Dan Jacobs argues that diaspora Jews are letting their fear and anger determine their reactions to recent events.
During the recent Israel/Palestinian fighting, Jews have been targeted by antisemites around the world. In the UK Jews were verbally attacked by pro-Palestinian protestors waving flags and shouting ‘death to Jews’, ‘rape their daughters’. These types of attacks happened in London and Manchester. An Islamic scholar / YouTuber who appears to have shown some moderation on the issue had his home attacked by pro-Palestinian supporters. A rabbi was beaten in Essex although it’s not entirely clear if Israel/Palestine was the main motivation.
The examples above were part of what amounted to around a 500% rise in antisemitic attacks compared to the same period last year (interestingly there has also been a 450% rise in Islamophobia over the same period). While there are always rises in these tensions this year appears to have been worse than the flare-ups during prior Israeli/Palestinian conflicts. It’s therefore totally understandable that there has been fear and anger on the ‘Jewish Street’.
However, we’re seeing the type of hyperbole especially on social media which only serves to exacerbate fear and create more division within the community, between UK communities and further. Our fears could also lead our imaginations into overdrive.
On Jewish social media, I’ve heard many loud voices, both on Twitter and in Facebook groups such as the controversial new ‘Jewish Community London’ group, upping the stakes to ridiculous levels. Commenters have called the recent uptick in violence ‘pogroms’, likened the current situation to 1930’s Germany and branded anyone supporting the Palestinian cause antisemitic.
Taken from the ‘Jewish Community London’ Facebook group, this commentator implied that a year old independent report into anti-Muslim sentiment was inappropriately released at a time of antisemitism. A good example of Jewish paranoia going around at the time. In the same group, another commenter suggested I was ‘the enemy’ for calling the West Bank occupied territory, ending his comment with the words, ‘Kahane Chai’ referring to the assassinated far-right Jewish Rabbi, Meir Kahane, whose political Party ‘Kach’ was banned from the Knesset in the 1980s for being racist.
Waving the Palestinian flag for example is not intrinsically antisemitic. Of course, some flag-wavers are antisemitic but lumping all supporters of Palestine as antisemitic is equivalent to those people who call Zionism racism i.e. judging all supporters of Israel by the most extreme forms of Zionism.
At the pro-Palestinian demos, there were antisemitic signs and images. However, these were by far in the minority of the over 100k protestors in London. Just as I would not accept that the much smaller pro-Israel gatherings be called intrinsically racist because they included Tommy Robinson (who had been invited by some pro-Israel attendees) and other far-right British activists.
It would be healthy for the UK Jewish community to understand that even chants such as ‘from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’ (which personally make me feel anxious), are often not always intended by British protestors to be antisemitic. There are several potential meanings to this chant including supporting a two-state solution with ‘freedom’ for all Palestinians either in Israel or in Palestine to supporting a democratic one-state solution, which unless they are in favour of somehow forcing this on Israel (would never happen) could only occur democratically with the consent of the Majority of Israelis it is not an antisemitic chant.
Of course just as there were antisemites using the Palestinian flag to attack Jews, there were antisemites using this slogan. But we should not fear the majority. Just as one should not fear most Zionists waving an Israeli flag or singing Am Israel Chai.
Another type of reaction that has been common on Jewish social media has been the sentiment that no one is standing up with Jews at this time of antisemitism. Unlike some other forms of discrimination, the government and media have been extremely supportive of the Jewish community. I would contrast this with for example support for Palestinians and the Black Lives Matter movement both of which have received little institutional response (apart from some left-wing MPs) but large public protests. When the institutions of government and the media are ‘on your side’, there will naturally be less ‘need’ for public protests.
As the JC reported last week, there is widespread public support for Jews, against antisemitism as well as widespread support for the notion of Israel having the right to defend itself.
The fear and anger have often spilled over into Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian rhetoric despite the fact that most UK Jews support a peaceful two-state solution in the middle east. On Facebook and Twitter, ‘othering’ language has been frequently used by Jews, and statements made that if reversed back against our community, we would rightly believe to be antisemitism. We must resist the lure of extremist Jewish beliefs.
It’s been painful and scary being a Jew the past few weeks but it’s important to keep the events in perspective. Fear is an appropriate response but it has to be proportional otherwise it because unhealthy and toxic for the community and beyond.