So here I am, once again writing about antisemitism – and honestly, I don’t even know where to start.
Should I start with some background info on why anti-Jewish hatred is once again in the news? Or the fact that I, and many people in the Jewish community, feel that it’s not getting nearly as many headlines as it deserves, and that much of the reporting that is happening is deeply problematic?
Should I talk about Wiley and his paranoid, poisonous Twitter and Instagram rampages against the Jewish community, during which he preached twisted conspiracy theories and called for Jews to be shot to his hundreds of thousands of young, impressionable followers? Or highlight the fact that I, and other members of the Jewish community and our allies, are currently taking part in a 48-hour social media walk out in protest of the fact that these hugely powerful, influential, billion dollar companies allow their platforms to become cesspits of lies and hatred?
Should I explain the impact that all of this has had on me on a personal level? Not just the mental and emotional drain from the fact that, for the past three days, I’ve been awake till the early hours of the morning in a desperate bid to educate my friends and social media followers on the subject, spending hours carefully wording posts, replying to questions and well-wishes over DMs, and doing even more research myself to make sure I’m as well-informed and accurate as possible. But also the fact that after conversations I’ve finally had the guts to start this weekend, there are decades-old friends I’m not sure I’ll ever see again.
But if Jewish history teaches us anything, it’s that staying silent and hoping that Jew hate will simply go away never, ever works
No, I think I’ll follow the wise words of everyone’s favourite nun-turned-governess, and start at the very beginning: what is antisemitism?*
This might seem like a very basic starting place, but the problem is, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Antisemitism – or anti-Jewish racism as I’m trying to call it, because the term antisemitism was actually coined in 1879 by Wilhelm Marr to legitimise the anti-Jewish hatred that was taking place at the time – is a slippery, complex, shape-shifter. There’s often a belief that anti-Jewish discrimination began and ended with the holocaust, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. My family – like most of the Jews you’ll meet in the UK – arrived here as refugees in the late 19th Century after fleeing persecution in the Russian empire,** where they’d finally settled after fleeing persecution in the middle east centuries earlier.
Discrimination against Jews is often referred to as ‘the longest hatred’, and dates back to pre-Christian ancient Greece and Rome. It’s not just old, but it’s also very sticky – many of the lies, conspiracies and stereotypes that began thousands of years ago still persist today which, you know, is pretty shit and terrifying.
According to Jewish educator, Ben Freeman, hatred against Jews can be divided into four broad themes: economic libel, blood libel, racial libel, and conspiracy theories (or conspiracy fantasy as Ben is keen to re-brand it, to hammer home the fact that THESE ‘THEORIES’ ARE ALL COMPLETE FANTASY).
This is all your ‘Jews are greedy’, ‘Jews only care about money’, ‘Jews are cheap’, ‘all Jews are rich’ kinda stuff, and can be traced back to the falsity (that is still referenced today – looking at you, Ice Cube), that Judas sold Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. The relationship between Jews and money was confounded in the middle ages when Jews were banned from owning land and entering many professions. At the same time, the church labelled usury (money lending) a sin, so Jews were funnelled into this profession to debase them (nice). Modern day manifestations of the economic libel include the conspiracy fantasies that Jews secretly control the banks/ world finance/ the world. Yes, there are some super-rich Jewish bankers and financiers – e.g. the Rothschild family, George Soros – but that’s a direct result of historical anti-Jewish racism, which is ironic is the worst possible way.
This is a gross, ancient lie that Jews murder non-Jewish children to use their blood (I’m sorry, I know that’s probably a really shocking thing to read if you weren’t expecting it). It’s been repeated, in many different forms, by many different oppressors, for centuries. It was the reason that approximately 150 Jews were massacred in York in 1190. Present day manifestations include the vile conspiracy fantasy that Israel purposely kills Palestinian children to harvest their organs, and the recent accusation – shared by Maxine Peake in an interview then tweeted by Rebecca Long-Bailey – that Israel (and therefore Jews) trained the police that murdered George Floyd. (Maxine later apologised, saying her assumption was ‘inaccurate’ and said she found racism and antisemitism abhorrent’. Long-Bailey deleted the tweet.)
This manifests as depictions of nightmarish Jews with hooked noses. It’s the reason why, when people find out I’m Jewish, their common reaction is, ‘You don’t look Jewish!’. What does a Jew look like? Jews are an ethno religious group. Due to our expulsion from ancient Israel, we’ve lived all over the world. It’s a really boring, common misconception that all Jews have white skin. We don’t! There are Jews of all shades and nationalities. Right now, online, you’ll find lots of amazing, vocal, African-American Jews sharing their own unique identities and experiences. Read up about Pnina Tamano-Shata – the 38-year-old who has just become the first Ethiopia-born Jew to be elected to the Knesset (Israeli parliament).
Anti-Jewish conspiracy fantasies are so common and ever-increasing, it’s hard to even know where to start. But some of the main ones are:
Jews were behind 9/11
Jews secretly control the world (people who believe this often reference The Protocols of the Elders of Zion – a completely fictitious anti-Jewish book written in 1903 which claims to be the secret minutes of a series of meetings held by powerful Jewish elders who control the world for their own evil gain. IT IS COMPLETELY NUTS. Hitler loved it. Terrifyingly, it is still very widely read, believed and referenced today. You can read more about it on the ADL’s website).
