The wolf is real. Don’t let it eat you: A reply to the charge that Jews ‘cry antisemitism’ too readily

Written by Chas Newkey-Burden at the blog OyVaGoy. (This originally appeared at The Jewish Chronicle)

 “No gentile – and certainly no antisemite – should ever dictate to Jews how to guard against [antisemitism]“. – Chas Newkey-Burden

I think most of us will have heard the allegation that Jewish people “cry antisemitism” too readily. Or the implication that you are over-vigilant against another great flare-up of this ancient, ever-present hatred.

It is basically a suggestion that you cry wolf. And it is ridiculous for so many reasons.

Most fundamentally, I would personally dispute that Jewish people tend to cry wolf.

Although I’m a goy from a very goyish Berkshire village, I have a lot of contact with Jewish people, because of my interest in Israel and Jewish mysticism.

What is ‘just vigilant enough’? Who says so?

Most of that contact centres on food and chat. Talk usually drifts on to political matters. Along with our shawarma and hummus we chew over issues such as anti-Israel prejudice and antisemitism, and the increasing tendency of the two to merge.

As an outsider who has regular contact with the community, I’ve never personally known a Jewish person whom I would describe as over-vigilant regarding antisemitism or tending to cry wolf on it.

Such people probably exist somewhere but I’ve never met them. If anything, the opposite is often the case.

Which makes it all the more galling that it is the Jewish community as a whole that, of all minority groups, is most often accused of crying wolf.

Certain individuals from, say, the gay, black or Muslim communities are sometimes similarly accused. Occasionally with good reason; every community has its members who have lost themselves in an eternal quest for self-righteousness.

Their shrieking drown out the many sincere voices in those communities, who are able to distinguish between real and imagined prejudice.

Yet no other community faces the “crying wolf” accusation en masse as regularly as the Jews. This, despite the fact that the Jews are surely the least homogenous of people. The “two Jews, three opinions” gag did not emerge from nowhere.

But, you know what? I am not sure that “crying wolf” is the worst thing you could do. Here’s why.

If you are not to be over-vigilant against antisemitism, then you are left with only two options: to be less than vigilant, or to be just vigilant enough.

The idea that you would be seriously expected forever to be just vigilant enough, never to miss the mark by even a metaphorical millimetre, is ridiculous.

It would be just as ludicrous to expect such precision in other contexts. Do we genuinely expect a parent forever to be precisely vigilant enough over their children? We would hope they would be, but would not seriously expect it.

What even is “just vigilant enough”? What does it look like, and who decides where it rests? It would be no less bizarre to request of a widow that she grieves just the right amount.

So if we agree that getting it right every time is unrealistic, it means you have to be either over- or under-vigilant.

Well, as history shows, the price to be paid for being under-vigilant against Jew-hatred can be colossal.

That price dwarfs the price to be paid for being over-vigilant. Because it is unlikely that anyone making the “crying wolf” accusation would be doing so out of good faith.

No, the “crying wolf” allegation is almost exclusively made by those who do not take antisemitism seriously – or by those who take it so seriously that they to some degree endorse it.

After all, it is easy to criticise the manner in which someone is guarding a community against a wolf if you either don’t believe the wolf exists, or if you want it to devour the members of that community. The wolf is real. Arguably no gentile – and certainly no antisemite – should ever dictate to Jews how to guard against it.

George Galloway Tweets for Israel

Chas Newkey-Burden had a simple request for George Galloway:  ‘Please retweet my post’.

Sure enough, the MP, and ‘Comment is Freestar, complied:

Galloway likely was too busy furiously Tweeting support for brutal dictators to bother reading Chas’s piece, because the post he actually retweeted wasn’t quite consistent with the ‘GazaUnderAttack’ hash tag.

Here’s the post written by Newkey-Burden (at his blog OyVaGoy!), titled ‘Then and Now‘, which 95,179 of George’s followers could see.

Poor George: duped by a passionately philo-Semitic, Zionist blogger into Tweeting support for Israel.  

Will his ‘street cred’ in Bradford West (or, at the Guardian) ever recover?

