Sowing anti-Semitism

After the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11 2001 and in the United Kingdom on July 7 2005, the British liberal-left urged Britons to be careful in their language not to generalise, from individuals to a community, and to make clear to Britain’s Muslims that they are part of the national life. It was the right reaction.

Now many are outraged by the loss of civilian life in Gaza. Yet there is no liberal chorus insisting that people must not take out their anger on Britain’s Jews.

According to the Community Security Trust, which monitors anti-Jewish racism, the four weeks after Cast Lead began saw an eightfold increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the UK, compared to the same period a year earlier. It reports 250 incidents — nearly 10 a day — the most since it began its work 25 years ago. They include attacks on synagogues, including arson, and physical assaults on Jews. One man was set upon in Golders Green, London, by two men who shouted, ”This is for Gaza”, as they punched and kicked him to the ground.

Blood-curdling graffiti has appeared in Jewish areas across the country. Jewish schools have been advised to be on high alert. Most now have security guards; some have a police presence. At last month’s demonstrations against Israel, journalist Riazat Butt describes hearing the cry not only of ”Down with Israel” but ”Kill Jews”. At the London events, multiple placards carried what has become a commonplace image: the Star of David equated with the swastika.

What is the effect of constantly repeating that Israel is a Nazi state? Is it surprising if a young man, appalled by events in Gaza, walks home from a demo and glimpses the Star of David — which he now sees as a latter-day swastika — outside a synagogue and decides to torch or desecrate the building?

Some say they take pains to distinguish between Zionists and Jews. In the seminar room that holds water, but it doesn’t mean much on the street.

When justice minister Jack Straw wrote a carefully worded article about the hijab, progressives understood that none of his qualifications would matter: it would be read as an attack on all Muslims. They warned he was playing with fire — and, indeed, Muslim women with covered heads were attacked. Today’s anti-Israel activists should realise they are doing the same.

Anthony Julius, author of a definitive study of English anti-Semitism, says that, except for the Nazis, Jew-haters have always distinguished between good and bad Jews.

Christian anti-Semites accepted Jews who were ready to convert and rejected those who refused. Winston Churchill drew a line between home-grown Jews and those spreading Bolshevism. Now the dividing line is affinity for Israel.

The corollary is that, if Jews refuse to dissociate themselves from Israel, they are fair game for abuse and attack until they publicly recant.

Liberals rightly recoil from the pressure on Muslims to denounce jihadism or even Islamism. Yet they make the same demand when they suggest Jews are okay unless they are Zionists. The effect is to make Jews’ place in society contingent on their distance from their fellow Jews, in this case, Israelis.

Nor does it wash to say most Jews support Israel. Many have a strong affinity and family ties to the Jewish state, but that does not mean they support every policy. Did those who kicked the man in Golders Green first ask his opinion about the merits of Cast Lead?

Some will say that this is an attempt to divert attention from the real and larger issue: Israel’s brutality in Gaza.

But these are separate matters. It’s perfectly possible to condemn Israel’s conduct and to stand firmly against anti-Jewish prejudice. And it’s about time the left said so. —

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Jonathan Freedland
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