Rosa Doherty

The Jewish blind spot of ‘anti-racist’ activists

Rosa Doherty asks: What is it about anti-Jewish racism, or wanting to meaningfully understand our culture and our faith, that doesn’t entice audiences?

July 08, 2021 11:26

The feeling that Jews don’t matter has grown in recent years, and feels more prevalent in spaces where you might naturally imagine us mattering.

In recent days, Rabbi Shlomo Noginski was stabbed multiple times outside a Boston synagogue and a British man was racially abused on a London bus in footage that went viral.

How did that make you feel? For me it felt as though we Jews were invisible.

Social justice movements online are flooded with anti-racist activism. I can’t scroll without a friend, influencer or celebrity account sharing professionally-designed graphics on the latest social injustice or posting proudly about the fact they are reading the latest bestseller on one form of racism or another.

These things interest me too — but I am often left wondering what is it about anti-Jewish racism, or wanting to meaningfully understand our culture and our faith, that doesn’t entice audiences in the same way.

Posting about injustices, racism and social issues alongside our favourite outfits, home renovations, restaurants or hilarious memes is now an established part of how people curate their identity online. But why do people my age or younger, from a range of backgrounds, appear to devour books like Don’t Touch My Hair by Emma Dabiri or Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race — and yet the only person I know who read David Baddiel’s Jews Don’t Count was Jewish?

It is the only book out there that tries to explain antisemitism to a non-Jewish audience in an accessible way. It can be read in one sitting. It is the obvious contender for a socially conscious Instagrammer interested in “doing the work”. And yet, ironically, it isn’t being read. It is almost as if Jews didn’t count.

Sure, they can express sympathy about the Holocaust, share praise for a survivor and speak of their love for a 24-hour bagel bakery on Brick Lane.

But what happens when we’re attacked in the street? Or discriminated against at university, or blamed for the actions of a foreign government?

I’ve longed to ask these people who devour the latest books on racism, or post on every inequality that is a talking point that week, the reason why they don’t post on the Jewish stuff.

Is it a conscious decision? Are we not Instagramable enough? Are we just too complicated? Do they not care?

And I’ve also told myself how infantile it is to have expectations that people will care. Does posting a meme on Instagram or tweeting your outrage about frequent attacks on Jews make a difference? Not likely. Does it mean the poster is capable of tangible anti-racism, the real kind that moves things forward or effects change? I don’t think so.

Pathetic, really, that a grown adult would feel so left out of the online world of performance solidarity, but here I am. And I know I am not alone.

I find myself in a deep contradiction. I don’t want the kind of solidarity that extends to an Instagram post or a tweet.

Really, what I want to know is that if I am on public transport and a racist gets on screaming about wanting to slit my throat, someone would say that it wasn’t OK and that I wouldn’t have to deal with it on my own.

I want to know that that next time a person makes a comment about “rich Jews” or “controlling the media” or Israelis being “just like the Nazis”, the people I’m with are brave enough to shut it down, or, at the very least, acknowledge that they had heard it.

That would feel nice. But, of course, that rarely happens to me or other Jews I speak to about it. I can count on one hand the amount of people who ‘checked in’ when a motorcade of protesters drove through London calling for Jewish women to be raped.

Again, I realise the contradiction of expecting everyone to ‘check in’ with anyone they know from an ethnic minority when things explode in the media, which I know is often forced and insincere.

But at certain times I nonetheless find myself missing it — because I know it is provided to others with pride; it is called for and insisted upon. It leaves Jews wondering what it is about us that is so undeserving.

Talking about racism and the prejudice we experience isn’t something we do much outside our safe community bubbles.

I think we tend not to because we see that those who appear actively interested in social justice issues seem distinctly inactive in ours.




July 08, 2021 11:26

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