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March 20, 2016 3:48 pm

Atheist British Author Challenges Liberals to ‘Become Jewish’ to Experience Antisemitism

avatar by Ruthie Blum

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Nick Cohen. Photo: Facebook.

Nick Cohen. Photo: Facebook.

A British author, journalist and political analyst caused a storm on Saturday, when he penned an op-ed in the ultra-liberal Guardian newspaper railing against the Left in general and the country’s Labour party in particular, accusing them of aligning with reactionary forces and suggesting that they – like he – become Jewish.

Nick Cohen, a columnist for many UK media outlets – and author, among other books, of What’s Left?, describing his view of how the liberal Left of the 20th century came to support the far-Fight of the 21st — explained why he, a non-Jewish atheist, decided to do an about-face, at least where being Jewish was concerned.

“All I had was the ‘Cohen’ name,” he wrote, after recounting that his father’s family had abandoned its religion and his mother’s was not Jewish at all. “I once asked my parents why they had not changed it. After saying, quite rightly, that you should never seek to appease racists, they confessed to thinking that antisemitism was over by the 1960s. After Hitler, humanity would surely see where the world’s most insane hatred led and resolve to put it to one side.”

Quoting German poet and play-write Berthold Brecht — “Do not rejoice in [Hitler’s] defeat, you men. For though the world has stood up and stopped the bastard, the bitch that bore him is in heat again” – Cohen said his parents hadn’t bought that, certainly not in the 1960s, during the decade of his early childhood.

“Nor did I for a while. I was and remain an atheist who knows that communalist and identity politics crush individuality. I had no wish to join a tribe, let alone a religious one,” wrote Cohen.

“Still there was no escaping the ‘Cohen’” he added. “When I first responded to the antisemitism that has spread so far from the extreme left into the mainstream that it now threatens to poison the Labour party, I am ashamed to say I considered two disgraceful replies.”

He continued, offering:

I might, I thought, not stop at opposing the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, and pledging support to leftwing Israelis and Palestinians who wanted a just and peaceful settlement for both peoples… [and] I would reassure fanatics that their “anti-Zionism” (that is, their call for the total destruction of the world’s only Jewish state) was not remotely racist.

Fortunately for my self-respect, I never sank that low. Whenever I hear Jews announce their hatred of Israel’s very existence, I suspect that underneath their loud bombast lies a quiet plea to the Islamists and neo-Nazis who might harm them: “I’m not like the others. Don’t pick on me.”

Unfortunately, I assured anyone who asked (and some who did not) that, despite appearances to the contrary, I wasn’t Jewish. And that was as dishonourable. I sounded like a black man trying to pass as white or a German arguing with the Gestapo that there was a mistake in the paperwork.

I stopped and accepted that racism changes your perception of the world and yourself. You become what your enemies say you are. And unless I wanted to shame myself, I had to become a Jew…

Cohen then challenged the liberals of the British Labour party – which has been under some scrutiny and much criticism of late, due to reports of blatant antisemtism in its ranks, as well as in its student club at Oxford University – to put their ambitions “to find the sympathy to imagine the lives of others” to the test and do as he did — become Jewish.

This, he said, would teach “the essential lesson that antisemitism is not about Jews. Like rape, it’s about power.”

Cohen’s piece is a follow-up to a 2009 article in the Jewish Chronicle, called “Jesus! I’m turning into a Jew!”

Then, he wrote, “[M]y experience of left-wing antisemitism has changed the way I think and made me, if you like, more Jewish,” adding:

Although I want to see every Israeli settlement on the West Bank dismantled, it was clear to me that when Hamas fired thousands of rockets into Israel it had declared war and had to accept the consequences. I would not have thought that five years ago.

You do not need me to add that mine is a minority point of view among liberals, and that British Jews are living through a very dangerous period. They are the only ethnic minority whose slaughter official society will excuse…

If a synagogue is attacked, I guarantee that within minutes the airwaves will be filled with insinuating voices insisting that the “root cause” of the crime was a rational anger at the behaviour of Israel or the Jewish diaspora…

As the struggle between theocracy and liberalism intensifies, I can see some being pushed into taking the same journey I have taken and finding their views towards Judaism and Israel softening as they realise that antisemitism helps drive the fascistic ideologies of the 21st century just as it drove the Nazism of the 20th.

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