Racism, racism, racism everywhere

Jews of non-Ashkenazi background are used to the downplaying of their experience of antisemitism.

Episodes such as the Farhud, the massacre of hundreds of Jews in Iraq, by Arab nationalists, in June 1941, or the wave of pogroms in 1945 Libya, are rarely mentioned, even in academic pieces of research.

The knowledge of these pages of Jewish history is covered by layers of myths, lies and omissions, to quote Lynn Julius, such as the perennial referral to “shared culture and language of Arabs and Jews”. To which has been commented: “a shared culture and language with the Arabs did not save the Jews of Iraq, any more than the Jewish contribution to German culture saved German Jews from Nazism” [Lyn Julius, Uprooted, 2017; p. 236].

Not to mention the ever-persistent attempt to blame Zionism for the persecution of Jews in Arab Countries, despite the fact that most of these massacres took place before Israel was founded. Apparently, blaming Jews (or a Jewish political movement, such as Zionism) for antisemitism, is a temptation too strong to resist.
But over the last years, a line has been crossed, and now if you try to speak of the above-mentioned pages of history, you may well end up silenced with the accusation of being a racist.

A blatant example of such intellectual dishonesty can be found in the “Intelligence Squared” debate “Is anti-Zionism the new antisemitism” [at 00:54]

When a member of the audience, a son of Iraqi Jewish refugees, mentioned the tragic fate of the Jewish communities in Arab lands, Peter Beinart went into a tirade about the “anti-Palestinian bigotry, which is so deep that it’s often unconscious in our [Jewish] community […] the notion […] that Palestinians have some kind of instinctive desire to kill Jews simply because they want to kill Jews […]

Now let it sink in. A child of refugees is trying to tell the story of his family, and a journalist, rather than expressing empathy, diagnoses an “undercurrent of bigotry”. And you know what happens with the “undercurrent” (which for some strange kind of power Beinart is entitled to detect). It “runs so deep” that the more you try to deny it, the more evidence there is that you are affected by it.

Victims of racist persecutions are censored with the accusation of being racist. This is the way White supremacists make their case when they want to show off their pseudo-intellectual face. Open racism is for their extreme fringes to express. Those who deal with the media prefer to claim that their movement is about defending their community from Black supremacists, Muslim fundamentalists, Cultural Marxists and the like. It’s not racism, they claim; on the contrary, they are defending the rights of the white minority.

Obviously, no one is fooled by their pretentious nonsense.

But if the victims of this callous inversion are Jews of Middle Eastern background, then the argument becomes legitimate, and prestigious columnists sign up for it. As the saying goes: Orwell was an optimist.

Obviously, no one wants to deny that racism in Israel exists. Racism can be everywhere. As a British citizen of Italian background, I endure almost daily anti-Italian jokes about disorganisation during the current pandemic. Sometimes the authors of these racist tweets are British Jews. But I do not diagnose any deep undercurrent of anti-Italian racism in British Jewry!

Opposing racism, everywhere: in the UK or in Israel, is obviously a moral duty. Incidentally one may point out that Israel is not doing a bad job. According to serious researches, the percentage of non-Jewish citizens who feel that they do not belong is currently in single digits.

Shouting accusations of racism and censoring the victims of antisemitism, is not a great help in the much-needed process of building a common national identity in the Jewish State.

About the Author
Italian by birth, Israeli by choice, Rabbi of the largest synagogue in Sussex (UK). Uncompromising Zionist.
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