By Stephen Hoffman
Antisemitism is described as: “… any malicious act aimed at Jewish people, organisations or property, where there is evidence that the victim was targeted because they are, or are believed to be, Jewish.” (Community Security Trust)
So, what is the reality of this ancient form of hatred? Well, think of a form of bacteria which survives despite every attempt over thousands of years to destroy it. Yet, instead of dying out, it survives by constantly mutating and becoming ever more vicious in the process. It’s the superbug of hate.
This disease eats away at the building blocks of humanity, like a mouse slowly but surely gnawing away at a piece of rotten, rancid cheese. This is what antisemitism represents to me as a young British Jew – a particularly nasty type of bacteria eating away at the soul of humanity.
When I have sadly been a victim of antisemitism – including being bullied in the school playground simply for being Jewish – I’ve been struck at how it stripped away every vestige of my humanity. In that moment, I was no longer an individual with my own mind, beliefs, views, friends and family. Instead, I was simply a Jew and because I was a Jew, I was apparently, selfish, greedy, an “outsider” not to be trusted – someone who supposedly deserved to be ridiculed, hated and bullied.
This is what antisemitism does to everyone who has experienced it personally. Yet this human story is something we so often ignore as a society.
Antisemitism: More than anti-Jewish hatred
Antisemitism may in its definition define hatred against Jews, but it should not only worry Jews. Besides the obvious moral obligation to stand against antisemitism as a form of hatred, there’s much more to it – for what starts with the Jews never ends with the Jews.
If we look at the Holocaust for instance, whilst Hitler ruthlessly murdered six million Jews, he also massacred five million others including members of the Roma community, countless homosexuals, people with mental disabilities, political opponents and many others – simply because they represented a threat to his vision of German society as the unwanted “other”. It’s as this unwanted “other” that the Jewish community – and all other persecuted minorities – were seen as both inferior and additionally as some form of oppositional socio-political group seeking to destroy Germany. This “other” was however nothing more than a group of people who became scapegoats for people to push their hatred onto.
These people could be blamed for everything from capitalism to communism, to greed and poverty. To put it simply: they were the “undesirables” of society, who were also accused of seeking to control society at the time. When it came to the Jewish community, all societal ills and economic struggles were deemed merely “the fault of the Jews” and any of those allied with them – who like the Jews have also been treated as nothing more than dangerous strangers throughout history.
It is this idea of being distinctive and different which has helped antisemitism towards Jews thrive. Simply being seen as outsiders makes Jews much more susceptible to persecution. However, as evidenced by the Holocaust, it’s not only Jews who are (still) more vulnerable to being persecuted for being viewed as seemingly “different”.
In the UK for example, Muslims are facing increasing levels of Islamophobia as they can be seen as distinctive, different and “untrustworthy” – in particular by the far right. Likewise, in places such as China, Christians are persecuted for standing apart from the State’s communist ideology. Ultimately, where fear of the other breeds, persecution of those deemed as “the other” – assumed to be uniquely evil – thus follows.
From past to present: The reality of antisemitism
Here in the UK, politicians often talk with pride (whether true or not) about how tolerant a nation we are. However, recent outpourings of antisemitism suggest that we are not nearly as tolerant politicians would have us believe. This is indicative for example by recent figures provided by the Community Security Trust – the national hate crime body which monitors anti-Semitic incidents across the UK – which highlight how from January to June 2018 a total of 727 recorded antisemitic incidents took place. To put that into perspective, that’s over 100 incidents a month.
To imagine the impact of this, let’s remember that every single antisemitic incident represents an individual who experiences the worst that humanity can throw at them. Some of these hate-fuelled incidents can also happen to victims who are incredibly young. For instance, in May 2018 an 11-year-old schoolboy was physically attacked. Children shouted vile abuse such as: “death to all Jews”, “Hitler was the f**king greatest” and “burn all Jews”. Just think of the hurt and anger that that young child must have felt, just for being Jewish.
Antisemitism is also a prejudice which is represented on all sides of the political spectrum and disseminated by individuals of varying beliefs, genders and cultural backgrounds. It starts from the belief that Jews are duplicitous, untrustworthy and always seeking to mould and control society for nefarious means – as part of some sort of murderous conspiracy which Jews are part of in their attempts to control the world. It then “flourishes” in times of hardship – when it becomes a convenient scapegoat for people to blame all ills on.
