What antisemitism feels like

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What antisemitism feels like

 “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

IHRA Working definition of antisemitism

Since Jews lived on this earth they’ve been hated, mocked, laughed at, disliked and seen as nefarious controllers of the world just because they were Jewish. Their views, skin colour, origin, gender, economic level, gender, sexuality etc does not matter to these people, all antisemites’ see is a Jew to blame all the world’s problems, to hate, to dump all the fears of the other on.

This is why antisemitism is such as wide-ranging ideology, coming from across the political spectrum and hiding in many guises and continually metamorphosing like the three headed monster, who every time you think you have killed comes back bigger and stronger in a different guise. Jews have been blamed for capitalism and communism, greed and poverty. If something troubles you, antisemitism tells you the Jew is the eternal scapegoat.

The heart-breaking thing for me and so many Jews and non-Jewish allies fighting antisemitism is that the situation seems to be getting worse and worse. I’ve been monitoring, speaking out and attempting to root out antisemitism in the UK since 2012 and I wish I could say the situation has improved by then, but it has significantly worsened.

A report in July 2014 by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research ‘The Exceptional Case? Perceptions and experiences of antisemitism amongst Jews in the United Kingdom’ found that from 2009-2014 70% of UK Jews said antisemitism had grown. Then there were the problems those Jews faced who were observant. The report discovered that 60% of Jews who were traditionally observant sometimes avoided public display of Jewishness such as wearing a kippar.

In 2018 the Community Security Trust – which is monitors antisemitic crime incidents across the UK recorded a record 1,652 antisemitic incidents, a 16% rise on the 1,420 incidents recorded in 2017.

These are all statistics but behind them are personal stories like mine.

I was born in 1990. When I was around 5 to 6 being Jewish was great. I ate cool food at Jewish festival. I also had lots of non-Jewish friends who found it cool I was Jewish.

By the age of 7, being Jewish became a burden, as I was bullied simply for being Jewish. Its this bullying which to this day has robbed me of a lot of self-belief and I believe is a key reason why I am so susceptible to depression. The bullying continued till secondary schools and I did react in ways that did not help. I didn’t want to be Jewish, all it caused me was problems.

There were still some fantastic times, when I felt blessed being Jewish. I still remember the wide grin encompassing my whole face on my Bahmitzvah aged 13 (A ceremony when a Jewish man come of age). Reading from the Torah, I felt the presence of God and the loving embrace of my family and friends who had come to experience the joy of my Bahmitsvah.

Age 14 to 16 was tough. Alongside, all the teenage hormones which can make life nightmarish, I spent lots of time desperately trying to fit in with ‘the cool kids’ by hiding my Jewishness and if pressed making a joke of it. I went along with the antisemitic taunts masquerading as banter, which were like a dagger to my heart, but which I greeted outwardly with a nervous smile and a hollow laugh. Most of the jokes were around Jews being money grabbers, selfish and greedy. There was the ubiquitous dropping of coins and jokes about Jews getting sweaty in banks with all the money around. Sometimes it got sinister, the idea that Jews were in charge of the world – and given that why was I not rich. I tried to convince myself it was all banter.

At 16 I moved to a new school and resolved to never hide my Jewishness again. Its an important part of my identity and I will always be proud of being Jewish. Throughout university even when I saw antisemitism at Leeds University where I studied, I never again hid my identity.

At the age of 22 when I entered the world of work, I saw how antisemites would pretend they were anti-Zionist, but in their anti-Zionism frequently expressed antisemitic tropes. Terms like ZioShill, ZioNazi and Rothschild Zionist were the latest word accessory for antisemites.

The last two years have been a living hell for me when it comes to antisemitism. Every week I monitor pro-Corbyn Facebook Groups and Far-Right Facebook groups. The sewer of antisemitism which I monitor and record, is like an open sewer in these groups. Jews are all called disloyal, Zios, smear merchants, liars, part of a global Rothschild or Soros, whingers, string pullers, warmongers and much more. Indeed, what I’ve recorded goes to 100s of pages. It makes me feel as a British Jew that I am under attack and unwelcome in the country and I am not alone as one of over 300,000 Jews living in Great Britain feeling like this.

I hope I have given you a small insight in to the human impacts of antisemitism and why as fellow humans, we need the Muslim community to be #ActiveAllies in combatting antisemitism, as you should expect of the Jewish community when it comes to Islamophobia.

