2017 Revisited: A look back through the eyes of TCW’s top writers.
First posted March 2017
From childhood, Jews are taught what happens when anti-Semitism is allowed to grow unchecked like weeds in an abandoned garden. We hear it in the tales of our past. We listen to it in the stories of our Biblical ancestors and our own family histories. Most of us have experienced anti-Semitism. We are weary and wary of it. We know the warning signs and cannot ignore them. We know that Jewish lives are at stake again.
So when we read about current anti-Semitism we acknowledge this is a new twist on an old hatred. We remember it from our religious festivals. We commemorate our survival with the holy days of Hanukkah, Purim and Passover. We recite the tale of Mordechai and Esther, who fought to save the Jews of Persia from death. We recall each year the story of Moses, leading the enslaved Israelites out of Egypt to the Promised Land. We light candles to remember the Maccabees’ miraculous survival against persecution.
I learnt about anti-Semitism from my own family narrative. I was told how my great-great-great-grandparents fled the pogroms of Russia for Israel and South Africa. I heard the story of my maternal great-grandparents escaping the Russian Revolution for refuge in Britain. My courageous great-aunt left Nazi Germany in 1939 and was one of the few Jews to find safe haven in Israel. I, like most Jews of my generation, grew up in the shadow of the Holocaust and read voraciously about it.
I also discovered how 850,000 North African and Middle Eastern Jews, called the Mizrachi, became refugees after being expelled from their homes in these Arab lands after the creation of Israel. I was enthralled, and still am, by the brave Operations Magic Carpet, Moses and Solomon, when Israel rescued Yemenite and Ethiopian Jews from deadly persecution.
My own life is dotted with meeting Jews who survived the scourge of anti-Semitism. When I was 12 I met a family friend who had just escaped from the Iran-Iraq war. He wore a yellow Arabic garment and an expression of frozen horror. His hands shook when he offered me a plate of roasted pumpkin seeds. Ten years later I met my first Holocaust survivor at a wedding in Johannesburg – the father of the groom. He sat at a table, smiling at the dancing. His shirt sleeves were rolled up in the summer heat and I could see the purplish tattoo of his concentration camp number seared into his forearm.
My experiences and family history are not dissimilar to those of other Jews living in Israel and the Diaspora. These are our stories of persecution, escape, fighting and survival. An exhausting cycle repeated over and over again. My latest exposure to anti-Semitism happened in the winter of 2014, when my sister and father died in the same month. A swastika was daubed on the gates of the Liverpool Jewish cemetery shortly after their funerals, outside the hall where I had prayed for their souls.
As I child I questioned why more Jews did not flee Nazi Germany. I was told that German Jews thought that their fellow German citizens would not harm them. They thought they were valuable members of a civilised society in which they were happily assimilated. I was assured that after the Holocaust, Jews would no longer live in a Europe where politicians uttered such vile anti-Semitism that it could put Jewish lives in danger again.
Some Labour Party members are protesting against this stain of anti-Semitism in their Party. But they are too late. Lord Levy can remonstrate all he wants to about anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. I guarantee he will be ignored. Lord Levy and his colleagues should have rooted out the cancer of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party years ago. Perhaps tribal loyalty prevented them from doing so until now.
Corbyn and his cronies have managed to achieve such cognitive dissonance between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism that they cannot comprehend why anti-Semitism is such an issue. Jew-hatred is insignificant to them in comparison to their fight against Israel. A culture of anti-Semitism is now so entrenched in the Labour Party that it has become terminal. Corbyn and the Labour Party are guilty of contributing to the appalling growth of anti-Semitism in the UK.
Britain has always been a liberal and tolerant country. Jews have thrived here but I shudder to think what would happen to us if Corbyn ever got into power. Jews in Britain are not in the desperate state of their German counterparts in the 1930s. But British Jews do not want to become another parable of anti-Semitism, a story which our great-grandchildren will tell to each other as another example of persecution and the lucky few who survive.