Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Pox Britannica

From The New Republic, Wednesday, April 15, 2009 edition, by Howard Jacobson:

English anti-Semitism on the march...

... There is something in the air here [England], something you can smell, but also, in a number of cases, something more immediately affronting to Jews..... Organizations monitoring anti-Jewish incidents in England have reported a dramatic increase after Gaza: the daubing of slogans such as "kill the jews" on walls and bus shelters in Jewish neighborhoods, abuse of Jewish children on school playgrounds, arson attacks on synagogues, physical assaults on Jews conspicuous by their yarmulkes or shtreimels.

...it seems to me, one can find growing reason for English Jews to be concerned. Mindless acts of vandalism come and go; but what takes root in the intellectual life of a nation is harder to identify and remove. Was it anti-Semitic of the Labour politician Tam Dalyell to talk of Jewish advisers excessively influencing Tony Blair's foreign policy? Was it anti-Semitic of the Liberal Democrat Baroness Tonge to refer to the "financial grips" that the pro-Israel lobby exerts on the world? Such allusions to a pro-Israel conspiracy of influence and wealth, usually accompanied by protestations of innocence in regard to Jews themselves--"I am sick of being accused of anti-Semitism," Baroness Tonge has said, "when what I am doing is criticizing Israel"--have become the commonplaces of anti-Israel discourse in the years since Philip Roth wrote The Counterlife [1987]. And, whatever their intention, their gradual effect has been to normalize, under cover of criticism of Israel, assumptions that 50 years ago would have been exclusively the property of overt Jew-haters. The peculiarly immoderate Israel-loathing that Roth remarked upon in 1987 is now a deranged revulsion, intemperate and unconcealed, which nothing Israel itself has done could justify or explain were it ten times the barbaric apartheid state it figures as in the English imagination.

Demonstrators against Israel's operation in Gaza carried placards demanding an end to the "massacre" and the "slaughter." There was no contesting this rhetoric of wanton destruction versus helpless innocence. Hamas rockets counted for nothing, Hamas's record of endangering its own civilian population counted for nothing, Amnesty reports were cited when they incriminated Israel but ignored when they incriminated others. Whatever was not massacre was not news, nor was it germane. The distinguished British film director Ken Loach dismissed a report on the rise of anti-Semitism across Europe as designed merely to "distract attention" from Israel's military crimes. An increase in anti-Semitism is "perfectly understandable," Loach said, "because Israel feeds feelings of anti-Semitism." Scrupulously refusing the Holocaust-Gaza analogy, Robert Fisk, writing in The Independent a few weeks ago, nonetheless argued that "a Palestinian woman and her child are as worthy of life as a Jewish woman and her child on the back of a lorry in Auschwitz"--at a stroke reinstating the analogy while implying that Jews need to be reminded that not only Jewish lives are precious. And a columnist for the populist newspaper The Daily Mirror has taken this imputation of callousness a stage further, writing of the "1,314 dead Palestinians temporarily sat[ing] Tel Aviv's bloodlust." ...

...Given how hard it is to distinguish Jew from Israeli in all this, the mantra "It is not anti-Semitic to be critical of Israel" looks increasingly disingenuous. But there is no challenging it, not even with such eminently reasonable responses as, "That surely depends on the criticism," or "Calling into question an entire nation's right to exist is not exactly 'criticism.'" Nor is the distinction between Israeli and Jew much respected where the graffitists and the baby bullies of the schoolyard do their work.

But, in the end, it is frankly immaterial how much of this is Jewhating or not. The inordinacy of English Israel-loathing--ascribing to a country the same disproportionate responsibility for the world's ills that was once ascribed to a people--is toxic enough in itself.

The language of extremism has a malarious dynamic of its own, passing effortlessly from the mischievous to the unwary, and from there into the bloodstream of society. And that's what one can smell here. Infection.
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