Racism isn’t always black and white. It can be missed if it doesn’t look like the acts or ideology of the KKK. When directed against Jews, it can be denied altogether. The recent controversies surrounding Ed Miliband’s late father and antisemitic chants at Tottenham Hotspur games, has brought out much ignorance about how antisemitism functions.
The use of the word ‘yid’ by Spurs fans, and opposing spectators responding with hissing sounds to imitate the sound of Nazi gas chambers, looks and sounds overtly antisemitic. Though many Spurs fans claim to be re-appropriating a word levelled at supporters of a club in a historically Jewish area, most Spurs fans are not Jewish and many Jews feel it is not their word to re-appropriate. But it does legitimise antisemitic abuse in a public space and make Jewish people feel less safe in football grounds. The Daily Mail did not publish anything as explicitly racist as these chants, or their 1930s columns against people like Ed Miliband’s refugee father. But antisemitism doesn’t always look like the Kristallnacht. Antisemitic imagery is invoked with references to Ralph Miliband’s refugee status, his fellow Jewish Marxist colleagues, to his sons growing up in North London, and to the god of the Old Testament. The question is not whether the Daily Mail is explicitly antisemitic. But to paraphrase Jay Smooth, what they did was antisemitic. It played on the very real antisemitism that lingers in Britain, that didn’t just “disappear” after the Holocaust – the UK experienced some of its worst antisemitic riots in 1947 following the murder of 3 British soldiers (one Jewish) in Palestine.
Antisemitism did not ‘disappear’ in the rest of the world either. In the US, where Jewish people have been unusually safe, Jewish people still experience the greatest number of racist hate crimes. In Russia, 20 nationalist MP’s felt comfortable enough in 2005 to advocate banning Jewish organisations. In Argentina, long after Adolf Eichmann was kidnapped by Mossad, terrorist attacks against the Jewish community in 1994 have been rife with accusations of an antisemitic establishment’s collusion – the military junta overthrown 11 years before killed up to 2,000 Jews in campaigns against left-wing dissidents. Golden Dawn in Greece and Jobbik in Hungary are increasingly strong political powers despite their open antisemitism.
Antisemitism is denied as a current force because Jews are seen as economically and politically privileged. It doesn’t fit an oppressor-oppressed binary precisely because Jews have historically been made to take ‘middle men’ roles that simultaneously protect and expose them. As April Rosenblum argues, antisemitism perpetuates racism against other marginalised groups by disguising power. Allowing success in historically stigmatised occupations ranging from money lending to acting, allows Jewish people to serve as an easy target. It is as much a product of racism as more obvious prejudices. Antisemitism is comforting because it presents the world’s problems as easy to solve: all suffering is a result of Jewish world control. Glenn Beck does not blame capitalism for Wall Street’s financial abuses, but a Jewish banker like George Soros as ‘the puppet master’. According to TIME columnist Joe Klein, Jewish influence on post 9/11 foreign policy “raised the question of divided loyalties: using U.S. military power, U.S. lives and money, to make the world safe for Israel.” It is yet to be explained how the US occupied Hawaii and the Philippines 5 decades before Israel’s existence if all US foreign policy is run in ‘Jewish interests’. It is yet to be explained how UK foreign policy would look different without Israel’s existence. The Iraq War was a continuation of the Clinton and Blair administrations’ sanctions and mass bombing, not the ‘foreign’ influence of a neo-conservative cabal. As former diplomat David Miller stated in ‘The Much Too Promised Land’,
“Finally, no conspiracy exists – no small bunch of Jews and conservative Christians compels an entire domestic and foreign policy establishment to support Israel against its collective will. The case for Israel is much deeper and bigger than that. It is rooted in the broadest conception of the American national interest: support for like-minded societies, that, correctly or not, are perceived by Americans to be more or less ‘like us.'”
“Divided loyalties” does not discriminate between a pro-Palestinian Marxist Jew and a neoconservative Jew. It invokes the millennia old lie that Jews cannot be trusted; Jews are fundamentally an ‘other’, ‘outside’ of history as Hegel argued, or “rootless cosmopolitans” to Stalin.
The left may be expected allies against antisemitism. But the left is bad at tackling antisemitism because Jewish people don’t fit a traditional class or nationality. They are constantly in exile, neither conditional wealth nor nationhood enough to fully liberate or protect them. Historic involvement by Jews in the Western left was rooted in Judaic traditions, and the idea that justice for all was the best way to liberate Jews. This involvement declined along with Jewish secular identity after 1945 due to the combination of Israel’s establishment, McCarthyism targeting US Jewish leftists as a ‘fifth column’ of Communist support, and conversely, Soviet antisemitism. Secular Jewish unions, newspapers, and Yiddish classes, faded amongst the diaspora. Jewish identity is now seen as ‘just’ religious. For the left, Jews had moved ‘beyond’ diaspora status and assimilated to middle-class norms. After the Six Day War in 1967, the right filled the vacuum on combating antisemitism. Israel became a desirable short-term safety option. Jewish religious leaders and philanthropists were to protect the diaspora, not left-wing gentiles unable to come to terms with centuries of antisemitism and the Holocaust. When Israel is accused of ‘not learning’ from the Holocaust it may be asked at what point did gentiles from the Roman Empire onwards ‘learn anything’. Israel’s actions do not create antisemitism as Rosenblum points out: they bring out the antisemitism that already exists in the world.
This context is particularly important for non-Jewish activists supporting Palestinian liberation. Equating Israel with the Nazis as a clumsy attempt to shame Jewish people about their history is hurtful for obvious reasons. A common argument is to declare oneself opposed not to Israeli people, but to Zionism and all nationalist ideologies. While anti-Zionism is not inherently antisemitic, it can perpetuate harmful imagery in a world where men with histories of Holocaust denial, like David Duke and Nick Griffin, declare the world is under “Zionist” control. A more successful tactic is shaming Israel by showing Palestinians’ humanity rather than portraying Israelis as “inhuman”. Efforts to enforce Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions on Israel should emphasise Israel may not be the world’s worst human rights offender, but that economic pressure is an effective tactic in the case of a trade-dependent country.
A commitment to dismantling antisemitism is a radical task. It is a task requiring the end of all oppressions, and seeing the true nature of power. The British state and financial system does not sustain itself through ‘Jewish influence’, and antisemitic tropes only protect powerful forces while encouraging violence against a religious, ethnic, and cultural minority. The latest controversies surrounding Spurs and the Daily Mail show the need for non-Jews to create a world in which Jews feel as safe in London, Paris, or Buenos Aries, as they can in Tel Aviv.