Uppity Jews having opinions and being uppity

Surprisingly for a loudmouth such as myself, I've been reasonably quiet about the most recent antisemitism row (where "reasonably quiet" has been redefined to mean "making lots of upset tweets"). I've sort of just been hiding, waiting for it to blow over and focusing on my exams.

Unsurprisingly for an argumentative and opinionated young woman, I've decided to stir this up again for shits, giggles and pretending to be good at this social justice malarkey. I couldn't really think of a good format to put this in, so this is a list of common responses I get when upset about antisemitism.

"But criticising Israel isn't antisemitic!"
Ah. Got to love everyone's go-to. Look, I know criticising Israel isn't antisemitic, you know criticising Israel isn't antisemitic, your mother knows criticising Israel isn't antisemitic and basically everyone who isn't ridiculously pro-Israel can tell the difference between criticising the Israeli government and criticising Jews.

The issue is people saying blatantly antisemitic things and then using "well, the Israeli government does bad things" to justify that. Replace Judaism with any other religion and Israel with a corresponding government. If this no longer seems morally right to you, congratulations - you understand that the actions of a government don't justify prejudice towards an entire ethnoreligious group.

"The Palestinians have it worse. Why are you complaining?"
I don't know. Perhaps - and you might need to grab the smelling salts if this suggestion shocks you - because even if someone's issues aren't as bad as another person's problems, they might still be bad and worthy of attention?

Shocking idea, I know.

"Jews are getting upset over words while other people are being attacked in the streets!"
It's not "just words".

Firstly, while antisemitic assaults are thankfully rare in the UK, they have happened. We have been attacked in the street simply for the crime of belonging to a particular ethnoreligious group. If you can't see why that's wrong, I strongly suggest you re-evaluate your entire moral framework.

Secondly, stirring up hate against particular groups always starts with words. Always. It starts with loudmouths trying to rationalise their hatred. It develops into hateful people writing tirades and tracts, some of which are persuasive and become widely spread. Bigotry and prejudice become polite topics to be discussed at the dinner table, while some use words to stir up violence, words to exclude and dehumanise people, words to justify their murder.

If we don't call out people on being hateful, because after all it's "just words", do you honestly think they're going to stop? No. Nobody's getting in their way, so they'll get together. They'll spread their ideas. They'll push those ideas into the mainstream, or use those ideas to justify attacking people.

Words have an awful lot of power. Not recognising this leads to an awful lot of problems.

"I don't hate Jews, I hate Zionists!"
Do you even know what a Zionist is? Here, let me grab you a dictionary definition because it's easy to find:
A movement for (originally) the re-establishment and (now) the development and protection of a Jewish nation in what is now Israel. It was established as a political organization in 1897 under Theodor Herzl, and was later led by Chaim Weizmann.
(that site's maintained by the OED people, by the way, so it's about as nonpartisan as you get)

I'm not going to claim that a dictionary definition is the be-all and end-all of Zionism. I'm not going to claim that Zionism is entirely unproblematic. If you look into this further, Zionism and anti-Zionism turn into a real can of worms; because they can be motivated by lots of different things, they can be used to justify lots of things and so end up having different connotations in different countries. The upshot of this is that using "Zionist" or "anti-Zionist" as shorthand for "good" or "evil" doesn't make sense.

The entire reason I quoted that definition in the first place is because I've had "ZIONIST" screamed at me for the heinous crime of...disagreeing with someone on twitter. That kind of makes me question whether people know what Zionism is. It's also used as a dog-whistle; for example, saying "Zionists control the world" instead of "Jews control the world". They mean the same thing, but the antisemitism is marginally less blatant in the former.

Don't get this? I'm sure you can think of other dog-whistles, such as "controlled immigration" or "radical Islam" - phrases that sound quite reasonable out of context but are used to justify, say, xenophobia or Islamophobia. If you can see why they're wrong, and how people who use those phrases are betrayed by their actions, you should also be able to see why claiming that you're anti-Zionist while also, for example, claiming that Jews were behind 9/11 would get someone labelled as antisemitic.

"Antisemitism is anything the Jewish community gets offended by!"
Do you understand the right of a community not part of the dominant culture to define what counts as aggression against them? Or, random internet person, have you suddenly been bestowed with the power to define what counts as antisemitism and what doesn't. Please, tell me more. I am so very interested.*

*I've seen this a million times before and it never gets less boring

"You're not really Jewish!"
Please, random internet person, tell me more about how you've magically been able to divine a total stranger's Jewishness using nothing more than your sense of indignation and a poorly written blog post.

Also, genuine antisemites don't care about the nuances of Jewishness. They'll go after you if they consider you in any way visibly Jewish. Or even if you're not visibly Jewish but they still hate you.

"Well, my Jewish friend doesn't think XYZ is antisemitic!"
Good for them.

Seriously, I'm not being condescending on this one.

Looks like I've been too condescending and you probably don't believe me.

Oh well. Let me explain.

We live all over the world. We have myriad different experiences, customs and traditions between us. We're not a hive mind. We disagree and differ over lots of things. I for one am perfectly okay with that.

