Australia/Israel Review


Europa Europa: Antisemitism is its own thing

May 25, 2023 | Alex Benjamin

A scene from the movie BlacKkKlansman, which recalls an era of Blacks and Jews making common cause
A scene from the movie BlacKkKlansman, which recalls an era of Blacks and Jews making common cause

As a hobby, a rabbi and I run a Jewish film club for anyone working in the EU bubble. We watch movies with Jewish themes, stereotypes or characters, then talk about it. 

We finished Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman a couple of weeks back. The director put together a Jew and a Black man – both police detectives – to infiltrate the KKK at the height of the post-Martin Luther King civil rights movement. In doing so, Mr Lee reminded the audience that Jews and Black people used to make common cause. 

Thus, in Mississippi Burning, two Jews accompanying a murdered Black civil rights activist are also murdered. And almost everyone has seen the famous picture of Martin Luther King accompanied by two rabbis, one of them holding a Torah scroll. In BlacKkKlansman, an influential Black civil rights speaker even quotes Hillel. 

At the end of BlacKkKlansman, Lee runs footage of the infamous 2017 “Jews will not replace us” Charlottesville march in North Carolina, alongside Black Lives Matter footage. Powerful stuff.

So, what happened to the Black-Jewish alliance? There is no simple answer. But I think the Six Day War, when Israel moved from a plucky little upstart to a bona fide military power, is one factor, along with the Jewish diaspora becoming more upwardly mobile socio-economically.

In any case, the idea of fraternity or common cause between Jews and other marglinalised groups is no longer prominent. This is not because Jews no longer face discrimination and hate, but because in these circles, as British author David Baddiel has noted, “Jews don’t count”.

The Jews who fled pogroms, the Holocaust and persecution in the USSR, who returned to their ancestral homeland and were cheered before 1967, are now vilified as oppressive colonialists by Black Lives Matter groups. LGBTQ+ groups will not even allow gay Jews to wave rainbow Star of David flags at protests because it supposedly offends. Worse, many accuse Zionists of ‘pinkwashing’ if they note that Israel is gay-friendly, insisting that even mentioning this fact is a deliberate misdirection away from the plight of Palestinians (whilst remaining quiet about what happens to gays in Gaza and the West Bank). 

And yet, on campus, Jewish student groups are trying to align themselves with the ‘intersectionality’ movement, trying to find a space to make common cause with fellow Black or gay students.

It’s dangerous, and it won’t work.

In our film club there is a young Jewish student. After I pointed out that the whole ‘inter’ part of intersectionality was missing for Jews, and that there is no solidarity or empathy towards Jewish communities from other groups affected by hate when antisemitic atrocities occur, he said to me: “Intersectionality is a great concept, but it’s poorly executed, we have to keep at it.” I thought to myself that people used to say the same thing about Communism. 

No, we don’t have to keep at it – because we can see what is happening as a consequence. 

The EU has recommended to its member states to come forward with plans for addressing antisemitism. So far, France and Spain have released their plans. The Spanish one is okay, but the French one is definitely problematic. 

Antisemitism isn’t addressed in isolation but is thrown into the hate bouillabaisse along with hate against other ethnic groups, Roma and LGBTQ+ people. 

Why is this muddying of antisemitism with other forms of hate and discrimination in there? According to French politicians I spoke to, with confirmation from sources in the European Commission – because Jewish student groups asked for it to be included. 

The vast majority of Jewish community leaders believe this approach is dangerous because there is not one cure for all cancers. Antisemitism is unique and must be treated as such. Most forms of racism paint the demeaned group as inferior or contemptible, but antisemitism typically paints Jews as “a nefarious group that seeks to control the economy, religion… the media, and basically, the world” in the words of US expert Dr Karen Auerbach. 

Today, many of the other target groups for hate that we spoke to do not even recognise antisemitism as real hate or racism, instead identifying it as a mild and unimportant form of discrimination (as asserted, for example, in a controversial letter from British MP Diane Abbott which made headlines in April). 

Jews are instead accused of enjoying “privilege” or “leveraging” the Holocaust. 

Senior figures at the top of the EU hierarchy want to stop the one-size-fits-all approach to racism in these plans and insist that antisemitism is unique and needs to be treated as such. 

I typed this column on a flight to Porto, Portugal, to attend a conference in which Jewish leaders will approve a resolution that calls for the oldest hatred to be treated as its own thing. Because the 1970s are over. Because a film is a film. And because even amongst the hated, Jews continue to be isolated and treated differently.

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