Text size

The same week that the eyes of the world were on the moving ceremonies to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, there were reports in Britain and at the official web site of the British Labor Party, election campaign messages that smacked of anti-Semitism.

In one poster, two senior politicians from the Conservative Party --Chairman Michael Howard, who is also the opposition's shadow prime minister, and Oliver Letwin, the opposition's shadow chancellor of the exchequer - were depicted as flying pigs. Both are Jews. This week Howard was depicted as Faigin, the haunted Jewish criminal from Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist, the most well-known anti-Semitic stereotype in Britain.

There is no doubt that this is a systematic and sophisticated anti-Semitic campaign, in the style of British understatement. A few weeks ago, Trade Minister Mike O'Brien wrote an article for a Muslim newspaper in which he argued that only Labor will protect Muslim rights and bring about the establishment of a Palestinian state. "Ask yourselves, what will Michael Howard do for the Muslims of Britain? Would his foreign policy aim to help Palestine?" asked O'Brien. A few months earlier, the chairman of the British Labor Party, Ian McCarthy, attacked Letwin for his economic approach and called him a "21st century Faigin."

Rabbi Jonathan Romain, a leader of the Reform Movement in Britain, responded in the press and said that labor's campaign messages are spoiling the atmosphere and had crossed the line between political attacks and unacceptable anti-Semitic imagery. Commentators in the British press are writing that there is a deliberate strategy of using clear hints of anti-Semitism to reach the Muslim community, which is several times larger than the Jewish community. In an article titled 'Faigin, Shylock and Blair,' which appeared in the Times, William Rees-Mogg criticizes the British premier for his responsibility for Labor's strategy plans that are meant to destroy Howard's candidacy by inappropriately using the Conservative Party's candidate's Jewish background.

The Global Forum on Anti-Semitism, jointly operated by the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency, announced last week that there was a 100 percent increase in Britain or anti-Semitic incidents in 2004. The data was confirmed by various Jewish monitoring groups n Britain, which pointed to a rise in anti-Semitic violence in the streets, expressed in the form of assaults on people with a Jewish appearance. The vast majority of incidents involve the participation of Muslims, who are acquiring ever increasing political influence in Britain. Some Muslim British leaders even demonstratively announced their boycott of ceremonies marking the Holocaust.

What is taking place in Britain makes tangible Europe's pendulum swings between emphasizing the unprecedented aspect of the Holocaust and an opportunism that sometimes tries to use anti-Semitism for political purposes.

Ben Cohen, a former producer and journalist for the BBC, argues that it is impossible to disassociate the anti-Semitic incidents in Britain from the hostile coverage of Israel and the fashion in the radical left to challenge the legitimacy of Israel's existence. On the other hand, he explains, for electoral reasons, many British politicians refuse to condemn forthrightly the anti-Semitic incitement coming from some Muslim leaders. He particularly accuses London Mayor Ken Livingstone, for whom the Muslim vote was so important he hosted the Egyptian radical clergyman Yusuf el Karadawi a few months ago, despite Karadawi's declarations that there is no room for dialogue with Jews, "except with the sword and rifle."

Blair's government, which has often come out strongly against violent anti-Semitism, has to recognize the danger of more sophisticated anti-Semitism sometimes hiding behind a mask of intellectualism and sometimes behind media spins for the sake of electoral politics.