Why we need to be wary of Anti-Semitism

Image credit: Peter Jennings

I was apprehensive about penning this piece.

This is because, put simply, it is a very difficult article to write. When discussing anti-Semitism in the protest movements against Israel’s military operations in Gaza, potential pitfalls litter every path. With the monumental amount of civilians currently being massacred, many people have become, rightly, emotionally involved in the conflict. Most of us are horrified at the mounting death toll, and are particularly repelled by the multitude of child casualties. However, it becomes difficult to see flaws in the people who are against those who are bombing children. As a result, any criticism is often seen as an attack on the movement as a whole.

Writing this makes me vulnerable to accusations of ignoring the plight of the Palestinians. I would protest otherwise. I support an unconditional ceasefire, the cessation of illegal settlements by Israel and the immediate end to the shocking blockade. Not only is the bombing, starvation and erosion of Palestine morally wrong, but it is stoking support for the extremist Hamas – the very group Israel are trying to destroy.

Still, this needs to be written. One can be a supporter of the Palestinian cause, yet be concerned with some of the trends within the cause. All of us must be wary of burgeoning anti-Semitism, whether intentional or unintentional.  Worryingly, there have been some clear and shocking examples of anti-Semitism in our own movement .  There were recent riots in Paris, where eight synagogues were attacked. There have been many instances of racist chants and slogans. In Germany, chants such as “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas” have been heard. In protests in Britain, some anti-Semitic banners have been spotted.  Of course these have been instantly condemned by many and it goes without saying that we should distance ourselves from these pernicious incidents.

However, a more subtle anti-Semitism is also rising, much of it unintentional. It is not the sole preserve of extremists. There can be a lazy association of Israel with all Jewish communities. Recently the Cambridge Palestine Forum planned to hold a “silent vigil” outside the Cambridge Synagogue on Thompson Road. Ostensibly a worthy protest, this suggestion was nonetheless unwholesome. Why were, specifically, British Jews targeted? Michael Cahn, one of the organisers, claimed on the Facebook event page that “We are meeting in the vicinity of the synagogue in order to encourage the local congregation to take a stance on the actions of the Israel military.” But why should they be pressured into taking an opinion? As an editorial in The Guardian recently argued, Jews should not be “required to declare their distance from Israel as a condition for admission into polite society"

To suggest otherwise is, put plainly, discrimination against one particular group based on their religion. Sound familiar?

Merely pointing out that many Jews support the cause of Palestine is insufficient. Actions are important. When we protest Israel’s bombing campaign, we should ensure that those protests are kept untainted and are done in the right spirit.

To their credit, the Cambridge Palestine Forum, a group which includes the Cambridge University Palestine Society, have listened to criticism from others and cancelled the event and I am sure their intentions were honest. But this should also serve as a warning to all of us. When we criticise Israel’s blood-soaked campaign in Gaza, we must be vigilant. Vigilant against both a hijacking of the movement by extremists and against unintentional, disquieting discrimination.

Anti-Semitism is something that is often associated with the dark eras of European history. Let’s do everything in our power to keep it a poison of the past, not of the present.


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