Life & Culture

Ben Freeman: Where is our pride?

His experience as a young gay man, led Ben Freeman to write his new book, urging Jews to take pride in their identity


Jewish pride isn’t something we hear about as often as we might like, especially from British Jews, but one man is on a mission to change all that. Inspired by his own experiences with LGBTQ+ issues, young gay writer Ben Freeman seeks to empower British Jews to celebrate who they are in a new book, Jewish Pride: Rebuilding a People.

It is published by No Pasaran Media, a collective of leftwing activists who aim to give a publishing platform in the fight against Left antisemitism, racism and conspiracy theories. In the book, Freeman seeks to inspire, educate and empower the community to reject the shame of antisemitism imposed on Jews, as well as change perceptions of what it means to be a Jew in the 21st century.

I spoke to Ben from his home in Hong Kong where he lives and teaches history. Born in Glasgow, he grew upon in a small traditional community and went to the only Jewish school in the area. “I was raised in a very proudly Jewish home and it’s kind of funny that the question of Jewish pride never even entered my head, it was just always what it was,” he tells me. “It was always Jewish, we never celebrated Christmas or Easter, we kept a kosher home… so I loved it, it was great.”

Why this book and why now? “The reason I wrote the book is two-fold. The first is my own experience with LGBTQ+ pride. I have my own experiences with pride – I’ve been on that journey already. With regards to the Jewish community, when I joined Twitter in 2018 specifically to take part in the fight against Jeremy Corbyn and left-wing Labour antisemitism, I really saw that Jewish people wanted to speak out, wanted to be proud, but they were suffering the hangover of the ‘keep your head down’ policy.”

It is this “keep your head down” policy that Freeman aims to target with his writing. I ask him if he feels that many young Jews on the left tend to avoid the subject for fear of being labelled as being on the wrong side of history? “Absolutely. I talk about this in the book, this idea of this ‘community of the good’. The community of the good has always existed, it just changes depending on what periods you’re talking about.

“In the 12th century in England, it was the Catholic Church, whereas today, the community of the good is the Left — to be Left, to be progressive, that means you’re good.

“When people hate Zionism, I always say, yes they are against the concept of the Jewish state, but the ‘Zionism’ they’re basing their hatred on is not Zionism, it’s not a movement of self-determination — it’s white supremacy, it’s colonisation and that’s not what Zionism is.”

Freeman can recall several conversations from his formative years with his now deceased father who instilled in him this idea that Jews will always be hated. Does he still feel that way about it now? “Absolutely! I used to argue with him and say, ‘No Dad, you’re wrong, it’s not the way it is.’ Although he didn’t say non-Jews hate us, he said the non-Jewish world. And that’s really important because he was right. Antisemitism is embedded in the non-Jewish world, be that America or England or Scotland. It’s the culture and society we live in, and it is antisemitic just as it is homophobic, misogynistic and in many ways anti-black. I naively disagreed with [my dad] because when I was growing up, it was the tail end of this post-holocaust period of acceptance, and that has vanished. Any goodwill that was sent our way because the world felt guilty because of the Shoah has gone, but that shaped my thinking.”

He feels best placed to talk about pride because of his own experiences growing up gay in a traditional Jewish setting. I ask if it was hard to be accepted for who he was. “I was born in 1987. I was 10 or 11 when Section 28 was repealed, so I had absorbed all the homophobia that was in the air at the time. I felt a huge amount of shame, not necessarily because of my family. I did tell them and they were very accepting. But to reject the shame was very difficult. I think people think you’re fine as soon as you come out and that’s not the case. The journey begins at that point.”

After school, Freeman went to university where he encountered a great deal of antisemitism for being a young Zionist. How hard was that time for him? “On the one hand it was a nightmare,” he recalls. “As a Jewish Zionist student who had just came back from a gap year in Israel it was awful. I received abuse from professors, from peers, from the general culture which was deeply antisemitic. At the same time I came out and came to accept myself with regard to my sexual orientation and I saw people accept me. So I saw the Left specifically embrace me because I was gay but reject me because I was a Zionist.”

So, straddling both identities, how did he deal with that mix of acceptance and rejection? “It did really affect me very negatively, but to be honest around that time, in my early to mid-twenties, my priority was of coming out and accepting myself as a gay man – that was my biggest struggle. So my Jewishness absolutely took a back seat.”

Finally, what does he want to achieve with his writing? “I want the book to educate, inspire and empower, and I’ve realised that just because you’re Jewish, that doesn’t mean you necessarily understand or know aspects of our experience as a people. We’re taught about the Shoah, we’re taught about pogroms – but there’s a lot about our experience that people aren’t aware of. Some people are and that’s great, but not everyone is. So I think it’s about exploring our history as a people. We have an amazing story and we should learn it.”


Jewish Pride: Rebuilding a People is published by No Pasaran Media 

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