April 21, 2024

If anti-Semitism is the gauge of a democracy’s health, ours has a fever

We are in a new anti-Semitic age. The conditions for this – global economic and political uncertainty, the pandemic and social media domination – are perfect.

Where once Jews were targeted as Christ-killers, then later as racially inferior, attacks are now being masked as anti-Israel or anti-Zionist.

British Jewry is vibrant, dynamic and enjoys relative safety compared to many other Jewish communities. Yet following Oct 7, we are living through a new anti-Semitic age in which, as one MP put it, there is a “creeping tolerance” of anti-Semitism dressed as anti-Israel invective.

A statue of Amy Winehouse had a Palestinian sticker placed over her Star of David – a symbol of the Jewish people.

At the Soho Theatre, an Israeli audience member was hounded from the premises, followed out by Jews who felt intimidated, isolated and scared because of his treatment at the hands of the man with the power – the performer on stage.

Anti-Semitic views no bar to election

A couple registering the birth of their child had the certificate returned with the word Israel scrawled out. Anti-Israel obsessiveness with anti-Semitic impacts.

Meanwhile, all the major parties have been dealing with candidates or councillors using anti-Semitic tropes or language. Democracy is serving us candidates who have expressed anti-Semitic views, and it isn’t necessarily a bar to election.

Jewish students have been the focus of attacks, so too have Jewish chaplains. Jewish schools, students and teachers have all been subjected to hate.

The head of the BBC was moved to write to staff to condemn anti-Semitism because Jewish staff have felt isolated and anxious.

In synagogues across the country, people discuss their safety, while at weekly protests across the UK we have seen anti-Semitic placards and arrests in the hundreds.

And the examples go beyond these shores: the firing of weapons, firebombing and banning of Jews from shops.

Hate incidents predated response to Hamas atrocities

The Community Security Trust reported more than 4000 incidents of anti-Semitism in the UK last year, much of it before the Israeli response to the barbaric Hamas attacks. This against a community numbering less than 1 per cent of the British population.

It isn’t difficult to criticise Israel without being anti-Semitic. Israelis often do it. So do many Jews.

Don’t use ancient tropes of power, money or blood. Don’t hold Jews collectively accountable for Israeli government decisions. Don’t insist Jews take a view on the conflict, or categorise them accordingly. Don’t hide anti-Semitism by swapping the word Jew for Zionist or Israeli. It isn’t complex.

Despite this, Israel is singled out by some as different to the rest of the international community, treated as the Jew among nations.

The UN General Assembly condemns it twice as often as any other country. It is required to behave according to different rules, and Jews, collectively, serve as fodder for those feeling Israel has failed these special parameters.

Israel is portrayed as uniquely evil and any behaviour to target Israelis living in the UK is deemed permissible.

When Jews raise concerns, contrary to the Macpherson principles established in the wake of the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence, we are told we are weaponising anti-Jewish racism to silence criticism of Israel.

Penalties for anti-Jewish racism should be severe

David Baddiel’s Jews Don’t Count book underlines the problem. Some employers are doing the right thing and training staff, and applying HR policies, and whilst the police and Government and Opposition parties are saying the right thing, there remains a feeling that anti-Semitism just is not as serious as other forms of racism, that it doesn’t count. This is particularly the case when it overlaps with anything to do with Israel.

Anti-Jewish racism needs to be understood, reviled and addressed in the same way any other form of racism is. It should be viewed as repugnant, and penalties for engaging in it should be severe.

The word Israel shouldn’t make any difference to how that racism is perceived or acted upon. Those who seek to intimidate, bully or threaten Jews, and indeed public figures, our national security and our democracy, need standing up to.

Anti-Semitism has long been referred to as a gauge for the health of a democracy. At present, in this anti-Semitic age, democracy has a fever and the body civic requires urgent attention.

Danny Stone is the chief executive of the Antisemitism Policy Trust

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