Sunday, 4 September 2016

An Inconvenient Truth

You would not know it if you looked at me. Or my sister. You would not know it if you looked at my Mother. Or any of her siblings. Unless I told you, you would have absolutely no inkling that I am the grandson of refugees, driven out of a country where they had lived peacefully for decades, centuries perhaps, over 60 years ago now. Neither of my Mum's parents are alive today, but she has an elder brother, who was maybe six years old at the time, himself a refugee, who fled Iraq all those years ago. You wouldn't know that either.

And why should you? We, my family, have done well for ourselves. New citizens of a country barely four years old, my grandparents set about creating a life for themselves through a building company, my Mum tells me. My Uncle, shortly after, opened a bakery that is still there, still serving the world's best bagels. My Mum, a basketball player and spokeswomen for the Environment Minister in the Israeli Knesset, left for England, first to study Law, then design, where eventually she met my Dad, himself the grandchild of Jews that left their home country to pastures new. They started a life together, a business, a family. The opticians, David Paul Opticians, uses my Dad's middle name because Levy was too obviously Jewish for a town with, at the time, prevalent anti-Semitism is still there, over 20 years later. A small shop. Walk past too briskly and you'd probably miss it if it weren't for the striking window that my Mum keeps updated, as she does for a number of other opticians.

So no, you would not have any idea that I am the grandson of refugees on one side, the great-grandson of Jews who, though not refugees, still arrived in a new country without all that much. A large majority of Jews have this story. Families that fled war and anti-Semitism, whether it be in Europe or further afield but found sanctuary and relative safety, often in the UK, the US and, of course Israel. Families that now have very few, if any, obvious signs of that troubled past. And this is exactly what leads to modern anti-Semitism.

The anti-Semitism that looks at me, ostensibly a white middle-class male and says there is no way you can suffer from discrimination. Except for the Kippah, which has meant that I have suffered from discrimination, you would be partly correct. Without it, I would not suffer from lived anti-Semitism directed at me. And where I have, or where anyone has, obviously that would be lamentable and terrible but, and this is where anti-Semitism begins, there is always a but. More on that later. For now, it is important to note that lived discrimination is not the only kind of discrimination. There is an anti-Semitism that might not be directed at me in the street and make me feel vulnerable. An anti-Semitism that perhaps does not corner me on a tube and hurl violent abuse at me for daring to be Muslim or, indeed, look Muslim. An anti-Semitism that probably never looks at me and feels scared because of my religion or assumed religion. An anti-Semitism, however, that tells me that I cannot suffer anti-Semitism. An anti-Semitism that tries to define anti-Semitism for me. An anti-Semitism tells me I have an unhelpful habit of shutting down debate on Israel by crying wolf about anti-Semitism, even when Israel was not even part of the discussion. An anti-Semitism that, for example, tells us that our views on Malia Bouattia are racist, rather than borne out of genuine concern, or that Labour does not have an anti-Semitism problem despite Jews across the political spectrum expressing concern that it does.

The truth is, Jews do not look like victims. In fact, we appear to be the exact opposite. And this, perhaps, is the greatest driver of the nuanced anti-Semitism that Jews face every single day. We are (pretty much) white. Often middle-class. Western and capitalist. Israel, a powerful, developed, Western democracy is the product and very much a part of a capitalist system that has left so many, usually more obvious 'Others' and an American Foreign Policy that many look at as having wrecked havoc across the world. Historically, discrimination against Jews has been because of the view we had too much power, influence, control and wealth. So no, Jews do not fit the stereotype of an ethnic minority that needs protection from discrimination.

Which means we do not get it. Those who normally call themselves fighters for equality and an end to racism are strangely quiet on anti-Semitism. They are normally those who shout loudest that anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism. They are normally those that are quickest to accuse us of silencing genuine debate on Israel by incorrectly labelling something as anti-Semitism. Their commitment to (some) human rights abuses can be doubted no more than their moral hypocrisy. It is never that anti-Semitism does not exist, to claim as much would be ridiculous even for them, but it is that either this, specifically is not anti-Semitism (despite Jews telling them that it is) or, where it must be conceded it is anti-Semitism, a but always follows. A but that would (and should) never follow a sentence like "I am not saying the women is to blame..." or "That racist act is not justified but..." In those cases it is clearly victim blaming. A rape victim is, obviously, a victim. A victim of racism is, obviously, a victim. A Jew, however, is not a victim. We do not look like victims. Israel definitely does not look like a victim. That is why sentences like: "Hamas is terrible but..." or "Hitler was not a Zionist but..." or "Anti-Semitism is terrible but..." are allowed. Imagine the equivalent: "Rape is terrible but..." Nothing good can follow that but. Jews are not afforded the same protection.

This is the greatest anti-Semitism. Sure our Synagogues remain targets and often require constant protection. Sure our graves are targeted. Sure abuse gets hurled at those who are more obviously Jewish. This is undeniable and a discrimination that far too many suffer, whether it be Jews or women or Muslims or black people. Only, however, in the Jewish case is it explained away or is there an excuse. And beyond that, beyond the obvious lived discrimination, Jews are unable to define anti-Semitism. Only in the Jewish case is there a debate over what counts as anti-Semitism to the point where it seems almost impossible for it to exist. It's the white-male Ken Livingstone assertion that anti-Semites don't just hate Jews in Israel but Jews in Golders Green as well that sets the bar for anti-Semitism so unbelievably high that whilst it may exist in theory, it simply does not in practice.

And ironically, in doing this, in setting impossible standards for anti-Semitism, you yourself are an anti-Semite, though you may not hate me or any other Jew, and you are part of the world's most inconvenient truth: anti-Semitism is not just alive and well, it is thriving, accepted and mostly ignored.