Tag Archives: anti-Semitism

My journey in tackling anti-Semitism

My views on anti-Semitism, until maybe just a few years ago, reflected those of many others in modern Britain. In short I saw it as an incredibly black and white issue. I would have of course condemned any anti-Semitism but I would also have assumed that it was only perpetrated by crackpots in far-right groups.

I would never have connected it with my own very normal friends, family and community.

Growing up in the UK I was surrounded by the idea that being anti-Semitic was a thing of the past, an ultimate evil that dogged the 20th century but played little role in modern Britain. This caricature of anti-Semitism made my young mind think of it as something comparable to that of Nazism…abhorrent but something of times past that only a handful of lunatics still believed.

Perversely, this perception of it being an ‘ultimate evil’ enabled me to develop a slightly flippant attitude about it – to write it off as something which was only found in niche far-right circles. This was perpetuated by my own blinkered experience that failed to spot it in my own life.

It was, for a long time, beyond my comprehension that it might be embedded in the culture that I was growing up in. Only now, looking back, can I see how wrong I was.

Growing up I attended a very reasonable comprehensive school. Thinking back to my school days I can remember all too clearly the flippant use of the word Jew as a playground insult for someone acting in a selfish way. “Come on, don’t be such a Jew, lend me some money”.

In retrospect these sorts of sentences are completely outrageous, but at the time, they were just a turn of phrase.

Thinking back to my childhood, I am not sure I knew anyone who was open about their Jewish identity at school or in the local community.

Now, this might well have been because there are not many Jews living in Gloucester…equally though it could be because of a phenomena a recent poll of 6,000 Jews across 8 European countries found, which was that many Jews feared being open about their identity for fear of discrimination and prejudice.

Have I known someone who was a Jew who just refrained from being open about it for fear of reprisals – very possibly! A fact that in itself is deeply sad and troubling.

The same poll also found that 46% said they worried about being verbally assaulted or harassed in public because they were Jewish.

At this stage I cannot help but to draw comparisons between gay friends who kept their sexuality a secret for fear of discrimination and abuse whilst also having to endure the daily use of the word gay being used as a playground insult.

The very small part that I played, in using such terminology and perpetuating this climate of fear, is something that as an adult I deeply regret.

And this leads to the crux of what I am saying. Anti-Semitism is not an abstract issue distant to my own community, but an important issue which must be tackled along-side all other forms of prejudice and discrimination. By dismissing it as something abstract and distant to your own life, your own community, you become lazy in tackling it in your every day life. This allows for the climate of fear that many Jews so evidently feel.

It is not just about the inappropriate use of language either. Thinking back to the last 5 years of my life I can draw out a handful of illustrations where I witnessed overt anti-Semitism.

To give one, and perhaps the most shocking,  example: I was visiting White Hart Lane to watch some football and I stood there in disbelief as fans chanted things like ”You’re not in the gas chambers now” and “You’r two nil up but your six million down” to the Spurs fans sat opposite. What shocked me most here was that no-one else seemed shocked!

Equally, upon returning from the West Bank and doing talks on the human rights situation in the West Bank I have heard repeated anti-Semitic slurs. Something which I tried to write about here. I will never forget one activist friend who has done some amazing work on Palestine telling me I needed to keep things in perspective and stop worrying about anti-Semitism.

These are just two examples of draw-dropping anti-Semitism and inappropriate responses from ordinary people. But it is worth remembering hundreds of anti-Semitic incidents occur across the UK every year.

And of course we are not separate to the (by most accounts) much worse anti-Semitism which is occurring across the channel at the moment. These recent videos coming out from Paris over the last couple of days shows a dangerous populism behind these overt forms of anti-Semitism.

I write this blog now as a reflection of the journey that I have taken over the last 5 years.

5 or 6 years ago I was a well intentioned but essentially ignorant, activist. My failure to spot the severity of anti-Semitism damaged my ability to tackle prejudice and discrimination in general.

Now, more than ever, I feel anti-Semitism needs to be tackled along-side all other forms of bigotry, hatred and discrimination. To do this though, we have to remove it from its 20th century caricature and understand how it moves and looks in modern Britain.  

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Anti-Semitism in pro-Palestinian networks

Anti-Semitism exists within ‘pro-Palestinian’ networks and must be tackled. But labelling everyone who speaks out against Israel’s crimes as ‘anti-Semitic’ is as unhelpful as it is untrue.

In a brave and powerful article in the New Statesman, Mehdi Hassan took on what he referred to as the “the banality of Muslim anti-Semitism” in Britain.

I am sure it wasn’t an easy article for him to write but it was an important article for at least two reasons. Firstly, it tackles a form of prejudice that has been left untouched by many. Secondly, it made me and I suspect many others, reflect on the prejudice that sits within our own social circles.

As I was reading the article I could not help but to draw parallels with the low-level anti-Semitism that exist within the ‘pro-Palestinian’ activist networks that I have dipped in and out of in the last few years.

Please stick with me here. What I am about to write involves me wading through a quagmire of politics, misinformation and high emotion.

