Column for Jewish News September 10 2015
It’s erev Rosh Hashanah and I should be full of “new year, new start” thoughts, of hope and optimism and warm cuddly somethings.
Instead – as we all wait for the other shoe to drop in the seemingly endless farrago that has been the Labour leadership race – I am filled with a certain amount of pessimism.
In the space of just over a year, since last summer’s Gaza war, the unacceptable has become the acceptable – actually, more than acceptable. The unacceptable has become the new norm.
Every day, on almost every media platform you can think of, venom against Jews in the comforting guise of anti-Zionism is peddled in a kind of general free-for-all. Anyone who questions it – particularly someone Jewish – is immediately patronisingly scolded and told that they don’t know what anti-Semitism is.
Sorry, mates, I do know what anti-Semitism is, and it is all over the place. And yes, I do take it personally, because its ultimate outcome is directed at me and those I love.
The power of words to hurt and destroy should never be underestimated. The Third Reich, as we have cause to know all too well, harnessed those words to physical destruction and we as Jews – and the rest of what we are pleased to call the First World – are all the poorer for it. Go to Auschwitz and view, if you can bear it, the material detritus left behind: the shoes, the suitcases, the hairbrushes. And wonder what might have become of their owners. We do not need to wonder what did become of them.
Those handfuls of fortunate people who ended up escaping the Nazis often, though not always, brought something extraordinary to their new, adopted homelands. They say that hardship and deprivation will do that – give you that extra spur to prove yourself. It’s not confined to Jews: look at the waves of immigration that have benefited this country, from Huguenot weavers escaping religious persecution in France, to Ugandan Asians looking for a way to avoid the murderous Idi Amin.
I don’t need to draw pictures for Jewish News readers to understand my point here. Our community, fortunately, is sophisticated and savvy enough to learn the lessons of shelter and hospitality and to do whatever possible to reach out and pass those lessons on.
But I am fearful that in parallel with acknowledging our own good fortune, we are not sufficiently alive to the new dangers posed by the repeated drip-drip of anti-Semitism in its latest disguise. Or as Howard Jacobson so admirably put it: “It is easier to hate Israel rather than to hate Jews, since you get the same frisson with none of the guilt.”
There are newspaper columnists who write squalid little pieces of hatred that might have once been confined to furtive dinner parties, and, when challenged, call it “anti-Zionism”. Well, that’s all right, then. There are city councils – very well, Cardiff City Council – which appear to believe that it was a good idea to ban an innocuous photo exhibition about Jews and Arabs playing football together on the grounds that there might have been demonstrations outside the building.
There are artists, although I’m not sure Shadi Alzaqzouq merits the description – he ain’t no Monet or Picasso, that’s for sure – who hung a bedsheet over his entries to Banksy’s Dismaland exhibition in Weston-Super-Mare, in protest at the presence elsewhere in the show of three Israeli artists. Just at their presence, please note, as though the existence of the Israelis were akin to bird flu or some other lethal virus.
There are movements, such as Hamas – I hesitate to call it a political movement – which call for the annihilation of the Jewish state and in the next breath formally endorse Jeremy Corbyn in his bid for Labour leadership. And no one in warm, cuddly, tolerant Britain thinks this is at all menacing or threatening or simply downright repellent.
The incoming Israeli ambassador to the UK, Mark Regev, has a huge task on hand, but it is not his job alone to challenge such manifestations of hating Jews more than is strictly necessary. Not everything is anti-Semitism, that is true but, more and more, dislike of Jews and their allegiance to, and support for, the Jewish state, is becoming mainstream, the wallpaper to social discourse here.
What will shock us all out of our relative complacency, I wonder?