It’s Hard to be a Loud Jew

A conversation with activist Eve Barlow about what it means to be a proud Jew and Zionist

Earlier this month I had the privilege to zoom with music and pop journalist Eve Barlow who has recently gained attention on the internet as a Jewish and Zionist activist. A millennial and Scotland native now living in Los Angeles, Barlow has experienced Anti-Semitism in the UK and in America, and warns the rest of the world is being complacent in the clear rise of this ancient hatred.

Anti-Semitism is frequently viewed by the media and liberal audiences as a form of white supremacy that solely comes from the right, yet it also apparent on the left and disguised as the harsh criticism of Israel, rather than an attack on Jewish people. Barlow and I discussed as progressive young women how we can fight Anti-Semitism masked as ‘social justice’ efforts like the Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) movement that degrade Jews’ ability to have our own land and political power, and ultimately threaten our survival as a people. She encourages Jewish pride in the public sphere, and praises the work of other young people who dedicate themselves to normalizing conversations around Anti-Semitism and calling out attacks on Jewish people.

Barlow prides herself on documenting untold stories in her writing and she became alarmed by the seemingly universal attitude on the political left around the 2019 United Kingdom General election, which created an atmosphere where Anti-semitic and Anti-Zionist views were able to flourish. She felt obligated to act when her entire social circle, many of whom work in the music industry, hold liberal beliefs and are not outwardly bigoted themselves, advocated for Jeremy Corbyn, a supposed Anti-Semite, and “refused to listen to the concerns of the Jewish community.” Wiley, a prominent British rapper and the ‘godfather’ of the music genre called Grime, came to Barlow’s attention last summer due to a malicious Anti-Semitic Twitter thread for which he refused to apologize (he eventually was dropped by his management). Barlow sees incidents like this one as not only a single case of bigotry, but as a piece of evidence for the normalization of Anti-Semitism in the music industry. 

Her unique position with the pop culture world allows for a stronger connection to a diverse swath of people who struggle to engage with this issue – consequently, there came an increase of @evebarlow on Instagram and the return of @eve_barlow on Twitter to call out Anti-Semitism from politicians, celebrities, and everyday people. Many single out Jews and Israel using the 3D’s of Antisemitism — the delegitimization of Israel, the demonization of Israel and the subjection of Israel to double standards — while others hate Jews for the same reason they hate BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and immigrants: because we are different. Barlow explained in her opinion why antisemitism is rising worldwide:

 “People do not understand Jewish identity. They don’t understand what Anti-Semitism is. They don’t understand the Israel/Palestine conflict. They only understand that they are obsessed with it and they don’t get that that is Anti-Semitism. And they don’t have any education about us. It’s unfair that the onus falls upon Jewish people to teach the world about that, but [what] it also exposed that I concentrate on more is that we don’t know enough about ourselves and that us, as Jews, need to be as strong as we can and empower ourselves with knowledge. So that’s why I got louder about Anti-Semitism and that’s why it’s my daily online action.”

One obstacle to properly addressing Anti-Semitism among other forms of hated is our ability to separate our religion from our identity if we choose. She rightly claimed American Jews do not want to talk about race because of Ashkenazi-normativity, which falsely categorizes all Jews as white.  Barlow stated, “American Jews are apologizing for their whiteness. That is affecting Jews in countries where Jewish people do not have the security to do so.”

My image of a Jewish person was impacted by my time at a leadership institute in Jerusalem with 150 South American Jews who had different rituals, appearances and history; I hope other American Jews have the opportunity to engage with Jews from outside the US, especially those who are not Ashkenazi who offer unique perspectives on the dire need to stop Anti-Semitism and have a safe home for the Jewish people.

From the tragic Tree of Life synagogue shooting in the fall of 2018 to the constant vandalism of European synagogues and cemeteries with swastikas to frightening shirts and signs at the pro-Trump riot at the US Capitol in early January, there is no doubt Anti-Semitism is still omnipresent. The American Jewish Committee reported in November of 2020: “While Jews account for less than 2% of the American population, the new FBI Hate Crimes Statistics report found that more than 60% of religious-based hate crimes in 2019 targeted Jews, an increase of 14% over 2018.” This scary truth is not always apparent in cities with thriving Jewish communities; however, this is due to the nature of Anti-Semitism that Barlow identifies as being the most malicious because of its long term intent to dismantle the Jewish state and endanger the continuation of the Jewish people. 

