Last weekend I had a brief exchange with three women on Twitter, two Muslim and one Jewish, after one of the two Muslims retweeted a conversation about Jews versus Blacks and why the first group does not “act oppressed” the way Black people supposedly do. I responded that Jews had long since lost any right to be called an oppressed or marginalised group in many western countries and certainly the UK and to a large extent the USA as well. In response to this and my post from a couple of weeks back about Julie Burchill’s racist diatribe (in which she said Judaism attracted high-quality converts while Islam only attracts the ‘dregs’ of society), I’ve had people accuse me of anti-Semitism or “bad faith” for making such generalisations as that Jews are no longer a persecuted minority and that they are generally wealthy. It ties in with the repeated accusations of anti-Semitism against people connected to Jeremy Corbyn, the current leader of Britain’s Labour Party, often for things that appear to have had no racial component at all (some of the other accusations of racism in the Labour Party, for example against Jess Phillips for abusive but not racist language against Dianne Abbot, are in my opinion equally spurious).
To be clear, I don’t deny that there is some lingering prejudice against Jews in this country. I went to a boarding school where there were three Jewish boys at different times and racial name-calling was common, and I saw staff use such language as well. I don’t dispute that anti-Semitic violence also happens, and that in other parts of Europe the Far Right is as anti-Semitic as it ever was and has gained in power. But the UK is not Poland, Hungary or even the USA and when I talk about race relations, religious community relations or, for that matter, gender relations, I am principally talking about my own country of 60 million people. Anti-Semitism is not the prejudice of the moment and it hasn’t been for decades in this country; I would dispute that it is that anywhere, even in Eastern Europe. Furthermore, I believe that harping on anti-Semitism has the effect of muting concerns about other prejudices about groups in society that are vastly more marginalised than Jews have been any time since the War here. It is, in my opinion, a way for the majority White population to muzzle expressions of impatience from minorities and particularly Muslims.
People often say that men do not realise how widespread sexism is — sexual harassment, for example — because they rarely if ever see it happen, and the same is true of anti-Semitism; that if one is not Jewish and for that matter does not live anywhere there is a large Jewish population, one will not see it. As I said earlier, I have seen it, though rarely in person as an adult; I have heard Jewish callers to London talk shows say that they have encountered displays of prejudice (e.g. people throwing coins at them) while wearing identifiably Jewish clothing such as the kippah (skullcap). However, hostility to Muslims is not something that people who live in this country for any length of time can fail to notice. Consider the Daily Mail cutting with the headline “German Jews pouring into this country” that gets circulated on social media from time to time. It’s from 1938, the same year as Kristallnacht and the refugees it refers to had very good grounds to flee their home country even before the Holocaust had begun in earnest. If anyone could find an anti-Semitic Daily Mail headline from any time since, we would be seeing it on social media all the time — but we do not.
Sayeeda Warsi famously said that Islamophobia had passed the “dinner table test”, that is, it is a sentiment that could be expressed in polite company or in public without sanction. But it’s gone further than that. National newspapers proclaiming on the front page that Muslims were demanding this or that, TV documentaries claiming we were saying this or that about non-Muslims behind their backs, radio phone-ins about Muslims demanding or getting sex-segregated or modest swimming sessions (or blacked-out windows, which turned out to be untrue) have become routine since 2001 and especially since 2005. We have seen public campaigns succeed in getting privately booked “Muslim days” at ‘public’ venues (such as swimming pools) or private ones (like theme parks) cancelled. We have seen various Labour Party functionaries lose their jobs or be expelled for statements deemed anti-Semitic (e.g. suggesting that Israel was behind ISIS) or deemed to have invoked “anti-Semitic tropes” but the Spectator printed numerous articles containing outright and demonstrable lies about Muslims under Boris Johnson’s editorship, complete with inflammatory front pages, and Boris Johnson went on to be mayor of London and now, despite causing the government (and the country) endless embarrassment, is Foreign Secretary. The mildest of perceived anti-Semitism costs people jobs; hatred of Muslims often costs nothing, and when someone does get demoted for smears against Muslims (e.g. Sarah Champion), there will be a chorus of sympathy.
