Being Jewish is not "an act of provocation"
20 February 2015
On Monday I warned, in an article on Left Foot Forward, that the idea we should appease jihadist terrorists by desisting from doing the things that might 'provoke' them had troubling implications for Jews:
For by this logic, continuing to be Jewish in Europe, to visit synagogues or kosher shops, is also provocative. When faced with jihadist murderers bent on killing Jews, everyday Jewish life becomes provocative.
I originally titled that article "Being Jewish is not a provocation", but then changed the title because, I naively thought, who could imagine that it is a provocation?
Channel 4 News, apparently.
Last night's edition of Channel 4 News featured a frankly appalling interview with Zvika Klein, an Israeli Jewish journalist who spent 10 hours walking round Paris while wearing a yarmulke (a Jewish skullcap). Klein secretly filmed the reactions of some passers-by, which included spitting and abusive comments. You can watch the video here.
Channel 4's interview with Klein is below. The presenter asks Klein (at 2:50) "As you say you are a Zionist, you have a particular standpoint. Do you accept what some critics would say, that the video, the way it was done, was an act of provocation?"
It feels ridiculous to have to state this, but it has become necessary to do so: being Jewish is not "an act of provocation". Walking in public wearing a yarmulke is not "an act of provocation". Highlighting antisemitic abuse directed at a visibly Jewish man in public is not "an act of provocation". It should be possible for a Jew to walk in safety along any street in Europe. Anything less should be unacceptable to everybody who opposes antisemitism and racism.
The fact that Klein says he is a Zionist is irrelevant.
The interview is troubling for another reason. It begins with a question about whether a Muslim woman wearing a hijab would suffer similar abuse, and the comparison of antisemitism to anti-Muslim hatred is a theme of the interview. CST has spoken out repeatedly against anti-Muslim hatred and we support the work of Tell MAMA in monitoring that kind of hate crime. There is value in tackling all forms of hate crime in a collaborative way.
However, it is also important not to use that kind of comparative approach as an excuse to avoid discussing antisemitism. Antisemitism is a problem in itself. There is no need to assess whether it is a bigger or smaller problem than other forms of bigotry before deciding whether to do something about it. At the best of times, this attitude seems churlish; when Jews are being murdered in Europe, it is worryingly complacent.
There is clearly a pattern of antisemitic attitudes in some sections of European societies. The evidence suggests that a disproportionate amount of antisemitic hate crime, in Britain as in France, is perpetrated by Muslims. There is an active jihadist threat to Jewish lives, as seen in Paris and Copenhagen. All of these are problems that need to be addressed. To open an interview about antisemitism by asking about anti-Muslim hatred seems like an effort to change the subject.