Why I Oppose Anti-Semitism

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Huffington Post

Why I Oppose Anti-Semitism

Palestine peace flag. (Photo: gloucester2gaza)

The year is 1992, I am 16 years old. It is pacer, the Jewish feast of Passover; I am in Frinton On Sea, Essex, with the Hirsch family at the evening meal. Wine is drunk, there are incantations and Torah readings, my mate Matt's little sister is beautiful, the sense of family unity and tradition is also beautiful.

Me and Matt, now obediently sat in those little hats, kippahs they're called, had dropped some acid earlier in the evening and the whole thing suddenly gets a bit too much. Matt's dad is sort of singing in Hebrew, the old bloke they invite every year from down the street, is smiling with cardigan kindness, Matt's sister is still beautiful, and of course, there's the acid. I am overwhelmed by melancholy and, oddly guilt, at the holocaustal images that lysergically zip through my sad and lively mind and I, in front of everyone, begin to weep.

Matt, also on acid remember, having unwisely risked bringing his younger eccentric friend to a family occasion and now confronted with the surely unanticipated challenge of his mate crying at dinner nudges me and asks me "what's up" in a way that indicates, understandably, "shut up'. I'm on a roll now though and sentimentally tormented by the torturous trip logic that had Hitler's Final Solution not been halted, none of these people would've been here and given that the enactors of the genocide had been ordinary German people, had I been born 70 years earlier and been German, I could have been a participant.

I am at my first Pacer with a lovely family and feel personally responsible for the holocaust; I think that constitutes "a bad trip".

Now I hope the above doesn't constitute the anti Semitic version of "Some of my best friends are black" (they are) but having recently and vehemently been called an anti Semite the memory has taken on new significance.

On my online news analysis show the trews (terrible name, I agree, true news) I supported a petition by the online activism group Avaaz, a really decent outfit who have campaigned for same sex marriage, stricter gun controls and compassionate drug laws. So you see what side of the argument they're generally on. In this case it was a petition to lobby businesses that profit from the conflict and violence in Gaza.

Businesses like Barclays Bank that manage the account of drone makers El Bit, Dutch pension fund ABP, British security firm G4S, Caterpillar and others directly profit from the atrocities that we have all been shocked by in recent weeks.

We analysed a Barclays commercial in which their brand was cosily presented as wholesome and affable pointed out the disingenuity, and reasonably averred that businesses should not be profiting from the current conflict. When you think about it, to disagree with that is to assert that big businesses should be profiting from the conflict; that is a much more extreme position. It strikes me too that ideologically that is a determinedly capitalistic position as oppose to a theological one.

I have frequent cause to reflect upon and quote Albert Maysles' maxim "Tyranny is the deliberate removal of nuance." It seems at first a meek kind of tyranny; one scarce imagines that in Poland under the Nazis, people huddled together in ghettos, bemoaning the removal of nuance. Genocide, starvation and warmongering must surely have been more pressing manifestations of tyranny.

It is worth considering though that the sanding down of inconvenient facets of an argument allows a prejudicial version of reality to dominate. In its most extreme form this mechanic facilitates tyranny, more extreme in nature.

Removing the nuance of the civil rights struggle, slavery, the shooting of Trayvon Martin and failure to convict his killer, the social unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, following the killing of teenager Michael Brown can be condemned as unacceptable violence. With those details brought rightly to the fore the unrest is totally reasonable.

Media is of course where this form of tyranny is most obvious. When the Daily Mail present a story on benefit fraud or the consequences of "spiraling" immigration no nuance that interrupts the tide of their righteous rage is allowed to survive, no mitigation, or broader context, all that remains is a salient nub, pulsating with poisonous data.

Me and my mate Gareth set up the trews in order to address this phenomenon. Not as pioneering crusaders for truth and justice, just because it's easy to do and a laugh. Fox News quickly emerged as a reliable source of content to criticize because of the vehement delight they seem to take in galling contrarianism. Bill O'Reilly for example is so consistently outraged by the disadvantaged in society that in the end it's hard to see him as human, more a kind of permutation of an incessantly inflamed hemorrhoid. Like his head and whole identity is secondary to a constant discomfort at the seat of his being. A hollering parasite of his own punctured anus.

A previous video we made concerned Fox News' shop-dummy-polemicist Sean Hannity. In the clip we analysed, Hannity refused to let his guest, there to represent a Palestinian perspective on events in Gaza, speak, instead jabbing his index finger and belching damnation like he dined only on curried hatred. Fulfilling our self-imposed brief to provide true news we offered up some of the facts about the conflict that had been censored according to Fox's tyrannical stance.

Like anyone who has spent any time reflecting on this complex issue I naturally wanted to make positive suggestions for positive action. The petition against European businesses provides exactly that opportunity. This is clearly distinct from a boycott against Israel, which means abstaining from buying goods from Israel.

