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Antisemitism no Waters under the bridge

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When I was growing up, I felt like I was living in a post-antisemitism world. In the wake of the Holocaust, people understood the horrific consequences of race-based hatred, and in mainstream discourse, targeting Jews became unacceptable. Regrettably, that can no longer be said to be the case. Today, we’re witnessing an increased tendency for Jews to be spoken about and treated in a way that would have elicited genuine outrage only a few years back.

When it comes to recognising the evils of prejudice and the necessity of opposing it, ours is a hyper-aware age. This is true when people are victimised on account of immutable characteristics like race or gender, and it likewise applies to those mistreated on account of their religious or cultural identity. One would think that Jews, as a historically persecuted group that still experiences serious prejudice, would feel safer in such an environment but on the ground, that’s not what’s happening. Instead, as British writer and comedian David Baddiel has argued in his influential 2021 book, Jews Don’t Count, there appears to exist a hierarchy of racisms from which antisemitism is excluded. The result is that outside of the Jewish community itself, there’s a distinct lack of urgency even to acknowledge that global antisemitism has already reached worryingly high levels and continues to rise, let alone resolving to do something about it.

For me, the reaction to the recent concert in Germany by Roger Waters of Pink Floyd fame was especially illustrative of this concerning trend. An obsessive anti-Israel activist who quite openly calls for the Jewish state to be abolished, Waters was initially able to cloak his deep-seated antisemitic views under the guise of pro-Palestinian activism, but that mask has long since slipped. His recent performances have featured a giant inflatable pig branded with a Star of David, a performer wearing a Nazi-style uniform while goose-stepping on stage, and Waters himself pointing a mock machine gun at the audience. In spite of this, the reaction of the media was largely to ignore or downplay Waters’ obvious antisemitism by uncritically rehashing his routine claim to have been simply expressing his “opposition to fascism”. His offensive appropriation of Anne Frank’s name in his concerts is ignored, in spite of the immense hurt that it causes.

That antisemitism is on the rise on both extreme ends of the political spectrum is concerning enough. However, the lack of outrage on the part of those ostensibly committed to opposing such evils is perhaps even more disquieting. Sensitising the wider public to the resurgence of this dangerous form of prejudice is one of the major challenges that Jewish communities around the world – our own included – are continually wrestling with.

  • Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM, every Friday, from 12:00 to 13:00.

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