By Debbie Shamir
At the end of every week, on Friday night, Jewish people come together to indulge in age-old traditions. Whether you are religious or not, this evening and the following day (‘Shabbat’) is symbolic to us all, some use it to pray, some use it to switch off from social media. However, this Friday night instead of welcoming in the weekend by lighting the candles with my mother, I sat furiously scrolling through a profusion of anti-Semitic tweets by grime artist Wiley. According to Wiley, Jewish people resembled the Ku Klux Klan, Jewish people are racist and Jewish people make him sick.
When the police came knocking at his door, instead of admitting defeat and apologising, Wiley continued to spout his conspiracy theories to his half a million followers on Instagram and Twitter. The police coming to his door was somehow proof that Jews run the world. Although Wiley’s blatant anti-Semitism has created a greater uproar than ever before, this incident was not isolated. It was just one of many cases of anti-Semitism running riot on social media.
Just last week, Madonna shared a video to her Instagram audience of over 15 million, with a speech from the Nation of Islam leader, Louis Farrakhan, who has historically spread anti-Semitic content. Despite her Instagram mainly being used as a platform for anti-racist activism, for some reason tackling anti-Semitism was not included in her endeavour.
If the fact that Wiley’s tweets were left for over 12 hours before Twitter took any of them down wasn’t terrifying enough for the Jewish community, the sheer amount of people that commented endorsing his abhorrent anti-Semitism and claiming that ‘he has a point’ or ‘he isn’t completely wrong’ was really the cherry on top.
Fighting racism with racism has never worked. Dismissing the existence, and prevalence of anti-Semitism makes you part of the problem. If you can mobilise with other minorities in their time of hardship, why aren’t Jews included in your activism?
Our experiences of anti-Semitism are often denied because some Jewish people, predominantly those of Ashkenazi (originated in Eastern Europe) descent can pass as white. This privilege, however, does not always extend to Sephardi or Mizrachi Jews (originated in the Middle East and Africa) who are less visibly white. Even for those that can pass, it requires shedding a part of your identity, it means dressing in a way that couldn’t identify you as Jewish, not wearing a kippah (a cap worn by Jewish men) in the street or hiding your Star of David necklace. 73% of Jewish people have admitted to hiding things that can identify them as Jewish, on at least one occasion for fear of their safety. Even with total assimilation, we cannot always pass. We can still be othered for our ‘Jewish’ noses or darker complexions, which is especially difficult for Jews of colour. Only by denying a part of our identity, can Jewish people be free of any stereotypes that have historically shaped the world’s perceptions of us.
We grew up believing that our very existence as Jews meant that we were a target. Attending Jewish schools came with requirements, we had high security, regular bomb threats, and fencing that circulated the entire perimeter of our grounds. Why? Because so many Jewish people all in one place meant we were vulnerable. This did not stop anti-Semitism manifesting on our journeys into school though. We were often subject to verbal attacks, and sometimes physical ones, anything from having stones thrown at our buses or people doing Nazi salutes. This was our norm growing up.
It is time to listen to your Jewish friends when they tell you that anti-Semitism is alive and well. Just as we stand in solidarity with other minorities, we should expect the same respect back. I am tired of fighting my own battle, I am tired of being gaslit about anti-Semitism and I am tired of seeing my newsfeed plagued by frustrated Jews fearing for their futures whilst my non-Jewish friends sit idly by. We may have some privileges that other minorities do not, but that does not make our experiences invalid. If being actively anti-racist includes fighting hatred towards all groups, it must also include fighting against anti-Semitism.