Contribution: Anti-semitism and the black community – a complicated relationship by Martyn Ewoma [@MartynEwoma]

Martyn Ewoma

It seems in life there are three certainties. Death, taxes and musicians you really like going on ignorant twitter rants that make it hard to enjoy their music. Wiley, the godfather of grime has long been flying the flag for U.K. music and trying to ensure that black British music is respected independent of U.S. approval and influence. It seems weird therefore that he chose to so fervently emulate Chicago’s own absurdity correspondent and occasional rapper and designer Kanye West, by taking to Twitter to unleash a tirade of abuse at the Jewish community. Tweets included “There are 2 sets of people who nobody has really wanted to challenge #Jewish & #KKK but being in business for 20 years you start to understand why. Red Necks Are the KKK and Jewish people are the Law… Work that out.” As well as “My career can’t be finished Cos some people who pretend Israel is their land when really they are Lithuanian or something else just holding on to a religion #Fxckyou”. He has subsequently been dropped by his management with calls for him to be stripped of his MBE.

His comments speak to longstanding anti-Semitic tropes and with the heightened discourse around race brought about by the rise of Black Lives Matter movement I think it is important to highlight the inaccuracies in not only his statements, but the representation of Judaism in contemporary political discourse. Many have taken to social media to ask high profile influencers and creatives who were vocal about BLM to keep that same energy with anti-semitism. To be clear I feel no obligation to do so, because the people making that criticism don’t actually care about anti-semitism at all, they’re likely just racists who had their back up about BLM and were waiting to try and catch out the people raising awareness. I’m writing this because religious and racial persecution is all it’s forms is wrong and should be challenged. The perfect storm for the further normalisation of anti-Semitism is brewing and I think it’s important we all batten down the hatches of our minds to ensure we are not swept away by it.

The conflation of Zionism with Judaism

The annexation of Palestine by Israel enforced the the IDF represents one of the biggest human rights violations in modern history. Worse yet it has been going on for decades. Where a lot of people get confused is that Zionism is theological ideology that basically argues the only way for for Jewish people globally to self determinate is by having a Jewish state. Given the persecution of Jews across Europe, the holocaust being the most obvious example, I personally think this is reasonable enough. Unfortunately as if often the case with real world politics informed by religion, in a globalised world it is hard to implement without unjust violence. Zionist’s choosing of Israel on the basis of their ancestral lineage makes sense at face value but in reality due to leaving and settling in Europe generations ago many “Israelis” are literally white European. In returning to the middle East normative Zionists have systematically displaced and killed Palestinians in the “reclamation” of what they see as their god given spiritual home. Which (in a massive over) simplification is what Wiley was eluding to with the statement that “some people who pretend Israel is their land”. 

As such the project of Israel now exists as a settler-colonial state. In the model of other settler colonial states like the United States of America (due to the displacement and genocide of Native Americans) or Australia (due to the displacement and genocide of Indigenous Australians). Since Israel has followed in the footsteps of other genocidal settler colonial states like the United States, the two nations have a strong relationship on the basis of their mutual ideology. The relationship is less about religious solidarity as most U.S. presidents are WASPS (white Anglo-Saxon protestant) and more to do with a perceived right to subjugate.

Anyway, without delving too far in to a geopolitics lesson the point is that practicing Judaism is so far removed from normative Zionism that referring to all Jews when you are criticising Israel is racist. Judging religions by the most extreme political manifestations would imply that all Christians are white supremacists based on the crusades or the fact the KKK are a Christian organisation. Which would leave my black Sunday school teacher mum in an awkward position. Similarly my friend Omar is a devout Muslim. Following the logic that all Muslims support the most extreme sects of a faith, the existence of Boko Haram would mean inviting him to my house this week had put my sister in danger of being kidnapped for attending university. Obviously that’s not the case. In essence: to criticise Judaism is racist, to criticise normative Zionism is essential.

Systemic power and privilege 

For Wiley and a lot of black people I fear there is a danger of succumbing to anti-Semitic tropes based on perceived systemic advantages. It is undoubtable that mainstream media and contemporary discourse takes anti-semitism more seriously that anti-blackness. Today as I am writing this I scrolled through Twitter to see a BBC News reporter use the n word when describing a story of racist abuse. Clearly referencing “racist abuse” would have been enough. I struggle to imagine any news reporter would comfortably use the word “kike” or “yid” to describe anti-Semitic abuse. 

