The events of October 7th were mind numbingly awful, the taking of hostages a terrible wound, all compounded by the wave of antisemitism sweeping the world in response to the temerity of the Jewish people in defending themselves against more horror. Yet, without in any way minimizing the pain of the victims and their families, in terms of the diaspora experience, it could be argued that things have been worse in the past. If we look at the trajectory of Jewish history, in many ways, even with the demonstrations, the sewer of hate on social media, the students locked in libraries, it is still for many, in relative terms, a good time to be a Jew. Well, it could be argued. And yet, and yet, it somehow doesn’t quite feel like that. Perhaps the post-Shoah “free pass” that made antisemitism, at least in the West, socially unacceptable, has lulled at least my generation, born in the 60s and 70s, and the ones following, in to a false sense of security. Perhaps as well, it’s something to do with the progressive consensus, gathering speed since the 1980s, which proclaims that society’s most important preoccupations centre on valuing the identity, culture and voice of each and every group and individual.
That means valuing diversity itself, striving to include everyone and aiming for equality not just of opportunity but of outcome too. A potent utopian vision, for everyone. Including Jews. That’s what we were told in the media, in schools, in every government and institutional mission statement. Perhaps we even started to believe it and that’s why it comes as such a shock post October 7th, to see so clearly that it just isn’t true. In the modern phrasing, to realise that they were gaslighting us. Perhaps it’s that sense of deep, deep betrayal that makes it hard to think that these are still good times to be a Jew. Just take one example. At the university were I work, the union’s virulent deranged antizionist rhetoric has gone in to overdrive since October 7th, even adopting a resolution calling for intifada until victory. Their twitter account, amongst many many questionable posts, re-posted a message thread which said that Jews were interpreting the legacy of the Holocaust to permit them to “cage, bomb, starve and dehydrate every Palestinian in Gaza”, and that never again becomes a call to retaliatory eliminationist war. As with so much in the post October 7th rhetoric of the Islamists, the professors and the media, at it’s heart this is a re-stating of old antisemitic trope that the persecuted Jew becomes the persecutor.
As well as simply being just again the old antisemitic trick of taking our deepest principles (or our deepest wounds) and slinging them back against us, again echoing those slung through history – “you are not allowed to consume pigs? You are pigs”. There were also comments to the re-post, covering in even more explicit language antisemitic tropes such as “The Jewish Nazis [in the Holocaust] helped kill their own people”. Just imagine now that the union, say in the wake of the racist murder of George Floyd, posted a message which could be considered as a racist trope, and that people had then added more racist tropes to in the comments. Imagine the response of university leaders if this had happened at any university in the US or the UK. Would it have been silence and equivocation? Or would there have been, quite rightly, references made in strident terms to their Diversity, Equity and Inclusion statements, accompanied by clear condemnation.
Imagine that a solicitor in a leading international law firm had made a post similar to the union one? Would the managing partners find, as so many have when it came to condemning the October 7th atrocities unequivocally, that they had suddenly lost their ability to speak clearly? We know the answer. They would have, rightly, spoken out. They would have realized that staying silent risked making a mockery of their stated values, and they would have stood up to be counted because they felt that morally it was the right thing to do, and that not to speak out would give licence to racists both in their institutions and more widely, to engage in further racist speech or worse.
Yet when it came to the Jews, where were their Diversity, Equity and Inclusion policies when it came to making simple but urgent statements of moral truth – for example that binding parents and children together with wire and then burning them to death can never be right. As though you couldn’t condemn this and support Palestinian self-determination or mourn suffering in Gaza. Where were the legion Diversity, Equity and Inclusion officers, pounding on the doors of the chief executives and university deans – demanding that they speak out on behalf of the Jews? The only pounding we heard was that of the chanters pounding on the library doors of the Cooper Union in the East Village to intimidate the Jewish students locked inside.
It was all a mirage. Just as with all the previous progressive utopian visions from the French revolution to the Russian and beyond, the idealism founders when it comes to the Jews. Of course, the vision is enticing, seductive, drawing us in, and we so want to believe. And why not? Why not want to believe that the ancient hatred is no more. Yet in the end the reality hits us in the face, as it has in the last few weeks. In the diaspora we exist, as all minorities in the end do, at the pleasure of the majority. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion on our terms, as suits us. When we want it, how we want it, and no Jew will tell us otherwise.