Most people would like to think they would be able to spot anti-Jewish hatred. They may have learnt about the Spanish Inquisition and the expulsion of Jews from countries across the globe.
They may have heard about the Blood Libels of the Middle Ages – the accusations that Jewish people killed Christian children and used their blood for ritual purposes. They may have learnt about the pogroms in Eastern Europe which saw the murder of tens of thousands of Jewish people across centuries.
If not, they would have almost certainly been taught about the antisemitism of 1930s Germany and ultimately, where this led.
To ghettos, concentration camps, and execution sites across the continent.
To gas chambers.
To six million Jews murdered.
And most people would agree that this antisemitism, the antisemitism they learnt about in school, is awful. It has no place in modern society.
But this knowledge – which is essential to understand the world today – is not the whole story. We must learn not only what antisemitism did look like, but equally as important, what anti-Jewish hatred does look like today.
Antisemitism is not simply a chapter to be taught in history. It cannot solely be spoken about in the past tense. It survived the liberation of the death camps and continues to blight our society today.
As the late Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks said, “It’s a prejudice that like a virus, has survived over time by mutating.” And we are seeing this mutation happening right in front of our eyes, on our streets and on our TV screens.
How do we end up with a member of the audience on BBC Question Time asking whether Israel’s efforts to defeat these murderous terrorists was comparable to the Nazis’ so-called ‘Final Solution’?
We are seeing thousands chant ‘From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free’ – a call for the destruction of Israel, the only Jewish State. We see occupations of train stations where they chant for an Intifada. We see former friends or acquaintances on social media celebrating, praising, or somehow justifying the 7th October massacre of Jews by Hamas as an act of resistance.
And how do we end up with a member of the audience on BBC Question Time asking whether Israel’s efforts to defeat these murderous terrorists was comparable to the Nazis’ so-called ‘Final Solution’?
Is it hard to spot antisemitism? No. For the Jewish community right now, it is impossible to miss. However, too many of those who would be appalled by the historic forms of antisemitism wilfully deny or defend the antisemitism we see today.
They will say that calling for an Intifada is not antisemitic but will then feel shocked when a Russian mob puts these words into action by storming an airport and hunting for Jews.
They will say there is nothing wrong with comparing Israel to the Nazis but will then be stunned when a Jewish woman in France is stabbed in her home and a swastika daubed on her door.
They will defend the right for protesters to call for armed revolution and then be silent when synagogues are firebombed and burnt to the ground.
They will attend Holocaust Memorial Day events and repeat the phrase ‘never again’ but will be silent in response to the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust. Even worse, they will call the actions of Israel a genocide – hollowing out the very meaning of the word.
It is not hard to see antisemitism, as long as you are willing to believe your Jewish friends when they tell you what it looks like today.
- Karen Pollock is chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust
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