I don’t want to offend anyone. Especially not in Britain, the country
where I was born and raised. But I just can’t help it. And it seems to be
Something has changed in the United Kingdom during the 33 years
since I emigrated to Israel. What we used to call “kid-glove
anti-Semitism” when I was growing up in London is turning into something less
gentle and more sinister.
During a visit this summer, I was surprised to
see how much more culturally diverse the society has become. Granted, it was the
Olympics season and the “We are the world” factor had come out to play. When
people asked where I was from I went from gingerly testing the waters with a
noncommittal “Jerusalem” to proudly announcing “Israel,” and my son felt
comfortable enough to travel on the London Underground wearing a kippa not
always hidden by a hat.
Having had some teachers who always stopped short
of calling this country anything other than the Holy Land or Palestine, and
remembering an incident outside a train station in which a group of friends was
assaulted by skinheads for being identifiably Jewish, I was pleased at what
seemed like progress.
On my return to Israel, a colleague asked me if I
would “now stop bashing Britain.” And I’d love to be able to do that. But in the
last few days, I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach – not with kid gloves
this time, but with boxing gloves. I couldn’t ignore a couple of classic cases
of anti-Semitism disguised as anti-Israel sentiment.
This is the
fashionable way of turning an old hatred into something modern, close to
The first incident was when British Member of Parliament David
Ward chose the run-up to International Holocaust Remembrance Day to declare: “I
am saddened that the Jews, who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution
during the Holocaust, could within a few years of liberation from the death
camps be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel and
continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza.”
Liberal Democrat MP for Bradford East (I don’t think the word “Liberal” is
binding when it comes to relating to Jews), told Sky News on January 25, the day
after his original comments: “It’s just a statement of fact. There is quite a
lot of evidence that supports that statement.”
Ignoring all evidence to
the contrary, Ward, who has apparently visited Gaza, regularly refers to Israel
as “an apartheid regime.” I, of course, cannot visit Gaza at
all. Actually, there are quite a few countries I can’t safely visit as a
Jew (but I’m not including Britain on the list – yet).
The second blow
was even more familiar: A caricature featuring a lot of blood and a Jew who was
to blame. This was not a particularly original cartoon – Der Stürmer was running
images on a similar theme some 80 years ago when Hitler came to
Sunday Times cartoonist Gerald Scarfe predictably also defended
his depiction of a big-nosed Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu gleefully
cementing the security barrier with the blood of agonized Palestinian victims.
The caption reads, “Israeli elections – will cementing peace continue?” It was
published on International Holocaust Remembrance Day itself, January
What do you think of this, asked a friend on Facebook. I thought that
it recalled a caricature published a decade ago in the similarly mainstream
British The Independent which showed then-prime minister Ariel Sharon devouring
a Palestinian baby. Dave Brown was the recipient of the Cartoon of the Year
award at the British Political Cartoon Society’s annual competition for that
sophisticated portrayal of the Jews. Both images, of course, purposely exploit
the ancient blood libel – the libel paid for in Jewish blood for centuries, ever
since it was created on Passover 1144 in the English city of Norwich.
also thought how much better life here would be not without the security fence
but without the need for it – without the suicide bombers and other terrorists
who would rather take the quick route to a “martyr’s paradise” than the harder
road to creating a stable, peaceful state to exist alongside Israel.
fact that Scarfe’s cartoon of the monstrous Israeli leader appeared on
International Holocaust Remembrance Day did not make it worse – the fact that it
appeared at all is what I found offensive.
Holocaust Remembrance Day itself seems to have been so hijacked in the name of
universalism that I find it hard to relate to it. It seems that any mention of
the Holocaust must now as a matter of course include victims of wars and
When it comes to remembering the attempt to wipe
out the Jewish people and any sign of their religion and culture, I prefer to
concentrate on Israel’s Yom Hashoah, commemorated appropriately according to the
Hebrew calendar between Passover and Independence Day.
I’m not sure
there’s any point in noting that if the Jews really do control the world media,
another seasoned anti-Semitic slander, they are doing a very poor job of
The nasty surprise was finding that the generally respectable and
respected Sunday Times had fallen in with the bon ton; political correctness –
or even the truth – be damned when it comes to the Jews, or at least the Jewish
Funnily enough, earlier this week going through the mix of fan
mail and hate mail that regularly finds its way to my inbox, a letter from a
reader who definitely does not like Israel, Israelis or presumably me, referred
me to The Guardian’s site.
As chance would have it, I didn’t find the
link she’d suggested apparently sporting another long list of alleged Israeli
atrocities, but I did come across an unexpected item. It was almost like
slaughtering a holy cow, for someone of my age and background.
The BBC is
tampering with the iconic comedy series Fawlty Towers to avoid giving offense.
Even more extraordinarily, Auntie (as the BBC is known) is not concerned about
upsetting the eponymous Germans in arguably the series’s most famous episode
(“Don’t mention the war!”). But the openly ridiculous character of Major Gowen
can no longer be seen using the words “niggers” and “wogs.”
Nobody – I
hope – would write a BBC comedy series today including those epithets for
laughs. Basil Fawlty, Major Gowen, and the Spanish waiter Manuel (“Don’t mind
him, he’s from Barcelona”), however, were characters created in the
Nowadays, you can only openly defame the Israelis and not just
“get away with it,” as John Cleese’s fictional Fawlty might put it, but actually
be considered to have good taste.
Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline
Glick, currently on leave to write a book, has also noted that the “Great” is
missing from “Britain” when it comes to its treatment of Israelis. Last month,
she was invited to participate in a highbrow Intelligence Squared debate over
Israel’s settlement policy, where she found it so difficult to make her case
because of the heckling that she wrote on her website a caustic piece titled
In it she states: “I can say without hesitation that I
hope never to return to Britain. I actually don’t see any point. Jews are
targeted by massive anti-Semitism of both the social and physical varieties. Why
would anyone Jewish want to live there? As to visiting as an Israeli, again, I
just don’t see the point. The discourse is owned by anti-Israel voices. They
don’t make arguments to spur thought, but to end it, by appealing to people’s
And I have similarly been reminded of why Britain was such a
good place to leave. I used to think that I was blessed with a British sense of
humo(u)r. I don’t think I’m the one who’s lost it. It’s Britain that’s losing
its chances of having the last laugh.
The writer is the editor of the
International Jerusalem Post.