At 9am this morning, many Jewish people and their allies began a 48-hour silence on Twitter. It was a reaction to the lack of response by that platform to grime artist Wiley‘s 48-hour antisemitic rant. On Instagram he also shared live videos of his anti-Jewish, racist opinions, and to make it clear that – contrary to some sympathetic followers’ concerned posts – he wasn’t feeling mentally unwell. These were his real opinions and he meant what he said. Amongst his comments were some vicious threats and calls for the black community to see the Jews as their enemy.
I read all of the tweets, watched the videos and went through as many of the comments as I could stomach. If I’m honest, I found the videos far more distressing. For me, it’s a step up from being a keyboard warrior to showing your face and seemingly being proud of your words. This vile attack isn’t directed towards some nameless, faceless entity. He’s talking about me. My husband. My children. My parents. My siblings. My cousins. My friends. My community.
And more painful than that, to me anyway, was the immense support he has had from his followers. And even worse, the lack of criticism towards his actions and the silence from those who are usually outspoken regarding other forms of racism.
I had mixed feelings about joining the 48-hour Twitter silence. Firstly, I’m not sure who would care if I post or not. I don’t have millions of followers poised to absorb my every word. Secondly, if the people who speak out against antisemitism are all absent, surely that gives the racists free reign to say whatever they want? For the next 48 hours, Twitter is yours! It also seems really counterintuitive to be silent as a response to people trying to silence us.
On the other hand, by announcing the silence and tagging it, this protest of absence becomes an active choice and a vocal statement. Ultimately I decided that I wanted to show solidarity with the other Jewish people and our allies who are staging this protest because one of our learned strengths is to mobilise in times of threat.
We have structures in place because experience has taught us that if we don’t look after ourselves then we can’t expect others to look after us (although we appreciate it when they do). That’s why we have the Community Security Trust, a charity that protects the Jewish community. That’s why we have guards outside our important buildings. That’s why, on the first day of the school term, our kids have fire drill, then bomb drill, then terrorist drill. This isn’t paranoia: it’s informed by what’s happened to Jews in communities across the world.
Like many other Jewish people, I try to call out racism or other hate wherever I see it. Reporting hate incidents on social media could be a whole line on my CV. And, in fairness, it does seem that the main platforms take an equal opportunity approach to my reports. Rarely have they responded that they breach Twitter or Facebook or Instagram’s community standards, regardless of whether the reported posts pertain to Islamophobia, homophobia, antisemitism or prejudice against any other minority. So perhaps it’s no surprise that they weren’t interested in challenging a celebrity with more followers than there are Jewish people in the UK when he suggested that we prepare to take bullets from his supporters.
It’s been amazingly heartening to see non-Jewish allies stand up for me and my community, and publicly declare that they have our backs. Those friends in the black community who have come forward and reiterated that we should stand side by side as partners in this, I am grateful and agree. I see you, I hear you, I appreciate you. It has been astonishing, though, to see others offering justifications for the posts shared by Wiley and other celebrities recently. It’s terrifying to see people buying into the false narratives being perpetuated about Jewish people, and especially shocking when this engagement is coming from people who proactively campaign against other prejudice.
It’s been incredibly depressing to read the comments which aim to reduce the impact of the statements by Wiley and other celebrities along the lines of: is Judasim a race though? Isn’t it just a religion? Isn’t this really about Israel/Palestine? Is it really antisemitic to say “insert quote” or is it just asking a basic question? Isn’t everyone originating from the Middle East actually a Semite? Surely there are other forms of racism which are worse and just ignored?
Some of those might be interesting discussions at other times. You can find some of the answers by searching online and other by searching your heart. Right now these questions are all distractions and diversions from the issue at hand. If you’re in any doubt, substitute the word antisemitism for any other form of racism, or Jews for any other minority in the context of your question. See if it changes anything. Ask yourself whether these questions would come up regarding another group of people. It isn’t a competition. Hate is hate.
I can’t speak for all Jews any more than I would expect anyone to represent their entire ethnic or religious group. I wouldn’t dream of asking a black, male grime artist to justify or condemn Wiley’s words. It’s his choice to say what he wants. He’s holding the mic, he has the power. And like anyone else, if he breaks the rules of the platform he uses to share those words, or breaks the laws of the country in which he chooses to speak them, then he should be held to account. And it shouldn’t take the targets of his hate feeling that they have to protest to make that happen.