Two weeks ago, four Jews were killed in a kosher supermarket for being Jews. Anti-Semitism was in the news once again. The headlines confirmed what everyone in a minority has known for some time: racism, in all forms, is on the rise.
Right-wing Jewish groups like Campaign Against Anti-Semitism seized on it as an opportunity to feed paranoid dogma. Zionist groups used it as an excuse to promote immigration to Israel. Conservatives pulled together awful policies, saying it meant we needed more police.
We, on the Jewish Left, struggled to articulate ourselves, to say that Jews did of course have a future in Europe, to reject right-wing opportunism, to say that we would be stronger if we united with all other groups facing bigotry, to express our concerns about Islamophobic and anti-immigrant backlashes, to offer our best arguments for socialist, anarchist and democratic solutions to anti-Semitism.
And we did it alone. We did it alone.
If you read any of the left-wing news sources or subscribe to any of the UK’s leftist parties, you wouldn’t even know an attack on Jews had happened. You’d know about Charlie Hebdo. You’d know about the attacks on mosques in the aftermath. You could read deep and insightful histories of French colonialism in North Africa and interesting accounts of the problems in the Parisian banlieus. But nothing about Jews.
On Counterfire: nothing. On Left Unity: nothing. From the Greens: nothing. Red Labour: nothing. On the Revolutionary Socialists Network: nothing.
My Facebook and Twitter feeds filled up with Jews offering their thoughts. But from other, non-Jewish leftists, I just heard nothing. Absolutely nothing.
I want to know why. I want to ask some questions to the rest of the Left.
Do you think it doesn’t matter?
Maybe you thought it wasn’t newsworthy. But it’s not every day that Jews get killed in a supermarket for being Jews. That felt pretty important, to us at least.
Didn’t you care?
You must have cared. You’re leftists because you care about other human beings. You worry about people’s lives and want to see them do well. Surely a public execution of Jews warrants something. Just your condolences. Just your acknowledgement. That’s all.
Do you think anti-Semitism isn’t an issue?
In that case, how many Jews need to die before it is?
Did you think that Islamophobia mattered more?
The gunman was a Muslim. We were all worried that the attack would result in a backlash against Muslims. It has. It’s been terrifying. We’re adamant that we must stand together with Muslims and support our comrades and neighbours through all that’s happening. But surely – surely – the attack on Jews warranted enough to worry a little bit about anti-Semitism too. Just enough to say it was happening.
Do you believe the lies they tell about us? Do you believe we’re all rich and doing fine?
It’s an old distraction tactic from the right-wing elites to scapegoat Jews as wealthy. They think that if they point the finger at us, nobody will notice that the ruling class is overwhelmingly white, Christian and from the same schools. The truth is Jews are evenly spread across all classes, mirroring almost exactly the rest of society. As a religious group, we are no more wealthy or poor than any other religious group.
Do you think we’re all white?
Most of France’s Jews come from North Africa. The murdered came from Tunisia and Algeria. The Jews of Paris come from the same cities as the Muslims of Paris. Most Jews in Europe come from the Middle-East and North Africa. Not centuries and centuries ago. They and their parents were born in Morocco, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Yemen and Afghanistan. We’re overwhelmingly not white.
If we were all rich and white, would it mean it mattered less?
Perhaps it would. But surely it wouldn’t mean it mattered so little that anti-Semitism didn’t deserve a mention.
Do you think Israel’s occupation of Palestine justifies anti-Semitic attacks in Europe?
One BBC reporter, Tim Wilcow, said exactly that.
Israel is occupying Palestine. It’s inexcusable and unjust. It gives anti-Semites an excuse. It makes people everywhere angry. But the Jews who live in London, Paris and the rest of the world don’t have any control over that. We are not Israel’s military occupation any more than Christians are the Pope. Of course we’re not. A people can be oppressed in one space and oppressors in another. That shouldn’t mitigate against mentioning their oppression where you see it.
Do you think support from Tories is enough?
Theresa May and Eric Pickles were snapped holding up signs saying “Je suis Juif” [French: I am a Jew], in solidarity with those killed. Conservatives and right-wing Labour leaders made statements. The Spectator and The Telegraph wrote articles about the worrying growth in anti-Semitism. But we didn’t want, need or ask for their support. It’s the support of our comrades – the people who stand with us on anti-cuts and anti-war demonstrations – that matters. We needed to hear something from you.
Do you know that your silence is driving Jews to the right?
When you ignore Jewish suffering, you hand undecided Jews over to fundamentalist religious movements and Zionist political groups on a plate. They see no place for themselves on the Left, so go in any other direction. One of the main reasons that groups like the reactionary street movement Jewish Defence League are growing is that the organised Left hasn’t stepped in to offer an alternative. It’s not enough for Jewdas to write articles and organise vigils. We need you on our side.
I hate it, I really do, when anyone starts a conversation with “the problem with the Left is…” It’s an act of separating yourself from the rest of the Left, giving up and saying that it’s somebody else’s responsibility to change.
Only in this case, we didn’t separate ourselves from the Left. The Left separated itself from the Jews. You did that when you didn’t acknowledge that four Jews were murdered in a supermarket for being Jews.
And I want to know why.