Who Cares If Anti-Zionists Are Anti-Semites – But Europe’s Jews Keep A Suitcase Packed Just In Case
HAVE you noticed the rise and rise of anti-Semitism? It has become acceptable to be anti-Semitic in public. That nod and the wink around the dinner party table has now gone mainstream. The kind of anti-Semitic stuff that you can read throughout the Middle East has awakened Jew hating and Jew baiting in the UK. Sainsbury’s, The Tricycle Theatre and The Edinburgh Fringe have all censored Jews.
Jewish schools and synagogues in the UK are patrolled by guards. And no worshippers, parent or children think that unusual or paranoid.
Get this response to “Free Gaza” graffiti sprayed on a synagogue in Hove:
A spokesman for the Brighton and Hove Palestine Solidarity campaign said: “The real issue here is that there needs to be a political solution to the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank.
“We would like the members of the Brighton Jewish community who do not agree with Israel’s policies to stand up – as 150 in Brooklyn did the other day, and many others have done – to show that there is not a divide between Jews and non-Jews.”
In Cambridge, Jews are being picketed. The Cambridge Palestine Forum’s Facebook page invited:
“Cambridge residents concerned about the recent violence in Gaza are invited to join a Silent Gaza Protest. We are meeting in the vicinity of the synagogue in order to encourage the local congregation to take a stance on the actions of the Israel military. This is a silent event. Only silence can adequately express our outrage and shame about what has happened. Our visible silence points to guilt, forgiving and forgetting.”
Hideous stuff. It didn’t go ahead.
France’s politicians and community leaders have criticised the “intolerable” violence against Paris’ Jewish community, after a pro-Palestinian rally led to the vandalizing and looting of Jewish businesses and the burning of cars.
It is the third time in a week where pro-Palestinian activists have clashed with the city’s Jewish residents. On Sunday, locals reported chats of “Gas the Jews” and “Kill the Jews”, as rioters attacked businesses in the Sarcelles district, known as “little Jerusalem”.
In 2004, Simon Montefiore wrote:
Being an English Jew is very different from being an American Jew. American Jews can never quite understand the insecurities of being a European Jew, for the 5.8 million American Jews feel totally secure…Here in Britain, we are only 275,000 out of 60 million. Most parts of Britain have no Jews at all. I constantly meet educated Brits who have never met a Jew. Such people can never quite believe it: “You’re not, are you? Oh, you really are. Great! I’ve always thought you’re a very clever people.”
You might say that only a Jew could possibly take this acclamation of cleverness as an insult. Being a Jew is all about living on several levels, listening on different frequencies, deciphering codes…
Anti-Semitism here was subtle. Yet those Sephardic ancestors felt they had to work particularly hard and behave especially well: “Our race can do anything but fail,” wrote a Montefiore to Benjamin Disraeli…
Although between the wars, Arthur Balfour and Winston Churchill fostered Zionism and a Jew was appointed Viceroy of India, there were also Oswald and Diana Mosley and those mandarins who complained during the 1930s of “wailing Jews” making out as if the Nazis wanted to kill them all…
Yet something has changed about the European attitude to Jewishness. One feels it everywhere: we have moved, as it were, from the world of Howard Jacobson back to Franz Kafka. This is connected to Israel, America, 9/11 and Iraq. For more than a decade now, Israel has been the fashionable bete noire of the chattering classes. The response to Israel in the European media, particularly the BBC and the Guardian, has long been prejudiced, disproportionate, vicious often fictitious.
A typical case of the media’s mendacity on Israel was the invented coverage of the Jenin “massacre” (not) by British news organisations, which were so anti-Israel that they popularised an event that they could not have witnessed, because it had not happened. They never apologised – because any Israeli “atrocity” is seen to illustrate a greater truth. Another example was the Israeli assassination of the man whom the BBC called Hamas’s “spiritual leader”: Sheikh Ahmed Yassin was actually a terrorist boss, about as “spiritual” as Osama Bin Laden.
