1. British press now contains a daily diet of extreme anti-Israel reporting
2. "Darkness encroaches" (By Michael Gove, The Times (London), May 3, 2002)
3. "The danger of this 'fashionable' hatred of Israel" (By Simon Sebag Montefiore, Evening Standard (London), May 3, 2002)
A DAILY DIET OF EXTREME ANTI-ISRAEL REPORTING
[Note by Tom Gross]
In line with other European media, the British press now contains a daily diet of extreme anti-Israel reporting. In The Guardian, Faisal Bodi has said that the Jewish people "simply have no right" to a homeland. The Evening Standard commentator A.N. Wilson has questioned Israel's right to statehood. The Observer headlined one article critical of Israel "an affront to civilization."
Below are two articles by friends of mine in Britain – the columnist Michael Gove and the author and TV presenter Simon Sebag Montefiore. They are virtually alone in the British media in presenting an alternative to the flood of prejudicial and often racist reporting against Israelis and Jews. (Both are subscribers to this email list since its inception.)
Gove, a non-Jew, writes "what makes contemporary comment on Israel worryingly different from the normal run of foreign commentary is the dangerous underlying assumptions and wickedly intemperate nature of the criticism. Loaded phrases are used, truths obscured, parallels invoked or ignored and coverage slanted to apply the oldest anti-Semitic technique of all, the double standard. Jews and the Jewish State are judged in a way that no other peoples would be – and found wanting even before any evidence is adduced."
He adds: "The historic test of a society's freedom, from Renaissance Italy to 17th-century Holland, Edwardian Britain and modern America, has been its attitude to the Jewish people in its midst."
Sebag Montefiore writes that the argument that Israel is causing anti-Semitism is stated so often these days in the UK that one would have thought that anti-Semitism must have been unthinkable before the creation of Israel.
"A repugnant strain of anti-Zionism has crept into our media and our drawing rooms. It is not just acceptable to hate Israel among a certain class, it's a must – the most fashionable cause around. One can hardly go to a Notting Hill dinner party without some po-faced blonde TV presenter lecturing you about the wickedness of Israel."
-- Tom Gross
By Michael Gove
The Times (of London)
May 3, 2002
There aren't many book festivals where every visitor's bags are searched. On the way in. But, then, there aren't many literary events where the participants, and spectators, run the risk of a racist attack.
We did at the Jewish Book Festival in March. I was there to take part in a panel discussion on anti-Semitism. Was it increasing and, if so how much should it concern us? As the only non-Jewish participant in the debate, I could afford a certain detachment. But the level of security for the event meant that, for all of us, the matter was far from academic.
Since that evening, the question that we sought to explore has been answered in the most emphatic, and appalling, way. The growth in anti-Semitic argument, which I argued was approaching menacing levels, has been chilling. Tom Paulin, a tenured Oxford academic and a regular on the BBC's Newsnight Late Review, has argued that Jews on the West Bank of the River Jordan should be shot. The Saudi Ambassador to the Court of St James's, Dr Ghazi Algosaibi, has published a poem praising the terrorist bombers who have massacred Israeli civilians. Every Saturday the street opposite the Israeli Embassy is blocked by protesters supporting the terrorist campaign against the Jewish state and carrying placards that equate Israel with Nazi Germany, and the Star of David with the swastika.
Actions have consequences.
Orthodox Jews, their dress marking them out, have been attacked across London during the past few weeks. Two were viciously assaulted outside Harrods in broad daylight. Last week the pupils of the Jewish Hasmonean School in North London presented a petition to Iain Duncan Smith attesting to the intimidation, and threats, they now encountered in their daily lives. Most horrifically of all, a synagogue in Finsbury Park, North London, was desecrated earlier this week, just streets away from the mosque where the militant Muslim cleric Abu Hamza has been preaching hate against Jews and the West amid UN Security Council accusations of involvment in the financing of terrorism. The synagogue's interior was wrecked and the front of the rabbi's lectern daubed with a swastika.
