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

The White Boyfriend

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As a ‘white’ man living in an overwhelmingly white country, for a long time the only serious relationship I’d had was – rather predictably – with a white girl. Going abroad for a year of study changed that. When living in Kyoto, I met a wonderful young woman in a Chinese class we were both attending. She had cute short hair and unique facial features; one of her eyelids had an epicanthic fold, an inheritance from her Taiwanese mother, and the other did not, more closely resembling her Japanese father. The very first words she said to me, after hearing me rattle off a self-introduction to my teacher in Beijing dialect, were “Can you teach me Chinese?”.

We fell for each other quickly, and at first it seemed like our relationship was going amazingly. We posed together for photos at scenic spots, she became a part of the social life of my friendship group, and I introduced her to my parents over Skype. She struggled through a self-introduction with them in English, one of the most adorable displays of effort I had seen in a partner up until that point.

However, being a young Japanese girl, publicly pursuing a relationship with a ‘gaikokujin’ or ‘foreigner’ (used often in a racially derogatory sense) was close to scandalous for her parents. Whites generally do not enjoy a good reputation in Japan; we are considered hairy (which is true) smelly (I sweat buckets in the summer) and crass (no comment). More generally speaking, there is also a stereotype of crude foreigners, white or black, coming to Japan to enjoy alcohol and women. This influenced people’s perceptions drastically – first impressions matter, but in Japan, a strongly negative impression was already made for me.

It was not just the fact that I was foreign; the conservatism prevalent in Japanese society means that relationships are generally kept ‘on the DL’ – especially to one’s parents. I spoke fluent Japanese and in no way exemplified any of the stereotypes commonly used to describe whites in Japan (except hairy, oops) so my treatment by my wonderful girlfriend perhaps differed little from that which any other boyfriend might receive. Yet I still found a part of me disappointed at being denied entry into her social life; like a dirty secret.

This year, after my return to England, I again became involved with someone; this time from Nepal. I had recently gotten into powerlifting, which had taken me on an incredible journey of body transformation, and she happened to be a powerlifter too. We enjoyed unparalleled compatibility in almost all aspects of our lives. But again, despite the fact that I invited her physically into my home and would engage with her in all sorts of activities within the domain of my personal and social life, her family and friends, as with my previous girlfriend, did not even know that I existed.

The strain on our relationship this caused was not minor. I would take her out to clubs and parties, bring her along on trips out with my friends, and invite her into my home. But her inability to reciprocate – coupled with strictly imposed curfews and a lack of openness – started to take its toll, and contributed to increasingly frequent arguments. After more than half a year, I decided that it wasn’t worth it. I packed my bags and moved on. abaya.jpgMore recently, I met someone else – a beautiful and fascinatingly opinionated British girl of North African heritage who happened to be a devout conservative Muslim. Hijab and Abaya was her uniform, which led to some strange looks from people who saw us walking around town holding hands. The fact that she was a Muslim and I had already left the faith was never an issue for us. There were couple of spirited disagreements, such as when she proposed banning homosexuality, but in general we got on like a house on fire.

That house was not to last, of course. To her credit, she repeatedly warned me that our relationship was only temporary; that she could never really be with me, and that above all, I could never put any details of our relationship anywhere in the public domain. That meant Facebook, friends, colleagues, family were all off limits – it was just the two of us.

I am a culturally tolerant person, but I am also a social person. I want my other half to really be that in its truest sense; I want to be able to engage with my SO by getting to see the intricacies of their daily lives and opening them up to mine. This can be exceedingly difficult if the friends or family of a partner might look down on me for my race or religion, as has been the case time and time again.

This isn’t going to be the end of interracial or intercultural dating for me; I think that the best kind of relationships are those where you can truly learn from each other and grow as people, and mixed relationships are a great formula for that kind of experiential learning. Sadly, until such a time as my partner’s culture respects me as much as mine respects her, I’ll probably always be the ‘white boyfriend’ her parents warned her to avoid.