As noted previously in this unit, the number of antisemitic incidents recorded in the UK in recent years has been historically high. These incidents have taken the form of verbal and physical attacks, vandalism of property, and abusive messages on social media platforms. This rise in antisemitic incidents should be of concern to us all. If antisemitism is allowed to flourish unchallenged, it puts Jewish lives at risk, paves the way for oppression of other marginalised communities, and threatens the fabric of society.
As Holocaust survivor Marian Turski notes,
Democracy hinges on the rights of minorities being protected.
When minorities are attacked and denied rights, there is a tear in the social contract, which opens the doors for the rights of everyone to be called into question, for everybody’s rights to be at risk. Martin Niemöller’s famous poem about the Holocaust ‘First they came …’ encapsulates this sentiment.
However, it is not only the human rights of Jews – and others – that are put at risk when antisemitism thrives: faith in public institutions and the ability to solve social issues is also placed under threat.
As the civil rights campaigner Eric Ward notes,
Anti-Semitism isn’t just bigotry toward the Jewish community. It is actually utilizing bigotry toward the Jewish community in order to deconstruct democratic practices, and it does so by framing democracy as a conspiracy rather than a tool of empowerment or a functional tool of governance.
Conspiratorial beliefs are damaging not only because they ostracise people who belong to the groups targeted by them, but also because they can prevent people from pushing for needed social change.
Journalist Yair Rosenberg explains,
One thing that conspiracy theories do to societies is that they destroy them from within because they teach people that they’re powerless to effect change. And they leave them to be unable to solve their own problems.
What does that – what do I mean by that? Well, if you think that, you know, Jews control politics, if you have a problem in politics, you’re going to go after Jews instead of trying to vote, elect people, do activism, do all the things that could actually solve your problems. If you think that, you know, Jews control the economy, you’re not going to try to solve your economic problems by saving, investing, making better financial decisions. Again, you will go after these invisible Jews. And so societies that buy into the antisemitic conspiracy theory lose the ability to rationally solve their problems and instead become obsessed with phantom solutions and hurting Jews.
Antisemitism must be challenged first and foremost because it harms Jews and entire Jewish communities, leaving Jews to live in fear and at risk of attack. Moreover, as highlighted above, when antisemitism is left unchecked, there are additional consequences for everyone in society.