Turn this vile claim on its head

The following essay was written by Chas Newkey-Burden, who blogs at OyVaGoy

As one who advocates formally and informally for Israel, I have heard the full gamut of misconceptions and slanders that are aired by those opposed to the Jewish state. Over time, my skin has thickened; people can throw whatever baloney they want my way.

Except… there is still one anti-Israel argument that makes my jaw drop. And it is one that is made with unfortunate frequency. It is the “they-of-all-people” argument: the suggestion that the Jews, having faced extraordinary persecution, should know better than anyone not to be oppressors.

Put aside for a moment that the “oppression” which proponents of this argument are accusing Israel of committing is usually imaginary. When directed by gentiles towards Jews, the “they-of-all-people” argument is in its very essence so fundamentally ill-judged and unjust, and voiced with such a breathtaking lack of self-awareness, that my spirit flags when I hear it.

Where to begin in response? The heroic Howard Jacobson made a fine start when he proposed that “they of all people” is the natural successor of Holocaust denial. He wrote that the argument leaves the Jewish people doubly damned: to the Holocaust itself and to elevated moral scrutiny as a result of it.

I agree, and I would go further. I contend that, as a result of the Holocaust and what preceded it, it is we gentiles who should know better. The Holocaust followed centuries of slander, persecution, violence and murder committed by gentiles against Jews. So it is not you who have an increased responsibility to behave morally, but us.

For instance, something that we gentiles should know better than to do is lazily accuse Jewish people, or the Jewish state itself, of any misdemeanour. We have seen what centuries of slander against the Jewish people led to during the 1930s and ’40s. We see the hatred, heartbreak and bloodshed that such anti-Jewish libels continue to provoke, particularly in the Middle East.

Yet much of the world still continues to delight in damning Israel with indecent haste. From Al Dura (the false claim that Israeli forces murdered a boy in Gaza) to Jenin, from the Goldstone Report to the Gaza flotilla; time and again the world has found Israel guilty of a particular crime before all the evidence was available. When the full picture emerged and exonerated Israel it was too late to undo the damage. We gentiles, of all people, should know better.

It is also us, of all people, who should know better than to expect Israel to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat alone.

The world’s ceremonies and gestures of regret over what happened in the Holocaust would carry an increased weight of sincerity were they to be matched with robust support for Israel as the countdown to a nuclear-armed Iran, whose leader denies the Holocaust while promising to commit a second one by wiping out the Jewish state, continues.

World leaders should be sincerely standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Israel’s government as it decides what to do, not dawdling on the sidelines, waiting to wag their collective, condescending finger yet again.

Let us strip the “they-of-all-people” argument down to its very basics: gentiles telling Jews that we killed six million of your people and that as a result it is you, not us, who have lessons to learn; that it is you, not us, who need to clean up your act. It is an argument of atrocious, spiteful insanity. Do not accept it; turn it back on those who offer it. For it is us, not you, who should know better.

Chas Newkey-Burden reflects on his love of Israel & Judaism: “The missing part of the jigsaw”

The following essay was written by Chas Newkey-Burden and published at The Jewish Chronicle

I never told you the one about how a Christian/Hindu cult helped me love Israel and Judaism, did I? As a non-Jew who proudly supports Zionism and is fascinated by Judaism, particularly the mystical and Hasidic traditions, I am often asked how I came to feel this way. To me, the real question is why someone would not support Israel and admire Judaism, but of course I understand the curiosity.

The short answer – which I’ve blogged about and mentioned during speeches – is that I became fascinated by the Middle East after the September 11 attacks. To my surprise, having previously had a lazy, hazy perception that Israel were the villains of the conflict, I became more and more pro-Israel the more I learned about the issue. So I started visiting Israel and quickly fell in love with the place.

However, I’ve never written or spoken publicly about a challenging childhood experience that had a part to play in this. When I was nine, I joined a new school in London. I was so excited to be leaving primary school and joining a new, ‘grown-up’ establishment. What I didn’t realise until I got there was that 99 percent of the pupils and their families were members of bizarre religious cult, as were all the staff.

The cult, which dominated the school, combined Victorian sternness with less savoury elements of Christianity and Hinduism to create a cruel concoction. I was a member of the one percent of pupils with no connection to the cult. This meant that twice a day, as my classmates meditated and chanted Sanskrit, I had to go to a dark room in the basement and sit kicking my heels with the other odd ones out of the school.

