Karen Glaser

Why are the Jews overlooking their natural allies?

While our interfaith efforts focus on Muslims, we neglect more friendly communities


Karen, (right), at her student's Sikh wedding, in Southall, in 1997

April 10, 2024 14:40

Last week, my daughter’s friend, D, shoved a woman at Archway Underground station. The woman was blonde, in her middle years, had a keffiyeh tied draped across her shoulders and was holding a placard with the words: Zionism is racism. “Racist cow,” said D softly but loud enough for the woman to hear, as he passed through the ticket barrier.

The following day, another of her friends, F, quit her bar job in a combination of disgust and fury after the pub’s manager subjected her to an antisemitic rant. The object of her boss’s ire was another youngster he had employed at his watering hole, a Jewish student who had spurned his advances. F reckons he unleashed his bile in front of her because she too is gay and he assumed this meant she’d be sympathetic. He could not have been more wrong.

It probably doesn’t need stating that the publican in this tale was not Jewish. But you might be surprised to learn that D and F, both 22, aren’t either. He is a Hindu and she is a Sikh.

When my daughter relayed these events to me, my thoughts turned to something that has been marinading in my mind for some time: what if the Jews had moved East rather than West in earliest times? We’d have been spared two millennia of antisemitism, is what.

Being brown, D and F were uncomfortably versed in the intricacies of racism well before their paths crossed with my daughter’s. But when they did meet at university in 2019, two months before Corbyn’s Labour lost the election, D and F had had four years to observe anti-Jewish racism, too. And unlike many, they’d had no problem joining the dots.

I feel sure this is because they come from cultures unsullied by two millennia of antisemitism. Until the Shoah, the worst of the perpetual and irrational violence that pursued the Jews in every century was underpinned by the belief that we’d killed Jesus. It is no overstatement to say the groundwork for Hitler was laid over 2,000 years. Cultures that didn’t feature Christianity did not have that foundation belief and with the exception of Muslim countries, where Jews lived under all sorts of restrictions, we lived well for it.

When Jewish traders landed in Cochin, in India, in 562 BC, they were left alone. And when the majority of India’s Jews emigrated to a newly-formed Israel, it was with India’s blessing.

Similarly, when Jews followed the Silk Road to China between 960 and 1126, and settled in Kaifeng (the name of London’s first kosher Chinese restaurant is no accident), the Tang dynasty accepted them without problem. Jews took the Confucian exams, became civil servants and entered, with no exclusions, craft and intellectual occupations. Over in Western Europe, the guilds were busy keeping Jews out.

And when in 1933, Europe’s Jews began desperately to look for places to escape to, Shanghai took in 30,000 of us. That was more than Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa combined, and they’re big open countries, which urgently needed immigrants back then.

I heartily support interfaith work but at a time when relations between Britain’s Jewish and Muslim communities are especially tense — this week a poll showed that 46 per cent of UK Muslims say they sympathise with Hamas — I think we should be doing more to cultivate relations with Britain’s Hindu, Sikh and Chinese communities. Not just because they bear us no animus, but because from our immigrant journeys in Britain to our mutual reverence for family and education, we have much in common. (I say this as someone who’s blessed with wonderful Muslim friends and who has two Muslim exes, twice the number of my former Jewish paramours).

My earliest experience of this allyship was in the late 90s when I taught in a further education college in Southall, where eight in ten of my students were Punjabi Sikhs and Hindus. In the evening, I tutored the children of the couple who ran my local Chinese takeway. When I told the father I was Jewish, he broke into a spontaneous smile. And when I told my students I had family in Israel, no one talked about Zionism and racism.

April 10, 2024 14:40

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