Sit Down and Shut Up

Antisemitism is not a new thing; it is centuries old. Antisemitism within supposedly progressive elements of society is also not new - funnily enough, it is also centuries old and arises partly from linking Jews with capitalism.

What is new is that antisemitism is now being discussed seriously in non-Jewish circles. Finally - we've only been waiting, like, thirty years for people to start paying attention.

I know that me talking about this is not going to make me any friends. In fact, it's probably going to alienate and annoy my friends and family, and make me enemies among people with whom I should really have a common cause.

I'm surprisingly not sorry about this.

Being a Jewish leftist in the UK is different from being a non-Jewish leftist - not just because of theological issues (I'm a culturally Jewish atheist, so theology is not an issue for me, but I'm still treated differently) but because of double standards.

If you are Jewish, you will probably have to take this test at some point. If you are non-Jewish, you have probably administered this test at some point, or you have watched someone do it.

The test is this:

"What do you think about Israel?"

The correct response is some pearl-clutching about Israeli crimes, expression of solidarity with the Palestinian cause, and disavowal of Zionism. I am very good at giving this response. All Jewish leftists have to be.

I note politely that saying you are not the Israeli ambassador and asking the questioner about their support for Western imperialism is most definitely the wrong response.

If you are Israeli, you will become even better at this test. In some cases you will reject your identity as Israeli or hide it.

The reason you have to become even better at this test is because the stakes for failure become much, much higher. If you are a British Jew and give the wrong response to the Israel test, you will be excluded from your particular leftist circle. That is bad enough, but if you are an Israeli Jew and give the wrong response to the Israel test, you will lose your humanity. You will be a brute, a monster, a force of evil rather than a person. Even if you give the right response to the Israel test, it may not protect you; witness the smearing of Noam Chomsky as a gatekeeper.

If you have been involved with social justice for any amount of time, you will be familiar with the phrase "listen and believe": that is to say, when people tell you about their experiences, they are usually telling the truth.

If you have been involved with social justice for any amount of time and have been paying attention, you will notice that "listen and believe" does not seem to apply to the Jews. (To be fair, "listen and believe" seems to be more of a nice idea in many places than a rule people act on - many women assaulted or raped by leftist men aren't believed. Incidentally, covering up antisemitism and covering up sexual assault and rape intersect. It sucks.)

When we talk about antisemitism, one of three things usually happens.

The most common response is for our concerns to be ignored or dismissed. After all, the Palestinians have it worse and Jews are just complaining about mean words.

If we're making too much noise, non-Jews get nasty. Any claims of antisemitism are said to be made in bad faith, either because we're all stooges for Israel afraid of our crimes being exposed (incidentally, talk to an Israeli, any Israeli, and the general attitude is that the PR's shit) or because we just like making stuff up to smear other people. The idea that claims of antisemitism aren't real or have an ulterior motive behind them is especially nasty because it comes from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a 20th-century antisemitic forgery purporting to show Jewish plans for world domination. Although debunked in 1921, people continue to take it as truth.

A common but frustrating response is to be believed for the wrong reasons. For example, leftists invested in believing that their movement is unproblematic may cherry-pick statements from Jewish groups and decide that because of their cherry-picking, antisemitism is not something they have to worry about. More worryingly, right-wing philosemites with a vested interest in discrediting the left like to use Jews critical of these double standards as proof that the left is evil and corrupt. This is particularly bad because it further reinforces something I'm going to expand on: the idea that being Jewish and being left-wing are mutually exclusive.

What all this adds up to is a constant performance. It is a constant reminder that Jews are not welcome in a space to combat bigotry and prejudice of all kinds, unless we pass tests and don't speak out against non-Jews. It is a constant reminder that the power to decide Jewish humanity lies not with Jews ourselves, but with non-Jews, and that our humanity can be revoked for acting in the "wrong" way.

So knowing this, why am I embracing an identity that does not belong to me theologically, being open about being Israeli, and risking exclusion and hatred?

It's simple: I am stubbornly and stupidly defiant.

As an Israeli Jew and seeker after truth, I am totally screwed here.

I can lie, pretend to be as British as fish and chips, and vow that I have no associations with Judaism whatsoever. This will be quite easily debunked because although I am a naturalised British citizen, my name is extremely Jewish, my birthplace is Israel, and neither of my parents speak English as a first language. Also, I'm a terrible liar.

If this option fails - which it will - I can say that I'm not like those other Jews and Israelis, because I oppose Zionism, acknowledge Israel as a colonialist oppressor, or whatever's become fashionable to say. (Yeah, I'm cynical. Did you not pick up on this when I was talking about passing tests and performing?)

This option will also fail for multiple reasons.

Firstly, I've just described myself as a seeker after truth. As a seeker after truth I have researched Zionism and anti-Zionism a lot. I cannot in good faith identify myself with forcibly expelling people from their homes - which means I can't describe myself as either a Zionist or an anti-Zionist without identifying with those bad parts. As a seeker after truth, I can also honestly say that Israel and Judaism are complicated, which is what happens when a diasporic people ride the shitty nationalist 19th-century tide after centuries of oppression (I'm still talking about Europe here, mind you...). Basically, there's no canned phrases I can spout to show off how good my politics are, because any canned phrases inevitably end up implying support for something horrible or being untrue.

Secondly, non-Jews control UK discourse and reserve the right to strip Jewish humanity from us at any point. I do not see the point in becoming somebody's token Red Sea pedestrian and potentially doing something stupid to keep that position, such as promoting antisemitic tropes or renouncing my Israeli citizenship. No matter what I do, someone will always decide that as an Israeli Jew, I am subhuman. I am not interested in appeasing people who will happily treat me like vermin if I do something they don't like.

I don't know if this option will fail yet, but it seems to be the only one I've got so far: speak my truth. As a seeker after truth, that definitely suits me.

I don't claim to be an arbiter of morality. I don't even think any absolute morality exists. In my worldview, the only thing I can do is to examine actions through a moral framework I have built up. (It doesn't work properly and there are some bits of it that are incommensurable. I'm not even sure you can make a completely coherent framework.)

Something I don't like to acknowledge much, because it doesn't fit with my ideals about dispassionate rational introspection, is that morality, and particularly a sense of what's right, is visceral. It's physical. When something contradicts your moral framework, you don't calmly think "this has contradicted principle X in my morality". You feel judders of emotion, a pervading sense that something is wrong here.

That's how I feel when someone tells me not to talk about antisemitism - that pervasive wrongness. There is something in me that will not allow me to shut up because silencing people is wrong. No amount of talk about privilege or hasbara or the implication that talking about antisemitism is something only those evil Zionists do has stopped the visceral feeling of wrongness.

I don't necessarily intend to convince hardcore antisemites to change their ways and hug Jews, because that's really, really difficult, but I'll settle for pissing them off by speaking my truth. I intend to convince people who are undecided that antisemitism is real and I intend to defend myself and my humanity. I'm done cowering and I certainly don't trust anyone to speak for me.

I'm under no illusions that I will get much support for this. I'm a loud Israeli Jew who grew up in Britain with no faith (but still going to a Christian school) and criticises Israel. That means everyone can find a reason to hate me. And honestly, I'm probably going to schedule this for publication and then have an anxiety attack over potential backlash, because I've been conditioned to believe that speaking out gets you punished. But I'm done being silent to please other people.

Nobody ever made advances by being quiet and respectable and hoping that their oppressors would be nice to them. Resistance is loud, unpleasant, and thoroughly unrespectable, but people listen.

I ask nothing.

I will take my humanity.