The New Antisemitism (in Britain)
Talk to London Society of Jews and Christians, 29 April 2004
The resurgence of Jew-hatred in Britain should be a cause of concern for everybody. Instead, it has become the prejudice that dare not speak its name.
Last year, there were 375 anti-Jewish attacks in Britain-the second highest total since the figures were first collected and a 7 percent increase on 2002. Jews are being attacked in the street; synagogues and cemeteries desecrated; schoolchildren bullied because they are Jews.
Of course, this is nowhere near as bad as it is in parts of Europe. However, what should concern us is that according to a new survey, while anti-Jewish attitudes are now going down again in almost every country, in Britain they have risen steeply during the past two years. This is surely because Europe is now alarmed enough to acknowledge the problem has arisen and try, however inadequately, to address it. Here, however, the very phenomenon is still denied.
Israel, of course, is the complicating factor in all this. When people think of antisemitism, they think of the Nazis. They believe they themselves think well of the Jews, as Jews. And they certainly don't take kindly to being told they are antisemites when as far as they're concerned, all they're doing is criticising Israel. People like me, they say, are waving the shroud of the Holocaust to conceal the crimes of Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. And a number of Jews say the same thing, too.
But neither I nor anyone else says Israel shouldn't be criticised, even strongly. What I'm talking about goes far beyond legitimate criticism and turns instead into irrational and malevolent hatred. What we're seeing now is a new mutation of the virus of Jew-hatred. Whereas previously the aim was to eradicate the Jews, now it is to eradicate the Jewish state.
Instead of Jews being demonised, the Jewish state is demonised. Israel, the one democracy in the Middle East, is now viewed with a loathing that is never applied to Arab dictatorships. Anti-Israelism and, in particular, anti-Sharonism are being used as a fig-leaf for hatred of the Jews. And this twisting of the narrative of Jewish victimhood into one of Israeli oppression has legitimised an eruption of explicit prejudice against Jews, which has resulted in a grotesque tacit alliance between progressives, the far-right and the Islamic jihad.
Presentation of Israel in public discourse is pathologically unbalanced, and morphs seamlessly into classic anti-Jewish stereotypes. I am talking here about a wholesale moral inversion, in which the very worst is automatically believed of people who normally tell the truth, while claims made by those who have told demonstrable lies are reported as proven fact; in which victims are treated as victimisers, and vice versa; in which respectable British people say openly that they sympathise with the mass murder of Jews by Palestinians because they are 'fighting for their freedom'; and in which Israel is being systematically delegitimised and dehumanised.
Media coverage of Israel has become an unstoppable torrent of lies, distortions, libels, abandonment of objectivity for malice and hatred, and obsessional vilification and demonisation. It ignores or downplays the fact that Israel conducts military operations only in self-defence. Israel's history is routinely denied or ignored, so its attempts to protect life are falsely represented as acts of murder. Doubtless, as with all military occupations it is committing some human rights abuses, which should be condemned.
But all its military actions are seen as human rights abuses, even where -- as in the notorious massacre-that-never-was in Jenin -- it suffered a relatively severe death toll because its tactics aimed to minimise the loss of innocent life. Intrinsic to this misrepresentation is the prejudice that the Jews do revenge and punishment. The result is that it seems the Jews alone are obliged not to defend themselves but to submit passively to mass murder.
Double standards are routinely applied. The killing of Sheikh Yassin was hysterically condemned - and described by the BBC as murder - while Britain actively seeks to kill Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants. Israel is damned for its behaviour while silence is maintained over countries doing far worse.
These double standards shape the language used. So Israel has 'death squads', 'killing fields' and 'executioners', while Palestinian human bombs are routinely sanitised as 'gentle', 'religious' and 'kind'. Ariel Sharon has been turned into a war criminal on account of the massacre in Sabra and Shatila in 1982 by people who simply airbrush the actual killers, the Christian Phalangists, out of the reckoning altogether - along with another, larger massacre in Lebanon's camps a couple of years later, but in which Israel played no part and which is therefore not even discussed.
Impossible expectations are made of Israel that are not made of any other country. It is the target of systematic and egregious lies and smears. It is presented in the worst possible light by people eager to believe that all its actions are malign, even where the facts clearly refute such assumptions. The attacks it fends off or suffers, which occur dozens of times a week, are downplayed or not reported at all. Instead, Palestinian attacks are presented as responses to Israel aggression even though, since the start of this conflict 100 years ago, it has always been the other way round.
