Jews shouldn't be shy to call out Antisemitism wherever it appears

There is an irony in that Israel is both one of our biggest blessings and our biggest curses


CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA: Thousands of Muslims took to the streets in Cape Town 21 August 2001 to protest against Israel's continuing oppression of Palestinians. The march, organised by the Muslim Judicial Council, comes ahead of the World Conference Against Rascism which begins in Durban at the end of the month. (Photo credit should read ANNA ZIEMINSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

March 11, 2022 11:28

Thanks to the last two years, we all know more than we’d like about viruses and risks of their mutations. The same could be said about antisemitism, as we see that ancient hatred take on new, dangerous forms. There is a delicate irony for us diaspora Jews, in that Israel is both one of our biggest blessings and our biggest curses. 

It’s a global centre for our people, a home from home where our ancient religion can be openly lived, the tongue of our forefathers spoken (and shouted) once again. It is also a safety raft, if things become too uncomfortable in our countries. Knowing it is there, should we need it, gives us a freedom our great-grandparents never had.  But in the last few years it has also become a beating stick, a new reason to hate us. 

On top of hating Jews because of our religion and race, they now hate the one Jewish nation and we all pay the price. The danger this poses was brought home in the latest Community Service Trust (CST) statistics. The worst year on record for antisemitic attacks saw a huge spike last May,  during the conflict between Israel and Gaza. 

At the weekend, I went to a Jewish Book Week talk by Israeli writer Tuvia Tenenbom. His latest book, The Taming Of The Jew, is a wake-up call about the antisemitism-dressed-as-antizionism that we British Jews put up with. We’re so convinced we are the safest Jews in Europe, we’ve forgotten that the hatred we put up with isn’t acceptable.

Hating Israel is fashionable among the cool kids — the people who like to advertise how good they are. Just like the antisemites of old, convinced their failings are down to the Jews, they are filled to the brim with their righteous anger, and the idea that if it wasn’t for the Jewish state, somehow the Palestinians would have a healthy democracy and the warring, despotic Middle-East would be at peace. 

Last year, social media exploded with pro-Palestinian activism, which often spilled into antisemitism. Celebrities and social media influencers posted, “free Palestine”.  Premier League footballers paraded the Palestinian flag. Trade unions and university professors joined in decrying the evils of Israel when they would never normally comment on global politics. All that hatred is now airborne. 

The hatred affected many of us in big and small ways, such as the anxious parents I spoke to whose children were getting attacked at school or university (according to the CST’s figures, there were 182 incidents of anti-Jewish hate attacks at schools alone). My teenage son received a threatening phone call and children chanted “free Palestine” in his classroom. He was told Israel was evil; that Israelis deliberately killed children. 

The hardest thing about all this, as with fighting Labour’s antisemitism, was that the people you expect to know better — the grown-ups you always imagined would stop it — all looked away. 

When I asked my sons’ school what they do to combat hate and educate children about the nuances of the Israel-Palestine conflict, the head, a history teacher, sent me a blog written by the anti-Zionist group Jewdas — an organisation which calls Israel “a steaming pile of sewage which needs to be disposed of” — which she was sending to teachers in the school to educate them. I sent her some material from the CST, begging her to use it instead. I know I wasn’t the only one. 

The Israel-Palestine situation isn’t simple. Many of us have complicated feelings about Israel, the occupied territories and the prospects of peace. But recognising hatred isn’t complicated. And I think that’s what we need to concentrate on. Holocaust charities do amazing work showing people what happened in 1930s and 1940s Germany, but we need to draw the line between then and now. Too many people – even the better educated – believe antisemitism began and ended in the embers of the death camps. They are shocked to learn that it still exists. 

This year’s Holocaust Memorial Day concentrated so much on “all genocides” that the Holocaust was diminished.  So many Jew-haters have complained that it is somehow “privileged” for our tribe to have a day to reflect on antisemitism that we’ve allowed it to become universalised into “Genocide Memorial Day”. 

We need to stop doing that. We cannot carry on ignoring our society’s antisemitism and demonisation of Israel. There’s a Black History Month and an LGBT+ Month. Can’t we have one day to look at what happened in the Holocaust, and how the rhetoric of Jew hate continues? 

Why are we so shy about explaining the antisemitic nature of tropes of Jewish power and control, of buying off enemies and lusting after the killing of children? And that it is equally unacceptable whether it comes from the right or the left? 

Britain is still one of the safest places to be a Jew. But Jew-hate is on the rise. Antisemitism dressed as antizionism has entered the mainstream across society, melding with older forms of these pernicious viruses of hatred. Our gentile friends aren’t doing a good enough job in educating themselves about it, so we need to step up and speak up. 

Israel may be our safety raft but I’d really like to not have to use it.

March 11, 2022 11:28

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