In-your-face mediaAs against the nuanced, “No, but” approach toward the New Anti-Semitism, some British journalists and public figures are taking a much tougher, in-your-face approach. “That ‘shitty little country,’ Israel,” writes Andrew Sullivan in The Sunday Times, “has become, among many European elites, the object of hate that dare not speak its name. Not since the 1930s has such blithe hatred of Jews gained this much acceptability. The left is particularly complicit in this evil.”
Sullivan concedes that “there are, of course, completely legitimate criticisms of Israel and Israeli policy that have nothing to do with anti-Semitism – the settlements policy of Ariel Sharon.” But, Sullivan insists, “these valid arguments are light-years away from the Jew-hating that has been fomented by Arab governments for years and tolerated by Western elites for far too long. Such anti-Semitism is the fundamental reason why no peace is possible in the Middle East, because it has so infected every possible Arab interlocutor that Israel simply has nobody to make peace with ...” And he concludes: “How much more do we need to know about the nature of Israel’s enemies to know whose side we should truly be on?”
Barry Kosmin, head of the Jewish community think-tank, the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR), and a sociologist of Jewry with an international reputation, is just as sweeping. European opinion, he says, “is nowadays led by Belgium, that paragon of colonial benignity and, more recently, of domestic morality. Society here in Britain is split three ways.
“There is Blair and Blunkett (the home secretary) and Hoon (the defense secretary) and Mandelson, and Lady Thatcher – people with morals, people who would fit into Gladstone’s cabinet. And then there are the effete appeaser-elites of the left, concentrated inside the M-25 [a ring-road around Greater London] which is like our Beltway. They extend through academia and the press, from Trotskyites to the BBC. They’re writing ‘Jewish’ instead of ‘Israeli.’ They get it from the Arabs: ‘Itbah al-Yahud’ [‘Kill the Jews’]. This is Britanistan, after all. From the right, you still have ex-Palestine Police majors writing furious letters to The Times. And Foreign Office mandarins in the T.E. Lawrence mold, much attracted by Arab money.”
Kosmin, ultra-sophisticated, admits that he is “deliberately laying it on.” He continues: “The third group are the British masses, mainly outside the M-25, who don’t like Third World people in general, nor ones in flowing Arab robes in particular. They, unlike The Guardian and The Independent, do like America. I was talking to a businessman recently who volunteered how much support there was out there, among the general British public, for Israel and for America. It’s the post-modernist paradox: People live in a globalized world, yet they live separately, in their own bubbles.”
Spirited counterattackMelanie Phillips, the prominent columnist with The Daily Mail, argued in the Jewish Chronicle that “criticisms of Israeli tactics [such as of the settlements, which criticisms she shares] are almost beside the point. For Israel, this is not a territorial war but an existential war.”
Phillips was invited to write reflections on her experience a week before, when, as a panelist on the popular BBC television program “Question Time,” she found herself having to defend Israel before a largely hostile studio audience in Cardiff, and also having to defend herself against a vicious, double loyalties charge leveled at her by a fellow-panelist (and fellow-Jew, though far to the left of her), Will Self.
She wrote: “When I said that Israel was a democracy, the audience did a horrible and astonishing thing. They laughed. That incredulous laugh was more shocking even than Self’s attack. I believe that the visceral hostility toward Israel and Jews displayed both on the panel and by the audience are representative now of much mainstream British opinion.”
Phillips’ spirited counterattack on “Question Time” has made her a veritable heroine among many grass-roots UK Jews. “Good for her,” is the word on the streets of Golders Green, Northwest London’s gilded ghetto. “She spoke for all of us.” But lawyer Anthony Julius is dismissive. “She seems to see herself as a Hannah Senesh,” he pooh-poohs Phillips’ televised teeth-gnashing, “parachuting into ‘Question Time’ to save Anglo-Jewry from the scourge of anti-Semitism.”
Julius’ own national fame as a fighter against anti-Semitism is, of course, unrivaled, after the celebrated Irving trial. “Yes, of course you must confront it,” he says expansively. “But then you must move on. What’s the big deal about a ‘double loyalties’ charge? We were debating ‘double loyalties’ at the City of London School 25 years ago. The Irving trial, too, was made too much of. It should be like shit on your shoes. You clean it off – and walk on.”
Julius has provoked major literary controversy with a study of T.S. Eliot’s anti-Semitism, (“T.S. Eliot, Anti-Semitism and Literary Form,” Cambridge University Press, 1998). Now he is working on a sweeping literary and historical review of anti-Semitism in Britain from the Middle Ages to the present. He is intrigued by the coexistence in Britain of an essentially liberal accommodation toward Jews – “social anti-Semitism of the exclusionist golf-club variety is relatively mild, and in recent years receding,” he says – alongside a strong literary tradition of much more virulent Jew-hatred which has flourished in Britain through the Expulsion in 1290, the Return in 1656, and the emancipation of the 19th century. Julius sees Dickens’ “Oliver Twist,” for example, as clearly “a version of the blood libel.”
Words of cautionThe South African-born Jewish writer and scholar Dan Jacobson, author of “The Rape of Tamar” and, most recently, of “Heshel’s Kingdom,” and professor emeritus of English Literature at University College London, is subject neither to the pressures of daily journalism nor to those of Jewish communal activism.
Surveying London’s hurly-burly from the Elysian heights of Highgate Village, he allows himself a gentle dig at Ha’aretz readers [and, presumably, writers – D.L.] who are so particularly upset about The Guardian and The Independent. They feel bereft. After all, these are their people! Perhaps, therefore, they give disproportionate weight to that part of the press here.
