Jewish, proudly British and increasingly concerned about rising antisemitism

Daniel Finkelstein, associate editor at Times of London, provided an extremely lucid, measured and penetrating look into antisemitism in the UK, in a column published in August.  It’s behind a pay wall, and we thought it was valuable enough to provide excerpts.

He begins by providing some important context, stressing the fact that “in the long history of the Jews, there are very few better places or times to live than right here, right now”.

So there we were, a handful of Jews, sitting on either side of the House of Lords in our ermine, waiting for the Queen to get robed up and open parliament. And across the chamber, one of my co-religionists calls out the question that Jews have asked each other since the most ancient of days: “Where shall we go for lunch?” I wanted to tell you that story before I got going with this piece so that you understand, before you read the rest of it, that I know what this country is.

Finkelstein then sets up the larger narrative.

Last weekend, the guy in charge of chopped fish in Sainsbury’s in Holborn, central London, panicked. He moved the gefilte fish balls and the rollmop herring to a different refrigerator in a well-meaning, if misconceived, attempt to keep the New Green cucumbers from being entangled in a political row with some demonstrators. It was a bad moment and one I will come back to.

He then writes evocatively about his family’s history, and his love for his country.

When I took the oath to the Queen in the House of Lords, my mother, a refugee from the Nazi death camps, was sitting just a few feet from me. 
Every Jew I know comes from a family that at some point, not all that long ago, was driven out from somewhere else. Almost all have a story of a family member who was killed, a large portion of them within living memory. To be able to become an actuary and settle in Radlett, occasionally striking out on an intrepid adventure to eat at the Delisserie in Stanmore, marks a high point in Jewish civilisation, in my opinion.
So for all that I am about to write, I know what this country is and I love it.

And, yet…

Yet just recently, things are a bit different. Almost every Jew feels it.
For most of my life, antisemitism was not an issue. 

Something has changed.

Two things changed this. And the first was 9/11.
When baffling events happen, planes coming out of a clear blue New York sky, people look for an explanation, a wrong that can be righted, an appeal that can be made to reason. And very often in history, the answer involves doing something about the Jews. I’m just saying. It does.
So it was after the twin towers came down. I had just started writing for The Times and I began to get antisemitic correspondence.

When I was a child, the synagogue bought some walkie-talkies as a security measure…The purchase became a bit of a family joke…
No one would joke about that now. It would be unthinkable to organise a Jewish event of any kind without really quite strict security….My child goes to school behind several sets of very high, electronically controlled gates and bars, and a guard. None of the parents regards that as unnecessary.

More recently.

Within the last week, just to give you a feel for it, I have been sent two separate tweets with different content by people claiming the “Jewish Holocaust is a hoax” — one, tellingly, providing a link from the Iranian television website. And another tweet about how “they” are “well funded and own the media”.
Gaza has made things worse.

Anti-Zionism and antisemitism.

It is absolutely and definitively not antisemitic to criticise Israel.
Yet at the same time much anti-Zionism is entangled with antisemitism and it is important to make that clear, too. 
It is antisemitic to suggest that the world is being dominated by the great pariah state of Israel, defending its own interests through money and power. It is antisemitic to suggest that the “Zionists” control the media. It is antisemitic to elevate the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians high above all the wrongs being done, not least to Palestinians, by neighbouring states.

And when someone throws a rock at a Jew, who is going to pick it up and ask: “Hold on, can we just be a clear? Was this an anti-Zionist rock or an antisemitic rock?”
Whatever the protesters intended, they bounced Sainsbury’s into closing the kosher food counter. They managed to exile the Jewish Film Festival. They hold out the implicit threat that you can live here in peace — here, in Britain — but not if you want to support Israel. Who cares if they mean to be antisemitic?
I worry — for the first time in my life, I do, I worry — about walking to synagogue on the Jewish new year.

A gathering storm?

This is a great country to live in and in many ways it is getting better…Yet most of us Jews, wherever we are in the world, have a niggling feeling that perhaps it might be a good idea to keep a suitcase packed, and many of us have had, at least once, a conversation about where we would go if we had to.
I don’t have such a suitcase. I won’t need it, I know I won’t. But If I told you that I didn’t understand it, I’d be lying.

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