In my early twenties, some friends and I were walking to the pub, when I glanced over at a text that appeared on the phone of the man I had been seeing months previously, who remained in my friendship group, as they tend to annoyingly do.. ‘Is it true you shagged a jew?!’ the message read.
I felt sick, knowing of course, as the only Jew he knew, that it was about me. I tried to grab the phone from him, demanding to know who sent it. I wanted to know what he planned to reply. He laughed it off and refused to tell me who it was from or how he planned to respond. I’ve never forgotten it.
No, that’s not entirely true. I made myself forget about it for the few years I lived in that city, because I was made to feel that I was overreacting, hysterical, way too sensitive. It was a joke! He’s an idiot! I was in a group of friends, none of whom were Jewish, none of whom had really known Jewish people before meeting me. They truly could not see why I was so upset, how the teasing nature, the sharpness of the syllable “Jew” hurt so much, so enraged me.
The combination of the misogynist “laddy” nature of the message, the objectification, tossed in lightly with the sting of othering was the moment in my life when I realised I would never be truly assimilated. The group wanted to move on, to carry on the night and for it not be all about me and my trauma.
Once I remembered again, some years later, I realised that it was more important to that man, let’s call him Freddie, to protect the sender of that crude and hateful message, than to engage with how I felt. We were ostensibly friends for a few years, but it stayed with me. It’s one of those phrases that occasionally bounces through my brain, accidentally poetic as it is – ‘Is it true you shagged a Jew.’
That moment, and the moments thereafter; the sting of the words typed on the screen, followed by the cold shock of being doubted and dismissed by those I expected to share my outrage is the only way I know how to describe how I’m feeling at the moment in the run up to the general election. When so many people I love and respect are campaigning hard for a party which does not care about me and my family. The party I have voted for since I was 18.
But there are still more who either do not believe or cannot understand the turmoil which previously Labour voting Jews find themselves in right now. I feel this most keenly on Instagram. A platform I unashamedly have curated to my tastes and sensibilities, where intersectional, open, left wing conversations take place about race, money and misogyny all the time. And yet, not one of the hundreds of brightly coloured squares peeling along my Instagram feed, imploring followers to vote Labour, acknowledge the anti-semitism problem. Do they not know or do they not care?
The comments might imply they don’t know, but the reams of discussion under the images suggest they still believe it is “smear campaign” orchestrated by the right wing press to damage Corbyn’s chances of leading. Maybe they don’t know how gaslighting this is. Maybe they don’t know that comparing the number of complaints to the party rooted in anti-Semitism, with the number of general complaints doesn’t mean that the issue has been overinflated. It’s a serious issue that deserves respect. So I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt and telling them now: You are gaslighting the Jewish community. You are telling us that we cannot trust our own minds and eyes.
The issue is not whether there is indeed any anti-Semitism in the party – spoiler: there is. My issue is the tendency of left wing voters and campaigners to brush the past three years under the carpet for the sake of “the greater good”. I am led to understand, therefore, that the Jewish community is not part of the greater good. That we are not entitled to the protection and care afforded to others. Perhaps because so many of us are white passing, or simply perhaps because one chooses to believe that Jews control the media. Second spoiler: we don’t.
We have the receipts. Anti-semitism is here, and it is still rife. Just like Berlin in the early thirties, we have both never been safer, and yet very much still in danger. That text message was not the first, last or most anti-semitic incident in my life. It was just the one that made me realise that often, friends don’t realise that being an inactive bystander can be just as insidious as being an active perpetrator. I do not care who you vote for, it is, quite frankly, none of my business. But I implore you to examine your own preconceptions and do your research.