I’ve never felt more scared to say I’m Jewish. But it’s not Corbyn’s fault.

Jeremy Corbyn
Emily Apple

I’m Jewish – well culturally Jewish. As I previously wrote for The Canary:

My background is Jewish; my father’s family are all Jewish. I describe myself as culturally Jewish. I don’t practise any religion, but Judaism is still my personal history and a big part of my family.

I’ve never been scared to call myself Jewish or claim my Jewish identity. It’s always been part of me. But recently I’ve felt that fear – and it’s got nothing to do with Jeremy Corbyn.

An existential crisis

When three leading Jewish newspapers published their “existential crisis” headline, I had my own existential crisis. I started asking whether I had a right to join in the debate. I questioned my own legitimacy and asked myself whether I was a fraud to claim my Jewish heritage in order to write articles about antisemitism.

To cut a long journey short, here’s the conclusion I reached:

Hitler and Nazis of the new and old variety wouldn’t give a shit about my angst over my heritage. To them, I’m Jewish. I come from a long line of Jews. I look Jewish enough that people often ask me if I’m Jewish. My mother’s gentile status and my own existential angst wouldn’t be a factor. So, in terms of persecution and the risk of persecution – I’m Jewish.

Fear no 1

It was right to go on that journey. But it’s also important to recognise that it was a journey motivated by fear; the fear of being a fraud. And that fear led me to question my own cultural heritage.

But that was some weeks ago and the fear never quite left.

As the Jewish Socialists’ Group points out:

Many Jews are unrepresented (and misrepresented) because they are not members of mainstream religious, Zionist or other community institutions. As a result, they do not appear in statistics or research about Jews and Jewish life.

So I’m writing this, and I’m still scared of being called a fraud. In other words, the current climate made me scared of owning and celebrating an identity that has been part of me since I was a child.

Fear no 2

The rhetoric from former chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks terrifies me. Not just his actual comments comparing Corbyn to Enoch Powell which were absurd and offensive, but the ease in which the political agenda is manipulated and realigned.

I’m not a Labour member. I’m somewhat ambivalent towards Corbyn. But one thing is undeniable. Corbyn has been at the forefront of anti-racist campaigns for decades. From celebrating the battle of Cable Street through anti-fascist protests and his arrest protesting apartheid South Africa, there are few, if any, MPs who can match him on this front. And yes, I’d put his persistent speaking up for Palestinian people on that list too.

In an age of Nigel Farage, UKIP, Boris Johnson and Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson), Sacks’ comments are laughable. But no-one’s laughing. Instead, his narrative is picked up on as a legitimate criticism of the Labour leader.

And as a Jew, there’s an additional fear. With so much media attention focused on the “mainstream” Jewish community, there’s the fear of being associated with his vile comments. There’s a fear that these perceived “legitimate” voices speak for everyone.

Fear no 3

Antisemitism is on the rise and it is scary. As I’ve previously written:

And while most antisemitism is still the preserve of the far right, it also exists on the left. I’ve seen it in the tired trope of rich Jews – the Jewish conspiracy to run the world.

Momentum is right. There is antisemitism on the left, and it needs to be dealt with.

There’s also the question of the debate in and of itself causing fear. Any community that feels under threat or persecuted needs to be listened to and taken seriously. But it’s important to look at how that threat developed. Do Jewish people see Corbyn as a threat per se? Or do they think he’s a threat because that’s what they’ve been bombarded with for months?

And it’s this weaponisation of antisemitism, both as a tool for removing Corbyn and to promote a pro-Israeli agenda, that’s terrifying. Because it runs a real risk of not only undermining the very real antisemitism that exists but also of perpetrating it.

But what’s really fucking scary…

Underlying all these fears is the one that’s really fucking scary. And that’s the rise of the far right both in the UK and across Europe. Whatever our cultures, ethnicities and creeds, this is what we need to be uniting and fighting against.

But I’ve also realised that while the world might be a scary place, we need to face that fear head on. So I’m going to stop doubting my right to call myself Jewish. I will keep questioning the narrative and the motivations of those pressing the current antisemitism debate. And I will never stop speaking up for the Palestinian people and calling out the racist policies of the Israeli state.

Finally and most importantly, I will stand and fight against the far right at each and every turn. Not as a Jewish person. But as a decent human being who wants to see a better world for all regardless of race and religion.

Get Involved!

– Support Jewish Voice for Peace and Jewish Voice for Labour.

– Take grassroots action against fascism.

Featured image via Wikimedia/Rwendland


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Emily Apple