One of the worst epithets that one Jew can apply to another is that of the “self-hating” Jew. But I feel absolutely justified in so labelling Patricia Richardson, the first Jewish councillor for the fascist British National Party (BNP).
It’s not as if Richardson’s own personal demons are any concern of mine. What does concern me is the fact that not only is she proudly standing for a fascist party, but she is just as proudly proclaiming her Jewishness.
The BNP’s “führer” Nick Griffin has rushed to endorse her. In return he gets to further his campaign to isolate Britain’s already embattled Muslim minority.
Richardson is quoted as saying, “The Jews and the British now share the same enemy – the Al Qaida terrorists who we know are often hidden in Britain illegally plotting against the West.”
Although she occupies the extreme end of that sentiment, it is one that has a resonance in much of the Jewish community and beyond.
It is the notion that Islam is irretrievably violent and thus beyond the pale of other “civilised” faiths. It is the stereotype that Martin Amis employed when he talked of “feeling superior” to Muslims in one of his disgusting outbursts last year.
It is also a sentiment that finds its way into the use of the term “Islamofascism” by liberals who support George Bush’s “war on terror”.
We have been here before. From the mid-19th century through to the mid‑20th century the Jews were the universal whipping boy of European reaction.
Many of the stereotypes associated with Muslims today were used then against Jews. It was said that Jews represented an “alien” culture, that they had backward religious and cultural practices and that their religious loyalties superseded their national ones.
As a result Jews were often made synonymous with anarchist and communist violence, as happened after the Siege of Sidney Street in the East End of London in 1911.
One of the things that ignited my political consciousness was the history of the Holocaust – learning not just of the death camps, but also of how Britain, the US and other countries refused to accept Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler’s terror.
As a young Jew my initial reaction was to become a Zionist – it seemed to me that a history of violent antisemitism proved that we Jews could never be safe in “other people’s” countries.
A feeling of assurance came from knowing that there would always be a Jewish state to escape to should such a threat arise again.
But in fact what Zionism shows is that the use of indiscriminate violence as a political tool is not specific to those inspired by Islam.
What broke me away from such ideas? It certainly wasn’t people hectoring me about the evils of Judaism, nor demanding that I sacrifice a part of my Jewish identity.
Instead I listened to people who were steadfast in their opposition to all forms of antisemitism, and who recognised my anger and desire to fight against anti-Jewish oppression.
It was only because I was approached in this way that I was prepared to listen to the arguments about why Zionism was wrong and counter-productive.
I was won over by the argument that antisemitism could only be effectively fought by Jews allying with non‑Jews. Crucially, I was also taken in 1993 to an anti-BNP demonstration in Welling, south London, where I saw all the arguments about the effectiveness of the unity of the oppressed in action.
Muslims today are facing a far more ferocious attack than Jews have had to deal with in my lifetime. There is a constant drip-drip of rabid Islamophobia in the mainstream media.
However, what my experience has taught me is this – that the pain of oppression can lead people to bitter and violent conclusions.
The starting point in winning over that tiny minority who are inspired by Al Qaida, or who express backward ideas towards women or gays, is not to denounce their religion.
All religions contain both reactionary and progressive elements. It would be just as unfair to tarnish Judaism with the crimes of Israel as it is to identify Islam with Al Qaida or the Saudi monarchy.
We must never forget that once you stereotype and demonise a group of people because of their ethnicity or their religion, it becomes much easier for a climate of violence to be directed towards them.
And nor must we forget that the BNP remains a Nazi party – despite the fact that it now boasts of its Jewish councillor. Muslims may be its current target, but hatred of Jews, Holocaust denial and general racism remain central to its politics.
The Jewish experience under the Nazis is testament to the monstrous endgame of unchecked prejudice. Today they may be coming for the Muslims, but who will they come for next?