We Cannot Keep Ignoring the Presence and Rise of Antisemitism in the West

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Antisemitism has long been prevalent in the fringes of both ends of the political spectrum, and, as it continues to be allowed to rise in the far-left and the alt-right, there is a palpable sense of fear within Jewish communities in both the UK and the US.

This December, a series of crimes and attacks – firmly pointed at the Jewish community — have mounted, tainting a time usually symbolic of freedom, peace, and the reclaiming of Jewish identity.

Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of a temple in Jerusalem in the second century BCE, after a small group of Jewish soldiers, known as the Maccabees, rose up to overthrow the oppressive regime which had been ensued by Syrian-Greek rulers. After they were successful, they rededicated the temple (which had been repurposed by the rulers), lighting candles which burnt for eight days. The eight-day festival of Hanukkah runs through December (generally) as a remembrance and celebration of this.

Commemorating this liberation and reclaimed sense of religious and cultural identity is still central to Hanukkah and its meaning to Jewish communities around the world. But the festival has evolved to represent other things too. Family, reflection, and peace have also become synonymous with the festival, and Jews around the world often use the eight days of festivities to spend quality time with their loved ones.

This year though, this usually joyful time has been plagued by a string of unprecedented and brutal attacks on Jewish individuals, families, and communities, both here and across the Atlantic.

…there is a palpable sense of fear within Jewish communities in both the UK and the US

New York’s Jewish community stands on edge as the latest in a string of antisemitic attacks saw five people stabbed during a Hanukkah party at a rabbi’s house upstate on Saturday night. The attacker, later arrested in Harlem reportedly covered in the blood of his victims, is being charged for attempted murder, hate crime, and burglary.

The Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, has called the incident an act of “domestic terrorism” and noted that this is “around the thirteenth” antisemitic attack which had taken place in the state in the last few weeks alone.

Unfortunately, Cuomo’s estimations are not hyperbolic. In New York, the number of antisemitic attacks has risen by 21 percent over the last year, and almost 100 antisemitic attacks and crimes have been recorded in November and December. And that’s just in New York City.

This December’s Hanukkah celebrations have seen an even bigger spike anti-Jewish hate crime. On the 23rd December, a 65-year old man was kicked and punched by a 28-year old man in Manhattan. Throughout, the attacker shouted anti-Semitic slurs at him. He was charged with assault in the second degree and hate crime.

On Thursday, a young woman attacked an Orthodox woman who was walking through Brooklyn with her three-year-old son. The attacker hit her from behind and, amid anti-Semitic slurs, told her “your end is coming”. She was charged with assault, hate crime, and endangering the welfare of a child.

Two police officers stand guard as the press starts to gather outside a rabbi’s home where a machete attack, injuring five people at a Hannukah celebration in Monsey, New York. Source.

The next day, three Orthodox women were hit in their faces and heads by a 30-year-old woman in Crown Heights. Again, the attacker shouted anti-Semitic slurs after hitting them and unapologetically told the police officer who arrested her for assault that it was because they were “F-ing Jews”.  

In New York, the number of antisemitic attacks has risen by 21 percent over the last year.

Aron Wieder, a Rockland County official, told an interviewer about the levels of fear present within Jewish communities in the area later that day.

“If you walk down any street in Rockland County in the Orthodox Jewish community you will feel it in the air”, he said. “Children are frightened. Parents are nervous to send their children to school. You could literally feel it.”

Meanwhile, at least nine spots in North London, including a synagogue, were defaced with antisemitic graffiti on Saturday night. The Star of David, as well as the numbers ‘911’ were scrawled across various shops and buildings in the Hampstead area.

Most interpretations of this lead to an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory which states that the 9/11 terror attack was orchestrated by the ‘Jewish establishment’. Others interpret the method as a reference to Kristallnacht, an organised nationwide attack on Jews in Germany in 1938 which saw the Star of David painted across people’s homes and businesses in a sickeningly similar way.

