After leading FZY summer camp, Natasha Williams reflects on some of the fears, worries and experiences her Chanichim expressed and told her about while she led them.
Following the rise in antisemitism recently, particularly in traditional and social media, I felt it was imperative as a young Jewish woman to write this article. With 6% of British adults openly admitting in The Pew Global Attitudes survey that they have an unfavourable view of Jews and 30% of British adults holding at least one antisemitic attitude, this problem must be addressed now. I believe it is important to share my own experiences of antisemitism, but also the experiences of so many others, in order to portray the enormity of this issue.
Whilst leading on a (social-distanced) Jewish summer camp for the second time this year, a discussion over our ‘Jewish privilege’ and the anti-Semitic abuse we have personally faced, left me distraught. We asked our 13-14-year-old campers to write down a few lines about how antisemitism makes them feel and how it has affected them and were shocked to see how every child had been affected. As a 19-year-old who has travelled extensively, played football around the country and the globe and also attended both Jewish and non-Jewish schools I had normalised my experiences of antisemitism. However, to see that children brought up in so called ‘good areas’ had experienced such widespread antisemitism, terrified me. I asked these children for their permission to anonymously quote some of their words and here are some things they said: ‘I feel discriminated against and ignored’, ‘I get joked about for being a Jew’, ‘I fear the reaction of people when I mention my Jewish heritage’, ‘antisemitism makes you feel like an outsider’, ‘antisemitism makes me feel like I have to hide a part of my identity from the rest of the world, as they may discriminate against me’. Additionally, these are some of the things they admitted to actively doing to prevent becoming victim to hate crime: ‘I take off my blazer which features a Jewish school logo in public, to ensure no one is aware I’m Jewish’, ‘if I’m wearing a Jewish necklace, I may put it under my top so no one can see’, ‘I avoid mentioning I’m Jewish to people who don’t know me well.’ Here are just some of the shocking things they have experienced, ‘when I was 11, boys at school locked all the Jews in the toilet and sprayed water at us, saying we should be caged like animals… nothing happened to those boys after’, ‘I get called a lot of antisemitic names when I play football for my Jewish team’, ‘2 boys I know left a school near me because they were severely bullied for their Judaism’. Antisemitism for these children, is a living nightmare.
A further point that I would like to address is the distinction that needs to be made between being anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist and anti-Israeli government. Anyone, both Jewish and not Jewish, is welcome to criticise the actions of the Israeli or any other government, just as we openly criticise some of the actions of the British government. However, to blame Jewish people for the actions of the Israeli government is unfair and ignorant. Furthermore, to be anti-Zionist is tantamount to being anti-Semitic. Being anti-Zionist is believing that Jewish people do not have the right to have a homeland of their own; a place where they can feel safe and openly worship. To deny the Jewish people of this right is equal to saying they are not as deserving of this luxury that all other major world religions have. I would like to encourage people not to jump to the conclusions portrayed by the mainstream media about the Israel-Palestine conflict. Instead I support the open discussion of both perspectives, as Jewish youth movements such as FZY provide, allowing people to rather form their own educated and informed opinions. In truth, compromises and mistakes are being made on both sides, yet neither party are blameless and both parties are suffering.
This needs to end. Hear our struggle, the struggle of not only every Jewish adult, but every Jewish child who lives in fear of the next discrimination or stereotypical joke. We are not ‘oversensitive’ and we will not be silenced.
A non-Jewish person does not have the right to tell a Jew that it’s “ridiculous to have considered leaving the country if Jeremy Corbyn came into power,” because they cannot and will not ever understand. They do not realise or refuse to accept that as soon as he became the leader of the Labour Party, antisemitism in the UK rose ten-fold, with antisemitic incidents in Britain hitting record highs last year, for the fourth year in a row and multiple Labour MPs being left no choice but to leave the party. ‘How close Corbyn got scared me as that would have been a position where I would be in danger.’
In an era of supposed greater acceptance, now is when we need to fight. Fight for every Jew that adjusts their behaviour in order not to be judged; for those who alter their appearance, in fear of having a ‘Jewish nose,’ or remove religious jewellery and clothing, in fear that they will be attacked for the sole reason that they are Jewish. For every person who scrolls through Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to see a torrent of antisemitic remarks, anti-Zionist propaganda and holocaust denial. For those Jewish people who see the news and recognise only half the story is being told, who see history repeating itself in their everyday lives and cannot do anything to avoid it. For the Jews who are brave enough to stand up and say #enoughisenough and try to educate only to be shot down. For all the Jews who fight against racism and support other anti-racist movements, who then witness the deafening silence when they ask for support in return, ‘I have not seen a single non-Jew stand up to the issue of antisemitism.’ This is prominent, as recently I was reduced to tears whilst reading Wiley’s online assassination of the Jewish people, broadcasted to his 500k followers, and felt failed by my non-Jewish peers’ lack of resistance. ‘The fear I have when I see influential people such as Wiley posting disgusting anti-Semitic remarks and threats, and the support they get, is both terrifying and frustrating’. The same people who had shared Black Lives Matter posts, remained silent; the only posts calling him out for the atrocities he shared, came unfortunately from just Jewish people. ‘What I fear most is the overwhelming silence from the media and non-Jews in combatting it (anti-Semitism), if you are anti-racist, it should apply to all races and religions.’ We need you to stand with us, as making up only 0.2% of the population, we cannot do this alone. I am proud to be a Jew.