Are you racists? I mean: are we Jews racists?
According to the BBC, that may well be the case.
On Chanukah, a group of Jewish teens have been attacked by an antisemitic mob in Oxford Street, London. The kids took refuge on a bus while the thugs continued to shout slogans, punch at the windows and spit at “the Jews”.
These antisemites were not white supremacists. They were dark-skinned.
It should be a minor detail, but for the BBC, it isn’t. According to the national broadcaster, it was not a case of antisemitism but a clash between two kinds of racism.
They reported that the Jewish teens have shouted anti-Arab songs and slogans (plural). And after recordings had been posted, no racist expression could be heard, the BBC changed some words on its website. The many “chants and slogans:” became one slogan only. The problem is: that also was a lie. No racist expression has been said or shouted by the Jewish victims of that assault.
The BBC has literally made up the story. An episode of antisemitism has been transformed into a clash between extremists.
There may, of course, be tens of reasons. The obsession of the BBC for “balance”, “balanced perspective”, “showing both sides”, and the like.
Or the obsession of some Jew for “Jewish racism” by some antiZionist who are desperate to portray Israel as a terrible place for its Arab citizens and the British Jews as racists against the Arabs here.
The Board of Deputies has asked the BBC to clarify and retract. A demonstration outside BBC Broadcasting House in London has been called for Monday. Make no mistake, it takes courage to confront the BBC. Can you imagine how life will be for Jewish journalists at the BBC right now? Excellent luck to them, and Kol ha kavod to all those taking action.
Today I want to reflect on our side of the story.
Why does the accusation of racism hurled at our children enrage us so much? After all, children shout many stupid things at school or on the playground. Those specific kids were terrified, locked inside a bus, under siege. You can take into account some unpleasant slogans. But there were not, and we are very eager to make the point.
Why? Why do we put so much energy to set things straight? What is the reason for our so visceral reaction?
I think we can find an answer in this week’s Torah portion, Vaygash. Because what this week’s Torah portion narrates to us is the beginning of the Jewish people.
Let me explain.
We are at a crucial point in the relations between Joseph and his brothers. At the end of last week’s Torah portion, Joseph has framed his brothers -who still have not recognised him. He put a precious goblet in Benjamin’s sack before allowing all the brothers to return to Yaakov, their father. The goblet has been found, and Joseph has said to his brothers that he wants to keep the thief, Benjamin, the youngest, with him; all the others can go home.
Judah takes the word and speaks at the beginning of this week’s Torah portion. It is a very long speech and understandably one of the most read, studied and analysed literary pieces in human history. I won’t summarise because I am interested only in its conclusion Genesis 44, 33–34, “let me remain as a slave, in place of my brother, and let this young boy go home. For how can I go home without my brother and see my father suffering again?”
This is the moment when Joseph breaks up and starts crying. He realises how his brothers have changed since they have sold him as a slave. This is when Joseph gives up with his astute plan of revenge. He planned to use the Egyptian laws and his connections with the court. But how he gives up.
This is also the moment when the Jewish people were born.
Judah realises that his younger brother needs protection and is ready to step in, to become a slave of this strange, sinister, powerful man, whom we know he’s Joseph.
Judah does not know who he is. He sees that he behaves weirdly (donating food, hosting a banquet) and suddenly has turned into an abuser. “Take me, instead. I am an adult. Don’t take the young. My father won’t survive the loss of another young son”.
This is the beginning of the Jewish people. When we take responsibility for the younger among us.
Something unheard in the individualistic Egyptian society at that time. Egyptians did not care about family ties. Even the most prominent ruler, Pharao, has no name; he is defined by his place in the social system.
And here, we begin to understand our reaction when Jewish children are labelled racist. When the media try to show “both sides” and fabricate “anti-Arab Jewish racism” episodes.
It’s the same feeling as Judah. It is visceral, immediate and very Jewish. It is probably not very English. It shouts, “take me instead”.
Don’t use our children to play your cynical game of equivalences and justifications. This connection with the children and our parents (“my father won’t survive another loss”, says Judah). This is the beginning of Jewish peoplehood.
And that feeling has been passed through the generations until now. We care for our children because we are Jewish, and we are Jewish because we take care of our children.
Don’t you dare to say that we teach them to hate. This is what we are saying to the BBC. It is one of the biggest and more powerful institutions in this country. Yet, we do not hesitate to challenge it when it puts our children in peril for its stupid “balanced” political games.
Some would say that we are obsessed with Jewish education. I take this as a compliment. We are obsessed with education because we care for our children.
And this makes us Jewish.