The level of concern within Britain's Jewish community, already articulated by the Chief Rabbi and such distinguished commentators as the music critic Norman Lebrecht, the historian Simon Sebag-Montefiore and the columnist Melanie Phillips, has led to increased demands for action. This Bank Holiday Monday a rally will take place in Trafalgar Square, where upwards of 20,000 Jews from across the nation will be addressed by speakers from Left and Right, including Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel's former Prime Minister; Peter Mandelson, the former Cabinet Minister; Shlomo Ben-Ami, the Israeli Labour politician; and the Tories' Foreign Affairs spokesman, Michael Ancram.
Britain's Jewish community has traditionally been reluctant to draw attention to itself. Grateful in the past for the general tolerance, sense of opportunity and respect for difference that has characterised British society, there has been little need to do so. When it has spoken on matters of communal concern it has usually been with different voices, Left and Right, liberal and conservative, taking very different positions. But the Jewish community now, whatever the background of individuals, feels the need to assert itself. The reason is simple: the security of the Jewish people has not been so comprehensively threatened for half a century.
A variety of factors has combined to create an atmosphere in which anti-Jewish feeling has grown, and taken appalling form. The most salient factor, of course, has been the ongoing conflict in the Middle East. Israel's actions in the areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority have provoked criticism of Ariel Sharon's Government. But what makes contemporary comment on Israel worryingly different, both for Jews and democrats such as myself, from the normal run of foreign commentary is the biased nature, dangerous underlying assumptions and wickedly intemperate nature of the criticism. Loaded phrases are used, truths obscured, parallels invoked or ignored and coverage slanted to apply the oldest anti-Semitic technique of all, the double standard. Jews and the Jewish State are judged in a way that no other peoples would be – and found wanting even before any evidence is adduced.
A vicious circle of assumptions is at work here. Among many in the left-wing media, political and cultural Establishments there is already a prejudice – personal, ideological or structural – against the Jewish people and their State. These prejudices have helped to encourage and facilitate those seeking to undermine the collective security of the Jewish people. When the latter take steps to assert their collective right to self-defence, be it on the ground in the Middle East or on the airwaves of the world, they encounter an already hostile Establishment that refuses to treat them as it would any other people. The condemnation they thus receive for seeking to defend themselves only feeds further hostility towards an Israel only trying to defend itself and a Jewish Diaspora whose massive contributions to their varied nations are twisted into the "purchase of influence".
The belief that there is widespread anti-Jewish prejudice on the Left, in Britain and the West, is contested by many within the Establishment. But it is a recognition of its pervasive nature that will bring thousands on to London's streets on Monday.
Even before Sharon's military operations in the West Bank, anti-Jewish prejudice had manifested itself in a number of ways. The Jewish State was deliberately delegitimised by repeated, and unjustified, comparison with apartheid South Africa. Jewish lives, even those of children, were held to count for less than others because of their State's security policy. The Jewish people's right to live securely in their own country has been questioned as it would be for no other people. Even ancient anti-Semitic stereotypes have been invoked to invite condemnation of Israel, its actions and citizens.
The "apartheid" comparison seeks to reduce Israel to the position of pre-Mandela South Africa – a racist, pariah state whose inhabitants can be demonised and whose legitimacy constantly called into question. Anyone who remembers the Spitting Image sketch and song, I've never met a nice South African, or recalls the way in which unfashionable minorities such as Ulster's Unionists are compared with the Boers, will see how this process of delegitimisation seeks to suggest that the people complained of do not deserve to be treated with the same respect as others.
The fact that Israel is a multi-party democracy, all of whose citizens enjoy equal rights and whose Parliament and Supreme Court are graced by Arab citizens, is not allowed to impinge on this view. It did not prevent Alan Rusbridger, the Editor of The Guardian, from saying that he found "quite so many echoes of the worst days of South Africa in modern Israel". Nor did it prevent The Guardian's Liz McGregor from comparing Israel to the apartheid State last year and arguing for the dissolution of its Jewish identity.
