A new anti-semitism?

Not to be confused with anti-Sharonism

Saturday January 26, 2002
The Guardian

"Among educated people," wrote George Orwell in February 1945, "anti-semitism is held to be an unforgiveable sin, and in quite a different category from other kinds of racial prejudice." It would be comforting to think the same holds true today. But there is a growing feeling within some influential sections of the Jewish community in Britain that there is a resurgence of an old prejudice in a form at once elusive and unpleasant. The Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks, is shortly to give a lecture entitled "A new anti-semitism?" The liberal Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz has recently published a long article on the same subject (omitting the question mark). The president of the Board of Deputies, Jo Wagerman, is quoted saying: "One is very aware that, recently, Britain isn't the same."
How does this new spirit manifest itself? It is a fragmented picture. Conrad Black accuses sections of the British media - including the Independent, the Guardian and the BBC - of "wittingly or not, stoking the inferno of anti-semitism." His wife, Barbara Amiel, believes she has encountered a newly confident anti-semitism in what she terms "London's political salon scene". Greville Janner, a former president of the Board of Deputies, singles out the New Statesman (which recently published a crude illustration, along with the crass use of the word "kosher") as being explicitly anti-semitic. In the same breath he accuses the Guardian of being "viciously and notoriously anti-Israel". Ha'aretz identifies two prime sources of anxiety amongst the British Jews the paper interviewed: the "left-liberal media" and certain elements within the UK's 2m-strong Muslim community. The Ha'aretz article concludes: "The Jews lump all these together - and are worried."
It would help greatly if there was some rapid un-lumping of all these diverse strands. To start with what should be the most obvious thread: it is perfectly decent and defensible to believe that Ariel Sharon is engaged in a policy towards the Palestinians that is short-sighted, brutal and ultimately doomed. To say so makes one anti-Sharonist. It does not make one anti-Israel any more than being anti-Mugabe makes one anti-Zimbabwe or being anti-Rumsfeld makes one anti-America. It certainly does not make one anti-semitic.
For as long as Sharon stumbles down this cul-de-sac of his own making, Britain's Jewish community better get used to hearing Israel spoken of in despairing and often acerbic terms - just as many despair of a hopeful future for a Palestinian state so long as Arafat lingers on impotently and corruptly. Ellen Dahrendorf, chair of the New Israel Fund's British branch, put it well in Ha'aretz: "What might actually feed anti-semitism is an absolute defence of Israel-right-or-wrong, because Jews would be seen as defending the indefensible."
All this is not to say that there has not been what the writer Dan Jacobson, terms "a lowering of barriers" inhibiting anti-semitism. That is troubling. And the Jewish community is right to fear that the repulsive anti-semitism which is routine in many Arab countries and among some Palestinians can find an alarming echo within some British Muslim communities. We should acknowledge, as the Macpherson report on Stephen Lawrence did, that nobody is immune from the possibility of prejudice. That includes the liberal left. When we see it we should condemn it unreservedly. But it is precisely because anti-semitism is - still - so unforgiveable that it is both offensive and unwise to use the term loosely.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002

Palestine info | PGA