Illustration by Hannah Robinson
Being a Jew on a British campus is not a universal experience. Ask ten different Jews what it is like and they will give you ten different answers. We are a varied, multi-faceted, differently opinionated group of people who do not, as someone told me this week, have a ‘universal stance’ on politics, Corbyn, or anything really – save probably where you can get a good bagel.
I am not, then, claiming to write an objective account on what it is to be young and Jewish in the UK today, but I am writing about what it is like for me – and, for lack of better words, it is terrifying. All the time. I go to bed scared and I wake up scared. Somedays this feeling is at the furthest edge of my periphery and sometimes it is so overwhelming I have to cry in the library loos, but it is always, unfailingly, there. Why? Because I, like many British Jews right now, feel consistently and palpably unsafe. Not for the things I am doing or the words I am saying but for who I am, genetically, culturally, racially and unchangeably. If you do not care about this, then there is a question you must ask yourself, honestly, and that is – why not? Why are you not outraged?
There may be a long and complex answer to this, or there may not, but what is certain is that it feels painfully as though many people just do not care – are apathetic, indifferent or disinterested in anti-semitism’s resurgence in modern Britain. But why? Why don’t people care that Jeremy Corbyn is the owner of an, at best hostile and, at worst, malignant, relationship with the Jewish community? That he deemed Raed Salah, a man formally charged for inciting anti-Jewish racism and violence, a ‘very honoured citizen’? That in 2012 he openly opposed the covering of a racist mural depicting old men with hooked noses sat next to an illuminati symbol, controlling the masses? That people claiming the Holocaust was ‘a hoax’ are not only being given platforms in Labour spaces, but have been defended by high ranking Labour MPs, such as the now resigned Christine Shawcroft, who only stood down after an email leaked in which she excused a Holocaust denier? Or what about in 2011 when Jeremy Corbyn co-sponsored a motion for the eradication and replacement of Holocaust Memorial Day? Or that he defended Rev. Stephen Sizer, a man banned by church authorities from social media for the repeated sharing of antisemitic material, often concerned with a Jewish 9/11 conspiracy? Why is this history so staunchly neutralised in Labour spaces?
The apathy that so much of the student body seem to have to this is what is the most frightening because silence is, and always has been, complicity with something far more sinister. This is perhaps why I have found the run up to the election especially painful. Seeing Labour support, and here’s the important word, unqualified Labour support, across timelines, university buildings and graffitied walls has been distressing. Seeing comments under Jewish authors’ work arguing anti-semitism in Britain is non-existent has been distressing. People sharing and liking articles written by non-Jews entitled ‘Doing X Thing Is Not Actually Anti-Semitic’ has been distressing. Corbyn’s Labour Party is presently representative of statements that mean that I, and people like me, am unwelcome. Statements which mean that I am almost desensitised to daily news coverage concerning vandalised synagogues, Holocaust conspiracies, and Swastika appearances, given that they are becoming so disturbingly commonplace. Alarm bells should be sounding for us all; so why aren’t they?
Here’s the thing – the Labour Party are currently the UK’s only chance at overturning the Conservative government; a government, amongst a vast array of other horrors, responsible for violent islamophobia, xenophobia, and anti-Blackness. It would be irresponsible to decry Labour’s racism without also decrying that of the Conservatives which is, and has always been, rampant. The Labour Party’s manifesto promotes human rights and welfare policies in a desperately needed way that will undoubtedly help those communities damaged by decades of Tory austerity and a blatant Conservative disdain for the working class. Frustratingly, voting Lib Deb or Green in a vast majority of constituencies is nothing but assurance of Tory seats.
So what do I suggest? Well more than anything, I beg you to care. I understand and empathise with Labour support, but I think in order for Jews to feel safe, it has to come with the caveat that you are pro-Labour policy and anti Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-semitism. You are against endangering the Jewish community and you are passionate and vocal about its right to protection and safety. You listen to Jewish voices, you platform them and you make it known that you stand with them. You challenge those who are either silent on the issue or hostile, and you tell your Jewish friends you care about them. You must be loud. You must be difficult. But most of all, I beg you to care.