionist, because they deplore the way Israel is murdering children, committing genocide, enforcing apartheid etc. etc.. When I try to explain to just about anyone in the UK that the IDF do not chop off children’s hands, or steal their organs, or take pot-shots and random Palestinians just for the hell of it, they simply don’t believe me. They are too well indoctrinated.
I have come to realise that most people who hold anti-Semitic views do not actually hate Jews, but rather they hold a number of hurtful, harmful and bigoted beliefs about Jews and our unrelenting violence. When I try to explain that these views of Jews are hurtful and untrue, instead of re-thinking their position, these benighted anti-Semites grow stern and make pronouncements to the effect that they know best. This phenomenon is so common that my Jewish friends are calling it ‘Goysplaining’.
The problem is that these beliefs have taken such firm root that it seems almost impossible to eradicate them, especially when most of our news sources have taken to endorsing them. The Guardian takes on a tone of moral outrage each time a Jewish cemetery is vandalised, which is reassuring, but Jewish cemeteries are vandalised almost every month somewhere in Europe. It’s deplorable that our dead are subjected to disrespect, but it is even more painful when my living people are compared to Nazis, and on that issue the left-wing British papers are ruthless. The Guardian, along with the BBC, ignore rocket fire from terrorists attacking Israeli citizens, and they have largely ignored the stabbing intifada, but they focus in on the capture of the terrorists and treat it as an abomination. They don’t mention all the times that terrorists are successfully neutralised by shots to the legs, but the papers shriek with venom when terrorists are killed in the act of murdering Jews. The headlines state that the IDF shot dead a Palestinian, often without mentioning until late in the article that the Palestinian was a terrorist who just stabbed or shot someone. I note that they never take such a tone when the police or military in any other country in the world take down an armed terrorist. Vilification of Israel is embedded in our culture.
In 1982 the Labour Party passed a resolution calling for the eradication of Israel and the establishment of a single Palestinian state. This was later rescinded, but with Labour’s move to the Left we are seeing a resurgence of hostility. This year, leaflets at the party conference were handed out to Labour members, urging them to oust the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) from the Party and arguing that Jewish loyalty was to Israel and not to the UK. It is amazing that any Jews are left within the party, but this dedicated group of Jews are so determined to follow their consciences that the 1500-2000 remaining members of the JLM are still prepared to endure such attacks– although in other news, some young Jewish liberals who wish to be involved in politics are giving up and moving to Israel. Ruth Smeeth, a Jewish MP, has received so many death threats that she had to attend the Labour conference under police escort.
In other Labour conference news, Jackie Walker, former vice-Chair of Momentum (the activist group formed to support the Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn), issued a series of anti-Semitic statements at a session aimed at educating members about anti-Semitism. Earlier in the year she was temporarily suspended from the party for making public statements about Jews having financed the slave trade, a slur which she learned from Louis Farrakhan’s book, ‘The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews’. The Chairman of the Afro-American Studies Department at Harvard University, H. L. Gates Jr., called this book ‘the bible of the new anti-Semitism’ and ‘one of the most sophisticated instances of hate literature yet compiled’, while the late Prof. E.D. Genovese, a leading historian of slavery, said that this book ‘rivals The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion in fantasy and gross distortion.’ He added, ‘The absurdity of its pretensions to scholarship are outweighed only by its sheer viciousness’. And yet, we are seeing this book quoted by political activists at the highest levels. It’s a measure of how low our political discourse has sunk.
Some people were more offended by Walker’s comments about Holocaust Memorial Day, which she decried for its lack of ‘inclusivity’. The annual Memorial service– which commemorates the Shoah but also other genocides that took place since that time– includes testimony from survivors from many different genocides, including Bosnia and Darfur, but Walker claimed never to have heard of this. The astute young writer Leora Noor Eisenberg hit the nail on the head when she wrote:
‘I’ve thought about what Jackie Walker said — that Holocaust Day should be about all genocides — and I’ve realized that it’s like saying #AllLivesMatter.
All lives do matter — but saying so instead of referring to a particular cause –diminishes the plight and struggle of one community because of a fear of acknowledging their history and pain.
She said Holocaust Day should be about “all holocausts.” And Holocaust Day provides materials about genocides in Rwanda and Sudan, to name a few. As it should. But it is, and should remain, about The Holocaust. From there, we can learn about other horrors.
But do not detract from one with a desire to be PC about them all. You’re only hurting.’
I think Jackie Walker very probably intended to hurt us; at the same meeting, she also said, ‘I was a bit concerned by your suggestion that the Jewish community is under such threat that it has to use security in all its buildings,’ going on to suggest that all schools share the same threats. Perhaps she was unaware of the Islamist attack on the Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012, or of the warnings of a planned attack on a Jewish school in Turkey, or of the warnings that the police are giving to British shuls regarding the fact that Islamists are most decidedly planning to murder Jews here in the UK. Given the number of synagogue shootings and bombings throughout Europe over the years this is unsurprising to us, but the people I meet in the UK are remarkably unwilling to believe that the threat is real. It is hurtful and insulting to us that while everybody remembers the Charlie Hebdo attack, few people remember the school in Toulouse, and few people recognise or care about the ongoing danger to Jews in particular. And yet, while the politicians mince their words, the police are outspoken in their warnings: Jews will be on the front line of any attacks in the UK. The prime targets will be police, the military, and Jews going about their daily lives.
