Comment & Analysis

Jewish people ‘hide religion in Ireland’
Times of conflict in Israel increase anti-semitism here, writes Chai Brady

Young Jewish people don’t want to draw attention to their creed due to anti-Israel sentiment in Ireland, according to a Jewish representative body.

Irish Jewish people are conscious of being overt about their Judaism as they “do not want to attract the generally obsessive nature of anti-Israel demonisation which goes on in Ireland”, according to the Chair of the Jewish Representative Council in Ireland (JRCI), Maurice Cohen. Many young people don’t wear their kippah (a brimless skullcap) in public as a result, he told The Irish Catholic.

This comes as the Campaign Against anti-Semitism (CAA) in Britain published the results of a survey this month that found 39% of British Jews conceal their Judaism in public, with the report stating that it “is a strong sign that British Jews expect to be discriminated against, or even harassed or abused”.

It was also discovered that 36% of British people believe at least one anti-Semitic stereotype. 

The survey, conducted by YouGov, was based on the answers of more than 10,500 British adults and Jewish people in Britain over the course of three years. 

Overall the survey found there was progress in combatting anti-Semitism in Britain, but Chairman Gideon Falter wrote that “despite that inspiring progress, British Jews are growing more fearful because our authorities fail to enforce the law and our politics is punctuated by the repeated exposure of anti-Semites”.

Racism

When quizzed, one-third of the Jewish community in Britain said they had thought about moving country due to racism, with the Chairman adding: “Just as British people increasingly reject anti-Semitism, British Jews are feeling unprotected and hounded out due to the failure of our institutions to protect the many from the few racists among us.”

The findings also showed a large proportion of British Jews felt the criminal justice system did not do enough to combat anti-Semitic crimes.

Mr Cohen said that he doesn’t know any Irish Jewish person that has had any thoughts of leaving Ireland due to anti-Semitism, adding there isn’t a similar survey conducted in Ireland that can be used in comparison. This makes it unclear how many Irish people might believe in one or several anti-Semitic stereotypes, some may not even know that they do.

“In many instances, but certainly not all, I believe that people do not realise that beliefs they hold can be offensive to the target group…,” Mr Cohen said, “as they may not know the origin of many of these stereotypes.

“These origins become distorted and twisted over time and in general were incorrect to begin with and were put about for malicious reasons.”

Reflecting on the British survey he told the paper: “I believe that stereotypes of everything including people and ideas are the way our human brains cope with the vast amounts of information that we have to collate and act upon on a minute by minute basis.”

He said that although many stereotypes are incorrect, changing peoples’ ideas is difficult, and that many stereotypes are taught at an early age by people we trust and respect.

Palestine/Israel

The Palestinian flag was flown over Dublin City Hall for the month of May due to a motion passed by two thirds of Dublin City Council which stated that the flag would be lifted “…as a gesture of our solidarity with the people of Palestine living under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza, with the Palestinian citizens of Israel denied basic democratic rights…”.

The decision was sharply criticised by former Justice Minister Alan Shatter in The Irish Times who said the decision was a “superficial and offensive approach taken by the Council at its meeting to the complexities of the long-enduring and tragic conflict between Israelis and Palestinians”.

The Department of Foreign Affairs also advised the council to fly the flag for one day rather than for the month to minimise any negative reaction from Israel and the US. Although Mr Cohen says he doesn’t believe the situation between Israeli and Palestine has increased anti-Semitic feeling in Ireland, however “small instances do increase during times of conflict”.

“Again we find that there is much untruth being disseminated in public in Ireland about the situation and particularly about the causes of the conflict and the continuation of the unhappy circumstances,” he said.

He gave an example of a councillor saying that the Israelis were “crucifying thousands” of Palestinians on local Irish radio, which he said was extremely offensive, especially with the use of the word crucifying, saying it was a remark made out of “total ignorance”.

In colleges he said it was also difficult for students to express pro-Israeli or impartial views. However he said it does not mean that valid criticism of Israeli government policies by anyone is anti-Semitic.

Media bias

One of the statements in the CAA’s study that British Jews were asked to agree or disagree with was: “I have witnessed anti-Semitism that was disguised as a political comment about Israel or Zionism.” Almost 80% either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, while 81% agreed that: “Media bias against Israel fuels persecution of Jews in Britain.”

There was also a worry that British politics was playing a part in encouraging anti-Semitism, with four in five Jewish people believing the Labour party has anti-Semites in its ranks.

Mr Cohen voiced concern about protests in Charlottesville in the US state of Virginia, in which one person was killed and several were badly injured.

White nationalists, including the KKK and neo-Nazis, demonstrated against the local council’s proposal to take down a statue of a Confederate General – Robert E. Lee – who fought to preserve slavery.

Large amounts of counter-protestors arrived and there were clashes between the opposing sides. A 32-year-old woman called Heather Heyer was killed when a man believed to have white nationalist sympathies drove into the crowd during the protests.

The Chairman of the JRCI said that the Jewish people’s views on Charlottesville are the same as most others saying: “Any far right neo-Nazi views are abhorrent for us. However when it comes to current threat level world-wide we find that the Left “neo-fascism” (those that declare freedom of speech and action for everyone as long as you agree with them) are far more dangerous,” he added.