Last week, Alex Chalmers made the brave and, in my view, correct decision to resign as co- chair of OULC after a motion passed, supporting Israel Apartheid Week. In doing so, Chalmers has made a stand against antisemitism. In doing so, he has opened the Oxford Left up to the scrutiny it has long needed.
While the actions of OULC are insidious, antisemitism in Oxford has its roots at a deeper level. One area in which it can be seen most clearly is on Facebook liberation groups. These groups such as ‘Cuntry Living’, ‘Oxford Women Self Care’ and ‘No Heterox’ operate as ‘safe spaces’ and discuss a limited realm of views that they have decided are acceptable. I find it quite ironic that I have been banned from most of these groups for being #problematic when I have been left to suffer real offence at the hands of the self-righteousness of a very real and powerful faction of the left that deem antisemitism to be acceptable.
There are three main highly interrelated aspects to why the nature of these platforms encourages antisemitism to grow. Firstly, shutting down debate by creating a ‘safe space’ in an effort to challenge the structure of society where the voices of these people are often not heard, while noble in intent, is taken to such extremes means that it is impossible to call out antisemitism. Opinions that do not fit into a predetermined discourse agreed upon in a list of rules in the group description are thrown out, leaving a situation in which people’s views are left unchallenged and without counters for fear of ‘triggering’ – the crippling psychological trauma of being disagreed with.
This combined with both the ideas of being marginalised in society due to structural oppression and being left wing creates the idea that this faction of the left are ultra-moralistic underdogs, and so they can not be possibly advancing such ideas. How can people argue against people who say they are fighting racism and are working for a better society?
The fourth reason as to why this is being allowed to continue is most worrying of all. The people who purport antisemitic ideas have constructed an ideology that, to them, legitimises their ideas and therefore allows them to continue. The ideology is carefully slotted into their ideas about privilege and structural oppression. The extremists claim that Jews benefit from white privilege and therefore do not understand oppression. This is grossly unfair. I am sure I benefit from white privilege. This does not take away from the antisemitism that I and many others face by virtue of our culture. This does not stop the Oxford Jewish Centre needing security outside at its events, and it also didn’t manage to stop the historic oppression of the Jewish race and religion. (Read: Holocaust).
This ideology also involves thinking that all Jews are Zionists who are oppressing the Palestinian people. People are willing to take whatever stance they want on the Israel-Palestine conflict. And to be pro-Palestinian is popular among the left. This does not mean that there is any excuse to be antisemitic and construct a view in which all Jews are complicit to upholding the Israeli state.
Finally, this faction does not understand the idea that Judaism is not just a religion, but a race and culture as well. And for some reason unbeknownst to me, religion does not fit into their structures of oppression. Combined, this ideology they profess is an instance of overthinking that would be easily fixed with a bit of simplification. Racism is wrong. To be racist against the Jews is wrong. Antisemitism is wrong.
Where does this leave people like me? People who share ideas about the role of the state, the organisation of the economy. People who undoubtedly share many of the views of these people. I have never felt so alienated by political debate as I am in Oxford. It scared me that a university which will undoubtedly produce future political leaders and is such an important centre of academia worldwide is promulgating these revolting ideas in the name hidden carefully under the banner of being ‘progressive’.
Antisemitism has tarnished my experience of left-wing politics in Oxford since I joined this university. The fact that Kiran Benipal managed to maintain her position as co-chair of CRAE after her antisemitic tweets is a constant source of shock and anger to me. In instances such as this, and the decisions made by OULC, I can only see (as a result of this aggressive minority) the left tear itself apart, reduce its legitimacy and reputation and in doing so ruin its chance to be taken seriously and win people over to its cause. I have never been so close to joining the Lib Dems, surely a sign of desperation if there ever was one.