A few years back presenter Reggie Yates appeared on Chuckie Lothian’s Halfcast Podcast praising artists for going independent rather than being managed by “some random fat jewish guy in North London”, playing in to the stereotype that Jews control the media. A sentiment echoed by Wiley in claiming that the music industry was set up for Drake because he is half Jewish. Yates was dropped from his longstanding role presenting Top of the Pops. At the last World Cup Alan Sugar posted a photo of some black beach trinket sellers and referred to them as the Senegalese football team. The Apprentice is still on the air and he was not punished in any way by the BBC. The clear double standard in which sort of racism justifies reprimand serves to embolden the idea that Jews control the media and are untouchable. The reality is much more complex. If you think about it, the idea that a group of people can be all powerful yet consistently be the victims of oppression doesn’t really work. Britain specifically is a nation void of independent thought and intellectual critique, as espoused by the nations parroting of the anti-migrant rhetoric that has shaped our politics. So if Jews holistically controlled the media they’d surely have ended anti-semitism by now. The reality is that anti-semitism is rising sharply across most of mainland Europe. So why is it that media takes anti-semitism more seriously?

My opinion is that WW2 and the fight against Nazism is crucial to Britain’s self construction as a morally pious nation. From primary school onwards I remember being taught that Hitler was essentially a “bad guy” who was killing Jews so Britain rallied a rag-tag squad of allies and took him down. This Manichaean myopic understanding was proudly exclaimed last month by Churchill statue defenders in Westminster. The reality is that Hitler and Churchill were both white supremacists and Britain’s aversion to the spread of Nazism was the threat it posed to British sovereignty. In essence, it’s not the racism that Britain was fighting against, it’s who got to be top dog. If Churchill morally disagreed with the subjugation of people based on their race and religion he wouldn’t have refereed to Indians as “a beastly people with a beastly religion”. The protection of Jews in the media is the media perpetuating the facade that Britain stands for cultural recognition and tolerance, which is the direct opposite of the truth. That being said I’m still glad it exists because anti-semitism is prevalent and normalised in society whether people care to accept it or not. For example when I was younger playing FIFA, squaring the ball to score rather than taking on the keeper was known as a Jew goal. For non football fans the connotations of squaring the ball is that it is calculating and cowardly. Reflective of the racist connotations surrounding jews.

It doesn’t excuse anti-Semitic tirades in any way but black people who constantly digest racism from mainstream media outlets with no consequence are obviously frustrated. It took 10 years for Katie Hopkin’s anti-blackness and Islamaphobia to get her banned from Twitter whereas one bout of Anti-semitism from Wiley was enough. But it’s the inconsistency that’s the problem not the punishment. If as a society we’ve decided that racist statements make someone unworthy of holding a certain position I agree. But if so we need a new Prime Minister, new news presenters, the abolition of several newspapers and David Starkey to never be allowed on television again. Keep that same energy. 

See Also

Why black people shouldn’t fall in to the trap of anti-semitism

Covid-19 has once again highlighted the systemic disadvantages afforded to black people due to our disproportionate death rates. Prior to that Grenfell Tower, Windrush, the killings of Mark Duggan, Jean Charles Menenez, Rashan Charles and countless other black men by the British police have shown us how little our lives are worth in the eyes of our colonial rulers. Emotionally it is attractive to be able to aim that frustration at a group of people, so when another minority ethnic group are framed as the recipients of everything we want: be it good schooling, respect from the media and wealth, it becomes natural to see them as the enemy. The same is true of anti-establishment liberals and the subaltern diaspora in general. I hope this article has somewhat highlighted why this is wrong. We’re about to enter another recession that will eclipse the crash of 2008.

Ironically, economic scarcity always leads to rises in racism whilst simultaneously hitting racialised people the hardest, which unfortunately the Britain will be black people. Given people’s tendency to look sideways not upwards when they lack resources all the stereotypes that mar the Jewish faith posit them as the likely recipients of more abuse. We’ve seen it before, most obviously in Nazi propaganda following Germany’s economic downturn. Please for once let’s just not. Blaming Jews for economic downturn is a tale as old as time itself but we have the freedom of information to do better this time. Not only black people but everyone. Our politics have become a toxic blame game where everyone but those responsible ends up in the firing line.

Please, don’t take the bait. 

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