Dave Rich began writing his masterful book The Left’s Jewish Problem: Jeremy Corbyn, Israel and Anti‑Semitism in 2011 as a doctoral thesis at Birkbeck, University of London, but it was fortuitously published in 2016 during the Labour antisemitism crisis.
Whereas The Left’s Jewish Problem was an academic exploration into the political and intellectual origins of contemporary hostility to Israel and antisemitism in the UK, the latest work by Rich, Director of Policy at the CST, Everyday Hate: How Antisemitism Is Built Into Our World And How You Can Change It, though no less erudite or well-researched, is more personal, and is accessible to readers of various levels of knowledge about the world’s longest hatred.
The book, though short and concise, is nothing if not ambitious. It explains much of the language, ideas and imagery that gave rise to ancient antisemitism, and how those anti-Jewish stereotypes are woven into contemporary rhetoric, culture, literature and politics – knowledge Rich hopes can help construct a revived societal defence against a racism which threatens not just Jews but society as a whole.
In addition to providing a dizzying number of examples of antisemitism his organisation recorded in a mere seven days before he began writing the book, Rich illustrates the scale of the problem by way of statistics. This includes a 2018 EU poll showing that 38% of Jews across 12 countries in Europe avoid going to places in their neighborhood because they don’t feel safe there as a Jew, while 27% of British Jews sometimes choose not to go to a Jewish event or site because they don’t feel safe. Further, in 2022, Jews (though representing less than a half of one percent of the population) were the victims of 22% of all religiously motivated hate crimes in England and Wales.
Also of interest: Though British Muslims, polls show, are 3.5 more likely as the general population to hold hardcore antisemitic attitudes, they – due to their small numbers – aren’t responsible for a significant percentage of the overall number of annual antisemitic incidents; And, that antisemitic attitudes are far more prevalent amongst youngest Britons than the older population.
Moving beyond the numbers, he argues that while antisemitism targets Jews, such (Jew-centred) conspiratorial explanations for why things go wrong erode trust in the liberal democratic institutions and values which serve as a bulwark against tyranny. As the public intellectual Walter Russell Mead warned, irrational thinking about cause and effect is a sign of profound mental and social failure—and a harbinger of more failures and errors to come. The prevalence of conspiratorial ideas about how the world works, he continued, represents a “tell” that points to important limits on a country’s “potential for political, social and economic progress”.
One of the more disturbing examples Rich provides of how ancient anti-Jewish libels creep into socially acceptable modern discourse involves the ancient blood-libel, the charge – originating in Norwich, England in 1144 – that Jews murder non-Jewish children for religious rituals.
That libel, which has inspired countless massacres of Jews over the centuries, was evoked in a 2009 play by Caryl Churchill written right after the 2008-09 war between Israel and Hamas, and performed at the Royal Theatre in London, where Jews are depicted as “having a particular bloodlust for the murder and mutilation of non-Jewish children”. The blood libel was even more recently revived by celebrated Palestinian activist Mohammed el-Kurd, who alleged that Jewish Israelis and Zionists eat the organs of Palestinians or have an inherent bloodthirstiness – a charge that a Guardian journalist legitimised in an article. As Rich observes elsewhere, “Israel, the world’s only Jewish state and its first expression of sovereign Jewish power in nearly 2,000 years, has blossomed, so antisemitism found itself a who new focus”.
And, to those skeptical of the correlation between the hatred of Israel and the hatred of Jews qua Jews, Rich, in addition to providing examples of how Israel is routinely demonised to a degree that no other country in the world is, notes results from the largest British opinion poll on Jews and Israel showing that “the stronger a person’s anti-Israel views, the more likely they are to hold antisemitic attitudes”.
Rich concludes his book by stressing that the following two things can be both be true: 1) Jews in Britain are, in many ways, thriving. 2) Rising antisemitism is a threat to the future of British Jewry, and there are no quick fixes. Nonetheless, he’s inspired by a well-known Jewish saying in Ethics of the Fathers, that ‘It is not your duty to complete the task. But, neither are you free to desist from it”. He’s not a starry-eyed optimist. But, neither is he a fatalist.
Rich stresses the importance of pressuring social media companies to fix algorithms that often push antisemitic posts towards its users regardless of their search terms; the need for media education and critical thinking skills so that young people can distinguish between credible sources of information and conspiracy sites; and the urgency of reversing the “abandonment of the Jewish community by much of the anti-racist movement”.
But, arguably the most thought-provoking idea presented in Everyday Hate concerns the Holocaust, which he writes, was not a one-off that came out of nowhere. It was, rather, “the culmination of all the myths, libels and conspiracy theories that Europe had nurtured about its Jews for centuries, given a thoroughly modern, pseudo-scientific twist”.
Rich persuasively argues that though the many Jewish museums in the continent are adept at “conveying how antisemitism has affected Jewish communities, mainly to Jewish visitors”, the “story of antisemitism ought to be about anti-Semites, not Jews”. The Holocaust, he writes, should be featured at non-Jewish national museums in Europe – where so many Jewish communities were expelled between the 13th and 16th centuries, and where antisemitic poison still often permeates the fabric of everyday life – from a standpoint of ‘Here is what we did to Jews, and this is what we might learn from it about ourselves‘.
Though the perennial debates within the Jewish community concerning how best to fight antisemitism are unavoidable and necessary, its important strategically to acknowledge that Jews’ numbers are too small to fight this existential battle by themselves, and vital morally to remember that as Jews didn’t (and don’t) cause antisemitism, the onus is not on Jews to wrestle with its legacy.