Israel is presented as crushing the Palestinians under a jackboot, and the settlements are obsessively dwelt upon as the obstacle to peace. I don't approve of the settlements; and I also deplore the inevitable brutalisation that has afflicted Israel and which marks any occupation. But the presentation of the issue ignores the fact that more than 95 percent of the disputed land was offered to the Palestinians in 2000 to form a state of their own, provoking only the response of the current war of mass civilian murder.
It ignores the fact that the only reason for the harsh measures Israel takes is because the Palestinians are murdering its citizens. It ignores the fact that before this current war started, economic growth was fastest among the Palestinians in the territories, and their rate of infant morality the lowest, of any Arab country.
Yet Israel is being singled out as a leper state, an enemy of humanity. It is blamed for the demise of the road map, ignoring the fact that the reason this collapsed was that the Palestinians refused to carry out the map's first requirement, to dismantle the infrastructure of terror, and indeed used the PA's own militias and even policemen to carry out that terror.
Instead, Israel is blamed as the cause of the global jihad, on the basis that if only it allowed a state of Palestine the jihadists would pack up. This ignores the fact that a state of Palestine has now been offered more than once, each time provoking the response of violence; it ignores the repeated statements by the Palestinians that their aim is to annihilate Israel; it ignores the stated aim of the jihadists that their aim is to Islamicise the world; and it ignores the carnage occurring across the world among Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews and others in pursuit of that agenda.
Instead, Israel is demonised as a Nazi or apartheid state and thus the source of the poison. Such comparisons are a monstrous libel. Israel's Arabs have full civil rights including membership of the Knesset and supreme court. The equivalent in Britain of the murders of Israelis over the past three years would amount to around 10,000 souls.
If this had happened here, carried out by people backed by states pledged to eradicate Britain, we would be at war. To characterize Israel's attempts to defend itself in these circumstances as Nazism is obscene. It also legitimises violence against Jews and prepares the intellectual ground for the destruction of Israel. People are now saying openly it was a mistake for Israel to have been created. Why is the Jewish state the only country in the world that people in Britain are now singling out for destruction and the ethnic cleansing of its population?
The main reason, I suggest, is widespread and profound ignorance. People in Britain tend not to know very much about 'abroad'; and the media repeatedly fail to provide balanced facts and context. If people knew the facts about what is happening now and about Middle East history, their perspective would be rather different. Their ignorance has created a vacuum in which has flourished a propaganda narrative based on lies, which in turn has enabled shallowly buried prejudice to reassert itself.
This propaganda has been promulgated by the political left, which has appropriated the narrative of Palestinian oppression and malign Jewish power. It has done so because it believes the west is always the oppressor while the third world is always the oppressed. So even if the third world is perpetrating acts of murder against the west, it must have good cause because it is always 'the victim' of the west.
The left has also embraced post-modernism, which has produced a wholesale denial of objectivity and truth which allows in propaganda based on lies. It taps directly into the long and inglorious tradition of communist Jew-hatred. And finally, it needs a new cause to embrace after the fall of communism; with economics now out of the frame, it has turned its attack instead on race, culture and national identity - and Israel rings up all three on the fruit machine.
In appropriating the Palestinian narrative, the left has also implicitly condoned the explicit Jew-hatred on which it is based. That is why it is silent about the torrent of medieval antisemitism pouring out of the Arab media, which appropriates symbols and motifs from classic European antisemitism and from Nazi propaganda. Thus, Jews are represented as devils who drink the blood of gentile children and want to take over the world, and the early twentieth century forgery 'The Protocols of the Elders of Zion' is serialized on Egyptian television.
And this demonization of the Jews in the cause of Palestinian suffering has also revived Jew-hatred in the church. Certainly, there are many Christians who are hostile neither to Israel nor the Jews. Indeed, some of the strongest supporters of Israel are evangelical Christian Zionists. And the Catholic church has made strenuous efforts in recent years to remove the stain of anti-Jewish feeling from its doctrines.
Nevertheless, within the Protestant churches there is a serious problem. Church leaders, periodicals and aid agencies are viscerally hostile to Israel - and there is a doctrinal factor involved which goes beyond fashionable attitudes. Canon Andrew White, the Archbishop of Canterbury's envoy in the Middle East, told me that Palestinian politics and Christian theology have become inextricably intertwined.
