OPINION: What people outside of the Jewish community should know about the encampments

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OPINION: What people outside of the Jewish community should know about the encampments

We can’t understand or live side by side if we don’t communicate, listen to, or trust each other

Encampment at Cambridge University, May 2024. Pic: Gabrielle Apfel
Encampment at Cambridge University, May 2024. Pic: Gabrielle Apfel

Since October 7th, antisemitism in the UK and across the globe has risen exponentially. Even before October, being openly Jewish outside of Israel carried safety risks, particularly when tensions flared in the Middle East.

Over the past fortnight, encampments have been appearing at universities across Europe and North America. These encampments, some claim, have been set up to oppose the policies of the current Netanyahu administration’s policy towards Gaza. Many believe this claim.

If that, and that alone, were the case, there would be significant numbers of Jews coming out in support of these encampments. However, evidently, as the lack of support from Jewish communities demonstrate, that is often not the case, and not the aim of these encampments.

Over the past year and a half, there have been countless demonstrations against the Netanyahu government and his judicial ‘reforms’. Many of us, both Israelis, Jews and non-Jews, and diaspora Jews, would like nothing more than to see this current calamitous coalition government collapse.

However, many people outside of Jewish communities fail to understand this. Of course, there are those that understand, and feign ignorance, because they don’t care, due to antisemitic beliefs they may hold, but I’m not writing for them.

I’m writing this to provide some clarity to those outside of the Jewish community who may think that a Jew waving an Israeli flag means that we support Netanyahu or Ben-Gvir or Smotrich, or that someone who would define themself as a ‘Zionist’ (of which there are many different types) would like to create an Israeli empire in the Middle East or expel Israeli Arabs or Palestinians from their homes. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

All that many of us would love to see is an Israeli state and the establishment of a Palestinian state, side by side, living in peace. However, there are numerous obstacles to that scenario, unfortunately, such as Hamas’ governance of Gaza, Iran’s funding of proxy terror groups across the region, and the current far-right administration, which, quite frankly, appears to care very little about both Israelis and Palestinians.

Unfortunately, many Jews feel that we have to justify the existence of the Jewish state, right now, leaving little time or space to rally against Netanyahu. We have to temporarily put our differences and disagreements aside to counter those that want us gone and the Jewish state wiped off the map.

A large reason for this is the generational trauma that exists in Jews all over the world. Our ancestors and us have faced never-ending antisemitism, including everything from pogroms, expulsion and boycotts to concentration and death camps.

Many of us grew up with the idea that us Jews have to always have one bag packed, in case we have to flee, because we can never predict how bad antisemitism will get in a country or region.

Right now we are seeing an exponential rise in antisemitism, because of a mix of genuine antisemites from all over the political spectrum, although currently, in Britain, the main driving force seems to be the far left, as well as well-intentioned activists who aren’t educated enough about antisemitism to understand the difference between criticism of Israeli government policy, and antisemitic messaging and disproportionate targeting of both Jews and the State of Israel.

If you genuinely believe that you are the latter, my advice would be to speak to your Jewish friends, listen to Jewish commentators and intellectuals, but go in with an open mind and try and accept what we say and how we feel. Trust what we’re saying. Don’t try and redefine antisemitism; it’s not acceptable for non-members to define discrimination for most other minority groups, and it shouldn’t be the case for antisemitism either. We can’t understand or live side by side with one another if we don’t communicate, listen to, or trust each other, which is what we need to work on.

  • Gabrielle Apfel, activist and history student, Cambridge University
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