About Stephen Hoffman

Stephen is a young British Jew with a passion for writing and speaking out against intolerance.

From a young age, Stephen has been interested in the world and people around him. It is this which leads him to want to work to bring people together to challenge prejudice.

As a student at Leeds University, Stephen was active in the Jewish society and since graduation, he has held a number of roles including working in UK Parliament for an MP and for a variety of campaigning groups, which has involved him monitoring and campaigning against antisemitism and other forms of hate.

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The Colour of Cows in Scotland: Why Fighting Antisemitism Is A Fight Against Islamophobia

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When asked the reasons of our fervour against antisemitism, we might be tempted to scoff at the questions and the suspicions that an obviously Muslim organisation fighting so vociferously against antisemitism might engender, yet we resist the temptation to dismiss such concerns out of hand. Not only because we understand there are so many other issues our brothers and sisters from all faiths might want us to consider, like islamophobia, Israel and Palestine, on one side of the spectrum, and gender equality, and homophobia on the other, but because we firmly believe in the power for change our approach will bring to all issues. Let me elaborate.

We are keenly aware of all the problems our society and communities face, and in an ideal world, every humanitarian organisation should deal with all issues at all times, and perhaps our exclusive focus on such a divisive topic might be a justifiable reason to view our endeavour with surprise or even mistrust.

It is, however, not just a case of arbitrarily picking a controversial issue for the sake of it, but rather of believing that creating a momentum within the Muslim community towards the fight against antisemitism, is a way towards a solution to all the most pernicious and problematic issues all our communities face, and specifically a catalyst in the fight against islamophobia.

This is more logical than the counterintuitive nature of the statement might suggest: bias, the cause of prejudice, is rooted in natural, and seemingly benign assumptions we all quite innocently and automatically make in our attempt to make sense of the world. The cognitive processes we employ in our day-to-day decisions, favour an all-encompassing approach to reality and human interaction, without which the level of information needed to deal with reality in a totally unbiased way would be too great.

Consider the famous joke in Mark Haddon’s award-winning book: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time:

“There are three men on a train. One of them is an economist and one of them is a logician and one of them is a mathematician. 

And they have just crossed the border into Scotland (I don’t know why they are going to Scotland) and they see a brown cow standing in a field from the window of the train (and the cow is standing parallel to the train). 

And the economist says, ‘Look, the cows in Scotland are brown.’ And the logician says, ‘No. There are cows in Scotland of which at least one is brown.’ And the mathematician says, ‘No. There is at least one cow in Scotland, of which one side appears to be brown.'”

In Haddon’s book the joke is told by the protagonist to extol the superiority of maths over all the sciences, but it is a good example of how our brain works, and how complex reality requires a lot of data processing.

The case of the cow in the field in Scotland is a simple example of a rather simple reality, the problem is that we tend to make observation about very complex realities in the very same simplistic way. This is not because we are foolish or careless, but because, as already seen above, we cannot be wasting time every time we glance outside the window of a moving train to consider all possibilities.

The consequences of these cognitive shortcuts are insignificant when it is a cow in a field quickly disappearing from view, but become problematic when we apply this quick decision making to the complex realities of human behaviour and belief. As The Guardian’s science correspondent Hannah Devlin puts it in her article Unconscious bias: what is it and can it be eliminated?

“Scientists believe that stereotypes in general serve a purpose because clustering people into groups with expected traits help us navigate the world without being overwhelmed by information. The downside is that the potential for prejudice is hard-wired into human cognition.”

And this is why the colour of the cow is ultimately so important: by rejecting our normal cognitive processes when dealing with complex realities, we are less prone to fall prey to prejudice, and it is also why by challenging our most difficult issues, like antisemitism in Muslim communities, we are better placed to engage with an open mind with other issues that affect us all.

Furthermore, by visibly engaging with worthy campaigns, whose influence will benefit people we do not normally affiliate with, we win more support for causes which more directly affect us.

Put simply, when we hear a Priest lending support to LGBT+ tolerance, an imam eloquently exposing antisemitism, or a rabbi vociferously opposing islamophobia, we are not only more likely to sit up and listen, but we might also give a better chance to ideas and concepts we might have not been entirely open to up to then.

Lou Fioravanti is a Senior Researcher with Muslims Against Antisemitism.

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