Anti-Semitism, I kept thinking, is just not that important, unless for whatever reason I decide to live and work in Cairo or Tehran. I kept thinking that even after I was pinned to a wall, throttled, and punched in the head by Galloway supporters in 2015 shouting, “Get out, you fucking Jew.”
I made a mistake. Just this week, eight Labour MPs have left their party to become independent, in no small part because of the protracted and bitter anti-Semitism crisis that has dogged Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party. I felt a creeping horror watching the heavily pregnant Luciana Berger call the Labour Party she was leaving “institutionally anti-Semitic.”
But it wasn’t about the Labour Party.
I felt it again, stronger, like a cold sweat, when I saw the footage of the Jewish intellectual Alain Finkielkraut being mobbed by gilets jaunes—the yellow-vested protesters—who had crossed his path. They yelled, “Palestine,” “France belongs to us,” “Dirty Zionist,” and “The people will punish you.”
Because, yet again, something that should have nothing to do with the Jews—a parliamentary split, or a protest movement sparked by fuel prices—was now all about the Jews. But the insults themselves were not the thing troubling me. What troubled me was what this said about being a European Jew. There was no escaping the flu; it had taken over.
Both Berger in Britain and Finkielkraut in France were telling the same story—the days that European Jews could lead public lives not defined by anti-Semitism were over. We were back, not to the days of Hitler, but to the days of Benjamin Disraeli and Pierre Mendès-France, when being a Jewish public figure was a constant struggle. Not deadly, not insurmountable, just exhausting. A process of endlessly navigating an ever-mutating conspiracy theory against you.
Read: Is it time for the Jews to leave Europe?
This goes just as much for figures on the left as for figures to their right or in the center. To watch Jon Lansman, the Jewish founder and chair of Momentum, the pro-Corbyn movement, endlessly defend his leader whilst condemning his most fevered supporters is to watch a man whose public life is now defined by anti-Semitism, too.
Countless British Jews on Twitter, from the fuming columnists condemning the left to the leftist comedian and Corbyn-supporting director David Schneider, are now tirelessly trying to parse anti-Semitism from anti-Zionism. Facebook is rife with vigilante anti-anti-Semitism accounts obsessively highlighting every anti-Semitic Labour comment. These are lives taken over, hijacked, by anti-Semitism.
And I hate this. I hate seeing lives taken over by anti-Semitism. I hate seeing people’s minds taken over like this. I hate the psychological damage I can see it causing, to so many Jewish people of all stripes.
I hate how it creates a state a mind so relentlessly negative, so embattled, so insecure. I hate how it turns the happiest, calmest people into furious Twitter warriors, into single-issue advocates. I hate the ugliness, the unhappiness, in the Jewish experience that it creates. I hate the paranoia, and how it makes Jews turn on Jews.