Like us, others are different too

By Ivor Baddiel and Jonny Zucker, June 2, 2013

There is no reason why Jews should be different to anyone else. We should eat, sleep and breathe the same oxygen as our fellow humans. And yet, when it comes to racism, prejudice and discrimination there is a reason we should be different.

Not at heart, not in our genes, not because we're the "chosen people", but in the legacy we carry, the thousands of years of anti-Jewish racism that culminated in the Holocaust.

We've been on the front line when book burning morphed into ghettoisation and then led us to gas chambers. If we, or indeed any people who have faced a monstrous genocidal onslaught, can't learn from this that all forms of racism, discrimination and prejudice are abhorrent, then what hope is there for anyone else?

This history means that we are sensitive to every word uttered in reference to ourselves, our religion or our national homeland. If we saw, for example, children running around London during Comic Relief wearing "comedy" Chasidic dress with clip-on peyot and fake beards, we would be justifiably enraged. We have seen what mocking, humiliation and parody have led to.

And yet, last Purim, Jewish children could be seen thronging the streets of Golders Green wearing "Rasta" hats with attached dreadlocks. Their outfits were part of the spirit of the occasion, part of the "fun".

How many Jews casually say 'yok' 'shiksa' or 'schvarzer'?

At least, that must have been the opinion of those managing them. Could they not see that these "comedic" outfits might cause offence? Was it so hard to see that this was a case of "it's OK for us to belittle or parody, but it's not OK for you?"

We are the people of the book, a people that has produced scores of remarkable writers, essayists and fiery speakers. We have used words for the greater good, to lift civilisation, tolerance and peace to higher plains.

There are hundreds of thousands of Jews in Israel and the rest of the world who fight racism with courage and a steely resolve, upholding Jewish values and battling for the underdog, championing the mocked and despised. But how many Jews do you know who still casually throw about such words as "yok", "shiksa" and even "schvarzer"? These are offensive, racist terms that might seem harmless within a private grouping, but they belie the same sentiments, the same attitudes that anti-Jewish racists hold - that other people are different from us, below us and thus easy prey for mockery.

It is precisely that some see these terms as harmless that makes them so bad. It normalises the words and with them the attitudes. These slurs get taken for granted and the prejudice that accompanies them becomes embedded, second nature. And dare we say it, however much anyone who uses these words would protest, from there it is a short step to more invidious forms of racism.

If Israel is attacked with a passion not reserved for other countries, especially those guilty of far greater abuses, we stand up against this hypocritical differentiation. We will not be picked on just because we are a minority. And yet in Israel recently there have been reports of racism against minorities, mostly directed at Arabs, but also at black people.

There have been sickening attacks on women whose only crime is to wear the hijab; there has been taunting of people with different coloured skin. Here is a country born out of the ashes of the Holocaust, a beacon of hope and defiance, a potent symbol that said: "not only has your evil fascism failed, it has made us stronger and better".

Yes, "better". Not better than others, but better in the sense that we, both in Israel and the diaspora, know the signs and see the red flags from studying the past, (and the very recent past, at that). Of course we want to be stronger so that a Holocaust can never happen again; but stronger so that we become headstrong and complacent, and allow prejudice to rear its grotesque head? That is not strength; that is deplorable weakness.

So no, Jews aren't different or better than anyone else. Anyone who went through the Holocaust would surely learn the lessons from it. And yet, if we don't learn those lessons, then surely we are different to anyone else, because we are worse.

Ivor Baddiel is a scriptwriter and author. Jonny Zucker is an author and creative writing teacher

Last updated: 10:45am, June 2 2013