Yet, in the British media, every Israeli sin is amplified, while those of the Arab world are ignored. The million dead of the Iran-Iraq war, Saddam Hussein’s 300,000 victims, thousands more massacred in Chechnya, the Arab militias killing black Sudanese, the torturing Middle Eastern tyrannies are ignored – but in Britain, every Palestinian death is reported like a sacred rite. Our media conceal the venom directed at Israel by Arab clerics, television and the internet, presenting Israeli complaints as propaganda…
It is not anti-Semitic to criticise Israel. Many of its policies are clumsy, self-defeating, wrong. I am against most of the settlements, against the razing of Palestinian houses. Israel will lose its soul if it uses citizen-soldiers to skirmish through Rafah or Hebron for much longer. I want a Palestinian state; I care deeply about the humiliation and deaths of Palestinians. If criticisms against Israel were based purely on its political faults, no one could complain. Yet, since the first intifada, Israel’s critics use hysteria and unreality, holding Israel to standards to which Britain, for one, could never aspire…
The first head of the hydra-like monster of medieval anti-Semitic conspiracy theories was the implied parallel between Israeli treatment of Palestinians and Nazis’ treatment of the Jews. This is a de facto cousin of Holocaust denial, as it diminishes and trivialises what really happened then…
Since 9/11 and Iraq, a millenarian cauldron of old-fashioned anti-Semitic conspiracy theories claims that secretive Jews (the wicked “neo-cons”) are controlling Bush, Blair and the media, and even arranged 9/11. Anti-Americanism, anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism have become interchangeable…
Until 9/11, Anglo-Jewry had become accustomed to prejudiced coverage of Israel. But if you were not a Zionist, as many Jews are not, you did not need to worry. Since 9/11, and particularly post-Iraq, we have witnessed a sea change. It is as if, in the mythical scale of 9/11, al-Qaeda had unlocked a forgotten cultural capsule of anti-Semitic myths, sealed and forgotten since the Nazis, the Black Hundreds and the medieval blood libels. Just words? But words matter in a violent world. This weird and scary nonsense is an international phenomenon, not a British one. Despite it, Britain retains the easygoing tolerance and pragmatism, the sources of her greatness. It is still better to be a Jew in England than anywhere else.
Anti-Zionism, opposition to the creation of a homeland for Jews in Israel, is not the same as antisemitism, of course, and it is important to make that clear. It is absolutely and definitively not antisemitic to criticise Israel.
Yet at the same time much anti-Zionism is entangled with antisemitism and it is important to make that clear, too. There is much that is antisemitic in intent and much that is antisemitic in effect.
It is antisemitic to suggest that the world is being dominated by the great pariah state of Israel, defending its own interests through money and power. It is antisemitic to suggest that the “Zionists” control the media. It is antisemitic to elevate the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians high above all the wrongs being done, not least to Palestinians, by neighbouring states.
Anyone who doesn’t appreciate that at least part of this is fuelled by doctrine that preaches hatred against Jews is as ignorant as someone who suggests that all of it is. And when someone throws a rock at a Jew, who is going to pick it up and ask: “Hold on, can we just be clear? Was this an anti-Zionist rock or an antisemitic rock?”
Whatever the protesters intended, they bounced Sainsbury’s into closing the kosher food counter. They managed to exile the Jewish Film Festival. They hold out the implicit threat that you can live here in peace — here, in Britain — but not if you want to support Israel. Who cares if they mean to be antisemitic?
And when Jews see young men giving reverse Nazi salutes in France and protesting outside synagogues and harassing Jews, it’s no wonder we feel uncomfortable. And I worry — for the first time in my life, I do, I worry — about walking to synagogue on the Jewish new year.
This is a great country to live in and in many ways it is getting better. After all, Sainsbury’s in Holborn even has a kosher food counter that it can close down. Yet most of us Jews, wherever we are in the world, have a niggling feeling that perhaps it might be a good idea to keep a suitcase packed, and many of us have had, at least once, a conversation about where we would go if we had to.
Times have changed…