Are Jews really “wandering again”?

Three children with school bags entering a tunnel, passing by a group of armed Israeli soldiers.Earlier this week an article appeared on Unherd by Douglas Murray, titled “Why are Jewish people ‘wandering’ again?”. It was an interview with a Jewish lawyer called Mark Lewis, who along with his partner Mandy Blumenthal, is planning to leave Britain and relocate to Israel. The reasons given are that anti-Semitism has become ‘acceptable’ again and that society has shown ‘equanimity’ towards anti-Jewish extremism, such as the “Al-Quds Day” march which takes place every year in London and is organised by the Islamic Human Rights Commission, a group with known Iranian links. The piece links to an article on the Times of Israel website, which quotes him as saying “We’ve accelerated our decision of moving to go to Israel because of anti-Semitism being so institutional and accepted in mainstream life”. The word ‘accelerated’ suggests that he had been planning to emigrate anyway; recent events only caused him to go sooner rather than later. Follow the links on the TOI website and you’ll get to this article which reveals that Mandy Blumenthal is Israeli and that Lewis, who has multiple sclerosis, has taken part in clinical trials (PDF) at Hadassah hospital which caused some improvement in his condition. So, he has strong links to Israel already and was already a committed Zionist.

The TOI article is more revealing about his motives: he describes Europe as ‘finished’, claiming that “every day” someone is attacked in some way in Europe: “You see people murdered in museums in Belgium, people murdered in schools in France, people attacked in England. There is only one place for Jewish people to go”. This is, of course, something of an exaggeration and racist attacks happen to members of other minorities, not just Jews, and entire political parties operate on a platform of hostility to immigrants and citizens descended from them — this usually excludes Jews. In the country he plans to emigrate to, soldiers humiliate the native Palestinians, imprison them on a whim, monopolise their water so that Israel can have the appearance of a ‘western’ country with all the modern conveniences, and take over their houses as and when they deem it necessary. There is also widespread, well-documented racism against African and other immigrants. But as long as Jews are safe, he is happy.

Murray’s article does not give any evidence that Jews are leaving Britain in large numbers for Israel. It is just one couple and there has always been a trickle of people moving here to there. (In 2015, the Jerusalem Post published statistics that said that migration from Israel to the UK outstripped “aliya”, or migration to Israel, three to two.) Lewis is 54; he is coming up to the age when many people in well-paid professions take early retirement and some people like the warmer climate and the close-by Mediterranean Sea. There are lots of reasons already why some Jews might choose to move; the fact that everyone is Jewish and finding kosher food is not hard, or maybe they have family connections there. There are also good reasons not to leave: some people may like to spend two weeks in the sun but could not live in that climate all the time; the fact that the areas where there is a heavy Jewish population are quite safe, leafy and suburban and kosher food and synagogues are readily available there if not elsewhere. They have access to good schools, including some Jewish faith schools; there are Jewish societies at all major universities. Anti-Semitism exists (there are cases of grave vandalism every once in a while, for example), but it is far milder than the prejudices other minorities face and does not have mainstream media sympathy. Much of what was complained about during the “Labour anti-Semitism” row consisted of harsh words about Israel or its supporters, not Jews per se.

As for the particular issue of the Al-Quds Day event, Murray alleges that “the public do not turn out to protest the Al-Quds day march as they would a march by the KKK or some neo-Nazi group”. Actually, those counter-demonstrations are not by “the public” but by a dedicated group of anti-fascists. They do not demonstrate against Al-Quds Day because it’s not a threatening demonstration by racist football hooligans or Nazis (not the KKK which is tiny or non-existent here) who target minorities, sometimes including Jews, in this country; it’s against Israel. I’ve never been to one of these; the popularity of Iranian front organisations has declined considerably since the 90s and even more so since the start of the Syrian civil war; the same can be said of Hizbullah who had previously been seen by some as a heroic Lebanese resistance force, but have since thrown in their lot with Assad and have joined in besieging opposition hold-outs. A lot of Muslims agree that talking about “human rights” while supporting a dictator that does not respect them is inconsistent and I rarely see its awards on Muslim social media nowadays. There are other efforts to monitor anti-Muslim agitation and abuses, such as The Trashies (which covers Islamophobia in the media), Cage and Prevent Watch, among other efforts.

Mark Lewis is not fleeing persecution by moving to Israel. He is moving from a country where Jews have good lives and where they commonly achieve positions of power and influence to live behind barricades in a country where Jews are the oppressor, and enjoy a western lifestyle to the detriment of those oppressed people. We often hear the term ‘oppression’ used as a technical term to refer sometimes to quite trivial things, often to mere disadvantage or annoyance, but what goes on in Palestine is the real thing — a people being actively oppressed by an occupying power while the world looks on, mostly with approval. Douglas Murray, who has previously proclaimed that “conditions for Muslims must be made harder across the board”, devotes two paragraphs to telling us how illustrious and public-spirited this man is, that he represented some worthy causes against the rich and powerful, such as Rupert Murdoch, but the ‘cause’ he now promotes is one supported by some of the world’s richest and most powerful men and women, including Rupert Murdoch and some of the new breed of fascistic or authoritarian political leaders such as Modi, Trump, Orban and Bolsonaro. So, let’s not pretend that our brightest and best are being driven out by racism. They’re moving to racism, not from it.

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