I didn’t join the Gaza march because I didn’t want to be called an anti-Semite

Too often, that accusation is used to silence criticism

Share

Tens of thousands of people marched through British cities on Saturday to protest against Israel’s ruthless onslaught on Gaza, which has left almost 2,000 civilians dead. Hamas has been firing rockets into Israel, too, causing fear and trauma. I do not think a legitimate sense of grievance can excuse Hamas’s daily strikes.

However, Israeli children, mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers have not been bodily threatened to anywhere near the same degree by Hamas in the past few weeks. Israel’s actions are gravely disproportionate.

The demo was organised by the Stop the War Coalition – a group which has been active since the illegal war on Iraq, holding power to account. Many conscience-stricken British Jews were there, so too some Hasidim.

Massive marches took place in South Africa, led by the noblest of men, Archbishop Desmond Tutu. I didn’t join the marchers in London because, well, I was worried that I would lay myself open to charges of anti-Semitism. Which is what happened when, some time back, I went out on a march against the Israeli strangulation of Gaza. So, cowardice prevailed over principle this weekend. Not proud.

I do, though, want to examine and understand anti-Semitism in Britain and the West, which may turn out to be even more risky than holding a placard and shouting slogans. A week ago, Channel 4 News tried to persuade me to go and talk about the attacks on synagogues and Jewish people since the beginning of the latest Gaza campaign. I said I couldn’t comment because my thoughts and feelings were in chaos. I could easily condemn obvious anti-Jewish hatred.

The vile abuse, graffiti and attacks across Europe are sickening; ethnic or religious groups should never be collectively blamed and scapegoated, in times of war or peace. I see too many emails and tweets expressing the vilest forms of abuse. Jewish people have been impugned and experienced indescribable horrors throughout their history. Outrage and criticism should be directed at the current, inhumane Israeli government, even if its actions in Gaza are backed by the majority of its people, many of whom are too frightened to know better.

What I couldn’t get my head around, though, was the way extreme and even reasonable Zionists were pointing to anti-Semitism as a way of shutting down debate.

 

False accusations are currently flying around and hurting good people. That is simply unacceptable. The decision of the Tricycle Theatre to drop the Jewish Film Festival because a small amount of funding came from the Israeli government was not proof of left-wing Jew-hatred, as some neocon and Jewish Chronicle journos allege. It must have been a tough call, made in good faith. The theatre’s artistic director, Indhu Rubasingham, is a brilliant artist, not a political animal.

The chair, Jonathan Levy, a good friend, is a man of deep integrity – and is himself Jewish. His wife, Gabrielle Rifkind, is a universally respected expert on conflict resolution – read the recent book The Fog of Peace, which she co-wrote with Giandomenico Picco. I have been to soirées at their home where people on all sides from the various Middle Eastern nations are invited to talk freely.

The theatre took a stand. Those who malign the director and chair say Israel is being picked on. No. If Syria and Isis were funding events at the Tricycle, they might have a point. To claim India, which hosted a film festival there, is as guilty of oppression is absurd. Hundreds weren’t being massacred at the time in India.

The truth is that Israel has historically got away with brutal campaigns in Gaza, but now, with public opinion turning, that deal is off.

False accusations devalue the currency and give deniers real ammunition. Incalculable damage is caused by those who falsely cry rape, racism, Islamophobia, and sexism. Be scrupulous in your response when people are branded anti-Semites – particularly if their accuser is a loyal friend of Israel. Those pointed at may well be anti-Semitic, but they could also be misrepresented.

Exaggerated claims are equally counter-productive. A young American-Jewish journalist who works in Britain castigated the Tricycle and wrote this chilling line: “Watch yourself, Europe. Your roots are showing.” Yes, there have been murders of Jews by Muslim extremists and anti-Semitism is out and about. But she must know that the EU never stops Israel’s killing missions, and that for today’s European fascists the No 1 enemy is Muslims.

Besides clear anti-Semitism and unfair charges of it, there is that most nebulous category: anti-Semitism which could be there or not be, and is impossible to prove or un-prove. An Anglo-Saxon writer said this to me on Thursday: “When babies are being blown apart in Gaza, I can’t get too excited about graffiti about Jews and black flags. There is no comparison. Does that make me anti-Semite?” A reader asked: “They go on about anti-Semitism. What do we call Jewish hatred of Muslims? They don’t let us ask these questions.” Do we brand these people anti-Semites? I really don’t know.

We need to unpick anti-Semitism: its manifestation, meaning and effect. As well as condemning its occurrence, we should name and shame those who fling out the accusation when there is no evidence it is called for.

Twitter: @y_alibhai

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron faces the press as he arrives in Brussels for the EU leaders summit on Thursday reuters  

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas