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March 20, 2016 3:48 pm

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

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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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  • Elihu

    I have always held that they who don’t want to be around Jews should take up permanent residence in Christian cemeteries.

  • Geoffrey Gilbert

    There is only one point I take on with Nick Cohen. Anti-
    Semitisim is Judeophobia. The term itself
    did not come into use until 1875 when a 3rd rate German
    Journalist who was against the 1% of Jews in Germany formed
    the League of Antisemitten and used the term as he could
    not use the term “Jews”.
    I have never been called a Semite only a Yid Jew boy and
    the attacks on Israel are ways of them showing their
    hatred of Jews. I suggest reading The history of an obsession by K P Fischer is necessary to understand Judeophobia.

  • Barry

    If one reads the comments in the Guardian one can see perfectly what Nick Cohen is referring to.
    Not for nothing Britain from before the Second World War was referred to as “Perfidious Albion”.
    Britain has, from its adventures in India, Africa and the Middle East, shown that the Democratic Values it expounds is pure humbug.
    All the money grubbing which they projected onto Jews was their own behaviour sacrificing human lives for oil and trade.

  • Though my own ancestry is 100% Jewish, and I personally have never been left-leaning, there are still some respects in which my own very secular trajectory has been somewhat similar to that of Nick Cohen.

    As an historian, lawyer and public servant, I never much focused on specifically Jewish themes, though for sure I always took some interest in Jewish topics. However, with my December 2006 retirement and the simultaneous rise in antisemitism, I have for the last nine years been significantly focusing on Jewish history and rights, including on the aboriginal rights of the Jewish People to its ancestral homeland. For example, see my ever-evolving historical-juridical essay entitled “Aboriginal Rights of the Jewish People” at:

    There, I compare the connection of the Jewish People to Eretz Israel with that of the Greeks to Greece and with that of the aboriginal Peoples of North America to their tribal lands.

    Practically speaking, no good can come from departing from history, morality and law to validate antisemitic prejudice against Jews, Judaism, the Jewish People and Israel. The fact is that some then self-identified “Jews” have always lived in their aboriginal homeland, during each and every year since the ethnogenesis there of the specifically “Jewish” People, at least 26 centuries ago.

    During the last two millennia, there have always been some then self-identified “Jews” going there to live with other Jews. For more than two thousand years, Jews have been claiming and exercising core aboriginal rights of entry, sojourn and settlement in Eretz Israel.

    By virtue of such exercise of millennial aboriginal rights, Jews legitimately became the majority in Jerusalem in the second half of the 19th century. Across the 20th and 21st centuries, Jews continue to exercise their enduring aboriginal rights of entry, sojourn and settlement. In this way, Jews have legitimately become once again the majority between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.

    By contrast with Nick Cohen, I have come to understand that only tragic consequences are invited by denying these enduring Jewish aboriginal rights of entry, sojourn and settlement in Eretz Israel.

  • This Nick Cohen is someone to watch. He is a clear-headed thinker, a rarity these days. And he is not afraid to speak out, also a rarity.

  • Guy Raacoon

    How can he be a non Jewish aethiest? His name is Nick Cohen. Cohen!

  • Jack Koplowitz

    This is an inspiring story. I only disagree with one point Cohen
    makes. Antisemitism, unlike other forms of racism is not about power. It’s objective is the annihilation of a people.

  • Menachem

    Thanks for this article informing meof Mr. Cohen’s principled stand.I agree with almost all of his remarks. Israel’s behavior in the territories is shameful, but the divestment movement brings out rabid anti-Semites who lurk in dark places and spew poison. There are Jews who sincerely believe in BDS and they have the right to speak as they please.But genuine racists are to be found among the leaders and funders of the divestment movement

  • Brigitte Youngworth

    I’m relived to see that there are those out there that seek truth with scathing self honesty. I would say that Nick Cohen appears to be one of them.

  • Ian Bersten

    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.”

    An important insight into moral cowardice

  • Sorry for conflating two verses of the Ashrei about which I was simultaneously thinking! My last paragraph should have read:
    “God is close to all who call upon Him,
    To all who call upon Him in truth.”

  • The Left and the Right share much more in common than most realize. Like all ideologues, they try to fill their spiritual void by allowing their ideology to become their religion. Ideology, therefore, is a kind of idolatry. When one worships an idol, self-validation through realization of one’s ideological goals, a kind of consequentialism, becomes the means for self-validation, and the truth is of no concern. Much better to worship and serve Hashem, Who is neither leftist nor rightist but Who only demands the truth:

    From the Ashrei (Psalm 145):
    “God is good to all,
    To all who call upon Him in truth.”