Many years ago, my sister and I, in our late teens at the time, met up with a visitor from Israel. As we were sitting at a table in a coffee shop somewhere in central London, a guy came over and began chatting up our friend.
Neither of us were surprised: She was a gorgeous blonde with a lovely smile who had been unintentionally drawing attention wherever she went.
Not long into the typical over-the-top pickup lines, the guy discovered that our friend was Jewish, from Tel Aviv, and about to go into the army. The tone of the conversation changed completely, but our friend remained blissfully unaware.
Anti-Semitic stereotypes peppered his phrases.
She didn’t bat an eyelid; not even one of her incredibly long eyelashes moved.
Eventually, my sister and I silently communicated to each other that “enough is enough,” cut the conversation short, paid the bill and left.
What impressed me at the time – sufficiently for me to still recall the incident – was not that a stranger had felt comfortable spouting anti-Semitic tropes. It was that our friend did not recognize them. We, who’d been brought up in London, caught the clues straightaway.
Tel Avivian born and bred, she simply did not recognize anti-Semitism even when it was hitting on her.
I envied her her ignorance and added another reason to my already long list of why I planned to immigrate to Israel as soon as I could. My children would grow up in a country where they wouldn’t know about anti-Semitism, I decided. Not for my kids those overheard comments and jokes about having long noses and being money grubbing followed by a muttered “Sorry, I didn’t know you could hear” or “Sorry, I didn’t know you were Jewish” or “I don’t mean you, of course.”
British-Jewish philosopher Isaiah Berlin wittily and succinctly defined an anti-Semite as “someone who hates Jews more than is strictly necessary.”
The definition still holds true.
Some 40 years after the incident in the coffee shop – nearly 37 of them as a proud Israeli citizen – I realize that I, too, was naive. Anti-Semitism is further away from me, but it didn’t go away. Anti-Semitism didn’t end in the UK when I left; if anything it has grown over the years. My son, growing up in Jerusalem, is exposed to its impact, albeit not directly.
I THOUGHT of my Tel Avivian friend recently for two reasons: The revelations of the scope of anti-Semitism (sometimes in the disguise of anti-Zionism) in the British Labour Party in the land of my birth, and the unfortunate turn of phrase used by IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Yair Golan at a Holocaust Remembrance Day event in my homeland.
“What was he thinking?” asked a shocked neighbor after she heard Golan pronounce phrases that were immediately pounced upon as equating today’s Israel with Nazi Germany.
Like the Tel Avivian friend of my youth, Golan possibly did not know how to read the clues abroad and did not understand how his comments would be interpreted.
Ironically, as a Jerusalem Post editorial this week noted, his speech emphasized the fact that in Israel the army, still based on mandatory conscription, is in the front line of fighting any anti-democratic forces.
As former ambassador to the US, now an MK, Michael Oren moaned in several recent interviews, “The remarks by the deputy IDF chief, even if unintended, boosted BDS. Israelis must understand how our enemies hear our words and use them against us.”
Oren has often complained at how the Oscar-nominated movie The Gatekeepers, a compilation of interviews with former heads of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), was perceived abroad. While Israelis took pride in the fact that the Shin Bet heads felt free to speak their minds and voice left-of-center views, the end result, lacking in historical context, was easy to manipulate against Israel.
Oren, who taught history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in the years when I was a student there in the early 1980s, has noted in interviews that the Arab-Israeli conflict is marked by different stages: The largescale wars until 1973; terrorism since then; and the current stage that includes the coordinated campaign to delegitimize Israel.
Golan, as deputy chief of staff, should be aware of that.
WHEN I was growing up in London, Judeophobia was present but in that subtle, understated British way. We used to call it “kid-glove anti-Semitism.” It wasn’t restricted to the “loony Left,” then, and it isn’t only Labour’s domain now either.
In recent years, the soft gloves have been replaced by boxing gloves.
I concur with the analysis by the Post’s diplomatic reporter Herb Keinon last week that the revelations of one incident after another, until Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had no choice but to suspend some 50 party members, demonstrate a serious matter.