Pretty much every definition of oppression or marginalisation as applied to minorities in western countries considers systemic as well as personal factors — the access a group has to political power and the media, as well as experience of prejudice. It’s generally accepted that white people cannot be said to be victims of racism as such because white people in general have a greater degree of power in terms of who makes the laws, who runs major companies (and decides who else has a job), whose voices dominate public debate, who enforces the law and so on. Without getting into any conspiracy theories about Jewish ‘control’ of major media companies (not true as far as ownership of major UK media companies is concerned), Jewish voices are heard in the mainstream media all the time and some very extreme ones (e.g. Melanie Phillips) are retained for years after expressing extreme views about other minorities, particularly Muslims, and allowed to continue pontificating on that issue as well as anything else for years (Phillips, despite having lost her weekly column in the Daily Mail, remains a regular on the Radio 4 panel show The Moral Maze). There are Jewish MPs and peers in all the major political parties and these have included Cabinet ministers in both Labour and Tory governments.
Someone mentioned to me the other day that “60,000 Nazis” had marched in Poland and this had been approved of by the government. It’s true that the Far Right have maintained an anti-Semitic position for decades and have made obviously anti-Semitic statements, that thugs linked to the Far Right have vandalised Jewish graves and synagogues and attacked Jewish people. It’s also true that when the Far Right have won brief electoral success, it has been through exploiting fears about immigration or demonising other minorities, and that when Nick Griffin was leader of the BNP, despite being an anti-Semite and Holocaust denier, he moved the party away from focussing on anti-Semitism to attacking other minorities and immigrants and expelled John Tyndall, his mentor from the National Front days who clung to the “old” anti-Semitic platform. What has mobilised the Far Right in eastern Europe is the influx of refugees from Syria and the refusal of governments in the “Visegrad group” to accept them, promoting the idea of those countries as a bulwark of “white, Christian Europe” against multiculturalism and Islam. But even that’s there and this is here. Anti-Semitism isn’t a vote winner here, and even the Far Right know it. In the USA, if the Trump presidency brings an upsurge of racial violence, the targets are not likely to be Jews but African-Americans and Muslims, as the public has been softened up for that through decades of propaganda from both the pulpits and the newspapers and radio which does not demonise Jews.
Someone asked me not to make it a competition as to “who was the most oppressed”. I do not know of any measure by which Jews, in modern western society, could be called oppressed. Speaking as a white, middle-class Muslim who does not really distinguish myself from other middle-class white people in this bit of white middle-class suburbia, I don’t feel oppressed as I go about my business — I do not feel endangered although I am sure my African and especially South Asian fellow Muslims, and women even more so if they wear the hijab, have an entirely different experience on a day-to-day basis. That’s the way it is for a white person with a religion other than Christianity in Britain today. I still have white privilege even though my religion is a focus of hostility and suspicion, and the same is true for Jews (and most British Jews are white). If someone is not wearing noticeably Jewish clothing, it is impossible to tell if they are Jewish by looking at them, and if they do not have a stereotypically Jewish name, you will not know it unless they tell you. As you do not have to register your religious affiliation (even on the census, stating your religion is optional), and we do not have mandatory ID cards that state such details, finding out the Jewish origin of a non-observant Jew is not as simple a matter as finding out that a non-practising South Asian or African Muslim is, at the very least, not white.
It’s simply ludicrous to call Jews an oppressed minority, and it’s depressing to see Muslims of colour who think they’re ‘woke’ trot out the dogmas of the race relations industry. We play into the hands of the people who oppress our brothers and sisters in Palestine in so many ways by indulging the snowflakery and cry-bullying of their cousins and friends in the West, and I wonder if they are not partly influenced by anti-Arab sentiment inspired by the anti-Black racism that is known of in Muslim communities in the USA and the recent incidents of slaving in Libya. It’s racism 101 to know that being part of an economically and politically privileged group does not mean you are individually wealthy or powerful, and your hurt feelings when it’s pointed out do not change that. We know that some Jews (and many more people of partly Jewish origin) are opposed to Israel and some do things like help refugees, and we also know that we have some common ground like the need for religiously slaughtered meat, we cannot pull punches when talking about the oppression in Palestine and the role of western Jews in supporting that regime. We betray our own brothers and sisters by bending over backwards to accommodate the feelings of members of the same ethnic group and religion here, and nobody sincere about wanting to achieve justice for Palestinians can expect us to.
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