Ben Judah

Don’t forget the people who are standing with us

Yes, antisemitism is surging. But the support we have across the spectrum is heartening


Olaf Scholz (R) and Emmanuel Macron (Photo by Gregor Fischer/Getty Images)

January 04, 2024 16:47

These are dark times but we are not alone. So focused have we become on calling out the prejudice thrown our way that we have failed, I feel, to take stock and to fully appreciate those standing shoulder to shoulder with us against this.

First, the politicians. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz could not have been clearer or louder standing against antisemitism. “Zero tolerance,” were his words and Scholz is not alone. German politicians across the political spectrum have stood by him. Meanwhile, in France President Emmanuel Macron has said he will be “ruthless” against the “unbearable resurgence” of antisemitism. It is not just the French state that has made these commitments. More than 180,000 marched against antisemitism in November. And the head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has been just as trenchant. Calling out “the poison”, she has even created a new team reporting to the Commission to lead work against anti-Jewish hate.

The three most important European leaders — speaking for the centre left, centre and centre right — have all loudly called for solidarity and action against antisemitism. There will be those that say this is the least they can do given the spikes in antisemitic acts since the Hamas massacres. And they will be absolutely right to sound the alarm against the social media-fuelled hate we have seen. But we should remind ourselves that Europe’s leaders have not always spoken out like this. The fact they are doing this matters. We are not alone. During the terror wave of the 1970s, culminating in the slaughter of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics , these same governments were not as loud and not as visibly present with Europe’s Jews. That was a moment of solitude. Never before after a major terror attack, let alone in wartime, have all three visited Israel at a moment when the whole Jewish world was grieving.

The same goes in the US. Joe Biden, who has called the antisemitism surge “sickening”, has presided over lighting a massive menorah in front of the White House, hosted the now traditional Chanukah party and is seen by most Israelis as a crucial friend. No other US president has visited Israel in wartime. It’s worth taking a pause to see how far we’ve come. Whether it’s the antisemitic expletives Henry Kissinger had to put up with from Richard Nixon or the out-and-out on the record antipathy of FDR — the United States only yesterday was a much nastier place.

One can disagree from left or right with Biden about his handling of the war (as with Macron or Scholz). But nobody can doubt his generation of Western leaders — mostly on the centre left — stands loudly against antisemitism. As for the war itself, there are now loud differences within Israel. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, like Macron, has called for a ceasefire, whilst many in the IDF top brass, like Biden and his advisers, favour a transition towards a lower intensity campaign. Taking a slightly different stance on the campaign from the Israeli government, itself full of sharply divergent voices, is not ignoring antisemitism. The truth is, this is what antisemites want: to make us feel alone and isolated when we’re not.

Here in Britain, the signs of an antisemitic surge are all around us. But the cross-party consensus against antisemitism has been remarkable — and is deeply appreciated. Rishi Sunak has been as loud in his condemnation of antisemitism as any of his peers and the government has been impeccable on antisemitism. Meanwhile, a round of applause to Keir Starmer. The Labour leader’s transformation of his party into a force fighting antisemitism in British life has been visible for all to see. Starmer’s Labour is not just a welcoming place for Jews but a no-go area for antisemites.

I promised not just to talk about the politicians. Because those I really want to thank are the millions of fellow Brits who in opinion polls and small deeds have made their disgust towards any form of racism known. It’s easy, in the focus on the antisemitism that takes place in public, online or in the streets, to take for granted the support we receive from our friends. After October 7 I was in shock for days but I will never forget the dozens of messages from non-Jewish friends, colleagues, even acquaintances expressing their condolences or checking in on the safety of my family. This vastly — crushingly — outnumbers any antisemitism I’ve seen or experienced since that terrible day. For me, this is more than a casual WhatsApp, this is what a good and decent society looks like — where we all support each other. So, to all of our friends, this is what I want to say: Thank you.

January 04, 2024 16:47

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