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Oliver Sears

The Irish Times, January 2, 2024

During my almost 40 years of life here, I have never hidden my Jewish identity; there have been anti-Semitic incidents, but they are rare. For the first time, however, I am concerned about my security.

The past is gone. The past will come. Martin Heidegger’s enigmatic declaration says more about how the past eventually makes its presence felt in the present than any reference to the simplistic cliche that history repeats itself.

The October 7th attacks in Israel by Hamas and the subsequent assault on Gaza by the Israeli Defence Forces has seen a rise in anti-Semitism globally, including in Ireland. Many Jews in Ireland have been shaken to the core, concerned about personal safety and asking the kind of questions about their long-term future in Ireland that belong to the dystopian nightmare of European Jewry in the 1930s. They wonder where on the scale of hostility the current animosity registers.

Anti-Semitism, in its European iteration, manifested in the Holocaust, within living memory. The pessimists left ahead of time, the optimists were deported to Auschwitz. I can scarcely believe I am having to write these words in Ireland in 2023.

I recognise the same sleep-deprived, fearful look in Jewish friends I feel – the same sense of bewilderment and the struggle to finish sentences. Our individual opinions about the conflict may differ, but no one I know supports Binyamin Netanyahu or his wretched government. With an 80 per cent disapproval rating, this is hardly controversial. Everyone is sickened by the atrocities committed by Hamas and appalled at the carnage in Gaza.

Many Jews tell me they are keeping their heads down or even that they want to hide. When I tell them that my mother and grandmother were forced into hiding their identities during the Nazi occupation of Poland, and that I absolutely refuse to hide, they look at me with both admiration and concern. But with the images of murdered Palestinian children filling our screens, the brutality of Hamas’s attack has quickly faded and no longer even warrants acknowledgment for many. Why should anyone care about the welfare of Jews in the current climate?

Ireland’s relationship with its Jewish population over the last 150 years, since the first wave from Lithuania, is best described as low-profile, with the exception of a lord mayor in Cork and a handful of TDs. The pogrom in Limerick in 1904, instigated by Redemptorist priest John Creagh, is an anomaly. Terrifying for the five families forced to flee, the violence was, nonetheless, minor compared to that in eastern Europe, where pogroms were defined by their murderous brutality. Today’s Jewish population in Ireland stands at 2,500.

During my almost 40 years of life here, I have never hidden my Jewish identity; there have been anti-Semitic incidents, but they are rare. For the first time, however, I am concerned about my security.

The pro-Palestinian stance in Ireland should not equate to the alienation of Jews, many of whom support justice for Palestinians. But why does this stance often exclude empathy for Jewish suffering?

Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin are now campuses where Jewish students and members of staff do not feel safe. During a debate in UCD, one Jewish student was shouted at by another student that what happened on October 7th will happen again and again.


Why are Jews around the world held to account for the actions of the Israeli government when this correlation does not apply to any other country?


The virtue-signalling by many in the worlds of art, music and literature has been eye-openingly hypocritical. A few have told me of being bullied to join campaigns and ask me how they can express their concerns about anti-Semitism.

By comparison, the suffering of the Uighurs, the Rohingya, the Yazidi, the women and LGBTQ communities of Iran and Afghanistan, the 100,000 Muslims murdered by Assad in Syria, is met with silence by some of those speaking loudest about Gaza. Why have the 400,000 deaths due to armed conflict, starvation and disease in Yemen, 85,000 of them children, been demoted in world opinion?

And why are Jews around the world held to account for the actions of the Israeli government when this correlation does not apply to any other country? Christians are not attacked for the predations of the United States, nor are Muslims abused for the transgressions of Iran. Pakistanis are not vilified for the fact that their government is, as we speak, expelling thousands of refugees, mostly women, back to Afghanistan. Why does the perception of Jews as aggressors create deep unease in many? Is it that Jews are considered white, powerful and able to defend themselves? Or is the idea of the Jew as the shifty, duplicitous outsider also powering a rhetoric across a society which blithely ignores history, reducing a multilayered human tragedy into a simplistic campaign of good versus evil?

How does this square with the intimidation aimed at a Jewish friend and her two children who came across a man at a pro-Palestinian march in Dublin, shouting, “Death to the f***king Jews”. When she bravely confronted him, asking him to tone down the rhetoric, he pursued her. Had it not been for the intervention of a bystander, the altercation might have turned physical. “Death to the Jews”, here in Ireland – where most people have not even met a Jew?

Anti-Semitism is protean, emerging reflexively from every social and domestic crisis. Recently, riots in Dublin were linked to the actions of Israel.

Richard Boyd Barrett, an elected member of the Oireachtas standing outside Government Buildings, warned about “a fight for humanity, for a civilised world, against barbarians and psychopaths who care only about power and money”. A “state that is capable of doing this is a criminal, a barbarian, a mass murderer... you can only make peace with human beings... you cannot make peace with a psychopath, with a mass murderer, with a savage, and that is what the state of Israel is”.

The crowd was told to imagine what “they” would do to you if “they” can do this to the Palestinians.

He seemed to disappear into full-fat QAnon conspiracy when he said that “what we saw in Dublin last week is an alarm bell... these psychopaths are being let off the leash and because western governments, our government, the European Union tolerate this”. . Here again, the same age-old conspiracy theory of Jewish puppeteers pulling the strings of governments to support their interests, including Israel.

I have campaigned for human rights since the age of 12. I marched against Thatcher’s proposed clause 28, proscribing the promotion of homosexuality within education in the UK; I am a straight man. I marched to free Nelson Mandela; I am a white man (at least nominally). Being serious about the rights of the individual is not a lucky dip; my Holocaust legacy has taught me as much. Empathy is the mechanism that allows us to coexist peaceably, to construct societies of equality. It has no limit. If you cannot see, let alone acknowledge the pain of the other, you have not lost half your humanity, you have lost it all.

Oliver Sears is founder of Holocaust Awareness Ireland.


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