by Melanie Phillips
31 March ’16..
What is the unfamiliar rustling in the British cultural undergrowth? It’s the sound of people suddenly acknowledging a problem with anti-Semitism.
For years, anti-Semitism in Britain was the prejudice that dared not speak its name. The hostility toward Israel endemic in educated circles was emphatically declared to have nothing whatever to do with hatred of Jews. Anyone who claimed a connection was denounced as “waving the shroud of the Holocaust” to silence legitimate “criticism” of Israel.
Jewish students have long run the gauntlet of vicious Israel- and Jew-hatred. “Israel apartheid” weeks, BDS motions and campus conferences declaring Israel is a “settler-colonial state” have morphed into intimidation, stigmatization and discrimination against Jews at university.
VIRTUALLY NO ONE outside the Jewish community has paid this any attention.
Now, though, unease has begun to seep into British national consciousness.
The reason is a shift in perspective. Israel is no longer seen as the world’s major flashpoint. The TV news is instead pumping images of Syrian atrocities and floods of displaced migrants into the living rooms of the nation.
Security officials repeatedly warn of the likelihood of coordinated Islamist attacks in Britain. The terrorist atrocities last year in Paris and most recently in Brussels have ratcheted up anxiety levels.
After the Paris attacks, though, something else changed. Many, from Prime Minister David Cameron downward, expressed their shock when British Jews said they no longer felt safe in Britain, specifically as Jews. How could this be, Britain asked itself in blinkered bewilderment.
With the election of the far-left Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labor Party, moreover, two further things happened to propel the issue of Jew-hatred to center-stage.
First, people became aware that this potential future prime minister had been “honored” to host members of Hamas and Hezbollah, and supported people who had promoted blood libels or 9/11 conspiracy theories against the Jews. At the same time, however, Jew-bashers became bolder as the far-left started to dominate the Labor Party. As a result, the party has become engulfed by more and more revelations of anti-Semitism, which Corbyn has been unable or unwilling to put to rest.
Vicki Kirby, a former Labor parliamentary candidate, was suspended for tweeting that Jews had “big noses,” Adolf Hitler was the “Zionist god” and Islamic State should attack Israel. She had her suspension lifted and became vice chairwoman of a local party branch before exposure of these events forced Labor to suspend her again.
Another Labor member, Gerry Downing, who has extolled “Hamas heroism” and demanded that the “Jewish question” be solved, was expelled from the party but then readmitted. He was expelled again only after Cameron raised the case in Parliament.
Meanwhile, the issue of campus Jew-hatred exploded when Alex Chalmers, the non-Jewish co-chairman of the Labor Party-affiliated Oxford University Labor Club (OULC), resigned with a devastating account of the Jew-bashing in such circles.
“Whether it be,” he wrote, “members of the executive throwing around the term ‘Zio’ (a term for Jews usually confined to websites run by the Ku Klux Klan) with casual abandon, senior members of the club expressing their ‘solidarity’ with Hamas and explicitly defending their tactics of indiscriminately murdering civilians, or a former co-chair claiming that ‘most accusations of anti-Semitism are just the Zionists crying wolf,’ a large proportion of both OULC and the student Left in Oxford more generally have some kind of problem with Jews,” he wrote.
The Chalmers statement received huge attention from the British media. For the first time, non-Jewish commentators started expressing horrified concern about the swell of anti-Semitism.
Many, though, still don’t get it. Where did all this come from, they ask – unable to comprehend that, for the answer, they need to look within themselves.
The former archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, now master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, has said he is shocked by a series of anti-Semitic incidents at British universities and criticized the “muted” official response.
However at Christmas 2006, while Williams was in charge of the Church of England, he preached that Christians were being driven out of Bethlehem by Israel’s policies and its security barrier. Yet it is Bethlehem’s Muslim administration that the town’s Christians have fled, while Israel is the only country in the Middle East where Christians are safe.
In a similar vein, Chris Bryant, Labor’s shadow leader of the House of Commons, has warned against “anti-Semitism by proxy” in his party, and observed: “Questioning the very existence of the State of Israel is a not-too-subtle form of anti-Semitism.”
Yet he also wrote: “The Israeli settlements are illegal and must stop. All too often, the Israeli government has made it impossible for the Palestinians to build homes, develop infrastructure or even have access to basic utilities.”
Like Williams’ comments about Bethlehem, these charges by Bryant are false, grossly unfair and part of the demonization of Israel that leads directly to Jew-bashing.
ANTI-SEMITISM IS NOT merely one of many prejudices. It has unique features, the same ones that characterize the demonization of Israel. Both are irrational obsessions consisting entirely of grotesque lies and libels. Both accuse a group of people of a conspiracy of evil of cosmic proportions. Both accuse those people of committing abuses of which they are not only innocent, but are, in fact, the victims.
In Britain, there is virtually no reporting of the murderous Palestinian attacks on Israelis occurring almost daily. There was no mention of last year’s report by the committee of high-level military folk from nine countries, including the US, France and Germany, which stated that the standard the IDF set in protecting innocent Arab civilians during the 2014 Gaza conflict was too high for any of their own countries to match.
Instead, the British media and politicians portrayed Israel in that conflict as the willful killer of Palestinian children and civilians. They depict as callous aggression Israel’s attempts to defend its population against mass murder. And then people wonder why there is an eruption of Jew-bashing.
In the past couple of weeks, the media has begun to pay attention to the contribution made by British and EU taxpayers to Palestinian Authority backing for terrorism.
The British still don’t understand, though, that the UK and Europe have long funded and connived at not just Palestinian terrorism, but the incitement that causes it.
They don’t understand that this incitement is based on anti-Semitism, not a dispute over land boundaries.
They don’t understand that anti-Semitism is the signature motif of a deranged culture that should be treated as a pariah rather than excused, sanitized and rewarded, as Britain does with the Palestinians.
They don’t understand that the anti-Semitic derangement that drives the Palestinians also drives the Muslim war against the West.
They don’t understand that by indulging the lies, intimidation and moral inversion of Palestinian Jew-hatred, Britain and Europe have made it impossible to fight off the Islamist threat to themselves.
They will only start to defend themselves properly when they start treating Israel as their indispensable ally rather than a cosmic foe.
Melanie Phillips is a columnist for The Times (UK).