I remember the yellow, red and black badges well as a child growing up in the late 80s and early 90s. The arrow coursing through the yellow background and the slogan “Anti-Nazi League”. It was everywhere: on marches, in classrooms, fly-posted on walls.
I associate that image with people standing up against racism, against lies promoted by the Nazis — the ones of Jewish global control, of money-obsessed, media-controlling, deceitful Jews, of backstabbing foreigners, disloyal to whatever country they are in. Fast forward 30 years and the badge has changed but the ideas are cool and popular, and not seen as embarrassing or awkward to hold.
They don’t get you marched out by anti-racist movements for sharing them. They appear unashamedly in popular culture; they appear in publishing, art, music, even in your university classroom, delivered by people with a duty of care.
That is why last week, British rapper Lowkey proudly took part in an online conversation in defence of former Bristol University professor David Miller. Miller, who called Jewish students “pawns” of Israel.
Like others, the rapper claimed the firing of the professor was about stifling criticism of Israel and silencing discussion on Palestine, not the targeted harassment of Jewish students. You might say it is ironic that when Jewish people approached Lowkey online and offered him a chance to discuss the issue with those affected by it, he ignored them or blocked them altogether.
I was blocked by him for sharing a tweet by antisemitism campaigner Marlon Solomon:
“One thing you can bet on for sure though; just like all those other leftists who made endless video content about antisemitism, they never have the courage to allow themselves to be challenged by a Jewish victim.”
People like Lowkey are simply ignored by the anti-racist movements that fashioned themselves on opposing the persecution of Jews. Can you imagine a 2021 concert like the 1970s anti-fascism campaign Rock Against Racism?
In 1979, Militant Entertainment Tour organised 23 concerts with 40 bands under the slogan “Nazis are no fun”.
What’s the likelihood of chart-topping artists or those with underground cult followings such as Lowkey coming together under the banner of “antisemities are bores” (I appreciate the slogan may need some work). Not in a world where it is cool for Jay Z, one of the world’s most popular rappers, to rap:
“You wanna know what’s more important than throwin’ away money at a strip club? Credit. You ever wonder why Jewish people own all the property in America? This how they did it.”
It was “art” last week when news website Tortoise published a cartoon depicting Jewish billionaire Mark Zuckerberg as a “parasite” controlling the world. It has since apologised saying it recognised the “unintended echoes of antisemitic visual tropes” in the image, but it had not occurred to the cartoonist. Who noticed it and called it out? A Jewish woman. Who backed her online? And behind the scenes? Other Jews.
Wiley is a welcome performer at university raves, following his targeted twitter rants in which he described Jews as “snakes” and told black people to go to war with Jewish people.
Even Drake, who is Jewish, and one the world’s biggest music stars, joined the music industry chorus calling for him to be forgiven and allowed to get on with his life, despite Wiley not having one one meaningful thing to address the hurt he caused the Jewish community.
Jews can’t look to popular culture, the arts or the university rave scene to stand up for them. We get the predictably uncool government Forfeiture Committee, which may or may not strip Wiley of his MBE. I bet he is really bothered. For Jews today there is no badge, no resistance graffiti (but antisemitic graffiti endorsed by a Labour leader — sure, we get that). There is no trendy print in neon colours, no limited edition T-shirt collaboration with a zeitgeisty streetwear brand. No necklace like the one worn by Dave Chappelle as he delivered his latest Netflix stand-up comedy special.
The articles pulling it apart? Not about his antisemitic “jokes” but about his transphobia. Jews get no mention because standing up for us? Not cool, not “now”, not in. Maybe part of the reason is that we have no cultural awareness days that wider society takes part in. We get memorials and anniversaries of the unimaginable evil that tried to destroy us. But celebrations of our culture? Language? (Ask Sally Rooney about that one.) Religion?
Perhaps to celebrate Jews and what it means to be Jewish is inconvenient. It would mean looking outside your tiny bubble of Jewish friends who are happy to denounce Israel and ignore antisemitism. It would mean celebrating Jews living and seeing our community as human.