An Open Letter to the Bystanders

When I moved to Israel in 2017 I moved for several reasons. The first being that it felt like the right place for me, the second being that I wanted to move, and the third and perhaps most important one of all, was that it was my right to choose whether I wanted to continue living in England or move to Israel instead.

However, over the past few months it has become increasingly clear to UK Jewry that someday, perhaps not a day too far ahead in the future, that choice will no longer be ours to make. Not because we will be forced out brutally and violently, but because of changes that will creep in silently and steadily, until the United Kingdom is no longer a place where Jews feel welcome.

Now, I’m not a political analyst, just a girl with a large mouth and a web address, but I don’t think I need to be a political analyst to say that the UK right now is in (to quote Malcolm Tucker) omnishambles.

Ever since Jeremy Corbyn took office in 2016 we have been warning you. In the last General Elections, and now in the lead-up to the December elections, Jews have been telling you not to vote for Jeremy Corbyn. Not because we’re all angry right wingers who would rather see a government under Boris Johnson where all forms of bigotry are allowed to flourish. And not because we hate the poor, the disabled, the LGBT community, or every other minority ethnicity in the UK and want to see them suffer. We too have lived under 10 years of a Tory government, and many of us would like to see that change. But change that inflicts and incites violence on our community is not real change. You are not solving the problem, you are merely forcing it, all of it, onto us.

To tell your Jewish neighbour that you “understand how they feel but you just need to put other things first as they’re more important” is to tell your Jewish neighbour that you just do not care. To tell your Jewish friend that “it is selfish of them to worry about just their own safety” is to tell them that their safety is less important to you than Jeremy Corbyn’s promise of free WiFi for all.

You cannot claim that your internet access is a human right, but Jews feeling safe in their own country is not.

Over the past few weeks as the election campaigns have heated up, I have looked at social media with mixed degrees of irritation, anger, and outright desperation. How have we reached a point in 2019, in the UK, where racism against Jews has been met with such a lukewarm reaction? How have we reached the point where Jews are having smear campaigns lead against them because they dared to point out the institutionalised racism they face at every turn? It is 2019 and I have seen people on twitter call the Chief Rabbi “A Christian mouthpiece” for speaking up on behalf of his community.

That is the point that we have reached. The people of the United Kingdom are so desperate that they have resorted to slanderous conspiracy theories against the most prominent figurehead of the community in order to discredit claims of antisemitism. The irony would be funny if it wasn’t so serious.

The issue stopped being just about the Labour Party MPs a long time ago. Because in their haste to hide the claims of antisemitism within the party, Labour supporters have turned to antisemitism themselves, making it a widespread issue that has shown how truly rotten the heart of left-wing Britain is.

That is not a sentence that is easy for me to write. I believe in the morals the left claims to hold with all my heart. I try to champion social justice whenever I can, and I know that it is my duty as a human, and a Jew, to stand up for the less privileged whenever and however I can. The Labour party was founded in no small part by the Jews of the East End. In the year leading up to Corbyn’s election as head of the party I proudly held Labour membership, something which seems inconceivable to me today. We were once at the heart of the party until the party threw us out. As left-wing Jews we have found themselves without a political home and without representation in Parliament that we actually support. We have been asked to choose between standing up for ourselves or standing up for everyone else. There is no longer an option that allows us to do both.

I am not writing this piece for the Jews who already agree with everything I just said. Nor am I writing it for the people who have spent the past few months attacking us and denying our experiences at every turn. I know that there is no hope trying to convince you of anything besides your own warped beliefs.

I am writing this for the bystanders. For the ones who have sat by quietly and watched us get attacked over and over again. For the people who’ve agreed that yes, the antisemitism is a shame but “there’s nothing to be done.” I am writing this for the people who have hurt us so deeply with your silence that our relationships with you have been forever damaged. I am not going to beg and plead with you to listen. I am asking you to stop and think why you have turned your back on us. What reasons have made you decide that deep rooted antisemitism is not a critical issue? Why is every other minority important to you but the Jews must take back seat? I don’t need to quote the famous Martin Niemöller poem to remind you that nothing ever starts and stops with just the Jews. Because racism is racism and someday it will come for you too.

This election campaign has wounded the Jewish community in unimaginable ways. It has shaken us to our core and presented us with choices we didn’t think we would have to make. So to all the bystanders out there, I am asking you, just two weeks ahead of the elections, to stop sitting quietly and start standing up. This is not the time to stand idly by. Either you’re with us or you’re against us. If you aren’t fighting the problem, you have become part of the problem. So think about it just one more time, because right now you are standing on the wrong side of history.

About the Author
Shira Silkoff is a proud LGBT Oleh Chadasha who made Aliyah from London in 2017 in order to serve in the army and become a "real Israeli". Along the way she has found she has many opinions which she wants to share with the world, at the same time as she discovers them herself.
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