Sunday, 22 May 2016

We've Forgotten What Anti-Racism Campaigning Means

I wrote about anti-Semitism a year ago. With the NUS disaffiliation referendum this week, a couple of sentences from that post seem, unfortunately, particularly appropriate:

"Jews, almost unique in their historic persecution, are equally unique in their inability to define what constitutes anti-Semitism. For some reason Jews have no say in what is anti-Semitism, rather forced to sit idly by as non-Jews...tell us to get over ourselves...[and] suggest it is basically all fair game because, you know, Israel."

The NUS debate, unfortunately, has been no different. Once again, when Jews have come together and complained that something is anti-Semitic we have been told a) that it isn't and then given a nice, helpful explanation of what anti-Semitism is and b) that actually, it's all anti-Zionism, not anti-Semitism and given a long, helpful lecture on how one can deplore Zionism and Israeli policies yet remain not an anti-Semite and to stop shutting down the debate. Our complaints and concerns were, as they often are, dismissed and explained away. This, however, is nothing new. Perhaps the best response to this came from two Cambridge students. Perhaps disaffiliating isn't the answer, but that's beside the point here. We can argue all day long about whether Malia is an anti-Semite. We probably won't get anywhere. For what it is worth, I think she is. I think she has a serious issue with Jews and with Israel that borders on the psychotic. Disturbingly, however, whether or not she is an anti-Semite, is no longer the problem. The most troubling thing to come out of all of this, for me, are the claims that the campaign against her leadership is not about her anti-Semitism or anti-Semitism amongst student politics in general, but a racist one. The claims that instead of celebrating the election of a black, female Muslim, Jews, and others, are leading a racist smear campaign. 

This, I am afraid, stinks. Believe me, I wish I could celebrate her election in good faith. I wish I could be happy about such a historic event. But in the same way that, should it happen, I will struggle to celebrate the election of Hilary Clinton as the USA's first female president (ironically because of her record concerning women), I cannot celebrate Malia's election. As if it weren't enough to be told that Jews, as the victims of anti-Semitism, cannot define anti-Semitism, we have now been accused of racism for fighting against what we perceive as anti-Semitism. I could understand being told that I was wrong about Malia and that she is not an anti-Semite. I would disagree, of course, and ask what other minority group would face the double discrimination of the initial racism and subsequent explanation of what is and is not to be counted as discrimination against them, but I would at least understand. We simply disagree on what anti-Semitism is and, believe it or not, that is okay. What I cannot understand and what is not okay is being told that it does not matter at all, it is irrelevant because my campaign against what I perceive to be anti-Semitism from someone who happens to be black, female and Muslim is racist. We only suddenly care because of Malia's race or religion. Ignoring the fact that I was amongst many voices who were incredibly vocal when it came to Ken Livingston, a white, non-Muslim, male,'s fascination with Hitler, this makes it seem that anti-Semitism does not matter anymore. Quiet Jews, we have a president who is black and a woman and Mulsim. Stop spoiling our party. 

Forgive me if I choose to judge Malia, not on the colour of her skin or her religion, but on the content of her character and the comments she has made. Is that not what anti-racism campaigning used to be all about?