A lot of Jewish students at university feel under pressure from antisemitic attacks on social media . A number of universities have not signed up to the accepted international definition of antisemitism and some dons have made antisemitic references in their lectures. So what advice can old-time Jewish graduates usefully provide?
The first – and perhaps the most important – is that you’d better get used to it. If you’re a Jew you re going to meet with antisemitism during your lifetime. You can consider yourself fortunate that you chose to be born in the right century, so it’s negligible. Your grandparents and great grandparents were treated appallingly by overseas governments and the church. The Holocaust was the culmination but you weren’t alive to suffer it.
Today you face repulsive comments on social media, They are, however, condemned by the vast majority of your fellow citizens. In many forms it is a crime in this country. Count your blessings; your grandparents found a safe haven and with an enormous amount of hard work, most of them made a good life for themselves.
You live in a multi-national country and the fight against racism in all its forms has made great strides in post-war years. Even after the Second World War there were jobs which were prominently and publicly advertised as not being available for Blacks and Jews. There would be adverse comments if a Black and a Pink fell in love. There were restaurants and hotels which wouldn’t accept Jewish bookings. If your name was Cohen they were always full.
I happen to be a hotelier and every time we took over a hotel, the first thing we did was abandon the colour bar. We had senior staff who had survived concentration camps.
All of this is way in the past. I’m not making it up though. I had a job interview with one of the greatest firms in the country in the 1950s. The Personnel Manager went out of his way to tell me that there was no antisemitism in his company.
In the hotel booking department of British Airways in the 1960s they had a list of London Hotels. By each hotel was the letter C or NC. Ninety per cent were marked NC – which meant No Coloured. There was a lot of publicity when the greatest cricketer the West Indies ever produced, Lord Learie Constantine, was thrown out of a hotel in central London during the Second World War because American soldiers objected to him being there. He took the hotel company to court and was awarded five guineas damages. From that eventually came the first Race Relations Act.
Today Jewish students are subject in some universities to anti-israel demonstrations. Israel has the Iron Dome anti-missile system to destroy Hamas rockets. If they hadn’t and more than 200 Jews had been killed – as more than 200 Gazans died in the recent conflict – we would be up in arms as well. Hamas use civilians as potential victims, though, by putting them in exposed areas.
People die in wars; bullets and bombs don’t distinguish between men, women and children – all over the world. Increasingly, however, in this country, Muslims and Jews are working together to stop racism. It is recognised that we can have no influence on what goes on in the Middle East. More’s the pity, but Israel is still at war with many of the Middle East Muslim countries. Even there we can see progress. It may have taken 75 years but there is now peace between Israel and many of the Gulf States, Jordan and Egypt.
Of course, Jewish students could give up their religion and since we only number about 15 million after 2,000 years, you can see how many have gone that route. On the other hand Moses reported in the book of Deuteronomy that the Almighty had promised that we would never be destroyed and our students’ grandparents relied on that.
So we survive, where the Egyptian empire, the Greeks and the Romans, the Byzantines and the Fascists have disappeared from history. Stubborn, obstinate and very, very tough, our ancestors kept going. We have never managed it by conquest, except in the case of Israel, and adverse comments on social media isn’t going to change anything. The forces of anti-racism are also becoming more powerful, but the example all ethnic minorities have to copy, is the refusal of the Jews to knuckle under.