A radical Palestinian theological revisionism, which was trying to de-legitimize the Jewish state through a reworking of Scripture, had revived a largely discredited replacement theology - the ancient doctrine that the Jews had forfeited God's love and with it all His promises to them, including the Land of Israel - through widespread contact between Palestinians and British Christians involved in humanitarian work in the disputed territories. This, he said, was having a huge impact. Christian pilgrimages only visited Christian sites in Palestinian areas, only spoke to Palestinians and spoke to virtually no Jewish Israelis.
The leader of one such pilgrimage talked to me of Zionists committing genocide against the Palestinians. The websites of Christian aid agencies represent Israel as a malevolent occupying power, with no reference to the fact that some of the refugee camps in which they work are factories for human bombs.
I spoke to a bishop whose ideal was not a two-state solution but the destruction of the Jewish state -- and who implied that Israel would merit sympathy for its casualties only if it were powerless to defend itself. I spoke to a vicar who said Israel was fundamentally an apartheid state, that he hoped it would be 'brought to an end' by the uprising of the people, that God's promises to the Jews had been inherited by Christianity and that the covenant between God and the Jews was conditional on their support for human rights.
The Palestinian canon Naim Ateek is revered in church circles in Britain. Yet his book, 'Justice and Only Justice', inverts history, defames the Jews and sanitises Arab violence. Modern anti-Semitism gets precisely one paragraph; Zionism is portrayed not as the despairing response to the ineradicable anti-Semitism of the world, but as an aggressive colonial adventure.
Courageous Jews are those who confess to 'moral suicide' and who say that Judaism should survive without a state; real anti-Semitism, says Ateek, is found within the Jewish community in its treatment of the Palestinians. He uses the Bible to de-legitimize the Jewish state by misrepresenting the Jews' relationship with God. Through tendentious history and the hijacking of scripture, Ateek vilifies the Jews as oppressors and warmakers and tells them, in effect, that their salvation lies in abandoning their state and scattering to the four winds.
He is not alone. The hugely influential Colin Chapman's book, 'Whose Promised Land?' also uses theology to de-legitimise Israel. Although Chapman carefully condemns anti-Semitism and says the Christians have not superseded the Jews, he says nevertheless that the Jews' only salvation is through Christ. Christians now share the Jews' privileges; through Christ, the division between Jews and Christians broke down and they have therefore become as one 'new' man. And this 'new man' therefore doesn't warrant a Jewish state.
Chapman de-legitimises Israel quite explicitly on theological grounds in his conclusion: 'The coming of the kingdom of God through Jesus the messiah has transformed and reinterpreted all the promises and prophecies in the Old Testament.' His conclusions that violence was always implicit in Zionism and that Jewish self-determination is somehow racist are grotesque slurs.
Church leaders vehemently deny they are prejudiced against Israel or that their attitudes are infused by a revival of replacement theology. But other Christians tell a different story. I have been told of sermons riddled with anti-Jewish feeling lightly masked as anti-Zionism. One church source said that what he was hearing from the person in the pew was 'a throwback to the visceral anti-Judaism of the middle ages'.
Someone wrote to me last week to say this: 'I am a Christian who has recently left an Anglican Church because of replacement theology. I find it both amazing and frightening that so many evangelical Christians are embracing these doctrines. It has shocked me to learn that so many Church leaders believe that the way to solve the crisis in Israel is to hand over land to a regime that will not rest until every Jew is in their grave...
Whenever an Old Testament passage was taught which contained the word Israel, or Jerusalem, these were then substituted as being directed to the church. Upon questioning the leadership I also found that politically, this theology worked itself out in making them think that Israel has no divine, or any other right to its ancient homeland.'
When he was Archbishop of Wales, Dr Rowan Williams, now the Archbishop of Canterbury, was extremely worried by the way in which extreme hostility to Israel among his flock morphed into overt anti-Jewish feeling. He did his best to combat such eruptions of prejudice. Nevertheless, it remains the case that whenever the church establishment speaks about Israel, it recycles - maybe unwittingly -- many of the lies and libels and double standards which give rise to prejudice against both Israel and the Jews.
