Water-cooler anti-Semitism and Nazi drinking games

Britons love to love an underdog, and the Jews are the Goliath to the Palestinian David.

By DEBORAH DANAN
January 18, 2012 15:06
[illustrative photo]

anti semitism in UK. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
X

Dear Reader,
As you can imagine, more people are reading The Jerusalem Post than ever before. Nevertheless, traditional business models are no longer sustainable and high-quality publications, like ours, are being forced to look for new ways to keep going. Unlike many other news organizations, we have not put up a paywall. We want to keep our journalism open and accessible and be able to keep providing you with news and analyses from the frontlines of Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish World.

As one of our loyal readers, we ask you to be our partner.

For $5 a month you will receive access to the following:

  • A user experience almost completely free of ads
  • Access to our Premium Section
  • Content from the award-winning Jerusalem Report and our monthly magazine to learn Hebrew - Ivrit
  • A brand new ePaper featuring the daily newspaper as it appears in print in Israel

Help us grow and continue telling Israel’s story to the world.

Thank you,

Ronit Hasin-Hochman, CEO, Jerusalem Post Group
Yaakov Katz, Editor-in-Chief

UPGRADE YOUR JPOST EXPERIENCE FOR 5$ PER MONTH Show me later Don't show it again

The following are two incidents which took place at an acquaintance’s place of work in London’s financial district that exemplify what I like to call “water-cooler anti-Semitism.” 

One Friday afternoon, when my friend was packing her things to leave the office early in order to be home in time for Shabbat, a fellow employee cleared his throat and remarked nonchalantly, “Oh look, it’s already Jew-o-clock.”

On another occasion, the same friend casually lamented to her colleagues about some trouble she’d been having with her neighbors who kept knocking down the fence in her backyard.  One colleague responded by saying, “Well, surely you’ll be able to work it out. Aren’t you guys supposed to be experts at fence-building?”

When she related these incidents to me, I suppressed the urge not to laugh. Actually – scratch that – I did laugh, because I found the comments to be quite amusing; inane jokes that I might have even made myself. But then again, I’m not a gentile. And in the context of Britain today, those jokes are not just inconsequential horseplay and neither are they remotely funny.  They are part of a growing trend among polite society in Britain that believes it’s perfectly acceptable to make anti-Semitic slurs without being penalized for doing so.

And what’s to stop them thinking otherwise? My friend didn’t bother reporting the comments to her company’s racial policy officer, because they were, after all, said in jest among friends and no harm was meant. And anyway, who wants to be the party-pooping reactionary who thinks that every Jew- joke ever made is somehow connected either to 6 million people’s death or to Israel’s occupational habits?

Not most British Jews, that’s for certain. Stiff upper lip and all that, British Jews generally prefer to deal with water-cooler anti-Semitism by tucking their Stars of David deeper into their undershirts. The recent “Nazi-game” incident in the Alps might go some way in explaining why people often think that fighting back is not always the wisest course of action.

A Jewish student from the prestigious London School of Economics (LSE) took a stand against fellow classmates who were playing a Nazi-themed drinking game, and ended up getting his nose broken. Apparently, the student was assaulted during a skiing trip organized by LSE’s Students’ Union in the Alpine resort of Val d'Isere after he refused to play “Nazi Ring of Fire”—a card game in which cards are arranged in the shape of a swastika and players are required to “Salute the Fuhrer.” Apart from the irony of having snub-nosed English toffs break a Jewish nose, the assault on the student may also serve to fortify the growing sentiment among British Jewry that standing up to anti-Semitic caprice is just not worthwhile. 



But it isn’t just the risk of a broken nose that causes some British Jews to react to anti-Semitism by huddling in a corner and pulling their baseball caps a little tighter over their yarmulke-bedecked heads – ostensibly paying homage to the image of the persecuted Jew of old. Indeed, inaction could well be due to the lack of viable alternatives and Jews will often find themselves operating from a position of “damned if you do and damned if you don’t.”

If one physically fights back, one runs the risk of perpetuating the notion that Diaspora Jews—as is the widely accepted view of their Israeli counterparts—are essentially a violent, bloodthirsty people.  If one vocalizes suspicions of anti-Semitism, there is a fear that such opinions will be met with reproaching looks that say, “Oh, not that again – aren’t you over it yet?” And no one wants to be viewed as a victim and certainly not as an alarmist.

But perhaps the reason that most people don’t react to anti-Semitic slurs is much more basic. Just like schoolchildren, adults also don’t want to be considered “different” or an outsider, and not laughing along with the rest of the water-cooler chatterers might just exclude you from the corporate “cool” club. That could be one of the reason this writer has chosen to live in Israel – where everyone’s a perpetrator and everyone’s a victim.

Anti-Semitism is not a new phenomenon in Britain. Pogroms, blood libels and expulsions are part and parcel of English Jewish history since medieval times. Back to modern-day and things may have changed but the feeling hasn't. A parliamentary inquiry into British anti-Semitism concluded that these days, “Anti-Jewish themes and remarks are gaining acceptability in some quarters in public and private discourse in Britain and there is a danger that this trend will become more and more mainstream.” Furthermore, the new anti-Semitism legitimizes anti-Jewish discourse among British intelligentsia under the preposterous hoodwink-tactic of being anti-Israel.

To my mind, this latest wave of anti-Semitism – which includes rampant conspiracy theories that Jews are running the world (for a change) – is just an extension of Britain’s obsession with victim culture.  Across the pond, many Americans also feel that Jews pose a threat, yet the feeling is for the most part autonomous - that is, it has much more to do with Jew-hate as opposed to siding with whomever the Jew is perceived to be bullying (the current victim de jour being the Palestinians). 

This is not the case in the UK. Wherever there is an underdog, you can be sure that Britons will embrace him. In the lower classes of society this manifests itself in celebrity culture. British tabloids and magazines will always prefer the z-list celebrity—those who became famous for “getting their kit off” in reality shows—over the celebrities who have enough genuine talent as to actually deserve the accolade.

In the upper echelons of society - those who, say, ski in the Alps and who may be lucky enough to appear on the society pages of “Hello” magazine wearing a Nazi uniform – the Palestinians will always be the underdog. And as long as that’s the case, anyone who dares claim otherwise might just get punched in the nose.

The writer was raised in London and now lives in Tel Aviv. She is the editor of The Jerusalem Post’s Premium Zone.

Related Content