It also meant I was pressured to join the cult. The more I resisted this pressure, the more I was targeted by the staff. It was astounding how quickly the teachers could turn a maths, English or science class into a free-for-all discussion of how I came from an “impure” family.

The staff strongly discouraged pupils from befriending me and at times some of the teachers were violent with me. At one point I was even-handed a year-long detention, which meant I couldn’t leave the school until 6.30pm on weekdays and not before mid-afternoon on Saturdays.

For six years I resisted the pressure to join the cult and then at 16 I was finally able to leave the godforsaken place. Years later, in 2007, an inquiry found that “mistreatment” and “criminal assaults” had taken place when I was there. It is possible that one can never completely move on from such an experience – the question is how to create a positive legacy.

Which brings me to my love of Israel. I think that as result of what I faced at school I have developed a stronger empathy for anyone who is unfairly singled out. For instance, when Kofi Annan – then the Secretary General of the UN – was asked why the UN so disproportionately targets Israel, and replied: “Can the whole world be wrong?” he made my blood boil. As I knew from my schooling, sometimes yes, the whole world can be wrong.

Recently, while dining with a Jewish family I’m friendly with, I sensed a wider connection. I was telling them about my strange school, when the wise father of the household turned to me and said:

“You were like the Jew at school – that’s why you understand us.”

I had never thought of it that way, as I consider the story of the Jewish experience to be as much about the inspiration of your enormous achievements and inspiring example as it is the hatred you have faced.

But I can see his point – and within it is the positive legacy I sought. Perhaps if I had not been so tested as a child I would not have subsequently stood at the Kotel, nor watched the sunset in Tel Aviv, nor heard of the wondrous Baal Shem Tov and Rabbi Nachman, whose teachings now enrich my life.

Whatever took me here I am glad it did. After all, supporting Israel and admiring Judaism is the only sensible way to roll.

Holocaust Memorial Day, 2012

This was written by our friend Chas Newkey-Burden, and originally posted at his blog, OyVaGoy

It is Holocaust Memorial Day [today]. You can read more about this year’s theme here.

On days such as this I am reminded of the words of Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel who wrote the following:

‘What cannot help but astound us is that the Hasidim remained the Hasidim inside the ghetto walls, inside the death camps. In the shadow of the executioner, they celebrated life. Startled Germans whispered to each other of Jews dancing in the cattle cars rolling towards Birkenau; Hasidim ushering in Simchat Torah. And there were those who in Block 57 at Auschwitz tried to make me join in their fervent singing. Were these miracles?’

What a passage: it is haunting and inspiring, harrowing and uplifting all at once. Similar emotions are provoked by a recording made at Bergen-Belsen shortly after it was liberated in April 1945. It includes weary Jewish survivors singing Hativkah (The Hope), the song that became the national anthem of the state of Israel. You can find a link to the recording on the right-hand side of this page. (Or, see YouTube clip below)

‘Never despair! Never! It is forbidden to give up hope,’ wrote Rabbi Nachman, a century before any of these events took place. These are wise words, yet not always easy to live up to.

Yet consider the Hasidim who celebrated life in the death camps, and the survivors who sang of hope at Bergen-Belsen. Stories such as these remind me how even in the darkest moments it is possible, and essential, to maintain hope.

 

The Goy is back in town: The wonderful return of Chas Newkey-Burden!

Chas Newkey-Burden is back!

No, I’m not ashamed to say that I was moved beyond words when Chas emailed me with news that, after a thankfully short absence from the Zionist blogosphere, he is back and once again blogging at OyVaGoy.

Noted Chas in his most recent post:

I enjoyed taking a break. It’s always nice to remember what a big world there is out there. I have a brilliant and busy life as it is, so I was never naturally disposed to ‘activism’ anyway. But as I said, Israel is worth digging deep for. And to clarify, my break had nothing to do with any change of feelings about Israel; blog or no blog, you can bury me a Zionist.

Now I’m back, I’ll be posting on new topics including initiatives to counter cyber-bullying, and also the efforts to build a loving legacy for Amy Winehouse. However, my love and respect for Israel will probably always be at the heart of this blog. I might even find time to write about shawarma and the NaNachs from time to time. You know me.

