Anti-Semitism Is On The Rise. And As A British Jew I Feel Scared And Alone

Double the number of anti-semitic attacks as usual have been reported in the UK since the recent conflict in Gaza. As a result, I've become more nervous when I tell new people I'm Jewish, more wary about wearing my Star of David in public…


by Siam Goorwich |
Published on

Anti-semitism in the UK has been steadily gaining momentum for the past few years – but the recent conflict in Gaza has seen it escalate dramatically, if this weekend's news reports are to be believed. The Sunday Times reportedthat over 100 anti-semitic attacks have been recorded by police and community groups this month – more than double the number that monitors would usually expect. And they range from everything from bricks being thrown through the windows of a synagogue in Belfast – which can't help but bring to mind Kristallnacht – to a man using Twitter to call for a Jewish neighbourhood in London to be bombed so 'Jews feel the pain' of the Palestinians.

When I was younger I never would have imagined I’d ever be writing this. As far as I was concerned anti-semitism (which I will at this point define as being hatred towards Jews) no longer existed. The Holocaust would never be forgotten, lessons had been learned.

 Growing up I didn’t even realise being Jewish was a thing. As a Londoner I’ve always had an ethnically diverse group of friends and, as a child, all being Jewish seemed to mean was attending Hebrew classes on a Sunday morning (where we sang songs, drew pictures and tried in vain to learn a foreign tongue) and not eating pork or shellfish. Who could possibly have any objections to that?

The first time I experienced anti-semitism was at secondary school. One day, totally out of the blue, a girl in my class made a comment about me being a cheap Jew

Despite my naive outlook, anti-semitism obviously never disappeared, though. The first time I experienced it was at secondary school. One day, totally out of the blue, a girl in my class made a comment about me being a cheap Jew. I was shocked. I’d never been picked on because of my religion before, and wasn’t even aware of the old racist stereotypes to do with Jews and money. Ridiculously, I also felt embarrassed; so embarrassed that I didn’t tell a soul. But I've never forgotten it, nor how it made me feel.

These days as adult, though, I’m only too aware how common these feelings are. Earlier this year the ADL (the Anti-Defamation League) published the findings of a worldwide survey into anti-semitism. They asked 53,100 adults from 102 countries whether 11 Jewish stereotypes were true or false; if they answered 'probably' or 'definitely' true to six or more they were classed as anti-semitic (check out some of the questions they were asked here). The results were shocking (or at the time I thought they were); one in four people around the world came out as anti-semitic, and only half are aware of the Holocaust. While the UK scored a relatively low 8 per cent, in France – home to the largest Jewish population in Western Europe – 37 per cent of people surveyed were anti-semitic, a rise from 24 per cent in 2012, and 20 per cent in 2009. The top 10 most anti-semitic countries were all Muslim nations, while the least anti-semitic country, oddly, was Laos, where only 0.2 per cent of people agreed with the stereotypes.


If the numbers are shockingly high, this survey was taken before the current conflict in Israel and Gaza began, during which time there has been a sharp and violent spike in anti-semitism all over the world. To be honest, if I could get away with not mentioning the conflict at all, I would, because far too many people are already taking the opportunity to disguise anti-semitism as anti-Israeli sentiment. But for the record, I am both Pro-Israeli and Pro-Palestinian and fully support a two-state solution. I find the deaths and suffering on both sides utterly heartbreaking, and pray that peace comes soon and lasts forever. My opinion on the matter shouldn’t have any relevance to this article, but given how the conflict impacts on levels of anti-semitism everywhere, it’s a point I have to make.

