Relative to the rest of human history, we live in a progressive society. As a secular British Jew, I rarely feel unsafe living in the United Kingdom. As such, it surprises me just how normalised antisemitism was in the UK only a few decades ago. Certain sports and country clubs would refuse entry to Jewish applicants and many schools had a quota on the maximum number of Jewish students they would accept. Not only was this discrimination legal, but it was also taken for granted and considered normal.
The same problems even occurred at Durham University. Last year, at a Jewish Society Friday night dinner, I spoke to a Jewish alumnus who explained to me that when she attended the university in the 1980s, she did not feel comfortable as a Jew on campus and rarely shared her identity with her peers.
Fortunately, my experience of Durham University as a Jewish student has been overwhelmingly positive; there is a small but friendly Jewish Society and non-Jewish students are often interested in learning more about my culture. I have never felt threatened nor unwelcome based on my upbringing and ancestry.
With this in mind, it has been very disappointing to have recently seen antisemitic content on Instagram liked and shared by fellow Durham students, some of whom I know quite well.
This content has varied from simple microaggressions (such as suggesting that Jewish people do not have the right to self-determination, whilst other ethnic groups do) to far more overt antisemitic tropes. The one that most concerned me was a popular Instagram infographic which stated that “Zionists” were only interested in Israel because of oil, before invoking the Elders of Zion antisemitic trope through mention of the Rothschilds and their alleged involvement.
Not only is this an outward lie (Israel has very low natural oil and imports most of its supplies), but it is one of the most antisemitic claims I have ever seen made. The idea that the Jewish people only moved back to Israel because they wanted oil is blatantly problematic, yet no one seemed to care and the post received over 750,000 likes. In reality, the Jewish people moved back to Israel to escape the antisemitism of Eastern Europe. As well as this, Israel is considered the Holy Land in the Jewish religion and the connection between Jews and Israel goes back to ancient times. To deny all these facts and just claim that Jews were in it for the money, is one of the most shocking and disturbing claims I have ever seen made.
What hurt even more was seeing people I know like and share the post, including fellow Durham students. Some of whom I messaged about what they had supported and, to their credit, they apologised and explained that they did not realise the content was antisemitic.
However, this leads to a further problem: people sharing allegedly factual infographics on topics they may not be educated on. Anyone who has been educated on the Israel-Palestine conflict and the history of Judaism and antisemitism would have known that the post in question was incredibly problematic. Instead, many people seeking to look performatively supportive of an issue skimmed through the post and gave it a platform, leading to antisemitism spreading to the point of hundreds of thousands of likes.
When a post like that is shared rapidly and widely, antisemitism becomes much more normalised and threatens the safety of Jewish people in the UK. There are around 300,000 Jews in this country, and more than double that amount liked a blatantly antisemitic post. It does not take much for a Jewish community to no longer feel welcome in a country; we have learnt too many times how at risk we are.
As such, it is important that any non-Jew reading this is an ally and calls out hatred when they see it. Further to this, please be careful as to what sort of content you are liking and sharing when it comes to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Whilst it is important to speak out on injustices, the discourse can very quickly slip into antisemitism, as has been shown.
Antisemitism is at risk of being normalised, please do not be complicit.
Photograph: Sander Crombach via Unsplash.