As a primary school child growing up in London, I recall being told, “Go back to where you came from.”
At the time I wasn’t quite sure what that meant but the clear message was that being Jewish was not viewed favorably by some of my classmates.
Fast forward to today when we are witnessing an unprecedented rise in antisemitism the likes of which, I would venture to suggest, we have not seen since the days of the 1930s in Hitler’s Germany and the Mosley period in the United Kingdom (as Member of Parliament and leader of the British Union of Fascists, Sir Oswald Ernald Mosley, a charismatic and talented orator, agitated energetically against the Jews – influencing and motivating his many followers in the 1920s and 1930s).
In light of the ever-growing anti-Israel and anti-Zionist manifestations in recent years blurring the line between Zionists and Jews, it should come as no surprise that today’s pro-Palestinian demonstrators are openly antisemitic.
Pure antisemitism is not new. Two decades ago I led the WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organization) delegation to the so-called 2001 UN Durban Conference against Racism. The claim that the views expressed there were merely against Israel was proven false when a planned session on the Holocaust (an unprecedented racist act singling out Jews for mass murder) was violently disrupted to the point the session had to close before it began. It was at Durban that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement was born and where Israeli academic Uri Davis distributed his book Israel: An Apartheid State. For the haters of Israel and the Jews, what could be better than having an Israeli Jew claiming that we are an apartheid state? (At that point he was still Jewish; he later converted to Islam.)
For all that happened back in 2001 – and may well repeat itself at the follow on “UN Conference against Racism” to take place in September – little could have prepared the Jewish world for what is happening today.
The claim is that Israel’s surgical bombing of terror targets in Gaza last month in response to rocket fire was the catalyst for demonstrations against Israel. Anger against Israel pervaded the media – even though the IDF is the only army in the world that safeguards enemy civilian lives by giving notice of where and when bombs will fall to enable occupants to exit prior to the bombing. As in the past, it became a numbers game as to how many were killed on each side.
The more than 3,400 rockets fired indiscriminately at Israeli civilian population centers received scant media coverage. There was little acknowledgment of what it must be like to have to scramble for shelter in a matter of seconds. Instead, there were countless pro-Palestinian demonstrations worldwide. As a Brit expat, I was shocked to view, via video, a convoy of cars bedecked with Palestinian flags driving through predominantly Jewish areas of London with blaring loudspeakers cursing the Jews in the foulest language. Additionally disturbing is the fact that only four people were arrested who have since been released on bail.
Sussex Friends of Israel posted a video of one of the London demonstrations where a man is chillingly shouting “We’ll find some Jews here – we want the Zionists. We’re after their blood.” The policemen walking alongside him did nothing. In spite of the many who spouted Jew-bating language, few arrests were made.
On the social media, Nazi symbols are utilized to describe Israel and the Jews. Some 17,000 variations of “Hitler was right” were posted on Instagram within a single week in May.
The UK’s Community Security Trust (CST) recorded a 500% increase in antisemitic incidents from May 8 to May 18 – the most since records began.
HOW IS the British Jewish student fairing against this background?
University College London’s Jewish Society is deeply disturbed by Instagram postings such as, “I wish death upon you and curses for life – inshallah – to your unborn, your mother and your father and that you will burn in this life and the life after.”
“There will be a lot of Muslims waiting for you on campus… You Jews didn’t learn from the Holocaust – you are killing Palestinians just as the Germans killed you.”
A Jewish UCL student was sent a death threat that included a photo-shopped picture of her under a guillotine. On the building of the Royal Holloway University someone stuck a sticker of an Israeli flag with a swastika in place of the Magen David. A Jewish university student in Glasgow was told via tweet, “Go gas yourself.”
Unfortunately, additional examples abound.
In Britain today, antisemitism starts at the school level. CST is concerned about the increased levels of antisemitism against Jewish children and teachers. An Israeli-based friend whose granddaughter attends a “posh” private school in London was horrified to learn that her granddaughter’s teacher conducted a discussion on the recent Israeli/Palestinian conflict where the majority of youngsters blamed Israel for the latest war.
The above has led to the UK Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson to tweet, “I have written to head-teachers today, following the concerning increase in antisemitic incidents in schools.”
Back to the beginning and my childhood experience of being told to “Go back to where you came from.” Where did I come from? I was born in Britain to a British-born mother and a Polish-born father who read me Bible stories and sang songs about Israel and the pioneers who came to build a land. I still remember the words of one song that resonate especially deeply today.
With your packs upon your shoulders – pioneers prepare
Come and let us all march eastwards out of exile everywhere
Be the road how rough and winding, who’s afraid of toil and pain?
One breath out of life in Zion gives us all our strength again.
It was my father who fostered the love of Israel that brought me here.
Last Friday I received my weekly “Shabbat Shalom” WhatsApp from a friend in London; her message read “Praying for peace in Israel,” to which I responded, “Let us also pray for peace for all Jews – wherever they may live!”
It may be time to think about coming home. It’s important that there is a home for Jews to come to.
The writer is chairperson of Israel, Britain and the Commonwealth Association (IBCA), which aims to strengthen bridges between Israel, Britain and the Commonwealth countries. She is also public relations chair of ESRA, which promotes integration into Israeli society.