“From Israel’s point of view, the problem is that these politicians are publicly reflecting what they apparently feel their constituents want to hear,” wrote Keinon.
That includes social media postings suggesting that Israeli Jews be moved en masse to the United States (because, after all, it’s not ethnic cleansing when Jews are forcibly removed and we all know – don’t we? – that Israelis are the lackeys of the American imperialists); charges that Israel is behind the Islamic State and orchestrated IS attacks in Europe (because claiming we’re behind the attack on the World Trade Center is so 2001); and the implication by former London mayor Ken Livingstone that Hitler was a Zionist “before he went mad and ended up killing six million.”
Like Keinon, I see a bright side to the debate: Opinion-leaders are now willing to admit that while not all criticism against Israel and its government is anti-Semitic, some of it undeniably is. “It is positive that influential voices are saying that there is a line between legitimate criticism and hate speech,” as Keinon noted.
The problem most definitely existed before Corbyn took over Labour’s helm, but his leadership (with his “friends” in Hezbollah and Hamas) has set a new tone.
Naz Shah noted that her post about relocating six million Jews to the US was made before she became an MP and her comments were made in the heat of the 2014 Gaza campaign (that’s the one when Hamas launched 5,000 rockets on Israel, breaking more than 10 ceasefires, and Israel got the blame). So that’s OK then.
Speaking in Parliament, she said: “I wholeheartedly apologize to this House for the words I used before I became a member. I accept and understand that the words I used caused upset and hurt to the Jewish community and I deeply regret that. Anti-Semitism is racism, full stop. As an MP I will do everything in my power to build relations between Muslims, Jews and people of different faiths and none.”
The problem is recognizing what is anti-Semitism.
Hint: Denying Israel’s right to exist crosses a red line, one that has nothing to do with the Green Line and “settlements.”
Newly elected London Mayor Sadiq Khan, a practicing Muslim and son of a Pakistani immigrant, made an obvious effort to create a new image for Labour when, on his first day in office, he attended a Holocaust memorial event alongside Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, with Labour leader Corbyn nowhere in sight.
It was probably also the first public move in a bid to oust Corbyn as party head.
I fervently believe – Gen. Golan, take note – that the Holocaust was an unparalleled tragedy that cannot and should not be compared to anything else. But it is not the reason for Israel’s existence. Israel was not born out of the sins of the Nazis and their sympathizers. Its roots go way back before that: Last month, we celebrated Passover, the Exodus from Egypt.
This week, we celebrated Independence Day.
The two events are related. There’s a reason we didn’t build the world’s only Jewish state in New Jersey.
If I were still a British taxpayer I would be concerned not by criticism of Israel, but by whom certain politicians and local politicians choose to defend. (George Galloway, Shah’s predecessor as MP for Bradford West, easily comes to mind for declaring Bradford “an Israel-free zone.”) I don’t demand British politicians suddenly wave the blue-and-white flag and join in Independence Day celebrations. I do question blind support for the quasi-state in Gaza which favors Shari’a law, persecutes Christians, does not tolerate homosexuals, severely restricts the rights of women, and won’t allow the presence of Jews at all. (Maybe Galloway got the idea during one of his visits there.) The issue is not one of comparisons, however.
It is easy to point out that the UN and other international bodies single out Israel for criticism while ignoring the faults of places like China and Iran.
As Yediot Aharonot
columnist Ben-Dror Yemini noted last week, the problem “is not in comparison to China and criticizing China will not solve the problem. The problem is that the resolutions against Israel are based on lies. They are the supreme expression of modern anti-Semitism.”
Lies and ignorance; lies and malevolence; and even lies and apathy are a dangerous combination.
Someone asked me last week: “What’s your solution to the anti-Semitism crisis in the UK?” My personal solution, I replied, was to move to Israel.
Some 37 years later, I still say I left England for good, in both senses of the firstname.lastname@example.org
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