I aim to keep this blog even more positive and upbeat going forward. There’s enough darkness and fear-mongering in our corner of the internet as it is. I’d rather keep things light. If that sounds a bit Christian happy-clappy then all I can say is that I’m neither Christian nor clappy, but I am happy.

I’m happy to be back.

Chas has no idea how happy WE are that he’s back.

Being an Israeli in a world increasingly hostile to the Jewish state’s very existence – and especially in the aftermath of last week’s brutal terrorist attacks against innocent Israeli civilians – it is really comforting to know that we are not alone. 

No matter how serious the threats posed by state and non-state actors who openly seek our destruction, as well as the legitimization such reactionary forces receive from the Guardian, one thing is certain:

Chas Newkey-Burden has our back.

Chas Newkey-Burden’s essay in The JC. “Blogland: Here be dragons.”

This was written by Chas Newkey-Burden, and published today at The JC.

With revelations about phone-hacking and related press scandals, there is a renewed sense that the media is out of control and in need of further regulation. This tidal wave of opinion should be properly considered by those in power. However, the mainstream press is in many ways a beacon of order and restraint when compared with dangerously feral elements of the online media.

I know how nasty the internet can be. For the past three years I’ve been a devoted online advocate for Israel and against antisemitism. I’ve run a popular pro-Israel blog called OyVaGoy, and argued Israel’s case on online networks including Twitter and Facebook. Although I’m not Jewish, this issue is very important to me.

My experiences have been largely positive: many people told me I have changed their minds about the issue, others said my writing had encouraged them to visit Israel for the first time, and I’ve made dozens of new friends here and in Israel. I took part in a bloggers’ trip to Jerusalem last summer and I have even been nicknamed “my online ambassador” by the owner of my favourite shawarma joint in Golders Green.

But I also quickly discovered the cruelties of the web. Blogs, discussion forums and other online platforms allow for anonymous comments to be made. People hurl abuse and threats around, with negligible fear of being identified. They never see the faces of those they attack, nor are they aware of the hurt that is caused by their comments – hurt that can spread from the recipient to their loved ones too. Not that some of the attackers would care.

Last week, it got too much. With a heavy heart, I decided to stop blogging. Given how committed to Israel’s cause I am, and what a success I had made of blogging, people were surprised by my decision. I was a bit surprised myself, actually. But I just want to stop feeling sick when I log on to my computer. I’ve had enough of going to bed at night with abusive comments ringing in my ears, then waking up to a fresh load of unpleasantness, much of it left by anonymous, shadowy authors.

Read the rest of the essay, here.

Chas Newkey-Burden reflects on UK media’s hostility to Israel

I thought I’d share this post by our good friend Chas – who blogs at OyVaGoy.

Four years ago this month I wrote an article for Ynet News, about my firsthand experiences of our media’s attitude to Israel:

The evening after my return from Israel, I met up with some journalists for some drinks in the West End of London. I was again abused for my trip. Their hatred of Israel was matched only by their adoration of the Palestinians. One of them gushed: “Boy, those suicide bombers have got guts. I wish more people in the world had their courage.” Another of them erupted when I told him that most people in Israel wanted a peaceful settlement to the conflict. “So why,” he asked, “did they murder their most peaceful Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu?”

I know. You can read the full article here.

Why Britain needs StandWithUs

This is cross posted from OyVaGoyand was his most recent essay in Jewish News

Last weekend I had the honour of speaking at the Israeli Embassy in London, as part of a one-day conference organised by

StandWithUs UK. As you can imagine, I was very excited to be there. The only times I had been to the Embassy before was to take part in pro-Israel demonstrations outside – the first during Operation Cast Lead and the second in the wake of the flotilla episode.

On both those occasions Israel-hating crazies held aggressive counter-demonstrations just yards away. So on Sunday it was lovely to be there without having to listen to hysterically-shrieked (and unintentionally revealing) fantasies about bloodshed and racism.

Instead, a wide variety of articulate and engaging speakers gave voice to the need for effective advocacy for Israel and the building of coalitions to get the message across. The speakers included students, a lawyer, a Palestinian journalist and, most memorably, Ariel Halevi, who simply blew the audience away with his magnificent seminar on effective debating.

