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Anti-Semitism – a problem for all of us, not just for Jews

February 23, 2019

Here’s my problem. Perhaps it’s yours too. If not, it should be. It concerns anti-Semitism.

I don’t have any Jewish friends, but I admire and respect many Jewish writers, historians and other public figures in the United Kingdom: Simon Schama, David Aaronovich, Danny Finkelstein, and Philippe Sands among them. And beyond these shores, Steven Spielberg, Carl Bernstein, Larry David and a host of others. I don’t admire them for their Jewishness. I admire them for their humanity and their wisdom. And closer to home, I will never forget the stunning generosity of a Jewish friend of my father who assisted him, a gentile, in his hour of need.

I am unable to forget, even for a single day, the holocaust. Not just because of what happened to those who suffered between 1933 and 1945, but because of the stain it left on humanity in the subsequent decades.

I do not admire or respect the policies of the Government of Israel towards the people of Palestine. I believe that Binyamin Netanyahu is a malign actor who has for the last decade kept his country in a zero-sum deadlock in his policy towards the people of the Left Bank and Gaza. He and his government have carried out countless acts of injustice against Palestinians in the region.

Palestinian leaders are also not blameless. They could have done more to understand the insecurity of their Israeli neighbours and thereby undermine Netanyahu’s intransigent stance. Some shamelessly exploit the sufferings of their people in pursuit of a zero-sum endgame as ruthless as that of Netanyahu.

I inwardly curl when I hear the word Zionism. There is no definitive meaning, because It means what people want it to mean. Even Jews cannot agree on a definition. Go to the Jewish Virtual Library and you will find four definitions: political, religious, socialist and territorial. Ask a non-Jew which of these four definitions applies to their accusations against Israel and Jews in general, and I doubt if you would get a coherent answer.The closest most would get would be cite the actions and intentions of the government of Israel, or more specifically, the oppression of Palestinians, the settlement policy and further territorial aspirations.

For as long as I remember, Zionist has been a trigger word that precedes expressions of hatred – among Israel’s neighbours who refer to “the Zionist Entity”, among right-on political activists who us it as a cloak for antisemitism, and among the plethora of Muslim TV preachers who invent all manner of theories to justify for their calls for the extermination of Jews in the Middle East.

Among the most pervasive theories cited by those who identify as opponents of Zionism is that of world domination. Cabals of Jewish bankers, influencers and media owners occupying the commanding heights of the countries in which they operate. Second is the idea that Jews are loyal first to their fellow Jews, or otherwise to the State of Israel, and that that loyalty goes deeper than any obligation to the countries of which they are citizens.

In response to those theories, I would ask the following questions:

Would it be surprising if after centuries of persecution influential Jews did not work together to preempt further persecutions? Not quite the same as a desire for world domination.

Would it also be surprising if ordinary Jews, mindful of the holocaust and earlier pogroms, discrimination and expulsions, “always keep a packed suitcase by the front door”? Loyalty runs both ways.

I would also ask why, if Jewish Zionism is so widely condemned as evil, Christian Zionism, which has millions of believers in the United States – people who believe that the second coming will only take place after the gathering of Jews in the “Land of Israel” and therefore support the State of Israel – escapes the opprobrium? Is it because Christian Zionists are not Jewish?

I don’t have the answer to these questions, nor do I understand why there are so many people – neo-Nazis, trolls, racists – who don’t bother to wrap up their hatred in political or philosophical arguments, but who are willing to deface cemeteries, daub swastikas and even murder people in synagogues.

My problem is that I can’t see an end to the hatred. And it appals me.

What I do know is that the most fertile ground for anti-Semitism is the lack of a negotiated settlement between the people of Israel and Palestine. That settlement must leave both parties as winners. No zero-sum games. I deliberately say people because I have no confidence that the leaders of either side, egged on and supported by external entities with their own agendas, are capable of reaching such a settlement.

Where does that leave us? Continued insecurity for Israelis, and continued suffering for Palestinians. Until that conundrum is solved, anti-Semitism will continue to play its malign part in national and international politics. And opponents of antisemitism, of whom I am one, will continue to tie themselves in knots over rights, wrongs and meanings of Zionism. And Jews in my country, to who we owe so much for their talent and contribution to society, and whose loyalty should never be questioned, will continue to keep packed suitcases by their front doors. Their worry and distress is something we should all share.

It’s wrong to victimise a Jewish citizen because of the actions of the Israeli government, just as it’s wrong to condemn Muslim citizens for the actions of the Islamic State, and it’s wrong to condemn every American because of Donald Trump, or every Russian because of Vladimir Putin. It’s also wrong to question the loyalty of a citizen who believes in the right of Israel to exist, or who worships Allah, or wishes their country to leave (or remain in) the European Union.

Above all, it’s wrong to hate any group of people without consideration of their individual humanity. One would have thought that the Second World War taught us that.

It’s seventy-one years since the foundation of the State of Israel. That should have been more than enough time to create an equitable modus vivendi between two ethnic groups who find themselves competing for the same space.

To hell with history. It’s time to focus on today and tomorrow.

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