In other Labour news, the new Shadow Justice Minister, Yasmin Qureshi, was given her appointment despite having made a statement in 2014 comparing the Gaza War to the Holocaust. She said, ‘It is quite strange that some of the people who are running the State of Israel seem to be quite complacent and happy to allow the same to happen in Gaza.’ If sending warnings to civilians to clear out of the way before attacking military targets is ‘genocide’, it begs the question of how she classifies every other war that is currently being fought in the world today, in which no other army takes such precautions.
Yesterday’s news was that the Labour MP for Chesterfield, Andrew Slack, shared a meme from a neo-Nazi hate site, complete with the usual cartoon of a villainous looking hook-nosed smirking Jew spattered with blood.
Lest you think that all UK anti-Semitism is taking place in the Labour Party, it is worth mentioning David Ward, a Liberal Democrat who was suspended for equating Jewish people with the Nazis. He suggested that Jews should have ‘learned the lesson of the Holocaust’, and he questioned Israel’s right to exist. He has now been re-admitted to the party and is the MP for Bradford East– the city that was declared an ‘Israel-free zone’ by George Galloway in 2014.
Leaving aside the politics, daily life in the UK is tough for the visibly Jewish. A report released this week by the Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) describes the daily harassment of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in London. The Shomrim record an average 8 incidents a week; in one week they recently recorded ‘three assaults, two threats to kill, eight threats of violence, eighteen cases of verbal abuse and one incident of criminal damage.’ One particularly horrible incident that many of us in the Jewish community are still trying to process is the culmination of a series of brutal assaults on a Jewish man in Plaistow, who has been unrelentingly beaten and harassed by local Muslims over the years because he is visibly and openly Jewish. He was attacked at least 30 times in three years and verbally abused more than 60 times, but none of the broadsheets reported on this — only the Daily Mail (much derided by the British intelligentsia, but often the only paper to report such incidents) and the tabloids The Sun and The Mirror. In 2011 the man told the Newham Recorder, ‘I have been kicked to the ground, spat at in the streets and been called a murderer and terrorist.’ He has had swastikas sprayed on his front door, and eventually resorted to wearing a stab-proof vest when he left the house. The attacks culminated in a 5 hour gang rape by 8 Muslim assailants which has left him severely disabled; his bowel was ruptured and they also knocked out 12 of his teeth. He described this attack to Noor Dahri, who wrote about it in Jerusalem Online.
My friend Dani, an Israeli-American, is another Jew who refuses to hide his identity. A few weeks ago he was wearing an IDF t-shirt when he stepped into a church in America, looking to find his father who was visiting someone within. Dani met the parson inside, and the parson ordered him to leave immediately. When the bewildered Dani asked why, the parson said, ‘You’re wearing a Zionist shirt, and this is God’s house. Leave now or I will call the police.’ Dani says, ‘It was at this point that he exploded into an epic tirade about how we “rejected Jesus”, were exiled as punishment for our “rebellion against God”, and that our “shitty little Jew state” was a defiance of “God’s plan”.’
Christians in the UK have also joined in the attacks by spreading distortions and misinformation about Israel, although the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, recently issued a commendable statement condemning Christian anti-Semitism in the strongest words. I am delighted by his support, but he does not seem to have much control over individual churches. In the last few weeks we witnessed the Hinde Street church’s ‘apartheid wall’ exhibit, during which visitors left comments in the visitor’s book such as ‘Great way to let normal people know how Israel treats the Palestinan’s [sic] but shamefully is always crying victim. It hides behind the false notion of living amongst terrorists and then carries out Aparthied [sic] and ethnic cleansing, whilst illegally occupying Palestinian land. If the Israelis stayed out of the West Bank and Gaza instead of stealing land from the Palestinians then there would be no check points within it.’ Then there was an anti-Israel Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) event at Litchfield Cathedral last weekend, which David Collier described in his ‘Beyond the Great Divide’ blog as an ‘Antisemitic hate festival’ in which ‘every single stall, every part of the exhibit, was designed or delivered by activists supporting the boycott… Every single book was one that castigates Israel and Zionism.’ That was just the beginning; the speeches were horrendous, and I strongly recommend you read his blog.
Many people have shared statistics pointing out that we are more likely to die in car accidents than by terrorism, but two friends of friends were killed by terrorists in the last year, one in Israel and one in America, so terrorism feels like a more immediate threat– and the police warning to our shul was quite direct. I am not particularly worried about a physical attack, apart from the walk between the car park and our shul (reassuringly patrolled by police during Yom Kippur). This year I was described on an anti-Semitic hate site as a scheming ‘Zio-Nazi’ but (bizarrely) most people are not aware that my name is Jewish, and so I am not subjected to much anti-Semitic abuse when I am not online.
In 1990 Zeev Maghen wrote a thought-provoking argument– something of a diatribe, but a good diatribe– in which he suggested that Jews stop reacting, stop trying to get people to like us, and to get on with learning about our own, extraordinary culture and history. He recently re-published it as a Times of Israel blog. His point is that Jews have a 3000+ year history of the most remarkable depth– we have been analysing and discussing, arguing and considering, reflecting and learning for thousands of years, and all that discussion is available for us to read, so let’s get on and read it. Think of the current interest in ‘mindfulness’, in which people pay money to learn what Jews have been practicing for thousands of years: focussing on awareness and gratitude for the richness and beauty in everyday things that are all around us. We have something so uplifting, so extraordinary, so life-enhancing that those of us who are not in immediate danger can rise above the hatefulness that besets us in our everyday lives.
UNESCO has just issued a proclamation denying our history and our ancient link with Jerusalem. Should we care? Yes and no. I will continue to sign petitions, write to MPs and to record current events, but I will also revel in the culture that will not die, no matter what they do to us as individuals and no matter how they try and erase our history.
Am Yisrael chai!