Standing against antisemitism, 2021
Updated: Jul 31, 2021
What should 'being against antisemitism' mean for non-Jews?
Signs stapled to telephone poles on December 13, 2019 in St. Albans, Vermont, USA.
“What do you think of antisemitism?”, I was asked a few years ago, when being interviewed by a non-Jewish journalist in America, as the Boston Jewish Advocate’s new Editor-in-Chief.
“I am against it!”, I smiled. OK, a silly answer but a ridiculously open question.
I thought that today, when I read a well-meaning British Member of Parliament’s reply to a question from a Jewish constituent, on the current potentially unsafe situation of Jews in her constituency.
The reply was prefaced by her narrative of current events, with suggestions of possible solutions. It ended with that meant-to-be-reassuring sentence, that you might recognise. It went along the lines of; I am against antisemitism and all forms of racism.
So what does that mean exactly, with the current social media tsunami of virulent anti-Semitism in the guise of anti-Zionism? With roving gangs in cars and on foot on the streets of England, now only armed with baseball bats, young men in open roof cars shouting threats of rape and abuse, while others beating up Jews returning from peaceful demonstrations? What does being against anti-Semitism mean to the Rabbi in Chigwell who is currently still under medical care having been struck with a brick on the back of the head, outside his synagogue last week?
Jeremy Corbyn, the would-be prime minister of the UK, used to have this sentence to hand whenever asked about anti-Semitism but with an added, extra word. ‘I’m against anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and all forms of racism’.
Of course we all understood what he meant by being against Islamophobia, as he attended a myriad of pro-Islam meetings and rallies. Some of his best friends were Muslims, some terrorists, some anti-Semites after all. But he didn’t go to Jewish rallies or Jewish support meetings. In fact, his sentence as far as Jews are concerned, is meaningless.
What does it mean to be against anti-Semitism? Do people who say this ever do anything about it? Do MPs just vote in their parliaments, then go home? It’s hard enough getting them to see most forms of anti-Zionism as pure anti-Semitism, rebranded for the millennials and Generation Z.
I have to write that I am ashamed.
I am ashamed of the majority of the non-Jewish world’s reaction to the current escalation in violence towards Jews worldwide. I am ashamed of formerly mainstream media, adopting a fake new narrative, heavily biased against the Jewish state. I am ashamed of friends who have said and written nothing.
I am ashamed that the world uses words like proportionality, as if a group firing more than 4000 rockets indiscriminately at a civilian population was proportional to surgical, precision bombing of targets which were pre-warned in advance. I suspect proportionality meant this; ‘it’s not fair that more Palestinians died and not enough Jews, to make the numbers balanced'. Is this absurd new concept, unknown in the history of warfare ancient and modern, that I can attack you with tens of hundreds of rockets, but when I have run out, you must stop reacting immediately, now a fighting model?
The world still holds each Jew collectively responsible for individual actions. It was ever thus. All Jews are tainted with the same brush. If the Jewish state does something I do not like, then Jews, any Jew, of any religious level of observance, living anywhere in the world are fair targets. This is the basic definition of anti-Semitism.
What do we expect of non-Jews when confronted with anti-Semitism? To shout it out. To let Jews know that they are not alone. In desktop warrior terms, to fearlessly counteract lies and highlight the anti-Semitism underlying most of them. The trouble is most social media tends to target like-minded audiences. Jews preach to Jews and anti-Semites to anti-Semites.
Did you see the cartoon of a polar bear, floating on a teeny, melting piece of ice, while someone in the helicopter was shouting to the bear “Don’t worry! I’ve told my 5000 social media followers all about global warming!”. The bear still drowns while 5000 social media followers click 'like'. Non-Jews have to speak out when they hear people abusing Jews with ‘Hitler was right, Israel equals Nazi and Rape Jewish daughters!’. Those who watch become accomplices. Protest. Rally. March. Tell work mates, drinking friends, write letters.
Doing nothing is what Germans did at the start of the holocaust, when their government killed more than 30,000 other Germans who had phycological and neurological illnesses. Then the communists, gays and of course the Jews.
Israel holds very nearly the largest number of Jews in the world. It will continue to grow through slow and steady aliyah, and large movements prompted by either specifically anti-Semitic events or economic hardship. As the only Jewish state on the planet, Jews throughout the world will always remain responsible in others eyes for Israel’s actions.
We need to recognise this and work with those in power, political and social influencers, our colleagues and friends to show them exactly what is going on in the Holy Land. Its history, and how it got to where it is today. They need to visit Israel. And we need to encourage that.
We will never convince anti-Semites from the far left or right of the very basics; our right to live and practice as Jews in the land from which we were expelled. Our struggle over the next few years will be to turn around the current, growing and false narrative that 'Once Upon a Time, there was an ancient Arab country called Palestine, which some Jews took over, after the Second World War'.
Israel’s astoundingly successful peace deals with more Arab nations is a great start. When people have trade deals, it is in the mutual interests of both countries to get a greater understanding of each other’s history and culture. They need peace.
But as we are unofficial ambassadors for the entire Jewish nation inside and outside Israel, we have a duty to be active, not simply reactive. If it’s a duty for Israelis, how much more so for those in the Diaspora, whose situation can change with a snap of the fingers.
So next time something happens in your neck of the woods which you deem to be anti-Semitic, a statement by local councillor, an event by anti-Israel activists supported by anti-Semites, tap a few words on your keyboard, pen a few lines on paper to your local or national politicians or influencers - and tell them the truth. And don't just tell Jews.
And the next time you hear something good happening in Israel, some positive Israeli news or just some Israeli with an amazing event, write about it. Put it on social media. And get your friends to send it around. And not just to other Jews. Don't be ashamed-share it with everyone. What the world needs now are more positive news stories-and especially about Jews in Israel.
It’s not perfect by any means-but it’s a start. The pen is still mightier than the sword, although it does make a lousy weapon against baseball bats.
by Charles Golding
[First published, 25 May, 2021]