Let’s Talk About Antisemitism

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Those of you who know me know that I take prejudice, bigotry, and violent manifestations of it very seriously. That means all kinds of prejudice designed to dehumanize or demean the person; anti-Muslim bigotry, anti-Kurd bigotry, racism (whatever direction it may take) as well as antisemitism and anti-gay bigotry, among others.

One of the purposes this blog serves is as an outlet for that. Looking through my past posts, you will find references made to the horrors of white supremacy and anti-black racism, as well as to some of the anti-white racism that I myself have experienced in my own life. There isn’t enough time to discuss every story or every case, but balance is important, and I try to keep that balance.

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Antisemitism presents a problem, because it’s one of the more difficult ones to address. While for many Jews who have been victimized by this form of bigotry this may be a bitter pill to swallow, the unfortunate truth is that antisemitism is sometimes invoked illegitimately. Similarly to anti-Muslim bigotry, there is often a conflation of the religious ideas and the people who adhere to them, so you can wrongfully be called a bigot for criticizing a faith while respecting the people who practice it. The Israel/Palestine issue complicates this further; despite being a strong supporter of Israel, I have been called an antisemite for suggesting that the US should cut its funding for Israeli defense systems.

Amongst these wrongful invocations of antisemitism, the issue is further problematized by the occasional false flags. This year, two Jewish students at Northwestern University defaced a church by spray-painting swastikas and the word ‘Trump’ – the intention being to make it look like the work of far-right groups such as the KKK.

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The two students who defaced a church and attempted to blame it on Trump supporters

Of course, that doesn’t mean that we as a society don’t recognize the problem of antisemitism. But even when we do recognize it, this recognition is often confined to the growing Muslim communities of the West, from which we tend to acknowledge the emergence of strong and deep-rooted antisemitic sentiments. The idea that antisemitism is a ‘Muslim problem’ is increasingly common, and while acknowledging the prevalence of Islamic antisemitism is important to hasten our arrival at a solution, it sometimes makes us lose sight of the wider context.

It was less than 100 years ago that a number of white Christian Europeans, themselves emerging from the most enlightened and advanced civilization that the world had yet seen at that point, made the decision to annihilate the Jewish people. Of course, the Jews were not the only group designated for destruction in the Holocaust – but we must acknowledge the specific way in which they were systematically targeted and murdered, using the most advanced technology available. Some of the survivors of the genocide still live today. We are not so separated from the past.

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At my university, I have come to know a number of Jews whom I have the privilege of considering close friends. They are just as diverse – racially, politically, intellectually – as any other group. Some do not even adhere to the Jewish faith at all. Nothing would distinguish them from any other Cambridge student – even religious practice – but for a heritage held in common between them.

One evening several weeks ago, some of these friends were out drinking; I had been offered an invitation, but I declined. On that occasion, after entering the Graduate Union building, they were set upon by a mob of – mostly white, non-Muslim – students. These students physically and verbally intimidated my Jewish friends, mocking them for their kippahs (a symbol of observance amongst religious Jews) and even went so far as to briefly choke one with his own scarf. Worse still – the college that the offenders belonged to failed to appropriately discipline the students in question, instead engaging in a bizarre cover-up of the events, which it claims were ‘dealt with’ behind closed doors.

The reason – the sole reason – that this attack happened was because of the Jewishness of the victims. That is a problem. The fact that the university has not acknowledged that is also a problem.

Antisemitism is not a thing of the past. Real, ugly antisemitism from native Christian Europeans is as prevalent today as it has always been. When authorities in question refuse to acknowledge that – as in this case – the psychological harm to the victims as a consequence of having their victimhood denied can be even more severe.

With the emergence of Richard Spencer’s Alt-Right movement, it’s important to remember that antisemitism isn’t a thing of the past, nor is it undergoing some temporary resurgence. It’s a problem that we have, that we have to deal with, that never really went away.

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Shlomo Roiter, one of the victims of the attack and a close friend of mine, spoke to journalists about his experience

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