Why Jews Find Themselves in the Eye of the Storm
JNS.org – Antisemitism is now a major issue in the West. In Britain, there are continuing convulsions over rampant antisemitism in the Labour Party. In America, there was outrage over the presence of the virulent Jew-hater Louis Farrakhan at Aretha Franklin’s funeral. In France and other European countries, Jews are under siege — sometimes by violent Muslims.
The really disturbing thing, though, is that so many are not outraged by this. For a troubling number of people, antisemitism is no longer considered a big deal. Either it is denied or minimized, as in Europe, or it is relegated down the pecking order of prejudices.
Consider: The past few months have produced an apparently unstoppable stream of poisonous bigotry among Labour Party members and supporters directed at both Israel and Jewish people. The party’s far-left leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has himself been revealed time and again as not only supporting Israel’s terrorist attackers, but defaming Israelis as wanton killers and racists. He also championed an obscene mural depicting hook-nosed Jews manipulating the world’s finances on the backs of the exploited poor.
This crisis came to a head over the attempt by Corbyn and his acolytes to cherry-pick the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism. They wanted to scrap its examples of antisemitism involving Israel, such as comparing Israel to the Nazis, calling it a racist state, or accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel than their own countries.
This week, the party finally decided to adopt the definition with all its examples. But it added a caveat defending “free expression” about Israel — which seemed to be an attempt to muddy the definition to enable members to continue to defame it. This caveat was itself a compromise drafted to ward off an attempt by Corbyn to allow members to label Israel’s policies or even its very existence as “racist.”
Within hours of Corbyn thus declaring his hand, unauthorized posters were plastered on central London bus shelters, declaring “Israel is a racist endeavor.”
Even after all this, however, polls suggest the British people remain unconvinced that the Labour Party is institutionally antisemitic. People are puzzled that the Jews are making such a fuss. Why are they so thin-skinned?
In America, a similar moral myopia is also occurring. Farrakhan, a Black Power demagogue who has praised Hitler, described Jews as “satanic” and called Judaism a “gutter religion,” was given a seat of honor at Franklin’s funeral alongside former President Bill Clinton. The US Jewish community erupted in fury and disgust. But many in the left didn’t see a problem. Why not?
How could Clinton share a platform with such a man? How could all the other progressively minded folk there, the kind of people who would flounce off a platform if, for example, Steve Bannon was on it, fail to raise any objection to Farrakhan’s presence alongside them at the funeral? Partly because they don’t want to be accused of racism.
In a recently surfaced 2013 video, Corbyn claimed that “Zionists” who objected to a speech by the Palestinian envoy to Britain at a meeting in London “don’t understand English irony,” even though they had “lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives.”
This suggestion that British Jews who supported Israel were not fully British was a classic and incendiary antisemitic trope. It provoked the former chief rabbi, Lord Sacks, into an unprecedented political intervention when he denounced Corbyn as “a dangerous anti-Semite.”
The Labour leader’s video remarks were, said Sacks, the most offensive statement made by a senior politician since 1968, when the MP Enoch Powell made his infamous “rivers of blood” speech. This seminal diatribe attacked the presence of black people in Britain and thus ended Powell’s career.
Corbyn’s “irony” remark, said Sacks, was “divisive, hateful and like Powell’s speech it undermines the existence of an entire group of British citizens by depicting them as essentially alien.” Yet Sacks himself was promptly attacked on the grounds that the sinister impact of Powell’s speech was in a totally different league from Corbyn’s remark.
All this suggests a deep failure to understand the unique nature and significance of antisemitism as not only innately hateful, but murderous and a signature marker of profound irrationality.
There is, however, an even darker context for British indifference to antisemitism. Long-suppressed British government archive papers, recently disclosed to The Times of London, have revealed that British prejudice towards Jews increased relentlessly during the Second World War. Confronted by reports of rising antisemitism, officials decided that the Jews themselves were to blame because of their “inordinate attention to the possibilities of the ‘black market’ and a lack of pleasant standards of conduct as evacuees.”
Only when the enormity of the Holocaust was finally revealed after the war did hatred of Jews become unsayable. It thus went underground — until the left’s adoption of the Palestinian narrative made it sayable again. Now the Arabs who want to wipe out Israel are regarded falsely and grotesquely as the victims of the Jews. As a result, western antisemites are once again licensed to treat Jews with disgust.
Because Israelis take up arms to defend themselves against extermination and thus kill some of their attackers, they are viewed as aggressors. Jews can only be considered victims if they are passive, helpless and, above all, dead.
Since relatively few Israelis are being killed, they are said to be up to the Jews’ habitual trick of claiming to be victims in order to manipulate the world to their advantage. Israelis are thus presented obsessively, falsely and malevolently as brutal, willful killers of the innocent. This unique demonization is profoundly antisemitic. But the Israel-bashers really do think it is legitimate criticism — because they believe these deranged and demonstrable falsehoods are actually true.
They resent the claim of antisemitism because they think it’s constantly used to give the Jews in general a free pass for their misdeeds. But these “misdeeds’ are lies. The Israel-bashers believe that they are true because they are antisemites. This is why Labour’s antisemitism problem cannot be solved. Far beyond the unlovely person of Corbyn himself, it is rooted in bigotry over Israel that has become the default position of mainstream progressive politics. And that, in turn, is part of a broader picture.
Israel is the paradigm nation-state, while Jewish principles lie at the very core of Western civilization. In Britain and America, a culture war is being waged against the west and the nation state. Who can be surprised, therefore, that the Jews are at the very center of that battleground.
Melanie Phillips, a British journalist, broadcaster and author, writes a column for JNS every two weeks. Currently a columnist for “The Times of London,” her personal and political memoir, “Guardian Angel,” has been published by Bombardier, which has also published her first novel, “The Legacy,” released in April. Her work can be found at her website, www.melaniephillips.com.