Much of the Anti-Zionism I see on social media from teenagers and young adults originates from credible organizations that single out Israel for their injustices. For instance, the United Nations General Assembly condemned Israel 17 times last year, with the rest of the world only being condemned a total of six times (I am against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and recognize the severity of the situation, but still believe that condemning Israel 17 times is excessive). This statistic is being taught at elite universities in classes on conflict resolution, ethnic studies, and international relations without proper spaces for productive dialogue on why Israel chooses to maintain some military authority in the West Bank alongside the Palestinian Authority for the security of its citizens.

Barlow explained the prevalence and severity of Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism in college was “really bad, but not as bad as what you guys [current college students] are experiencing on American campuses.” Universities and institutions heavily influence young people’s views on their duty to do social action; this has led to the increase of Anti-Zionist leaders in politics. In her Tablet magazine article titled Wake Up America, and Smell the Anti-Semitism Barlow lays out how those with liberal political beliefs disguise, sometimes unknowingly, their Anti-Semitism. “The left denies Jews the human right to seek refuge in their own land, while advocating for these same rights for others at their expense. The left does all these things not on fringe websites or in meetings in someone’s basement like the right does, but in classrooms at some of America’s finest universities, and in impeccably edited reviews and journals aimed at people with graduate degrees.” Non Jewish left leaning students are more easily becoming Anti Zionists because of misconceptions portraying Israel as a colonial empire with a defined class system and immoral military. Too many claim to support their fellow Jewish students but then, without personal reasons, do not identify as Zionist, even though they want Jews to be safe. This hypocritical reality occurs when students do not understand what it means to be Zionist – I define being Zionist as supporting the self determination of the Jewish people in our ancient homeland of Israel – and fail to recognize that maintaining a Jewish state is not mutually exclusive with additionally creating a Palestinian state. If students are taught what Zionism entails, and not what it has morphed into because of misinformation on the Internet, perhaps more young people would identify as Zionist and understand the necessity of a Jewish homeland.

I come from a liberal American Northeast suburb that declares itself to be accepting and welcoming of Jews, but will not bring the issue of Anti-Zionism into the forefront of other conversations around bigotry and discrimination in the community. Barlow and I both recognize that legitimately criticizing Israel is not Anti-Semitic, but when those judgments become reasons for Israel not to be a Jewish country, it jeopardizes our safety and dignity. Historical Anti-Semitism has placed the Jewish people in a unique position to have our own homeland. Yet, non Jews or those uneducated on our tragic past can fail to recognize the need for a safe heaven because of our current societal success. America is not as safe for Jews as we tell ourselves, Barlow insists, and Jew’s inability to recognize this reality is problematic if we feel uneasy pointing out our peers, colleagues, and friends’Anti-Semitic remarks. 

Barlow especially worries about the exclusion and bullying of who she calls ‘Bad Jews’ who refuse to diminish their Jewish identity in order to be accepted in certain spaces. I guess Barlow and I are both ‘Bad Jews’ because we are loud about who we are and not afraid to stand up for others. I originally planned to conclude this first blog post with a list of actions that Jews and allies can take to fight Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism. But there is no rule book to fighting a 2,000 years old hatred besides ensuring that Jewish identity is not diminished for other people’s comfort. If Jewish students like me on Zionist gap year programs in Israel do not utilize our platforms on social media and our international social networks to, like Barlow, speak out against Anti-Semitism, then who will?

The late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, chief Rabbi of the UK, spoke at “The Future of the Jewish Communities in Europe” Conference at The European Parliament in 2016 about how we need to address Anti-Semitism as if it is a virus, spreading through a population and mutating rapidly. He stated, “The appearance of Anti-Semitism in a culture is the first symptom of a disease, the early warning sign of collective breakdown.” Similarities between the COVID-19 pandemic and the spreading of Anti-Semitism in Europe and America include both impacting all types of people and being harmful to everyones’ wellbeing, whether or not they are a victim of the virus. By letting go of our national and ethnic identities, we’ve come together to attempt to eliminate this virus from our planet by making scientific and societal progress. We need to adapt this mentality to confidently identify Anti-Zionism as modern Anti-Semitism and fight this virus alongside the Coronavirus before it becomes something more radical and threatening to the Jewish people.

Anti-Semitism existed long before the Coronavirus and the frightening reality is that it may be present after we have defeated the virus. We have the power to change the course of history for the better, so let’s take advantage of this opportunity to eliminate Anti-Semitism once and for all.  

About the Author
Sari Rosenberg is a student writer on Young Judaea Year Course currently located in Tel Aviv. She is originally from northern New Jersey and is passionate about social justice and the Reform Jewish community. Sari will study Sociology and Jewish studies at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor next fall.