The influence of both the left and the churches cannot be overestimated. The world view of the left now constitutes the centre of gravity for the intellectual and political establishment. Anyone who questions it is considered beyond the moral pale. And the utterances of church leaders, widely regarded as embodying truth, are hugely important in shaping the moral climate.
The result is that among ordinary people, Israel has been delegitimised and the Jews of Israel painted as oppressors so successfully that the Islamic jihad and the left now march together under the banner of human rights behind placards saying 'Kill the Jews', and ancient prejudices which a few years ago would have been beyond the pale have become respectable. Over and over again, the mainstream media now promulgate the canard of a sinister Jewish conspiracy which has subverted America and hijacked its foreign policy.
When Tam Dalyell claimed that both Tony Blair and George Bush were influenced by a 'cabal' of powerful Jews - including people who were not Jews at all, but merely had some Jewish ancestry -- his remarks were brushed aside indulgently as an embarrassing outburst by a venerable eccentric. The following day, BBC TV Newsnight - far from asking how such an ancient prejudice could have been revived - devoted a substantial item to asking whether Dalyell's claims were true in the US.
This left the impression that there was indeed a group of 'tightly-knit' Jews in America who wielded far too much power. This view has found most recent expression in the widespread attribution of undue influence over President Bush by the 'neo-cons', a small group of thinkers of whom many are Jews, but whose influence is being exaggerated out of all proportion by those opposed to the American war on terror.
A columnist listed Jewish journalists (including the present writer) who she claimed were controlling public debate. Former Archbishop Desmond Tutu, having compared Israel to South Africa under apartheid, claimed that people were scared to say the Jewish lobby in America was very powerful. So what? he asked.
'The apartheid government was very powerful but today it no longer exists. Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Pinochet, Milosevic and Idi Amin were all powerful, but in the end they bit the dust'. So this is how Israel is presented, by a Christian archbishop, as on a par with the tyrants, dictators and mass murderers of the world - including those who murdered the Jews.
Even more devastating, a number of Jews and Israelis on the left think in similar ways. How can one explain this phenomenon? Various reasons suggest themselves.
There have always been Jews who, for various reasons, have identified with the antisemitic doctrines of the day. And today, the implications of contemporary Jew-hatred are so unthinkable - particularly in Israel - that it can feel more comfortable to deny it and blame Ariel Sharon instead. So if only - goes this thinking - Israel were to adopt different policies, there would be peace.
And then there's the pervasiveness of the general world-view of the left to which a number Jews subscribe. Since they cannot disentangle the Jew-hatred of the left from that wider world-view, these Jews deny that such a prejudice exists at all. To admit its existence would start to unravel their whole political philosophy, which they invest with absolute and unchallengeable moral worth. So they shut their eyes and label the new antisemitism instead an example of Jewish paranoia or culpable Israel worship.
In Britain today, these are the good Jews, and are socially and politically accepted. The bad Jews are the ones who defend Israel and call attention to antisemitism. They are beyond the pale. A recent Economist debate discussed the proposition that those who opposed antisemitism were the new McCarthyites. In other words, anti-Jewish prejudice doesn't exist, and those who say it does are sinister witch-hunters and should be treated as pariahs. At that meeting, it was said that British Jews who supported Israel had a problem of dual loyalty. In other words, British Jews are no longer to be regarded as British if they don't have the correct attitudes and vilify Ariel Sharon. No other group of people would be subjected to such a threat.
There has been, however, a shift. Some people no longer deny the recurrence of antisemitism. How can they, when even Romano Prodi has now said it's happening? Instead, they blame the Jews for causing it. The Jews are now being accused of bringing about their own suffering - incidentally, another ancient anti-Jewish canard. If we call this vile moral inversion by its proper name, however, the implicit threat is that people will not stand by us in our hour of need. The only Jews to be protected are those who connive at the libels and lies. Once again, only Jews are singled out for this kind of treatment.
Antisemitism never dies; it just mutates. I think we're seeing now a new mutation: one that is particular to the political left, that has captured the intelligentsia and become the received wisdom even in apolitical Britain. Both Islamists and the western media are using anti-Zionism as a fig-leaf for prejudices rooted in both medieval Christian and Nazi demonology to systematically dehumanise and delegitimise both the Jews and the State of Israel - a necessary prelude to its destruction.
Posted by Melanie Phillips May 3, 2004
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