These arguments are not made in a vacuum. Islamic societies on British campuses have won student support for boycotts of "apartheid" Israel. Indeed many academics, including such distinguished Oxford names as Richard Dawkins, have lent their support to boycott campaigns. And the level of intimidation and harassment felt by Jewish students rises.
The progressive delegitimisation of Israel has led other writers to argue that the State itself should not exist. In The Guardian, Faisal Bodi has said that the Jewish people "simply have no right" to their own homeland. The Evening Standard commentator A.N. Wilson has also questioned Israel's right to statehood. The Observer headlined one article critical of Israel "an affront to civilisation".
Israel's policies are certainly open to criticism. But where else does criticism of a nation move smoothly into calls for its eradication? Are there any commentators writing in the British press calling for the end of France, Syria or even Iraq as a state? Once you accept and legitimise calls for the removal of a state, you not only deny a people the basic democratic right, and security, of self-determination, but you also move into a morally dangerous zone when it comes to the survival of people themselves.
Take The Independent's coverage of the murder of two Jewish boys bludgeoned to death by Palestinians in the settlement of Tekoa. The reporter who chronicled their deaths concluded: "The fact remains that the two boys were living in a Jewish settlement illegally built on occupied land." Did The Independent run reports after the Norfolk farmer Tony Martin shot a juvenile burglar in the back concluding that "The fact remains that the boy was illegally trespassing on someone else's property"? Of course not, for the newspaper to have concluded that would have been to mitigate murder. But why, then, in a world where the "legality" of those settlements is still an open issue, provide an excuse for the killing of young Jews?
There are several reasons why so many in the media and political Establishments, especially on the Left, are prejudiced against the Jewish people and their State. The success of Jewish citizens in Western societies undermines the Left's claim that ethnic minorities need state intervention and the dismantling of traditional cultures to prosper. The corrupted romanticism of campus politics leads the Left to glamorise those whom they can cast in the tradition of Che and Fidel and resent any bourgeois society, such as Israel, that stands in the revolutionaries' path. New Left internationalism and cultural relativism is also hostile to the Jewish State's recognition that secure borders are a precondition of harmony and freedom as well as the Jewish people's belief in tradition, family and hard work.
These specific Left-wing attitudes are also mixed with deeper European resentments. Guilt at complicity in the Holocaust, commercial calculations that Arab nations offer richer pickings than Israel, mixed feelings about a colonial legacy that has done so much to complicate the Middle East, an appeasing stance towards militant Islam,and resentment that one small nation should be fighting terror with greater resolution than bigger ones such as Britain and France ever have, all combine to make Europe an increasingly cold house for Jews. In the past month the underlying anti-Semitism of much Left and European discourse has been given its head with reactions to the battle of Jenin. In Parliament, Labour MPs talk blithely of "atrocities" and in the press journalists routinely accept Palestinian claims of "massacres" when more scrupulous study of events on the ground shows that Israeli forces have been at great pains to limit civilian casualties in their pursuit of terrorists by proceeding, from booby-trapped house to booby-trapped house, at considerable risk to their own lives.
This reflexive desire to believe the worst of Israel reflects a deep, and worrying, hostility to the notion of Jews defending themselves. The Jewish people, it seems, should not be so uppity as to claim for themselves the same right to self-defence against suicide bombing that the West granted America after September 11. The Jewish people must, as they did in the Europe of the last century, know their place.
The historic test of a society's freedom, from Renaissance Italy to 17th-century Holland, Edwardian Britain and modern America, has been its attitude to the Jewish people in its midst. The greater its security, the freer, richer and more advanced the nation. The more tenuous and contingent the freedom of Jews in a society, the more certain, from the Spain of the Inquisition to Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia, that darkness is encroaching.
It is growing darker across Europe this spring – which is why I will light a candle for the 20,000 who will be gathering in Trafalgar Square on Monday.