Some experiences leave us feeling helpless and emotionally drained. I’ve had quite a few such experiences lately. As an Egyptian immigrant to the UK, I never thought that I would ever hear a group of Islamist radicals roaming the streets of the capital of a liberal democracy, screaming “rape their daughters”.
I thought this was behind me when I left the Middle East almost six years ago. Yet, radical Islamism, it seems, found its way to the streets of London. Terrorism, as defined in academia, is the use or threatening to use violence to achieve certain goals. Therefore, the antisemitic attacks and threats we experienced were in fact acts of terrorism, and they be treated as such. But, they have not. Instead, we saw a persistent increase in antisemitism and indifference towards the suffering of Jews.
Quarter of UK top universities issued antisemitic statements. The students’ Union of Leicester university where I am studying for my Master’s degree issued an antisemitic statement exclusively offering Palestinian students their support, discarding Jewish students and blaming Israel for the rocket attacks by Hamas, arguing that they are “a direct consequence of the Israeli Defence Force’s (IDF) indiscriminate assault on [Muslim] worshippers”.
There was no mention of the unprecedented increase in antisemitism.
For me the excruciating, lonely fight against antisemitism is on campuses, at work, and, of course, on social media. I invest my skills and experience, particularly as a native Arabic speaker, in countering some of the most horrific forms of antisemitism where the Holocaust is denied or celebrated, and terrorist groups are unashamedly glorified, while the killing an Israeli child is met with emojis of celebration. My activism, however, comes at a high price.
I am often on the receiving end of death threats, conspiracy theories, insults, and abuse.
I have, nonetheless, been doing this for years and I know the risks involved.
What took me by surprise was the abuse and racism I received from members of our Jewish community.
My online conversations seem to always include someone questioning my convictions, denying me the right to freedom of expression, and hurling racist and derogatory terms at me. “What do you know?”, “Who are you talk?”, and, most recently, suggesting that I am more suitable for a job at a fried chicken shop (because, of course, that is where a brown man belongs!).
Most of these comments are often made by seemingly staunch supporters of Israel, who are blind to the fact that I am actually defending Israel and arguing against calls to boycott its ambassador. They did not call it ‘blind hatred’ for no reason. The haters see a guy with a Muslim, Arab name and start bombarding me with all kinds of abuse.
To racists and xenophobes, the colour of my skin and where I am from are all that matters. It does not matter what I do or say.
They have and are likely to continue racially profiling me in the virtual and real worlds.
That is not to insinuate that racism and discrimination are particularly rife within our Jewish communities. In fact, I believe that the majority are far more progressive and inclusive than many other communities.
The Board of Deputies’ (BoD) initiative on racial inclusivity in the Jewish community, in which I contributed, and Jewish News’ swift action against racist comments demonstrate we do not tolerate racism.
But here is something that no one seems willing to acknowledge, you do not have to be bullied by every classmate for bullying to be an issue.
One is enough.
While the support I receive from the overwhelming majority of Jewish communities and organisations dwarfs the hatred, one racist can ruin what is otherwise a perfectly pleasant experience.
That is why I am writing this article. I want to appeal to faith groups, politicians, and social media platforms to hold haters accountable. Yes, our Jewish communities are far ahead and capable of self-reflection, as the BoD’s unrivalled report proves, but this effort needs to be taken further.
An initiative that ends with mere recommendations is similar to government inquires that fall short of delivering results in the real world. We also need other faith groups to catch up, rather than dismiss rampant racism as a view representative only of a radical minority when we have evidence that suggests otherwise.
Despite a study warning that 44% of British Muslims endorse antisemitic conspiracy theories, and numerous horrendous incidents, we are yet to see leaders of the Muslim community engage in an undertaking similar to the BoD’s. We can and should do and expect much more because, in 2021, we deserve to lead lives free of discrimination and racism.
For the time being, however, I think I need to take some time off social media.