We must fight this creeping anti-Semitism

Pro-Palestinian protesters
Pro-Palestinian protesters

Picture the scene. A café in a prosperous part of a city. Three men are enjoying coffee and pastries. They know each other well, enjoying the company.

Then one of them starts talking about “The Jews”, telling his friends about their malign influence on the local area. He speaks loudly, he is uninhibited. Lots of people hear him. No one intervenes.

Across the city, two young women are chatting on a crowded bus. They are 19 or 20 years of age. They discuss shopping for a while and then move on to their next topic.

“Don’t the Jews make you feel sick? People are finally seeing them for what they are … They are getting their comeuppance …”

The women are not whispering. They are not quietly conspiratorial. They are brazen in their racism. They clearly feel it is OK to express these views loudly, clearly and in public.

That same week, two men are walking down a busy street, talking loudly within earshot of passers-by. The conversation is led by a smartly dressed man in his late 40s. He too is talking about “The Jews”. He is unabashed. “The Jews, the Jews … it’s because the Jews …”.

The city where all of these incidents took place is not Berlin in 1936. It is London in 2024. The conversations were heard by Jewish people I know.

Something is shifting in our country. The open abuse of Jews is being normalised. This hatred is not just to be found at the pro-Palestine marches that dominate central London on Saturdays. It is finding its way more widely into life in Britain’s towns and cities, our schools and universities, our places of work, and it is increasingly taking place without challenge, without consequence.

This change has taken place since the pogrom in Israel on October 7. Despite the fact that it was Jewish people who were the victims of a racist, genocidal attack, it is Jews who are facing a level of racism in the UK that many of us have not experienced in our lifetimes.

It is the openness of this anti-Jewish racism that feels new, and that tells us something significant and troubling. It is becoming increasingly permissible to express anti-Semitic sentiments in public spaces. It is becoming increasingly frequent for young Jewish students to feel unsafe on university campuses. It is becoming increasingly common for Jewish employees to feel ostracised in the workplace.

Doubtless, Jew-hatred existed in the UK before October 7 but it tended to be more the occupation of the far-Right, of anti-Semitic Islamists, of Left-wing academics and Corbyn outriders.

Now, it’s seeping into the soil of everyday life, what you hear on the train, what you pass by on the street, the conversation in the café. It is as dangerous – if not more dangerous – than those marches with their genocidal chants and calls for the destruction of Israel.

The question is what can be done about it. This should matter to all of us. What begins as hatred of Jews does not end there. The prejudice spreads, the discord grows, our social cohesion comes under ever more pressure. Liberal democracy begins to fray.

I believe very strongly that there is a silent majority in Britain – of all ethnicities and backgrounds – who do not subscribe to these anti-Jewish prejudices. They deplore the racism and hatred they have seen on the marches. They are horrified by the massacre in Israel in October and understand that the genocidal terrorists of Hamas must be defeated. 
They know that the Jews of Britain – small community that it is – are typically hard-working, committed citizens who contribute a great deal to public life.

So, I respectfully call today for the often quieter voices of tolerance, reason and respect to become louder.

If you see anti-Jewish prejudice being experienced by your colleagues at work, speak up. If you are a university lecturer who can see that Jewish students do not feel safe, do something about it. If you are a police officer, take Jew-hatred as seriously as any other form of racism. If you are a politician, make it clear where you stand on anti-Semitism.

And, whoever you are, if you have a friend or acquaintance who starts talking about “The Jews”, make sure they know that their prejudice will not be tolerated. It simply has no place in our country.

Danny Cohen is a former director of BBC Television

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