We’ve seen how it’s easy to do this, as throughout history when the going gets tough the Jews get blamed. Indeed, Jews have been blamed for poisoning wells – and thus the outbreak of The Plague – the Great Depression in the 1920s and 1930s, World Wars, assassinations of well-known world leaders and even the destruction of nations and everything in between. Such antisemitic stereotypes have been constantly fuelled by false conspiracies such as “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” which propagate harmful, destructive narratives and in fact led to the violent pogroms against the Jewish population across Russia.
Indeed, it’s hard to find something the Jews haven’t been blamed for. It’s this “blame the Jew” culture – which has been passed on from generation to generation – that has helped antisemitism to mutate and leave an indelible stain on humanity – one which appears impossible to scrub away.
The various fabrications, deceptions and tropes which go back thousands of years often defy logic. A great example of this is shown by the motives behind the Pittsburgh Synagogue murderer. Jews in this case were deemed “responsible” for the corruption of the white race, yet at the same time – as shown by the racist ramblings of the likes of the Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan – they are also often seen as “white supremacists” who are uniquely responsible for the suffering of non-white people. The reality is that Jews are some sort of “mythological bogeyman” and this goes on to explain why the three-headed-monster of antisemitism (past, present and future) has survived and thrived for so long.
The result is ultimately this though: antisemitism is not only a dagger in the heart of the humanity of all Jews but a representation of the worst of humanity. Its hatred comes from a belief which uniquely represents the worst of what humans are capable of. We’re all part of this singular human race and hatred in any form affects us all. The effects of antisemitism – and all other forms of hatred – must never be dismissed.
Throughout history antisemitism has proved to cause much more destruction than often believed. Some may claim that such hatred consists of nothing more than a few harmful words. However, in the Middle Ages for example, Jews were persecuted as non-believers due to their refusal to submit to Christianity. This was strengthened by deadly fabricated tropes about Jews drinking the blood of children. Antisemitism has in fact flourished for many years in England, going right back to the 12th century when an English monk claimed that members of the Jewish community had abducted local Christian children for use in ritual sacrifices and consumed their blood. This accusation culminated in the murder of many Jews on English soil and led to the subsequent expulsion of all English Jewry in 1290.
Antisemitism has also been given the seal of approval by some of the most revered figures in history. Voltaire for example – celebrated as a key philosopher of The Enlightenment – showed his deep prejudice towards Jews when he stated: “You have surpassed all nations in impertinent fables, in bad conduct and in barbarism. You deserve to be punished, for this is your destiny.” This utter disdain for the Jewish community should not be forgotten.
Moving forward: Working together against hate
Antisemitism may be deeply embedded in the collective memory of the Jewish community but it is also something which effects all of us. As former Prime Minister David Cameron stated: “Tackling anti-Semitism goes right to the heart of what we stand for as a country.”
It may seem that if you are not Jewish, you needn’t be concerned about antisemitism as it seemingly doesn’t impact on you personally/directly. However, if – as a nation and global community – we allow the world’s oldest form of hatred to continue unabated, then it simply gives the green light for all other different odious forms of hatred to flourish, which rob all of us of our own humanity.
If we don’t speak out against hatred of Jews, then why would anyone else speak out against other forms of hate which appear to have no direct impact on their lives? Moreover, if you too are also seen as “different” – if you’re also a minority for example – then how long till such hatred directly affects you too? We’re all in this together and each and every one of us should be working to protect one another.
The need to stand up for all our brothers and sisters in humanity (of all faiths and none) in our society is beautifully described by Pastor Niemoller’s poem on persecution in Nazi Germany:
First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me
I’d therefore like to leave you with one thought: when you see or hear antisemitic speech or behaviour around you, think of what these words and actions do to the person who experiences them. Think of how it eats away at their own identity inside. Then remember the history of antisemitism and how through every generation, individual Jewish men, women and children have been made to feel as though they’re the most hated people on earth. Then put yourself in the shoes of these individuals and recognise that not only does no person deserve to receive such hatred and abuse, but that such (often violent) dislike for a group of people grows when people turn a blind eye to it, as it becomes an ever more accepted and “normalised” form of prejudice.
If we are to fight antisemitism and ensure that Jews can stand tall and proud without fear, then each and every one of us (from both within and outside the Jewish community) need to challenge and expose antisemitism wherever we see and hear it. Hopefully, then – and only then – can we destroy the world’s oldest form of hatred and build a safer, more tolerant society for everyone.