It was an inspiring and educational conference which clearly demonstrated the urgent need for improved action by those who love Israel and then how best to go about that action. We listened to speakers, watched films and discussed options and strategies. It was impossible to not feel inspired.

I was the last speaker of the day – or top of the bill one might cheekily put it. I spoke about how to best advocate for Israel online. My speech seemed to go down well and it brought to an end a remarkable and encouraging day for all of us.

What an honour it was to speak at the Israeli Embassy and to be present at the official launch of a vital new voice in the pro-Israel chorus in these shores. I am both delighted and encouraged that StandWithUs has officially come to the UK. It is a wonderful organisation with a formidable global record. StandWithUs signs and flyers are a common feature of pro-Israel demonstrations the world over and its rate of success is second to none.

The mission behind StandWithUs is simple: education is the road to peace. It expertly counters misinformation and delegitimisation wherever they raise their ugly heads. This might seem a no-brainer but the difficult truth we have to face is that Israel’s enemies in Britain have for too long been gifted an open goal due to the timidity of some existing pro-Israel organisations here.

StandWithUs will counter the lies of organisations like the Palestine Solidarity Campaign – a nasty, vicious group that has grown ever more forceful as the Zionist movement in Britain has lost its way and become, to an increasing extent, an impresario venture.

Ours really is a movement that is overdue some fresh faces and some truly imaginative ideas. StandWithUs is the perfect force to accomplish this, which is why I think it is vital that self-interests are put aside in favour of moving toward our greater goal.

The StandWithUs UK Coordinator, Gili Brenner, is the sort of bright, dynamic and passionate individual that we have for so long cried out for in these shores. I particularly welcome her presence here and look forward to helping her efforts flourish.

Let’s be clear about what we face: those who mean Israel harm wake every day thinking of new ways to damage and vilify the Jewish state. Therefore we need to reach out to people and educate them about Israel in new and creative ways. Each and every one of us needs to up our game so we can begin to turn round the damage that our enemies have been allowed to inflict on our cause in recent years.

The simple truth is this: all who genuinely care about Israel will welcome StandWithUs with open, celebratory and co-operative arms.

An Editorial that could not possibly be more misleading

This is cross posted by Chas Newkey-Burden at OyVaGoy

An editorial in today’s Observer [cross posted at The Guardian] presents Israel as the obstacle to peace in the Middle East and Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority as the ones making all the moves. Indeed, it argues that “successive” Israeli prime ministers have refused to sincerely engage and negotiate with the Palestinians.

Successive Israeli prime ministers refusing to negotiate? Well, let’s look at the record of the three that preceded the current administration…

Ehud Barak (1999-2001) offered Yasser Arafat an extraordinary package including around 97 per cent of the territories, the majority of the Old City and east Jerusalem, and $30 billion compensation for the refugees.

Map reflecting the parameters of the Palestinian state which Arafat was offered (Per Dennis Ross)

His offer was refused by Arafat.

Ariel Sharon  (2001-2005) withdrew from Gaza, and was considering withdrawing from the West Bank, before his reign ended when he suffered a stroke.

The Gaza withdrawal was responded to with thousands of rockets fired into Israel.

Ehud Olmert (2006-2009) offered Mahmoud Abbas 93.5 to 93.7 per cent of the territories, along with a land swap of 5.8 per cent and a safe-passage corridor from Gaza to the West Bank. Under his offer the Old City of Jerusalem would be administered by a consortium of Saudis, Jordanians, Israelis, Palestinians and Americans. There would also have been (limited) return of refugees.

His offer was refused by Abbas

As for Netanyahu, it is too early to tell what will happen. But during his first reign as Prime Minister, (1996-1999) he negotiated with Yasser Arafat, signed the Wye River accords and handed most of Hebron to the Palestinians.

So The Observer could hardly be more misleading. Its editorial warns, with typical colonial-liberal pomposity, that if Israel continues to refuse to negotiate that it will become “an international pariah”. If that ever does become the case, it will not be because of intransigence on the part of Israel. But it will be in part because of dishonest reporting such as in today’s Observer.