And if it feels tense and volatile in the UK, it quite frankly pales in comparison to what’s been happening on mainland Europe. The roll call of hatred in France, Italy, Belgium, Germany and beyond is quite frankly terrifying. In January this year pig’s heads were mailed to the main Synagogue and Israeli embassy in Rome. In May, two Israeli tourists, a French volunteer and a Belgian museum employee were shot dead at the Jewish museum in Brussels. However the situation is worst of all in France. Last week, eight synagogues were attacked by pro-Palestinian protesters, shops in the Jewish suburb of Sarcelles have been set fire to and diners in a kosher restaurant were barricaded in by people shouting 'Death to Jews' and 'We’re going to slit your throats.'Posters have also sprung up urging demonstrators to join ‘a raid on the Jewish district’, saying: ‘Come equipped with hammers, fire extinguishers and batons.’

Equally disturbingly is what’s going on online. Unbelievably, the vile and the openly anti-semitic hashtag (which I can barely even bring myself to type) #HitlerWasRight was trending on Twitter just over a week ago, and is still going strong. Even today, reading through tweets for the beautiful and inspiring hashtag #JewsAndArabsRefuseToBeEnemies I came across a tweet containing the phrase ‘#Nazism Is far better then #Zionism!’


But not all anti-semitism is so crude and direct. In his brilliant piece for the Evening Standard earlier this year(which I implore you to read, because he has explained it better than I feel I can) Brendan Simms succinctly explained the new face of anti-semitism. Based on a paranoid world view, where the world is run by an international Jewish conspiracy, these anti-semites hide their good old-fashioned Jew-hate behind talk of Zionism and anti-Israeli politics. Most worryingly of all this modern anti-semitism unites three incredibly diverse groups; the extreme right, the otherwise liberal left and Islamic extremists.

This is the form of ant-semitism I’ve come up against in recent years; most upsettingly, in two cases, from people I consider friends. On these occasions I’ve been told, as fact, that Jews are inherently racist, closed off, and only care for their own. That Israel doesn’t have the right to exist and that Jews have a disproportionate amount of power and influence in the world. Interestingly, when I’ve accused these friends of anti-semitism they’ve been aghast that I could say such a thing. So entrenched are these lies and prejudices, that the people who believe them often don’t even recognise them as being anti-semitic. It’s quite frankly terrifying. If people who know and count me amongst their circle of friends can think these things, what hope is there?

And so for the last few years I’ve slowly but surely been feeling more and more scared. More nervous when I reveal to new people that I’m Jewish (which invariably I have to do when I refuse a ham sandwich or something similar), more wary about wearing my Star of David in public, more cautious about what I post on Twitter. I’ve tried not to be paranoid, tried to keep it in perspective, but it’s got to the stage where I feel my worst fears are being realised. So I no longer feel that I can stay silent, because I fear that if I – and the rest of the British Jewry – continue to keep our heads down and pretend it’s not happening, we’ll soon find it’s simply too late.

And it’s not just me. Speaking to other British Jews, they feel the same – very alone right now. Friends I thought would have my back are strangely silent on social media. Of all the posts I’ve put up on Facebook and Twitter talking about anti-semitism recently, only one non-Jewish friend has responded sending me her love and support (shout out to Nellie, love you forever for that and a whole lot more). Don’t get me wrong, I understand that the current crisis in Israel and Gaza is complicated, and that many people don’t want to get involved, but for them to show no support when I am highlighting such blatant prejudice is deeply upsetting and worrying to me.

Most of my friends aren’t Jewish, and late at night when I can’t sleep and go to that dark place I can’t help but wonder, if the shit really hit the fan, how many of them would be there to help me and my family? And how many would turn a blind eye, or worse, turn against us?

I know it sounds cheesy, but if history has taught us anything it’s that when good people stand by and do nothing, evil is allowed to flourish. So please all be vigilant; report anti-semitism if you see it online, say something if you hear it IRL, and let your Jewish friends know you’ve got their back. And please let’s all remember, at the end of the day we’re all basically the same.

*There are some incredibly inspiring groups out there, working for peace in the Middle East. Please check out The Peace Factory and their wonderful Facebook groups


** Follow Siam on Twitter @MissSisiG **

Picture: Corbis

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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