Laura Marks

'Jews should lead the way on anti-racism'

Anti-Muslim comments on a Jewish Facebook group horrify community activist Laura Marks

March 26, 2019 14:21

A closed Facebook group can be a wonderful community builder – but this week we have been appalled to hear that amongst the 7000+ Jewish members of the “Jewish Britain” page, lurk racists – racists against Muslims.

As Jews we are particularly sensitive to prejudice.  Our history has given us finely tuned antennae and we don’t miss the tiniest whiff of antisemitism, anti Jewish racism. Moreover, we condemn people, including within the Labour leadership, who clump all forms of racism together.  We believe that antisemitism is different, and it is.  But so too is every form of racism.

We recognise this with other forms of racism – and can see that prejudices against people who are black, LGBT+, female, disabled or even just older, are each different, and each based on an assumed set of negative characteristics 

The exhibition at the Jewish museum, Jews, Money, Myth which opened this week is eye-opening, incredibly brave and a good illustration of this.  It shows the perceived connection between Jews and money going back to medieval times with Jews being negatively associated with money.  The exhibition provides examples both of when Jews had money (Rothschild type hatred) and also when they didn’t (hatred of poverty stricken, grasping peddlers).  

Either way, Jews over the centuries have been associated with money in a hateful way.  We know that this image of Jews continues today, and indeed has now morphed again, linking Jewish money with international conspiracy, power and Zionist plots.  There is a complex story surrounding Jews and money but the hate filled narrative is based on stereotype and is racist.

Similarly, there is a narrative around Muslims and Islamist extremism.  For sure there are Islamist extremists and they self identify as Muslims.  But where this becomes blatantly racist is when we infer that all Muslims have Islamist tendencies or, even worse, that Muslims collectively deserve to be punished for the crimes of the perpetrators of violence.

“Jews have empathy with humanity whatever the race or religion they are,” was  one reported comment on Jewish Britain, continuing “hate is not instilled into them like some other peoples”

Racism is the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior. Jews and money, Muslims and extremism.  Both are racist.

If we are to genuinely expect non-Jews to understand antisemitism we need to consider our own understanding of racism, including Islamophobia.  Not only is it hugely damaging to community cohesion which we desperately need – but it is fundamentally wrong.

The attacks on mosques in Christchurch last week were terrifying.  And this week, Tell Mama reported a 600% rise in Islamphobic incidents here in the UK.  It’s time to act.  

This weekend was Sadaqa Day – a Muslim version of Mitzvah Day. I spent the morning at the Islamic Cultural Centre at the Hippodrome in Golders’ Green being welcomed with red roses and smiles.  I couldn’t help but feel the irony given the subtly Islamophobic ‘welcome’ which the centre received from our own community just 18 months ago and which I publicly called out.

Initiatives like Sadaqa Day and Visit My Mosque, Nisa-Nashim (the Jewish Muslim women’s network), The Big Get Together and of course Mitzvah Day itself offer us opportunities to actually meet British Muslims and to start to see them as people and not as stereotypes.  

All forms of racism are underpinned by prejudice, intolerance and a willingness to generate division.  With British politics at breaking point and division at extraordinary levels, it’s our responsibility to ensure that each comment we put on Facebook, even in a closed group, stands up to scrutiny in the wider world.  Let’s as Jews, lead the way on anti-racism rather than falling, even unwittingly, into the cesspit of prejudice and hatred. 

Laura Marks is the founder and chair of Mitzvah Day and co-chair of Jewish Muslim women's network Nisa-Nashim

March 26, 2019 14:21

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