For how much longer can we look the other way from this? And for how much longer can we stop ourselves from asking why this is happening? The truth is patterns like this must come from somewhere. There must always be a catalyst. And to find that catalyst, we must take our hands away from our eyes and take a long, hard, look.

“If you walk down any street in Rockland County in the Orthodox Jewish community you will feel it in the air…people are afraid”

Aron Wieder, Rockland County official

There is a real and genuine issue with anti-Semitism within both fringe-left and right thinking. Tropes that conflate wealth and Judaism, or Zionists and British Jews have become commonplace in this line of thought. Many of those critical of elitism and undistributed wealth and power have fallen prey to this; scapegoating Jews in an attempt to explain the issue and feeding into a narrative which paints a picture of a global ‘Jewish establishment’, which supposedly manipulates and controls the central banking, political and media spheres.

Example of antisemitic graffiti in Hampstead. This is thought to reference a conspiracy theory that says that a ‘Jewish establishment’ organised 911. Source.

It is no secret that far-left thinking often fuses its criticism of wealthy elites with a criticism of the Jewish community, continuing to fan the flames of this fallacy. This narrative is then often picked up by hard-right and alt-right fringe groups and used as fuel for Neo-Nazi propaganda.  

Of course, the issue has been hijacked and used for political point-scoring by people across the political spectrum, as have allegations of xenophobia. But that is beside the point. While the British media has undoubtedly wielded Labour’s antisemitism issue as a weapon in its campaign against its leadership, it is absolutely fair and right to say that there is no smoke without fire.

There are various examples of antisemitic remarks which have been made by Labour members and MPs. Most of these feed directly into discourse on Israel and Palestine. As vocal supporters of the Palestinian state, Jeremy Corbyn and his cabinet have historically been very outspoken in their criticisms of Israel’s treatment of Palestinian people. The issue which has arisen has come when this criticism begins to merge with a criticism of Jewish communities in general. In the cases of MPs like Ken Livingstone, Chris Williamson, and Naz Shah, who have all been suspended because of antisemitic comments they have made, Jews are consistently conflated with the Israeli state. On social media in particular, antisemitic tropes merge with discourse about Israel and, once again, the narrative becomes toxic.    

The point is to acknowledge the profound effect the denial of the existence of such ideologies has on our communities.

Of course, the Conservative party has also presented various problems in terms of anti-Semitism within its ranks, with MPs like Jacob Rees-Mogg, David Cameron, Patrick Mercer and Boris Johnson facing smaller-scale backlashes over the years for their use of anti-Semitic language and ideology as well as their mingling with far-right groups which propelled narratives about ‘superior race’. The PM himself even wrote a book which discussed these concepts, referring to “Jewish oligarchs who rule the media”.

But the point is not to score political points, or pass around a so-called “political football”. The point is to acknowledge the profound effect the denial of the existence of such ideologies has on our communities. Whether we like it or not, elements of antisemitism have permeated almost every political ideology and, particularly for those of us in the left, we have a tendency to white-wash and ignore that.

No matter what side they are on, the leaders of our country (as well as countries like the US), must take action to ensure antisemitism in politics is wiped out. And the rest of us, those that believe in our representatives for whatever reason, must call out antisemitism when we see it. It must no longer go ignored, in any school of thought. The longer we pretend it doesn’t exist, the more power and time we give to groups and individuals who will see this as a form of validation and be encouraged to act on it. The rise in antisemitic attacks and crimes across the West is a clear indication that that is happening right now, and this cannot be allowed to continue.

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  • […] This response really epitomised my entire philosophy when it came to antisemitism allegations against Labour: if you don’t look at it, don’t think about it, and don’t talk about it, it isn’t real. The problem is that it is real. It is very real. And while I could turn the other way, British Jews were becoming more and more concerned. Antisemitism was being normalised at a political level, and with this, Jewish-targeted discrimination and hate crime were on the rise. […]