> The Hull Reform Synagogue - Ne've Shalom
The Hull Reform Synagogue - Ne've Shalom



Over the past weeks there has been a lot of talk of anti-semitism within some of the political parties. Unfortunately, there is a tendency amongst the non-Jewish UK population to perceive British Jews and pro-Zionists as one and the same. The following article covering this confusion was sent to us by our roving reporter, Jackie Lukes.
Just when a forest fire was raging in the Labour Party about anti-semitism, I was invited to do Peer Observation of teaching in a university's History Department - and the topic happened to be anti-semitism. Who wouldn't be curious to hear student views, in the year when Oxford University's Labour Club chairman resigned over the issue and the National Union of Students elected an outspoken new President?

The year-long History course covered the topic in depth and breadth (almost too thoroughly - ouch!) moving from ancient, medieval and early modern European anti-semitism to the Holocaust, its origins and development, and lastly to the part observed by me: anti-semitism since the Holocaust.

Splendidly provocative questions had been posed to the students for their essays, along with copious reading. To what extent is the new anti-semitism, political as distinct from religious, exaggerated?  Is it valid to speak of a Holocaust industry? How far is Islamic anti-semitism new and how far does it draw on older sources? Hardest of all, and the topic for a seminar I attended: is criticism of Israel 'anti-semitism in disguise'?

Everything impressed me as scrupulous and truth-seeking - the lecturer's careful planning and organization, including freedom for the students to read and debate and work things out for themselves (much better than telling, which would be counter-productive) and the students' amazingly hard work, reading so much and writing so thoughtfully: I heard every essay. It was a mixed group of boys and girls from different backgrounds, all English, in their late teens/early 20s. As the course was chosen, not compulsory, they must have been interested and engaged.

Yet one thing bothered me, a puzzle I can't untangle and the reason I'm doing this Roving Reporter report. It was the language used in the seminar discussion. The students said Zionists when they meant Jews. One of them tentatively addressed the difficulty saying it was hard to talk aloud about all this as it seemed Politically Incorrect, anti-semitic, to use the word Jews.

Why do some people see it as the other way round? Lord Levy said to BBC2 Newsnight the same week: "There can be criticism of the State of Israel, but anti-semitism - using the word 'Zionist' as another form of anti-semitism - frankly can no longer be tolerated."  Rabbi Julia Neuberger told the programme: "It has to be legitimate to criticize Israel, but when 'Zionist' is used instead of the word Jew, that is not about Israel, that is about Jews." She called this "conflation" of words a "particular kind of anti-semitism".

Zionism, anti-semitism and racism used to be clear concepts, but now seem muddled up together on both or all sides of the debate. Those students, sincere, sensitive, innocent of prejudice, were stuck in a well-intentioned linguistic minefield - what's the way out?


Ne've Shalom
Great Gutter Lane
HU10 6DP



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