Lecturing about wicked Israel is now a must at Notting Hill dinner parties

May 05, 2002

CONTENTS

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



DARKNESS ENCROACHES

Darkness encroaches
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.

 


"THERE IS NO SHAME IN DEFENDING ISRAEL"

The danger of this 'fashionable' hatred of Israel
By Simon Sebag Montefiore
(London) Evening Standard
May 3, 2002

There is not a day that I do not wake up and thank God that I was born a Jew in Britain but now, there is also hardly a day when I do not find myself uneasily on guard against libels against Jews. Such comments, under the guise of commentaries on Israel, have become the new media orthodoxy. These calumnies are never uttered without being accompanied by the "anti-Israeli safety warning" which says that it is in very bad taste to whine that an attack on Israel is anti-Semitic. I do not regard every attack on Israel as anti-Semitic, indeed there is plenty to criticise but, nonetheless, the attack earlier this week on the Finsbury Park synagogue suggests something sinister stinks about the sheep-like lynchmob mentality of " fashionable" anti-Zionists.

Of course, there will be those who claim that Israel is causing anti-Semitism, an argument akin to blaming immigrants for BNP racism. This argument is stated so often that one would have thought that anti-Semitism must have been unthinkable before the creation of Israel.

I believe, like most Israelis, there should be a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Former prime minister, Ehud Barak essentially offered this deal. Its rejection by Yasser Arafat and the resulting war and suicide bombings against Israel suggest that some Palestinians do not wish to co-exist. Faced with suicide murders of children and old people, with 400 dead, which would be the equivalent of 4,000 proportionally in Britain, any country in the world, including this one, would fight back as America did after 11 September.

Coverage of Israel's incursion includes the sort of irresponsible writing that leads to violated synagogues. The claim that there had been a Jenin "massacre" was, it turned out, a lie (though I mourn Palestinian civilians killed), as was the so-called Bethlehem "sacrilege". Every dead Palestinian is a tragedy just as is every Israeli. The Israeli exclusion of western journalists was precisely the same sort of decision made by the British-Americans in the Gulf War and in Afghanistan. Journalists are embittered by Israeli manners: a top CNN reporter whined recently: " Palestinians are charming, Israelis just shout." So the Israelis have bad manners? So is it anti-Semitic to criticise Israel? No, and just to prove it, I would give up most of the settlements tomorrow.

But there is a strong strain of anti-Zionism that is repugnant-and it has crept into our media and our drawingrooms. It is not just acceptable to hate Israel among a certain class, it's a must the most fashionable cause around. It is the political equivalent of having a Nick Hornby book or eating in The Ivy. It is what you do if you want to be part of the Zeitgeist. It-Girls and blonde TV presenters do it. It is the Botox of international diplomacy.

One can hardly go to a Notting Hill dinner party without some po-faced blonde TV presenter lecturing you about the wickedness of Israel. Firstly, shame on those sheep for embracing the conventional wisdom with such ignorant enthusiasm. But then comes the vile, truly wicked insinuation that begins: "Isn't it ironic that they went through the Holocaust and now..." This is unconscious anti-Semitism which is like a child playing with a gun not realising it's loaded. This is the modern version of the blood libel, of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. It might be ironically symmetrical but it is not true.

There is no parallel. It is a profoundly evil libel to suggest that there is even the slightest symmetry, or moral equivalence, between Hitler's industrial slaughter of innocent, unarmed Jews, gipsies and Slavs, and a tiny country lashing out against terrorists who have planted bombs that had dismembered old people and children. It is evil because it approaches Holocaust denial by belittling the situation so colossally and lying so viciously about what is really happening.

One newspaper called Israel's operation a " blitzkrieg". Historically, militarily, politically and ethically, the slow and clumsy Israeli move towards Jenin couldn't possibly be called a "blitzkrieg". No newspaper would dream of using the word to describe, say, the Gulf War or Afghanistan, both of which were militarily-speaking blitzkriegs. No, the word was used only because Israel is the Jewish state and, isn't it ironic? Israel's enemies claim it's time it was treated like a normal country. I agree because if it was treated as a normal country, it would be understandable for it to defend itself against suicide bombings, just as it was for America. The essential reason for the outrage against Israel is that the sight of Jews defending themselves like everyone else makes some people uneasy. But to paraphrase David Ben-Gurion, Israel has Jewish truck drivers, hookers and Jewish offensives against terrorists.

We British Jews are privileged to live in Europe's most tolerant country. I have little time for British Jews claiming anti-Semitism: my father's family were Moorish-Italian immigrants who were welcomed here in the 1790s; my mother's family were Russian-Lithuanians who escaped pogroms early last century - and have produced two Lord Chief Justices almost in a row. But as happened with the Blackshirts in the Thirties, the big lie can sometimes poison a minority and violate a synagogue even in tolerant Britain.

Unfortunately, fashionable causes like anti-Zionism attract exhibitionists like TV critics and obscure politicians. Gerald Kaufman, who has finally found prominence as a Jewish critic of Israel, wrote that he had faced anti-Semitism but was now ashamed of Israel, two things that are clearly linked. He then claimed to be vilified by fellow Jews. Apart from his mountainous, deluded selfregard, it emerged that he had received "rather fewer e-mails than I expected" or hoped for. He has every right to criticise Israel, but he added that "since Israel's government emphasises its Jewishness... the same Jewishness inevitably arouses criticisms". That is a weasel statement, if ever there was one.

But to those Jews who now feel ashamed of Israel, they should toughen up a little. There are times and places when Jews should defend themselves like other nations. There is no shame in that.


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.