BASW blog: 'Antisemitism is still here, it’s on the rise, and it’s up to all of us to fight it'
Paul Shuttleworth, BASW England Professional Officer, writes a powerful and moving personal reflection on the rise of antisemitism in recent years
I don’t think I’ve been so aware that I’m Jewish as I have in the last few years. Before, I was just Jewish in my own private way. I didn’t feel like I had to defend Jewishness. Yet here I am, writing a blog for Holocaust Memorial Day, trying to explain why Jews still deserve to be protected from untrue, harmful allegations, from persecution, and from violence.
As a social worker, fighting against discrimination, marginalisation and oppression has always been a focus and a lifelong process. After the murder of George Floyd, as a white man, I had to reflect on my privileges and what part I have played in systemic racism. It became evident anti-racist practice is everybody’s responsibility. It’s not enough to not be racist. We must all be active in fighting racism.
However, this reflective process is even more complicated because I’m Jewish. At the time, BAME groups and symposiums were forming, and well-needed spaces were being provided for people that required them.
But I could not, and I felt I should not have been included in those spaces. Under UK legislation, Jewish people are an ethnoreligious group. Minoritorised ethnic groups can experience racism even if they are white. But turning up as a white man to invade a space that wasn’t mine to claim would not have been OK.
So, where has that left many Jewish people? Where has it left many Jewish people who have suffered over the antisemitism ‘debate’ in the Labour party? It has left many of us pretty quiet and unsure where we fit into anti-racist social work practice. That’s because we feel that if we say anything, we often seem to get dismissed as someone else’s remit or we to just cause a tirade of harmful, untrue, and unjust public discourse.
We often get bombarded with either reasons for antisemitism or denial that it exists. ‘You can’t condemn the Israeli government without being called antisemitic’ is something we get often. Also, there are debates on social media that point fingers at individuals to decide what is antisemitic, whether they be Emma Watson, JK Rowling or Rachel Riley. Most of these debates hardly ever include Jewish opinions.
In fact, Jews usually get told what is antisemitic and what isn’t. If there is acknowledgement, we typically get told that it’s either not serious, or else we deserve it because of what is happening in Israel and Palestine, or we didn’t like Corbyn, or because we are a privileged lot who embody the worst of capitalism.
At the end of last year, antisemitic thugs attacked a group of Jewish teenagers on a bus celebrating Channukah. The attacks included Nazi salutes. The BBC reported “allegations of anti-Semitic abuse”. I would have thought Nazi salutes to Jews made it antisemitic. They also ran a story that anti-Muslim slurs were heard from inside the bus. The message was clear, the Jews started it, the Jews deserved it, and the Jews were making it into a bigger thing than it was.
On Saturday 15 January 2022, hostages were taken at the synagogue Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, USA. The FBI’s immediate response was that this wasn’t a targeted attack on the Jewish community. They have since retracted the comment. However, again it was clear that Jewish people were either making it up or making it all about them. It’s us privileged lot, crying antisemitism again. Next, the Jews usually roll out something about the Holocaust to get more sympathy.
So, let’s talk about the Holocaust because it still matters. All these little digs add up. The Holocaust happened because Jews, along with LGBTQ+ people, people with disabilities, and Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller people, to name a few, were seen to be the cause of the problems at the time.
We were not considered important enough to have human rights or even to live. We were thought to deserve it. It would be the ‘final solution’ to the worries of the time.
I would therefore ask you to think about what messages you are being told about certain groups deserving marginalisation, violence, and abuse. Think about how the drip, drip, drip of these messages allowed the Holocaust. Think about the role of identity politics and ‘oppression Olympics’.
As a social worker and as a human, take a moment today to reflect on what you need to do to ensure ‘never again’. It’s everybody’s responsibility to fight antisemitism, and if you ask any Jewish person, antisemitism is still here and on the rise again. Just because it may seem more subtle, it’s no less pernicious.