Advertisement

Voices: Jemima Goldsmith: I have Muslim and Jewish family – I want to talk about antisemitism AND Islamophobia

‘Antisemitism is a real and virulent problem,’ writes Jemima Goldsmith. ‘Equally, Muslim hatred is also on the rise, and it affects many people I love – including my children’  (Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)
‘Antisemitism is a real and virulent problem,’ writes Jemima Goldsmith. ‘Equally, Muslim hatred is also on the rise, and it affects many people I love – including my children’ (Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)

I am going to attempt nuance on the issue of the Middle East, which right now, is a dangerous thingbut here goes:

Antisemitism is on the rise everywhere and it is terrifying for Jewish people. There is also an under-acknowledged problem with antisemitism within Muslim communities. I have had first-hand experience of this, as my Jewishness was used as a baton to beat my politician ex-husband Imran Khan, in Pakistan, where Zionist conspiracy theories about me were fabricated – and fervour was whipped up by opposition politicians and by a partisan media.

This led to decades of death threats and threats of rape and violence towards me and my children, which continue to this day. Despite our divorce, this culminated for Imran in a failed assassination attempt last year. After the attack, the would-be assassin declared in his confessional video that the motive for the shooting was (Imran’s) “acceptance of Israel”.

I have seen how the term “Zionism” – much like the term “Islamism” – can sometimes be used by bigots as a fig leaf to express what is, in fact, prejudice against Jews or Muslims as a group.

It is also true that accusations of antisemitism have been used by some as a cudgel to shut down debate and criticism of the Israeli government. Just as we can criticise the Islamic Republic of Pakistan’s government without being Islamophobic, people must be able to express criticism of Israel’s actions in Gaza without being falsely labelled antisemitic.

Allowing anyone who criticises Israel to be called “antisemitic” just makes it easier for others to dismiss antisemitism, which only undermines the gravity of a very real and virulent problem.

Jemima Khan with ex-husband Imran Khan at a demonstration outside Downing Street calling for the resignation of Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf (AP)
Jemima Khan with ex-husband Imran Khan at a demonstration outside Downing Street calling for the resignation of Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf (AP)

Equally, Muslim hatred is also on the rise, and it affects many people I love – including my children. In the US, in the last few weeks, three Palestinian students have been shot and a six-year-old boy was stabbed to death and his mother injured, because they were Muslim.

Meanwhile, Trump contemplates reinstating his Muslim ban if he becomes president of the US once again and far-right parties with explicitly anti-Muslim agendas are, for the first time, winning elections in European countries.

And just as I have seen a reluctance on the part of some Muslim friends to recognise when antipathy to Israeli policy has become indistinguishable from broader attacks on Israelis or Jews, I have also witnessed a similar unwillingness amongst some of my Jewish friends to accept that Islamophobia is a real thing.

To give one example, I received a widely circulated WhatsApp message recently, which had been sent not by a random fanatic but by someone I know – a high-profile American producer – to his whole address book, which called all Muslims “problems” “with claws” who have “invaded” the West; who “operate in secret, breeding to gain dominance & impose their laws, with violent intent”. It ended, “If you keep this email to yourself, you are part of the problem. Pass it on!”

I was horrified, not least because the language was so strikingly similar to the language that has been used to dehumanise Jews throughout history. The sender was Jewish. I struggled to get a few of my Jewish friends to feel the same sense of outrage that I felt, an outrage I know they would have vehemently expressed if the word “Muslim” had been substituted with “Jewish”.

Jemima Khan after becoming engaged to her now ex-husband, Imran Khan (Rex Features)
Jemima Khan after becoming engaged to her now ex-husband, Imran Khan (Rex Features)

This selective outrage and selective failure to be outraged is evident to me on both sides. It is a measure of the depth of their ideological intransigence, tribal myopia and fear, inflamed by social media algorithms and reckless discourse, that so many intelligent and typically empathic people have been incapable of grasping the simple truth: that you can oppose both rising antisemitism and anti-Muslim hatred.

You can be horrified by Hamas’ massacre of Israelis and condemn Israel’s ongoing killing of thousands of innocent Palestinians. This conflict has rendered each side deaf and impervious to the other’s suffering and fear.

For me, that is the point of Sunday’s anti-hate vigil outside Downing Street; to say that all racial and religious hatred is equally abhorrent and unacceptable. It’s not a competition. And if you only see one or the other, you are part of the problem.

On Sunday, we invite people to step outside their tribes, to put down their flags, and to come together at our vigil, led by Israelis and Palestinians who have lost loved ones in this conflict. If those tragically bereaved refuse to give in to vengeance and hatred, then we must also refuse to tolerate extremists and bigots on either side weaponising their grief.