The two of us have been having the exact same conversation for the past decade. About antisemitism and Islamophobia. One of us a Muslim, the other a Jew, we have conducted it in public and in private, on Twitter and on TV. We’ve agreed; we’ve argued; we’ve even wandered off topic to trade tips on how to get through a fast. Now we’ve come together because of the urgent and common threat that we face. Both of our communities are under violent attack from far-right white supremacists.
In Christchurch, New Zealand, last month a white supremacist gunned down 50 Muslims at prayer. In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, last October a white supremacist gunned down 11 Jews at prayer. Both killers were clear in their loathing of both Jews and Muslims. Both subscribed to the “great replacement theory”, which casts Muslims and other minorities as “invaders”of western societies and a threat to white, Christian majorities. In this narrative, the supposed invasion is a wicked plot orchestrated by the same hidden hand behind all malign events through world history: the Jews. The point was put concisely in an online remark reposted by the Pittsburgh murderer: “It’s the filthy EVIL jews Bringing the Filthy EVIL Muslims into the Country!!”
This is how our haters see us: Jews and Muslims connected in a joint enterprise to effect a “white genocide”. It is an unhinged and racist conspiracy theory – and it has both of our communities in its murderous sights. So there can only be one response: Muslims and Jews must stand and fight it together.
We realise this will not be easy. Both of us are deeply rooted in our respective communities, and we know them well enough to recognise that there are plenty of Jews and Muslims who have long seen the other as an opponent, even as an enemy. Given the deep connection that Jews and Muslims feel with Israel/Palestine, that is perhaps unsurprising.
We understand how this has come about. Jews and Muslims have spilled each other’s blood, in acts of violence that have left deep scars. Jihadists have targeted Jews across continental Europe, whether it be the killing of children in a school in Toulouse in 2012 or shoppers at a kosher supermarket in Paris in 2015. Muslims share the pain of Palestinians living through more than half a century of brutal Israeli occupation, with regular eruptions of violence that have left civilians, including children, dead. To be clear: we are not playing a game of moral equivalence here; rather, we are recognising the reasons for mutual antagonism.
Nor are we denying that there is much prejudice within each community towards the other. Witness the leader of a New Zealand mosque who recently suggested that the massacre in Christchurch was the secret handiwork of Mossad: an age-old, anti-Jewish conspiracy theory in contemporary garb. Or listen to the interfaith activist appalled to discover that a Facebook group of her fellow British Jews was awash with anti-Muslim racism. Across the Muslim-majority world, anti-Jewish tropes and conspiracies have been endorsed and even repopularised. In the US, right-wing Jewish figures have been among the most prominent supporters of the “Islamophobia network”. There is a shared error here: both the Muslim who hates Jews and the Jew who hates Muslims forget that the white supremacist hates them both. But that such people exist is proof that the narrative of white supremacism does not just infect white communities – it can infect us all.
Just as we acknowledge that the communities we were born into harbour prejudice, so we are ready to say the same of our chosen political community. We need no lectures on the importance of tackling antisemitism and Islamophobia on the left as well as on the right. Both of us have condemned Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party for its failure to tackle anti-Jewish racism within its ranks, while one of us has discussed the importance of avoiding antisemitic tropes in conversation with the controversial Democratic congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who herself has been the victim of liberal Islamophobes. Both of us have condemned anti-Muslim bigotry in liberal-left circles too, whether it be the British scientist Richard Dawkins comparing Islam to cancer less than a fortnight after the Christchurch massacre, or US TV show host Bill Maher referring to Islam as “the mafia”.