From my personal experience, most of the ‘internationals’ (ie not Palestinians or Israelis) that are passionate about the ‘Palestine issue’ are so because they have a deep rooted empathy with other human beings that have been, and still are, suffering terribly.

I have however come across the occasional individuals who self identifies as ‘pro-Palestinian’ who has also held anti-Semitic views and used the conflict as context and cover to express these views.

The problem is that a significant minority of those in the former category – the well intentioned empathetic individuals – have not been vocal enough or clear enough in condemning these views.

In addition to this I have come across lazy and sloppy language often confusing the state of Israel with that of Jews worldwide – not anti-Semitic in itself but a line of thought that when combined with vocal criticism of Israel’s actions in the occupied territories, can too often lead to anti-Semitism.

In addition to all of this in the international activist community, I also came across wide-spread anti-Semitism within parts of the Palestinian population living in the West Bank.

Part of what triggered me to write this article was Mehdi writing about the conspiracy theories he had come across in the British Muslim community. With obvious sarcasm he wrote:

“What about 9/11? Definitely those damn Yehudis. I mean, why else were 4,000 Jews in New York told to stay home from work on the morning of 11 September 2001?”

A conspiracy theory that is as repulsive as it is without truth. A conspiracy theory however that I heard on four separate occasions from Palestinians in the West Bank and once from an international working in the there.

What was also interesting and perhaps equally as depressing was a conversation I had with an ISM volunteer in Nablus. I told her about hearing these conspiracy theories and she responded saying that (and I paraphrase from memory) ‘you can’t blame Palestinians for thinking like that. Wouldn’t you if you had lived under occupation for the last 45 years?’

At the time I didn’t know where to start. I gave my answer, “No” and walked off. In retrospect it clearly highlights to me a deep rooted problem -That too many who self identify as pro-Palestinian become apologists for a form of anti-Semitism.

In short I can see three issues that we as peace activists need to face up to:

1)      A tiny minority of those who campaign for Palestinian rights do so holding unacceptable anti-Semitic views.

2)      Too many of those who campaign for Palestinian rights, also too often turn a blind eye to anti-Semitism amongst fellow activists and amongst Palestinians.

3)      A significant minority of Palestinians express anti-Semitic views and are left unchallenged (it goes without saying that this does not describe the majority of Palestinians).

On the flip side of this of all this is an equally important challenge that anyone serious about tackling anti-Semitism has to face up to.

I have personally been accused of being anti-Semitic, hating Israel and such forth**. All utter codswallop. Equally, I know good friends who have had similar accusations thrown at them. This not only cheapens the accusations but it makes seeing the actual anti-Semite amongst the false accusations much more difficult.

Equally, it is worth noting that it doesn’t just apply to individuals.

EAPPI –the organisation that I travelled to the West Bank with – has also had every criticism you can imagine thrown at it.

Melanie Phillips writing in the Mail quoted the following remarks about EAPPI:

“[EAPPI is] nothing but an insidious front for a pro-Palestinian campaign to propagate the partisan lie that, while Israel is besieged by child killers, infiltrated by suicide bombers, surrounded by Islamist propagandists and endures almost daily missiles launched at civilian areas, she is the aggressor, the terroriser, the occupying force.’

‘… the EAPPI ascribes Palestinian misery to apartheid Israel alone, consistently turning a blind eye to Palestinian aggression, corruption, rejectionism and incitement (not to mention Islamism, homophobia, racism and the oppression of women). The EAPPI is blind to antisemitism and deaf to the numerous overtures to peace which have been offered. They are ignorant of Israel’s need for security, and oblivious to the fact that she alone in the entire region is a vibrant, tolerant, multiracial, multi-faith society.’

This description of EAPPI is so far from what I experienced that it dissolves any sense of credibility that the author might have tried to project.

In short, I and many others cease to take it seriously because it bears no resemblance of the truth.

Our ability to tackle the low level anti-Semitism within the ‘pro-Palestinian community’ (a term I feel uncomfortable using but do so for the sake of ease) is hampered by those who aim to smear all involved as anti-Semitic.

I, like many others, have learnt to ignore such criticisms. The severity, sensitivity and frequency of this anti-Semitism though demands that we start taking this seriously. The roles of those who dedicate themselves to highlighting anti-Semitism has to be to begin to work with the progressive majority within ‘pro-Palestinian’ circles to tackle anti-Semitism– not blindly attacking. It helps nobody when these progressives spend their time having to defend themselves from false accusations.

Like Mehdi this article has not been easy for me to write. Removing prejudice and encouraging a greater degree of human empathy has to be the starting block of any future peace.

I am sure that this article will win me no friends from either side of this polarised debate. So I finish with a plea to the moderates who might quietly agree – speak out. Publically stand up for those falsely accused of anti-Semitism and condemn in the strongest terms any hint of true anti-Semitism you experience. The foundations of any future peace depend on it.

 

 

**Update** After receiving feedback I’d like to clarify that when I listed ‘anti-Semitism’ and ‘hating Israel’ next to each other I was seeking to illustrate some of the false accusations thrown at me, not to conflate the two as being the same.

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