What I am not okay with is someone deciding that a Jewish person said X, that they agree with X, and that now this Jewish person is the voice of all Jews ever and any other Jews who disagree are wrong. It happens with conservatives who use Jews and Israel as a convenient shield for their Islamophobia, it happens with supposed progressives deciding that antisemitism is totally not a problem because some Jewish people happen to agree with them...it pretty much happens all over the political spectrum and it's always annoying. You don't get to co-opt Jews for your own ends because we're people and not a big political football.

We disagree. A lot. So let's have free discussion and open debate, not arbitrary decisions about who represents all Jews and the shouting down of any dissenters.

(Man, for people who supposedly control the government, the banks and the media, we're super bad at getting our own say.)

"But three sections ago you said that only Jews get to define what antisemitism is and now you're saying that individual Jews disagree over what constitutes antisemitism. Make your mind up!"
Guilty as charged. That's a bit contradictory. Let's resolve it.

We get to define antisemitism for ourselves, to shout and sing and make lots of noise and to be uppity and irritate people who get offended when you point out their antisemitism to them. Even leaving social justice issues aside, annoying sanctimonious people is good for a cheap laugh. I don't think we get to define it for anybody else. Having heard a lifetime of nonsense, I have absolutely no desire to accuse someone of being too easily offended or a traitor to the Jewish community. If I want to attack them that much, I'll call them a bigoted asshole and attack their central points, not imply that they're self-hating (ugh, how I hate that term).

"You just hate Corbyn/You're a Blairite!"
I've had my reservations about Corbyn because of his sharing a platform with unsavoury characters like the Holocaust denier Paul Eisen. However, to his credit, he does seem to want to do something about racism and antisemitism within the Labour Party, so I'm pretty okay with him.

As for being a Blairite, I'm anti-war, anti-nation, anti-government and anti-capitalist. I wasn't aware that was considered Blairite policy.

"But the Tories/UKIP/Donald Trump are really racist. Why aren't you complaining about them?"
I do complain about them. Frequently. If I had my way, every bigot in every party would be kicked out.

Frankly, I also think that criticism of Labour for its antisemitism is not entirely unmotivated by a desire to trash the party and the Left in general, and I'm pretty annoyed by conservatives who up till now have shown no indication of caring about antisemitism except if it gives them an excuse to attack anyone vaguely left of centre. I don't think they really care about Jews. Witness the total and utter silence about the antisemitic abuse of Rhea Wolfson.

Still, I expect far better from supposed anti-racists. That's why I'm shocked and very disappointed

"This is distracting us from real news!"
Why don't you think discrimination against a historically marginalised group is "real news"? And if you don't think it's "real news", why talk about it so much?

A serious addition
The fact is, antisemitism from people who should know better is not new. It's been going on for years and most non-Jews haven't known or cared.

I grew up in a very Jewish area of North London with reasonably secular parents, so I felt comfortable talking about Jewishness and about being Israeli. I felt comfortable with what many people think of as a contradiction between calling oneself Jewish and calling oneself atheist. I knew antisemitism existed, but it never affected me directly.

I was very, very lucky.

Now that I'm an adult and I've moved away from home, things are quite a bit different.

For example, I'll be hanging out and offhand I might mention that my family's Jewish. All of a sudden, the atmosphere changes. All eyes are on me.

"What do you think about the Zionist entity?"

(As an aside: you can say Israel. It's not like if you whisper Israel in the mirror three times at night a very disgruntled Netanyahu materialises behind you.)

I dislike the idea that because my family's Jewish, I must somehow have some magical link with Israel. I do in fact have a link to Israel, but that's because my family's from there.

I also feel increasingly uncomfortable in supposedly progressive spaces, because people will use Zionism as a stand-in for Judaism, use actually antisemitic rhetoric (yes, in the 21st century!), and nobody will challenge them on this. Or if we do challenge them, we're dismissed.

This is a bit different from, say, white people complaining about being told they have white privilege, because Jews (yes, even Jews with Caucasian features, who weren't even seen as properly actually white until after WWII) have historically been marginalised, compared to vermin and swine, forbidden from certain professions...oh, and slaughtered. And survived attempts to exterminate us. The Allies being victorious does not make centuries of antisemitism go away forever.

The point I'm trying to make in a very roundabout fashion is that in the UK there exists a double standard for Jewish people compared to, say, Christians, where we're singled out, made to feel like our identities are incompatible with certain types of politics (put it this way: I feel more comfortable passing as a white gentile when talking about social justice and anti-racism than I do being open about being culturally Jewish), and then told to shut up and not complain about it.

It's really upsetting because someone can seem to really like you one moment. Then they find out you're Jewish and all of a sudden they start treating you completely differently. Heaven forbid I tell people I'm Israeli because that would make my daily life an order of magnitude more difficult.

I'm not asking for a huge deal. I'm asking you to read this blog post, which frankly is not a huge deal because long novels exist. I'm asking you to consider why some people might feel that certain things are antisemitic. Most importantly, I'm asking you to treat people based on their character, not on their race, religion or nationality.

I don't ask you to agree with me, but I do ask you to make an effort to understand where I'm coming from.