On the “Jewish Question”

Screenshot_2016-04-03-13-24-18-1There is a decades-long conflict in a small country in an unstable part of the world that has cost thosands of lives.  Following independence from European colonialism, a minority ethnic group demands independence, which the majority have denied.  Allegations have been made of army brutality, excessive force and the targeting of civilians by both sides.

The minority group has used street protests, guerilla tactics, IEDs, guns and bombs. Over the decades, many attempts to find a peaceful solution have been made, ceasefires agreed and ignored. Refugees from the fighting have fled to neighbouring countries with little hope of return.

Where is this conflict?

In Senegal, where since 1982, the Casamance people fought for independence from Senegal, whose majority Wolof people dominate politics and culture.  There is currently an uneasy truce in place.

I would wager that 95% of the people in Europe would not be able to point to the country on a map and have never heard of the Wolof people or the Casamance conflict.

The only thing most Western people know about Senegal is that they are occasionally decent at football.


The BBC has reported a total of 9 times (in a year when presidential elections took place) from Senegal so far in 2016. The BBC West Africa correspondent  (@bbcfessy) has, as far as I can see, never tweeted the word “Casamance”.  A search on BBC News for “Casamance” brings up a total of 182 articles since November 1997.

A search of “BBC Palestine” did (I’m seriously not making this up) crash my computer!

On Twitter, there were 194 tweets containing the word “Casamanace” in the first two weeks of February (and that includes those referring to a French fabric brand of the same name).

There were the same number of tweets referencing “Palestine” in 50 minutes this morning (a relatively quiet one).

As for the blessed UN? The Security Council has passed 7 resolutions mentioning Senegal since its independence in 1960, none of which relate to the Casamance conflict.  In the same period, it has passed almost 200 relating to the Israel/Palestinian conflict, and the General Assembly at least 236.

The UN Human Rights Council has passed more than 60 resolutions about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, and none on Casamanace.

And, of course, there has never been a “Senegal apartheid week”, a demonstration for Casamamce on the streets of a European capital, or question in the House of Commons on the issue.


For millennia, dear World, you have struggled with how you should deal with us Jews.  You have, at different times and places, welcomed us in your midst, tolerated us, laughed at (and with) us, distrusted us, hated us, expelled us, demonised us, dehumanised us, killed us and attempted to exterminate us.

The “Jewish Question” is showing no signs of going away.  The recent furore over alleged (and blatant) antisemitism in the Labour party, and the leadership’s approach to it is clear testament to that.

Well, I have a proposal for you.

The one thing you have never tried is simply to ignore us. Not in the way you ignore an outstanding bill in the hope it will go away; not in the sense that you ignore the fly hovering over your food (what harm can it do?); neither in the sense that you ignore celebrity gossip (you know it’s there, and that many people are fascinated by it, but you find it vacuous and distasteful).

There’s only an estimated 14 million of us Jews in the whole world, the vast majority of whom are almost entirely secular. That’s about the same as the number of people from Senegal. If you live in a multicultural metropolis, you may see some Jews around, maybe some Jewish shops – you may even have a Jewish friend or colleague.

The same is true of Senegalese, particularly in France.  There are many Jews in the entertainment industry, its true, but you also may like the music of Okon, or Youssou N’Dour.  Perhaps Patrice Evra or Patrick Vieira played for your team. All Senegalese.

Apart from that, I would wager that the word “Senegal” has not entered your mind in a long time.

Israel?  You might go there on your holidays.  You might hear the name in your bible readings or sing songs of Jerusalem and Bethlehem at Christmas.  The conflict?  Just another one of the myriad of human tragedies playing themselves out around the world, and a very, very, VERY long way from the deadliest.

Please ignore us in the same way you ignore the Senegalese.

Thank you.

Speak soon

Labenal (@GoonerEll)

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