The antisemitic pressure cooker

15 Aug 2014 by CST

The last six weeks have seen an outpouring of antisemitism in Britain and across Europe. Previously, CST has stated that over 200 antisemitic incidents have been reported to us from across the country, the 2nd worst month on record. That figure now stands at 240 antisemitic incidents, with 10-20 arrests and other cases under active Police investigation. Incident reports are still reaching CST, so the July total will get closer still to the unprecedented 289 incidents of January 2009.

The actual data is bad enough, but cannot convey the mood of the Jewish community, with many people telling us that they have never felt so bad, have been under such pressure, nor worried so much about what the future may hold.

Regarding the short term, CST has received many enquiries from parents who are extremely concerned about their children going back to school; and about Jewish students returning to campuses, following the National Union of Students recent anti-Israel boycott motion (which itself follows the notorious UCU lecturers boycott). CST is holding urgent conversation with Jewish schools, our Streetwise Jewish youth programme, and the Union of Jewish Students. We have also raised our concerns with Government.

In the longer term, there is the confirmation of what we already knew: British Jews, like those elsewhere, will continue to suffer local antisemitic impacts from overseas events and global ideological trends, especially political Islamism and violent Jihadism. This is why CST has invested so many millions of pounds in communal security measures since its establishment as a charity in 1994, shortly after Hizbollah's murder of 84 people at the Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires, and two non-fatal anti-Israel car bombings in London.

There is also the striking proof that even if antisemitic incident levels now fall, we have yet again seen what is boiling away underneath. In February 2014, CST welcomed the fact that the 2013 antisemitic incident total (529 recorded) levels had fallen by nearly 20% from the 2012 total (649 recorded). Writing in the Jewish Chronicle, I warned:

the worst antisemitism increases surround Israel and major Jewish issues. Thankfully, 2013 was relatively peaceful, with no big “triggers” for antisemitic surges...Israel passions continue, as do malign chatter against Jews and Zionists. The lid stayed on the antisemitic pressure cooker in 2013, but the heat is still on.

This latest war between Israel and Hamas blew the lid off the pressure cooker.

It shows that nothing will fundamentally change whilst the hatred continues to fire underneath. Hatred and rage will find a physical target. Anti-Israel and anti-Zionist hatred will find Jewish targets: as they always do. This, before even discussing how much of that hatred is actually antisemitic, ranging from what Hamas would actually do to Jews given the chance (hint: see ISIS right now), to the many idiots who actually believe that all British supermarkets are owned by Jews and give 25% of their profits to the Israeli military (where to begin unpicking that antisemitism?). Also, how to explain what we might call 'Holocaust Tourette's Syndrome', whereby so many people cannot resist throwing Nazi, Holocaust and genocide insults and reference points at Israel and mainstream Jewish communities.

Our Jewish community's critics and enemies never tire of telling us that antisemitism, anti-Zionism and "criticism" of Israel are all different things and must never be confused with each other. It is not us who need telling!

And yet there is, nevertheless, a complex reality whereby most British Jews are indeed Zionists, with varying levels of emotional and familial attachment to Israel. This is another type of pressure, that which builds within people's heads, in their families, social circles and communities. It contains not only fears about British, European and global antisemitism per se, but also fears for the well being of Israel, including what it does, what is done against it, and how this is represented in media, politics and street demonstrations. It is all wide open to an infinite number of subjective and objective interpretations.

France shows why this is so important. In recent years thousands of Jews have left France, due partly to worsening antisemitism: which (unlike in Britain) also resonates with France's historical relationship to antisemitism as a real political force, and carries much anti-establishment rage and alienation. That particular antisemitism is overwhelmingly coming from French Muslims, be they actual Jihadis (such as the murderer of Jewish children at Ozar HaTorah school in Toulouse in 2012), or just plain thugs (such as those who kidnapped, tortured and murdered Ilan Halimi in 2006).

France is home to Europe's biggest Jewish and Muslim communities. The impulse is to say that where it leads, the rest of Europe will follow: but smaller Jewish communities such as Brussels, Amsterdam, Malmo may have largely packed their bags by then. This, literally, is what is at stake.

Whether or not Britain fits the same pattern is less clear cut. Indeed, within Britain there are differences. For example, the dwindling Scottish Jewish community cannot really be compared with those in London or even Manchester. The front page of the Jewish Chronicle carries a straw poll in which 150 people were asked, "have you or your friends had a discussion about whether there is a future for Jews in the UK?". 63% replied yes, which is then turned into a somewhat more dramatic headline: "63% say there may be no future for Jews in UK".

Regardless of the paper's accuracy, methodology and headline, the overall point still stands. This latest overseas war will have caused more Jews to question their futures than was previously the case.

There are two parts to this - those who were already concerned about antisemitism, anti-Israel boycotts, anti-Israel demonstrations, media coverage of Israel etc and now feel so much worse; and those who were previously unconcerned, but are now taken aback by what they themselves are now actually seeing and feeling.

Jews are well used to accusations of paranoia, so it is perhaps those who had previously doubted their fellow Jews' concerns that are the most useful barometer of the pressure right now. On an anecdotal level, my CST colleagues and I and have had many examples of personal friends and acquaintances who have made a point of contacting us to apologise for having previously doubted the importance of our work. Now, they say that they really "get it".

One particular newspaper article summed this up. It was by Hugo Rifkind in the Times, headlined "Suddenly it feels uncomfortable to be a Jew":

I was the only Jew at my Edinburgh boarding school. Honestly. The only one.

...I have never, really, had Jewish friends or Jewish interests or moved in Jewish circles...occasionally, when I have heard fellow Jews talk of a world out there in which it is uncomfortable to be a Jew, I have found myself getting the hump. Because that’s my world they are talking about. And I like it. And frankly, I’ve been comfortable as anything.

Well, that was then. This is now. And do you know what? Suddenly I’m not. Something is afoot. It is creeping and it is tentative, but it is definitely there. And it scares me.

...Never before have I had the sense that I have now of a body of people actually itching for Israeli villainy, so that they can scream out the anger they already feel...Never before have I been so reluctant to write what I really think about Israeli policy towards Palestinians — which is not complimentary, or even nearly — for fear of the slugs and monsters who would crawl into the sunshine to agree.

Most of all, never before have I felt that attitudes towards Jews in Europe — and even, albeit less so, in Britain — could grow far, far worse before a whole swathe of supposedly progressive thought was even prepared to notice.

It is not a nice feeling, this last one. More than anything else it is lonely, and being a Jew has never made me feel that before. Not even when I was the only one.


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Joshua Rowe
Chair of Governors, King David High School, Manchester