“I agree there’s been a lowering of barriers [inhibiting anti-Semitism – D.L.], because of Holocaust fatigue, because Israeli policies are an irritant, because post-imperial Britain feels, with post-imperial self-righteousness, that someone else’s natives are being persecuted. But, on the other hand, [Palestinian leaderYasser] Arafat gets savagely criticized in large parts of the British media, but Israelis don’t seem to hear or read it. I would be cautious about how deep or how prevalent this purported growth of British anti-Semitism really is.
“What certainly is inspiring genuine feelings of heightened insecurity among Jews, particularly in the north, is the rise of Islamism in the UK. I was recently up in Leeds where there had been violence between young Muslims and members of the [neo-fascist] British National Party – both, significantly, disaffected elements in British society. Jews voiced real misgivings. They seem to feel somewhat besieged.”
“If they could burn a church ...,” one Jew mused aloud to Jacobson, in frightened awe, leaving the rest of the ominous sentence unspoken. “Jews are a very timid people. This was always the characteristic of the Jews as a minority. Look at American Jewry in the 1930s. I don’t say this with moral reprobation. Their timidity was a survival technique. Among British Muslims today, there is a very different spirit, a spirit of defiance. They burn Rushdie’s book. And it’s just a novel. The Jews didn’t even burn ‘Mein Kampf’!
“So, yes, I would be worried by the threat of the Islamists and by the strains they create in British society. But here, too, there is room for optimism, especially after the defeat of the Taliban. That may make the wave of radicalism pass.”
Dan Jacobson demurs at the notion that UK Jews are misguidedly or unheedingly exacerbating the conflict with the Islamists. “It’s wrong to say they’re whipping it up,” he says. “I see it as reactive, not pro-active. The Jews in Leeds weren’t about to ally with the BNP to have a go at the Muslims!”
They doubtless were not, and that is doubtless not the purpose of the chief rabbi, Prof. Jonathan Sacks. Nevertheless, he launches into a bitter and vehement attack on Muslims as the archetypal anti-Semites of the new millennium. Israel, in Rabbi Sacks’ analysis, plays the modern role of the classically persecuted Jew.
“In the second millennium, from the Crusades to the Shoah, the Jew sought a homeland, a space. Our own generation thought that the world had at last agreed to ‘never again.’ But we’re seeing it all over again. It’s moved: From Europe to the Middle East; from Christian culture to Islamic; from the individual Jew to the Jews as a sovereign nation. But essentially it remains the same: The inability, or at worst refusal, to grant Jews a space. We are seeing the vocabulary of the second millennium transferred to the third.”
Is this, perhaps, part of the Divine order?
Rabbi Sacks: “No! Bloody hell! God forbid! ‘A people that dwelleth alone’ [Numbers 23:9] is Balaam’s curse. It is not something ordained. We failed in Europe for 1,000 years. Now we’ve got to fight to succeed. We – Israel and the Jewish People.”
For Rabbi Sacks, Judaism is the only universalist faith among the three monotheistic religions, in that it teaches that you (the Gentile) need not be Jewish to be saved. At the same time, Judaism’s mission is to teach all of humanity “the dignity of difference. Abraham was to leave Mesopotamia, the greatest culture in the then-world. The Jews under Moses were to leave Egypt, the next great empire. Judaism is a sustained protest against empires and imperialism, which are in essence the attempt to impose uniformity on a pluralistic world. The Hanukkah uprising was the same paradigm: the Jews insisting on the right to be different. “Anti-Semitism is not some divine plan, God forbid. It is a divine challenge, to us and to humanity. Do we have the courage to be different? Our failure spells assimilation. Does humanity have the courage to give the Jews space?
“Israel is the medieval Jews. It is the only nation that has to argue and fight for its very right to exist. It finds that nothing – not the Balfour Declaration, not military prowess, not economic success – is enough to secure for it the minimum conditions of nationhood. I supported the peace process; I was among the few Orthodox rabbis who did. But I got it wrong. We weren’t listening to the internal rhetoric of the other side. [U.S. President Bill] Clinton and [British Prime Minister Tony] Blair still think it was a near miss.
But they’re guilty of selective hearing. Clinton and Blair and I and Shimon Peres all bought into Fukuyama. “It was not dishonorable to put our faith in the belief that the search for trade and economic betterment would eventually prove stronger. But it is the Huntingdon theory that grows stronger. And this darker outlook affects the Palestinian leadership. It is grounded in an inability to acquiesce in Israel’s permanence. They see Israel as a Crusader state. Like Jonah’s gourd. ‘Let’s make life hell for them for 53 years, and they’ll go. The Jews don’t have the patience for the long haul.’ Now the Arabs are putting Israel through a spiritual crisis, by investing daily living with uncertainty. That is what terrorism is really about – spiritual destabilization.”
Anthony Julius, the jurist and intellectual, is dismissive once again. And he adds a serious, cautionary note. The Anglo-Jewish leadership, he says, when confronting anti-Semitism, seems “to veer madly between complacency and hysteria. It is ridiculous to link the Israeli-Arab conflict to UK Muslim anti-Semitism. For one thing, UK Jews are not a sovereign state. For another, Israel’s conflict is with Christians as well as Muslims. UK Jews know nothing about Islam. It is very wrong for them to pick a war with it.”
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