The obvious reason that this distinction is important is if we are to boycott all nations that practice unsanctioned violence against a weaker opponent we would begin with the UK and USA and include every nation on earth. That is, I suppose, why Avaaz's petition is appropriate and effective; no boycott against any nation was proposed. Instead a petition against businesses that profit from the horror in Gaza was set up and now has nearly 1.7million signatures.

When my support of this petition was reported significant nuances were removed. It was reported that I "urged a boycott of Israel". Why is this incendiary language and misrepresentation favoured?

It is difficult to countenance condemnation when the action for which you have been condemned has been editorialized to be conflagratory. My support of the petition has been attacked as anti Semitic. I understand anti Semitism to be a hatred of Jews, the denial of the right for Jews to have a homeland, the denial of the horrors of the last century and the plight of the Jewish people throughout history. This is obviously not my position, anti Semitism, Islamaphobia and homophobia are all prejudices that I resolutely reject, like any right-minded person. In the context of the accusation that I face, anti Semitism must be taken to mean opposing big businesses making profit from violence against Palestinian people.

I don't see Israeli military action in Gaza as a religious issue. For me it seems to be the action of an extreme right wing government that has strong economic ties to right wing organisations in the US. These affiliations are economic, not theological and are defined here with typical expertise by Noam Chomsky.

Vying with death threats to be the most frequent form of attack that I have received is the assertion that I have no right to get involved in such complex issues. As the above link to Chomsky indicates there are far more thorough and well researched sources to turn to for information. It is important though that ordinary people can be included in this debate because we are compelled to participate by the common thread of humanity that unites us all.

It is the exclusion of the sane majority that allows extremists to prosper. The insanity across the Middle East is so deeply terrifying and giddyingly futile that most people, despondent and bilious want to look away. We know the US can't be trusted. We know the UN are inactive. We know something has to be done to stop the violence in Gaza and the new medieval horror of ISIS but who can we trust? Our own governments, about who we know nothing for certain except they lie and pursue their own ends, sexing up and dumbing down, arming then attacking, fair-weather friends but perennial weapons suppliers?

One of the few ways we, ordinary, uneducated and as yet not directly effected people can participate in a climate where big business and big government do nothing but profit and prevaricate is to let them know that they do not act on our behalf and will not profit from our indifference. Methods like the Avaaz's petition provide a moderate but direct way to tackle extreme problems that we can all participate in.

This is not a boycott of Israel, of Israeli goods. I would not endorse the withdrawal of kosher goods from supermarkets which is happening in Britain, measures like that negatively impact ordinary people who are nothing to do with this extraordinary problem.

We can no longer allow arguments and our shared communicative spaces to be dominated by extremist profiteers. We must disavow anti Semitism and all forms of prejudice that lead to exclusion and execution like the people of Palestine now face. All governments and institutions that permit violence and proliferate weapons in order to meet territorial or economic objectives ought be equally condemned and confronted and I, like all of us, welcome any means through which we, the ordinary people, can be empowered to act.

"The best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity" wrote WB Yeats after the First World War, in anticipation of the Second. We all know the famous diatribe "When they came for the socialists, I did nothing, when they came for the Jews I did nothing, when they came for me, there was no one left to do anything." These words and Yeats' poem address the same issue, tyranny and the same people; us, the majority compliant in our silence, not because we are indifferent but because we are baffled, frightened and cowed. Threatened and condemned if we speak out but we have no choice. We the ordinary people of the world, American, Kurdish, British, Palestinian, Israeli and Syrian have to identify with our common humanity, not our superficial, constructed differences, whether ideological or territorial, or be dominated by extremists. Extreme transnational crusaders who want to profit and extreme religious groups who want to kill for land and power, whether in the Middle East or the West.

There are some who will be determined to call me an anti semite, those who call some of the finest Jewish thinkers in the world like Naomi Klein and Noam Chomsky anti semites are unlikely to abate. We cannot placate those who are so determined to censor debate that they include in their damnation Jewish people whose anti Semitism, if real would lead to the annhilation of their own families and themselves. We cannot placate those that will say that when I write "profiteers" or "capitalists" or "transnational crusaders". I am using a code to infer Jewish people. These are not euphemisms, I literally mean profiteers and capitalists. There are some so virulently and grotesquely attached to their objectives that nothing but silent compliance is acceptable. To me they are not. The only way we will achieve peace is for ordinary people of all faiths and colours to condemn violence in Gaza, Iraq, Ferguson and wherever it is found. When humble means emerge, such as this petition, which applies pressure exclusively to those who benefit from destruction the rest of us have an obligation to sign it. Small measures like this remind the powerful that they are not free to divide and desecrate, they are accountable to us and when we unite their tyranny is overthrown.

Russell Brand

Russell Brand is an actor, comedian, and social commentator. In a foray into journalism in 2013, Brand was invited to guest-edit the October 24 'Revolution-themed' issue of the New Statesman. Find him on Twitter: @rustyrockets.

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