Anthony Bolchover

The lies they tell

Another flare-up between Israel and Hamas in Gaza was coupled with an inevitable fallout of antisemitism around the world. For many like me, the past few weeks have been rather jading. Those who have dedicated much time to educate themselves on the realities of the geopolitical situation feel like their voices are being drowned out. It is exhausting.

Thankfully, my time at university has been largely uneventful on the BDS- and Israel-related front. Although (like on most campuses) there is occasional vocal opposition to Zionism from some in the student population, the Palestine society at my university was rather weak and ineffectual when it came to activism and mobilization. This changed recently when the group decided to respond to recent violence in the region by organizing an open letter calling on the university to end investments in companies ‘complicit in Israeli apartheid’. 

Accompanying this was their problematic but also largely predictable social media campaign. For example, in this post on Instagram they parroted the usual and tired argument that ‘the conflation of anti-zionism and antisemitism is being increasingly weaponized in order to silence for support justice in Palestine.’ This is a classic deployment of the ‘Livingstone Formulation’, a term coined by the sociology lecturer David Hirsh at Goldsmiths, University of London. This Formulation essentially accuses those who raise concerns of antisemitism as doing so dishonestly and in bad faith. This gaslighting tactic is unfortunately now very commonplace amongst many anti-Israel activist groups, both on and off-campus.

 After a few days, the Palestine society hosted a demonstration outside the university gates. I was not on campus at the time, but one of my friends, an Orthodox Jew, attended and observed the event out of curiosity. To provide context, this was during a period of surging antisemitism, with heightened threats to Jewish safety across the UK. As violence started to escalate in the Middle East, the Community Security Trust (CST) reported a three-fold increase in antisemitic incidents.

During the protest, the police approached my friend to ask if he wished to be escorted away from the event as a precautionary measure. This was because he was wearing a Kippah in public, a visibly Jewish symbol. I have heard many similar stories during the last few weeks, and I am sure many readers have as well. These anecdotes are emblematic of the fear and distress that many young Jews are experiencing in this country, and perhaps more importantly, the quiet acceptance and apathy displayed by all too many.

People who have no stake or connection to this tiny strip of land in the Levant are acting as if they have some special authority. We have all seen those anonymous self-proclaimed ‘socialist’, ‘progressive’ and ‘anti-racist’ university students on social media who probably cannot locate Sheikh Jarrah on a map. They certainly had not heard of the place until very recently, let alone ever visited Israel or the surrounding region. They do not care about any other international issue, but they have watched some AJ+ and TRT world videos on Twitter. They are now an expert on this property dispute within a small neighborhood in East Jerusalem, and of course they know that what is going on there is tantamount to apartheid, ethnic cleansing, and genocide (have I missed war crimes?) 

To demonstrate their performative solidarity, they include a Palestinian flag and a #SaveSheikhJarrah hashtag on their social media bios. They also like to police Jews on what is and is not antisemitism, redefine Zionism, and will call anyone who disagrees a child killer and a fascist. They are also not anti-Semites because Arabs are the ‘true Semites’, and they have a few quotes to share from a token Neturei Karta rabbi and Avi Shlaim/Ilan Pappe/Norman Finkelstein (take your pick.) Regardless, anyone making such accusations is framed as part of a nefarious Israel lobby attempting to discredit them and stifle freedom of speech. There is no nuance, there is no context. There are thousands of such individuals all across Britain.

If you wish to actually read informative and evidence-based pieces explaining the truth and reality on the ground in Sheikh Jarrah, I would recommend starting with this one from Alex Safian, who eloquently lays out the facts in a balanced and objective manner.

Safian emphasizes that this is a civil dispute over property rights, and the Israeli government is not a party to the litigation. Jews purchased these properties in 1876, around an important religious pilgrimage site – the tomb of a famous Talmudic Rabbi called Simon the Just. In 1948, these Jewish inhabitants were forcibly expelled from these homes by the Jordanian Arab Legion, and since 1967, when Israel captured Judea and Samaria in a defensive war, these same Jewish owners have been demanding that these properties are returned. Moreover, in 1982, the Arab tenants of these properties accepted that they were living in Jewish-owned housing and agreed to pay rent. 

However, many of these same tenants have since refused to pay such rent, and therefore it appears entirely justified that they may be evicted. There has been an ongoing legal battle for decades, just recently reaching the Israeli Supreme Court after numerous appeals, usually by the tenants. It is important to stress as well that not one person has yet been evicted from Sheikh Jarrah. Yet, the distorted and biased portrayal of the case in much of the media has made this false narrative very difficult to counter. 

I have long encouraged my friends to detoxify – to stop obsessing about the lies and misinformation against Israel and the Jewish people, and perhaps focus my mind on other endeavors. But it is impossible to take a break; you cannot escape this terrifying political climate. I need to know what is always going on at every moment — it has become a compulsion.

We must continue the fight and combat those who spread lies and misinformation by holding them accountable. Exhaustion is inevitable, but that cannot be an excuse to give up. Zionism is our national liberation movement, and it should not be vilified and demonized in the way that it is currently. Jews can only expect to gain respect by firstly showing self-respect, and proudly standing up for our rights without guilt, shame or fear. I look forward to working harder in the pursuit of peace, truth and positive education.

About the Author
I am a British Jewish student studying mathematics at the University of Birmingham in the U.K. In my spare time I represent the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) on the Board of Deputies of British Jews. Additionally, I am the chair of the Birmingham Israel Society, a student led initiative dedicated to educating the wider population around the culture, politics and history of the modern Jewish state. In a similar capacity I am a fellow for CAMERA on Campus.
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