One thing that always astounds me is that people, clever, enlightened, stupid people, think that to be Jewish is to be Israeli, or support Israel, or come from Israel, and to criticise Israel is to cause personal offence to every Jew on the planet. Recently, anti-Semitism has reared its head in the news again, and from all sides of the debate I see people speaking in unhelpful platitudes and pluralities where nuance is required to dispel such ignorances. None are such as good an example as the debate surrounding Israel.
It is perfectly possible to be Jewish and not a Zionist; there are many Jews that have their good reasons not to be. Some are not Zionists because they dislike the actions of the Israeli government itself, some are not because they don’t believe there should be a Jewish state, that Jews and people of all other religions should be free to intermingle, and some are not simply because they don’t believe, if ever there were to be a Jewish state, it should have been put where it is. More likely than not a Jew will have some Zionist beliefs, but this is no reason to blame Jews as a race for Israel’s policies; that would be tantamount to blaming your local Muslim for the work of the Iranian government.
There is this odd notion that Jews somehow run the world, that Jews all meet up in Stamford Hill town hall on a Thursday night to discuss who to bomb, who to kill, who to spare.
On the flip side, this means that branding someone as anti-Semitic for speaking out on Israel is also misguided, as it assumes an attack on Israel is an attack on all Jews. While some opinions voiced against Israel may come from people with anti-Semitic tendencies, Israel deserves as much scrutiny as any other country, so long as that criticism is not racially charged. The issue deepens when people use Israel and this association to give legitimacy to their anti-Semitism.
This herd mentality, that all Jews are one definable people, pertains to other labels that Jews are frequently assigned. There is this odd notion that Jews somehow run the world, that Jews all meet up in Stamford Hill town hall on a Thursday night to discuss who to bomb, who to kill, who to spare. This was the focus of a mural that recently caused a furore when it was publicly liked by Jeremy Corbyn. Whilst it may be that there are some Jews in places of power, many Jews are just as average as anyone else, much to our mothers’ disappointment.
But the herd mentality is present in people’s response to anti-Semitism too. What often seems assumed is that if something is anti-Semitic, it will offend every Jew indiscriminately, and this presupposition of offence means anyone has license to be offended on the behalf of all Jews. In the past few years, anti-Semitic occurrences have plagued the Labour party, and some have been worthy of offence. But then we are told, by people who apparently speak on behalf of the Jewish community, by the PM herself, that we are all offended, and that we should all take every instance very seriously, completely lacking any nuance a situation might require. Someone drawing a stereotyping cartoon on a wall require a different response to someone saying that Hitler was a Zionist; both situations requires different levels of offence and different responses. Treating every blanket statement about Jews as a cause for blanket outrage to all Jews is doing a disservice to the diversity of Jewish beliefs and opinions.