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In Anticipation of Anti-Semitism

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During the 2006 Israeli war with Lebanon, a disconcerting sensation slunk into Britain's Jewish community. For the first time, at least for younger generations, it felt uncomfortable to be Jewish. The media's constant conflation of 'Israel' with 'Jewish' ('The Jewish State' usually intoned with a slight, evil sneer), along with extreme reporting bias was only the tip. What was not reported, not said, and not explained about the conflict, and the history of the conflict, and the context of the conflict - this too was only trifling. More difficult to ignore was the wave of hatred that engulfed British people altogether un-invested in the region, and with little knowledge of it. Suddenly, it was left-wing, liberal cool to hate Israel. There was not debate but vitriol. (There were also a number of hate crimes against Jews and their businesses.)

Sadly, for many British Jews - long integrated and proud of their Britishness - the response was to go tribal. Instead of maintaining the internal debate and analysis usually so characteristic of this community, complex questions surrounding Israel's policies were negated in favour of solidarity; since nobody else was defending Israel, it had to.

This time round, there has been a shift. Although BBC journalists seem sometimes to be physically biting at the bit, there has at least been an attempt to even out the bias. While mention of Gazan rockets attacking Israel is often left until three-quarters of the way down a piece, they are at least mentioned. And although politicians warn heavily that should Israel defend itself too much for too long it will lose international sympathy, they are at least acknowledging that attacks by Hamas were the trigger for the current escalation of hostility.

This is progress. It is time now for debate.

Yet in the mere anticipation of anti-Semitism, the Jewish community is keeping its solid guard. The Jewish press has not asked hard enough questions. And on social media there are already hoards of campaigns begun by Jewish friends urging solidarity or explaining 'the truth'. The total energies of our Jewish population seem to be dedicated to unravelling a perceived media bias, rather than engaging in the issues. In the light of a Facebook page entitled 'Fuck Israel' with over 30,500 members, or the Guardian's puppeteer cartoon, flogging the old trope of Jewish world domination, such caution is perhaps, still, necessary. But it is costly.

Within Israel and within Gaza, there is madness on both sides. Yet greater than the mad minority are a majority who long for peace. Neither Israel nor Gaza need unquestioning support. They do not need more tribalism. Debate - honest, open and informed - is a far more powerful tool, a far more effective peacekeeper.

Most will acknowledge that things are never so simple as 'they started it'. Who started it? Which time? In which biblical tale? There is much to be said to justify Israel's actions (and since they are rarely reported it takes restraint to hold back from turning this piece into a list of them). But Israel's hands are not clean. And Jewish people know this. Its flaws encompass a complicated roster of domestic and foreign policies including discrimination, expansionism and racism. Gaza on the other side, remains a hotbed for terror and the desire of some there to wipe Israel entirely off the map cannot be ignored. No nation would ignore such a threat.

But there is no such thing as one truth in this scenario. And who knows what the long-games are. Consolidation of domestic political power? Forcing the hand of international players? Peace? War?

With every new conflict a new generation is scarred with loss, with terror, and with hatred. In Israel, children have abandoned school for bomb shelters. In Gaza, their peers are dying. Even here in Britain, where the missiles are only (for the most part) words, the damage is deep and lasting. It is hard to forget those feelings of persecution and loathing from 2006. Far more difficult for older generations to forget more tangible examples.

But it is the responsibility of the Jewish community to reject a knee-jerk reaction of blind defence. It is the responsibility of Palestinian supporters to be equally sensible. And it is the obligation of journalists to provide mature, reliable, balanced coverage.

A situation in which uninformed masses march again under banners declaring 'We are all Hamas now' will not be acceptable - Hamas a group publicly dedicated to the destruction of Jews. And should we reach this point, the alienation of a community who have contributed so much to Britain will be the sad end. Its anticipation of anti-Semitism proved fair.

However, if - as the situation either escalates or calms - we can manage to retain a right and rational discussion, then the channels of communication may open in a way not previously available. And this can only help both the war-torn peoples embedded in such tragic loss of life.