Alienating would-be friends does nothing to help support Israel

If we reject everyone that protests as an antisemite, its harder to fight our corner


Demonstrators take part in a protest inside Charing Cross station following the 'London Rally For Palestine', in central London on November 4, 2023, as they call for a ceasefire in the conflict between Israel and Hamas. Thousands of civilians, both Palestinians and Israelis, have died since October 7, 2023, after Palestinian Hamas militants based in the Gaza Strip entered southern Israel in an unprecedented attack triggering a war declared by Israel on Hamas with retaliatory bombings on Gaza. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

November 23, 2023 15:29

Judging by my social media last weekend, the world is full of Nazis, neo-nazis, white supremacists and associated antisemites. Scores of them have tweeted me caricatures of hook-nosed Jews, cartoons supportive of Hitler, a picture of a domestic gas oven and dozens of less artistic references about how Jews are responsible for bringing into the West Muslims, Africans, refugees and others who in some way supposedly threaten their way of life.

It came about like this. On Friday morning I bumped into a woman I know who is Jewish. She looked worried, as many Jews do these days. She’s a pretty tough person but as we talked she was on the verge of tears. She seemed to want reassurance but her daughter, at a large university, had some direct experience in the last weeks of anti-Jewish sentiment being expressed by a few fellow students. It was becoming a “Can we live here?” conversation.

On the back of it I tweeted that Jews needed friendship and it would be great if people — whatever their view on Gaza — attended Sunday’s rally in solidarity with the Jewish community. Nearly 4,000 people “liked” this tweet.

But a comedian who seems to appear on GB News a lot decided to counterpose this tweet with the headline from a column I wrote six years ago, which was an argument against the idea of “white” interests here in Britain. “How it started”, this comedian wrote over the column; “how it’s going”, he wrote over the tweet.

The very far right seemed to love this, because it led to what is known as a “pile-on”. Nick Griffin (remember him) got involved. The suggestion behind some of the less overly fascist stuff was that if you Jews want us as allies you have to be prepared to hate and fear Muslims like we do.

Social media is not just an amplifier but a distorter. In the era of the cameraphone, the putting up of hostage posters and their being ripped down becomes a performance that thousands now see. If you want an example of a bad thing, social media can find it for you. Ten times a day I have to remind myself that the world is not full of Nazis or Jew haters.
Look at the polls instead. YouGov’s polling two weeks ago found that 19 per cent of people said they most sympathised with “the Israeli side” and 19 per cent with “the Palestinian side” over what was happening in and around Gaza. And roughly half of each of these groups in turn said they had some sympathy for the other side. Which was in tune with the population as a whole, with 56 per cent expressing some sympathy for both sides.

Polling on support or otherwise for Israeli military action and for or against ceasefires showed a third against Israel’s campaign, a third in favour and more than a third who didn’t know or couldn’t choose.

In the US, approval for Hamas stands at one per cent and disapproval at 81 per cent. You don’t get worse polling results than that. Yet social media will find you pro-Hamas placards and imply that somehow the jihadis are winning the day. It’s worth recalling that at the height of the Provisional IRA terror campaign you could find far left groups supporting their “armed struggle”.

Meanwhile some of the organisers of the demonstration have set a high bar for attendance by describing all those who have attended any “pro Palestinian” demonstrations as being “equally complicit” in making Jews feel unsafe as the small minority shouting “death to Jews” in Arabic.

This is a profound mistake. A very funny video sent to me by a friend shows what happens when young marchers are asked which sea and which river Palestine should be free from. In the US they didn’t know either of them. Brits sometimes got the Mediterranean.

I have friends who are not antisemites who have been on one or more of the demos. They don’t want children killed and “a ceasefire” is a simple demand. To care about one and demand the other does not make you a Jew hater. I think they’re wrong on the ceasefire but it’s a simpler concept than the one I’m trying to sell them. Do I seriously think they are “complicit” in Jew hatred. No. In fact I’d like to see many of them turn up on Sunday.

I take the recent rise in antisemitic incidents very seriously. I think we have a major job on our hands — made infinitely more difficult by the fact of this far-right Israeli government and the frankly fascist behaviour of some West Bank settlers — of reminding fellow citizens of why Israel exists and of its complex history.

But we don’t do this by circling the wagons, alienating people who could be friends while embracing people who certainly aren’t. I think most in the community know this, even if some have forgotten it.

November 23, 2023 15:29

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