I have two abiding memories of my schoolfriend’s Catholic confirmation. The first was indeed a blessing — the service lasted barely 45 minutes, far shorter than the two-hour-plus marathon of synagogue. The second was the absence of guards outside of the church. Who was keeping the congregation safe, I wondered? It did not occur to me at that age that people could pray without security.
The latest round of violence between Israelis and Palestinians followed a depressingly familiar pattern. Grievances relating to the status of Jerusalem and the injustice of occupation, followed by Hamas rockets and Israeli airstrikes. Both sides have suffered appalling losses, many more in Gaza.
The other predictable consequence was closer to home — racist attacks on British Jews. Conflict in, or indeed the existence of, Israel is not a prerequisite for the hatred of Jewish people, which is both pervasive and normalised. Yet when clashes erupt, their frequency increases.
Data from the Kantor Centre at Tel Aviv University finds that major violent anti-Semitic incidents worldwide peaked in 2009 and 2014 — two years that saw significant conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
Put another way, when war breaks out in the Middle East, an entirely separate group of Jews face harassment. Two incidents on Sunday stood out for sheer grimness. First, a rabbi was beaten up on the streets of east London.
Second, a convoy drove through Jewish neighbourhoods of north London shouting “f*** all of them” before calling for Jewish women to be raped. Attacks on a minority, or calling for such a group to account for the behaviour of an unrelated government or movement, are not restricted to Jews. British Muslims face Islamophobic abuse as a result of actions taken by Muslim nations.
Yet when legitimate criticism of the Israeli government curdles into racist tropes, Jews everywhere are in danger. In her pamphlet The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere, April Rosenblum explains: “When you choose to make accurate, specific criticisms of Israeli policy, you do your small part to decrease the likelihood that I will be killed in a synagogue by someone who, misguided by anti-Jewish oppression, thought they would be helping Palestine.”
Support for Palestinian rights is not anti-Semitic. But racism directed at Jews living thousands of miles from Israel does not help a single Palestinian. Rather, it suggests that it is not injustice that the perpetrators oppose, but the existence of Jewish people anywhere.