Sunday 30 October 2016

We Need to Talk About Anti-Semitism

It's almost impossible to talk about anti-Semitism nowadays. Or rather, it is almost impossible to suggest that it exists or, whisper it quietly, that it remains a problem, a serious problem and, whisper it even quieter, is, in fact, on the rise. The instinct when accusations of anti-Semitism are made is to dismiss them. It's to try and explain them away. Reference Israel. Sweep it under the carpet. Condemn anti-Semitism, but deny that it could possibly have occurred in this case. If all else fails, suggest that Jews devalue a very real and serious problem in anti-Semitism when we make such accusations too easily. As if the problem is not anti-Semitism but actually Jews watering down the definition. As if you are so unbelievably concerned by anti-Semitism that you just wish Jews would stop crying wolf because eventually, no one will believe us when actual anti-Semitism happens. As if somehow if only Jews stopped complaining about anti-Semitism, people would not need to be anti-Semitic and claim Jews complain about anti-Semitism too much. That's the sort of perverse logic that fills debates on anti-Semitism. It's our fault. You'll tell me next that if only the damn Jews did not exist. Then no one would have to be anti-Semitic.

On the contrary, it's incredibly easy to be an anti-Semite these days. Anti-Semites are, for some reason, absolved of any moral agency when it comes to their actions. So long as you pin the blame on Israel, it's a free pass. So long as you can plausibly claim to be just an anti-Zionist or, even better, just critical of the Israeli policy of being a bunch of Nazis. Extra points if you can mention that there are Jews that agree with you. Yes, Jew-hatred is perfectly understandable in the context of Israeli policy. Heck, Jew-hatred is perfectly legitimate in the context of being merely critical of Israeli policy. I'm not an anti-Semite, I just think Israel is worse than Hitler and the Israelis really ought to know better than to keep Gazans in a concentration camp worse than Auschwitz. And if you call me an anti-Semite, you're actually completely misunderstanding anti-Semitism, which is this terrible terrible thing that never ever happens but if it did, believe me, it would be terrible. Suddenly, so long as you're just anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, anti-Israeli policy, you could not possibly be an anti-Semite.

The latest in not-anti-Semitism-but-anti-Israel incidents are the events at the UCL event attended by Hen Mazzig. Maybe this isn't anti-Semitism at all. Maybe it is just anti-Israel. As if that makes it any better. As if hating a country is any better than hating a people. Forgive the cliché, but as if hate of any kind is okay. This is a university society filled with such unbelievable hatred that they are willing to storm a room filled with Jews who want to listen to another Jew talk about his humanitarian work in the West Bank. Imagine being so filled with hate that you feel the need to violently assault reporters. Imagine being so afraid of a differing opinion that you feel the need to shout down anyone you disagree with. Imagine being the sort of people that leave fellow students in a position where they are told their safety cannot be guaranteed without police protection. Just imagine for a moment being that person, so driven by blind, irrational hatred and then tell me that it matters whether we define this as anti-Semitism or not.

Whether or not they are anti-Semites must be considered irrelevant. Since when was the bar for being a decent person being able to provide an intellectual argument against you being an anti-Semite? So maybe they aren't anti-Semites. Maybe a lot of what Jews call anti-Semitism is not anti-Semitism but a different hatred. Maybe. But it makes little difference. The anti-Semites of the past were driven to violence against Jews. They may be able to self-identify as a more accepted hatred now, but they are still driven to violence against Jews. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

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