Last year, in the aftermath of the latest Gaza conflict, prominent non-religious Jews in the UK (most notably the director of the BBC, Danny Cohen) seemed to be queueing up to express their angst and general unease over the unprecedented levels of anti-Semitism they were seeing.
For me, and many other religious Jews in the UK, their comments seemed laughable. I am glad to say that anti-Semitism has not been an everyday part of my life in the UK, but the idea that the attitudes of summer 2014 appeared out of nowhere is, putting it frankly, ridiculous. Upon hearing the hand-wringing by certain secular Jews regarding this magical manifestation of widespread anti-Semitism, I decided to briefly jot down some of what I’d experienced in the UK over the years. This is what I ended up with:
Over the years (from the late 90s until now), I have experienced anti-Semitism in the UK from people hailing from the following backgrounds:
- White British
- Black British
- Western Europeans
- Eastern Europeans
- Pakistani Muslims
- Arab Muslims
- Somali Muslims
The anti-Semitism has taken the following forms;
- Physical – This has included punches and kicks, having stuff thrown at me and being spat at.
- Verbal — From swearing — e.g.,. ‘F***ing Jew’ — to Nazi Taunts — e.g., ‘Heil Hitler’, ‘Gas the Jews’, ‘Hitler was Right’ — to just referencing me by my religion — ‘Oi, Jew!’, pretending to sneeze ‘aaaa-Jew!’ etc. etc.
- Casual — Including — ‘Well, paying for something like this won’t be a problem for your lot, will it?’, ‘Well, you did kill our lord’, ‘Everyone knows all Jews are wealthy’ etc etc.
- Israel-Related — Calling out ‘Free Palestine’ as you drive alongside me or ‘Zionist Baby-Killer’ as you pass me in the street means that you have made an automatic assumption of my views based on the fact that I’m Jewish. You’ve never met me, you don’t know my views — you’re judging me based purely on my religion. That’s anti-Semitic.
In other words, in my experience, such anti-Semitism has always been there. So how come they don’t seem to notice it as much as I do? I believe that this stems from one the major differences between anti-Semitism and other forms of racism; the fact that Jews often have a choice about whether to experience such bigotry directly or not.
What am I talking about?
I mean that Ashkenazic Jews (who have been living in Northern Europe for around 19 centuries) can hide who they are very easily. If I’m walking down the street without a Kippah, or without Tzitzit dangling, or without a Star of David necklace or a Chai peeping out of my shirt, no-one is going to identify me as Jewish. By wearing a Kippah, I choose to openly and publicly identify myself as Jewish, which is my right — just as is it the right of any Jew not to do so.
Contrary to what some may think, wearing outward signs of your Judaism does not make you a better Jew. However, it does mark you out more obviously as a Jew, and being easily recognisable as such, inevitably I will experience a great deal more anti-Semitism than someone who cannot be identified as Jewish outwardly, even if they would have no hesitation about declaring their connection to Judaism if they were asked.
This is why I get frustrated when I hear some non-religious Jews talking about how anti-Semitism really isn’t such a big deal. The question has to be asked; how would they know? Why would they experience anti-Semitism if no-one necessarily realises that they’re Jewish! (Of course, if their surname is recognisably Jewish then people who know them may be aware, but no-one passing them on the street will).
The same goes for people who undertake these ‘let’s put on a kippah and roam around for a few hours and see what responses we get’ videos, and then proudly announce that they experienced nothing. You may get nothing one day — but, sooner or later, it will happen.
Maybe these people rely, as all UK news outlets seem to do to a greater or lesser extent with regards to this issue, on the reports compiled by the CST. The CST does a praiseworthy job when it comes to working to protect our community — but it should be immediately obvious to most religious Jews that the official CST numbers on anti-Semitic incidents are extremely inaccurate. Most of the non-physical anti-Semitic incidents I described above I did not report, and I suspect that the same is true of most of my co-religionists in this country who have been in similar circumstances. Without even realising it, we have internalised that most British of virtues — not wanting to make a fuss.
My aim in writing this is not to lash out at secular Jews. They have every right to wear their Judaism in whatever way, shape or form they feel most comfortable with. What I’m trying to point out is this; if, as a secular UK Jew, you’re judging general levels of anti-Semitism based on what you personally have experienced — think again.