Is antisemitism different from other forms of racism?

Mike Cushman asks, wherefore is this racism different from all other racisms?

Advocates of the IHRA document on antisemitism often claim that antisemitism is different from all other forms of racism because it attacks a privileged group rather than a disadvantaged group – are they right? Both Jewish and non-Jewish members of the antisemite hunting pack are fond of this claim.

The answer is, of course, no and yes.

Is antisemitism different?
Jews arriving in the East End at the start of the 20th century
Jews arriving in the East End at the start of the 20th century

Historically, at the end of the 19th century and the start of the 20th century Britain’s Jews were largely a poor immigrant community, sweated labour in the garment factories and living in overcrowded slums. Antisemitism then was no different to the racism suffered now by Bengalis in the East End who have inherited their workplaces and location. Balfour’s 1905 Aliens act was driven by the same visceral racism that characterises all the subsequent migration legislation from the 1962 Commonwealth

East End Bengalis protesting against the racist murder of Altab Ali (source Swadhinata Trust)

Immigrants Act onwards. Jews then faced the same problems in accessing housing, jobs and fair treatment from public agencies that people of colour face now. So, in this respect – no, not different.

Police do not have a routine of apprehending people for DWJ – Driving While Jewish – unlike the all too familiar misdemeanour of DWB [Driving While Black]. Candidates with Jewish sounding names have not had, for some considerable time, problems of getting job interviews or admission to Russell Group universities: Jewish doctors, lawyers and MPs are not rara avis. So, in this respect – yes.

Hasidic Jews and, to a lesser extent, kippa wearers run the risk of violent assault in common with visible ethnic minorities, women and lesbians and gays. Identifiable Jewish buildings are liable to vandalism, like mosques and temples, from a Nazi fringe. So, in this respect – no, not different.

Attacks on Israel may be motivated by hatred of Jews – although this is thankfully rare – just as attacks on, say, the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe or the Saudi regime may be motivated by anti-black or anti-Arab racism. Most often, however, they are motivated by disgust at an oppressive and violent state. Similarly critiques of Israel are driven by oppressive and violent treatment of Palestinians. So, again in this respect – no, not different.

Race is a complex and uncertain concept: socially constructed not biologically determined. Jews are not defined by ‘race’ and only partially by religion. Atheists of Jewish heritage are liable to experience antisemitism, even if less often than those who wear visibly Jewish clothing. The Nazis made no distinction between the most religious and the most secular. This mixture of ‘race’, religion, heritage and culture as markers is particular to Jews. So, in this respect – yes.

Allegations and Israel

Allegations of antisemitism are habitually used to attempt to discredit disclosures of Israel’s record of human rights abuses and breaches of international law. It is claimed that such reporting harms British Jews. No advocates of political support for the regime in another country makes the claim that such criticism represents a hate crime against their community or claim that adherence to a political program, in this case Zionism, is identical to their religious belief and thus a protected characteristic. So, in this respect – yes.

The rise of the fascist right is a threat to Jews just as it is to Muslims, people of colour, Roma, LGBT people. We will all be given tickets for the train to the concentration camps. The obsession of the Jewish community leadership with finding antisemitism among critics of Israel seems to be blinding them to this present danger. Even worse it means them giving a free pass to antisemites in America and Europe, particularly Eastern Europe, providing they support Israel and hate Muslims more than they hate Jews. We keep waiting for the expression of disgust when Israeli flags are waved at fascist demonstrations; when the Conservative Party teams up with antisemitic parties at the European parliament; or leaders of far-right governments are welcomed in Israel. So, again in this respect, should be no, not different, but seems to be yes.




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