Jews control the banks/ entertainment industry/ media (lol, I wish)
Jews are behind all of the world’s wars
The holocaust was a hoax/ massively overplayed
Jews financed the slave trade (a lie established by the African American civil rights leader and head of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan. This lie – along with other anti-Jewish hatred he spreads which you can read up on here – is now widely believed to be a true fact by huge swathes of the black community, and is one of the reasons we’ve seen recent anti-Semitic outbursts by a number of black celebrities including Wiley, [Nick Cannon](https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-5342831453428314), Ice Cube and DeSean Jackson. Madonna also posted a video praising him to her 1.5 million Instagram followers on the 4th July, and has so far refused to take it down or release any kind of statement. Is she at ease with the vile lies he spouts?)
To make matters even more complicated (sorry!), Jews are currently receiving insane levels of bs from all sides of the political spectrum. While historically our enemies were found on the far right (Hitler, the KKK, Oswald Mosely and the Blackshirts etc), the strongest current threat is sadly coming from the far-left. This far-left anti-Jewish hatred manifests in rampant anti-Zionism – an obsessive hatred of Israel that ultimately seeks its destruction (no, not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic. If you want to find out more about this, read up on the 3D test). It has also seen Jews (or ‘zionists’) pushed out of progressive spaces – from the British Labour party, to the 2017 DC Dyke March, where organisers banned the flags featuring the Star of David (the most widely-known symbol of Judaism) calling it a symbol of ‘violent nationalism’, and many more inbetween.
This far-left Jew hate is the reason why young, liberal Jews like myself have felt ostracised and cowed into silence in recent years. It’s the reason why so many so-called ‘antiracists’ have failed to speak out about anti-Jewish racism in recent days. It is an absolute piss take. It has to stop.
Speaking out about anti-Jewish racism has been terrifying and cathartic in equal measures. I’ve been bottling up most of these thoughts and feelings for most of my adult life, so it feels like a huge relief to finally set them free. Like every other Jew I know, I was brought up to work hard, keep my head down, and not rock the boat.
But if Jewish history teaches us anything, it’s that staying silent and hoping that Jew hate will simply go away never, ever works. Anti-Jewish hatred is so steeped in lies, confronting them head on with facts, taking the time to have difficult conversations, and educating the non-Jewish world, is the only way I can see forward.
This weekend has been exhausting. Honestly, I’ve never known anything like it. But as tired as I am, my spirit feels high. Yes, there is A LOT of hate out there, but I’ve also experienced a lot of love too. A lot of people sending their support, a lot of people finally waking up to the reality of the Jewish experience and taking the time to educate themselves more, a lot of people sticking their necks out and standing alongside us as allies. So my overwhelming feeling is one of positivity and hope. Because as hard and uncomfortable as these conversations are, they’re absolutely vital and long overdue.
Final words: I’m aware you all have dinners to make, Netflix shows to binge, children and partners demanding attention, global pandemics to try and navigate, so I’ve tried to keep this piece as brief as possible while still providing a comprehensive overview of what’s going on. I’d love for you to continue this journey on your own though, learn more, gain a deeper understanding of how anti-Jewish racism manifests and the very real impact it has on Jews all over the world – so below are some trusted learning resources and people to follow.
Also, I’d just like to end by reiterating something I’ve said on Instagram: If you’d like to discuss anything I’ve spoken about here, please feel free to reach out to me on Twitter or Instagram (bearing in mind that I won’t be online again till Wednesday and I’ve got a bit of a backlog, but I promise I will respond to you!). No question is too silly. I won’t be angry if you hold any of these views and are confused as to why they are so hurtful; if you give me the chance, I’d like to try and explain that.
Places to learn more
Eve Barlow – a British, Jewish music journalist living in LA, and great inspiration to me. I only connected with Eve recently, and I’ve never known anyone speak so openly, powerfully or intelligently on the topic. Her fearlessness has emboldened me to speak out more forcefully myself. She’s amazing. Please do follow her on Instagram and twitter.
Ben Freeman – is a Jewish educator specialising in the holocaust and anti-semitism, living in Hong Kong (and the man who led me to Eve!). He is kind and patient and impeccably well informed. Follow him on Twitter.
If you’d like to learn more the easy way, Ben and Eve are running a series of seminars on anti-Semitism, which are way more enjoyable than they sound. As I said on my Instagram – they’re kind of like a really great history documentary, but you can ask the host questions at the end. I did one with my mum, and really can’t recommend them more highly (details are on their social pages).
Other Instagram accounts I’ve recently followed and am finding a great source of information and inspiration are: @blackandjewishunity @hey.alma @jewishoncampus @jewishliberal @thismodernjew – there are honestly loads more, but don’t want to overwhelm you.
If you’re looking for reliable, trusted organisations, the Board of Deputies are the official body who represent and speak on behalf of British Jews. The Chief Rabbi (currently Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis) is also a respected, trusted community leader. The Simon Wiesenthal Centre (named after the truly inspirational holocaust survivor and nazi hunter) is a Jewish human rights organisation based in New York. They do amazing work, and have been working with Nick Cannon after he shared anti-Semitic comments and conspiracy theories on his Cannon’s Class podcast/ YouTube show earlier in the month.
*In 2016, the IHRA (International Holocaust Rememberance Alliance adopted a working definition of anti-semitism. You can read it here__.
**If you’d like to read up more about this period of history, look up ‘pogroms’ and go from there. If you’re into musicals, you can also watch Fiddler on the Roof, which depicts this period of Jewish history beautifully.