This blog is a guest post from Lara Glantz
Last night for the first time in my life I felt the genuine threat of antisemitism. The event was a discussion titled “Is criticising Israel antisemitic?” led by Tony Greenstein, the political activist, who was recently suspended from the Labour party. While addressing his suspension he ensured us that there was “absolutely no anti-Semitism in the Labour party”, while also promptly ensuring that we all knew that “Ken Livingstone is a long term friend and I know he doesn’t have a racist bone in his body” - really akin to saying that one can’t be racist if they have a black friend. But unfortunately the problematic nature of the discussion, and the affirmation of antisemitism in Bristol and further through the UK and Europe, was achieved not only through the views of Greenstein himself, but worsened by the booming, loud, obnoxious voices of drunken white men, with no affiliation to Israel personally but whose speech and actions made countering any point impossible.
Ultimately this is not a feminist issue. I went in to the meeting with criticism of the image used on the Facebook group (inserted above), and the antisemitic (NOT anti-Zionist but specifically antisemitic) connotations of equating Israel/Judaism with the power and wealth of America as well as the use of age old rhetoric of the corrupt, capitalist Jew.
I felt bold enough to make my point in front of these people (having got cocky from 11 likes on my comment on the event’s post on Facebook) but ultimately I was so overwhelmed with the threatening voices of those who were so ardently anti-Zionist, that I don’t believe they would have felt held to account by an accusation of antisemitism, and I found it impossible to speak. And in fact the entire status of antisemitism was countered by the claims of Greenstein that “anti-Semitism is a tool by the right to destabilise the left”.
This was countered by a young researcher who had spent her last year in Russia investigating Ashkenazi Jewry, and concluded that, far from a continuation of the Nazi regime, and far from the suggested fabricated right wing push towards antisemitism in the left, Jews have made aliyah for multiple reasons - not least of the rising threat of anti-Semitism. She quoted statistics for the move towards aliyah from Jews in France, (nearly 8,000 French Jews moved to Israel in the year following the Charlie Hebdo attack) and was met with palpable scoffs and laughter from the rest of the room. I’ve never witnessed intolerance and othering of the Jews, as was evident in this room. The lack of consideration for the plight of French Jewry was overwhelming, but with the separation of the pond, and overwhelming plight of the Palestinians dictating the view of the room, there was no room for an understanding of antisemitism and thus they concluded it could not exist.
I expected myself to feel offended by a number of things in attending this talk, I knew I would not be in agreement with everything that Greenstein said, but I was also prepared to oppose any right-wing Jews who would belittle the plight of the Palestinians.
I’m sure that this microcosm in which I entered was no indication of the voices worldwide, and I do believe that an appreciation of the plight of Jews, Palestinians and Israelis can be heard in conjunction without the denial of one entity for the other to exist. But in hearing that “Palestinians do not need to be the sacrificial lamb to appease past Jewish suffering”, I was shocked, and not only at the belligerent disregard for the place of Israel in the hearts and lives of Holocaust survivors and victims of antisemitism that only felt sanctity in the state of Israel.
I am not one to blindly defend Israel, and I am not of the belief that Israel is blameless, but I am sure that antisemitism is a threat that needs to be addressed. And it’s being held up under the guise of anti-Israel, and allows for age old motifs of anti-Jewish stereotypes, then that rhetoric needs to be stopped before it is able to develop into a more powerful force.
Lara Glantz is a third year student at Bristol University.