I was not remotely surprised when I saw the news earlier today that Ken Livingstone had been suspended from the Labour party for making anti-Semitic remarks. After months of being told that anti-Semitism was not a problem on the Left, and that incidents in the past were merely coincidental ‘contained incidents’, this marks a turning point for Jews across the country. We no longer have to accept that defence.
I am a Jewish student, and in the last few weeks I have never been made to feel more uncomfortable about my race and my religion. Speaking to Jewish friends at my university and at others, it is clear that I am not the only one who feels that way.
Last week, Malia Bouattia was voted in as President of the National Union of Students, having made comments in the past about a “Zionist-led media”, and having referred to her alma mater Birmingham University as a “Zionist outpost”. In response, my university and many others are working on plans to disaffiliate their student unions from the organisation.
This week, we have also seen Naz Shah MP suspended for suggesting that we should relocate Israel to the United States, alongside claims that she shared a post likening Israeli policies to those of Hitler.
There is an important and fundamental difference between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, but what we have seen on the Left is an unfortunate bridging of the two: an appeal to old-fashioned anti-Semitic tropes about a Jewish control over the media, and a conflation of criticisms of Israeli policy in the settlements with an outright attack on Israel’s right to exist.
When I am told that Ms Shah apologised profusely, and made these comments before becoming an MP, I notice how many people are happy to say we should “forgive and forget”. But I make no reservations when I say that I am not comfortable with having elected representatives trivialise anti-Semitism in a public forum, regardless of when it took place.
Students throughout the country are exposed to rhetoric about marginalisation and oppression on a daily basis. We are told that certain opinions merit no-platforming, that some views are abhorrent and not to be articulated, and that certain groups are oppressed and we must all work together as an intersectional community to achieve social progress. The problem comes when there is an internal hypocrisy about which views should be challenged, and which groups constitute being oppressed.
My grandfather was incarcerated in Buchenwald concentration camp before he made the journey to come over to England. In England, he was offered a new start - he took the opportunity and ended up founding a teddy bear factory. He came to a country where he was free to religiously express himself. Today, the living memory of what happened to Jews in the Second World War is dying - and as it dies out, the sheer urgency about the threat anti-Semitism poses loses its strength.
Ken Livingstone’s comments today have crossed the line. In saying "[Hitler] was supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews", he uses language that trivialises genocide and appropriates historical judgements in an attempt to invalidate an ideology.
When British Jews read about the comments made by senior politicians we are horrified - but more importantly we are scared.
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