Israel is the only sovereign state whose destruction international society will excuse
"If you take a trip overseas
Tuck your Star of David into your shirt
It's dangerous if they know you're from here.
If they ask you, say you're from Greece
Say you're from Sudan
So they don't make trouble for you."
- translated from the Tea Packs song "Neshika Le'Dod"
A few years ago, on a family holiday in London, we spent an afternoon watching the street performers at Covent Garden - fire-eaters, trick-cyclists, jugglers. One of the better acts, a young man with a mop of dirty blond hair and an Edwardian tweed jacket, combined the three skills for his raucously applauded finale, juggling fire-torches and dousing them in his mouth while mounted atop a particularly precarious unicycle.
Earlier in his routine, already sky-high on the bike, he had called out for a volunteer to throw three sticks up to him - fat-bodied juggling clubs, I believe they're called - and my young sweet son had been the first in the sizable crowd to raise his hand and been selected.
The juggler called down and asked him his name, he obliged, and then the juggler asked where he was from. I felt my heart skip a beat. I'd seen Israel demonized on the pages of some of the heavyweight newspapers during the trip, noticed nasty anti-Israel books prominently displayed in central London bookstores, and heard from Jewish friends about the steadily rising tide of anti-Semitic incidents. When my son said "Israel," I truly feared the crowd would boo him.
They didn't. Some of them appeared puzzled and the juggler nearly fell off his unicycle, but that was because the information didn't compute. My son looks more Scandinavian than Semitic. "Israel?" the juggler queried. "Israel," the boy repeated confidently. The juggler shrugged his shoulders (as much as one can atop a unicycle), the act continued, and I heaved a silent sigh of relief.
I wonder whether a London crowd would react serenely today. I wonder because the anti-Semitic tide has risen far higher in the last few years, and especially in the last few months, since Israel entered Gaza to try to stop the Hamas rocket attacks on our citizens. I wonder because I've watched TV footage of the venomous anti-Israel demonstrations, heard the vicious accusations against Israel broadcast on radio and TV, read politicians' denunciations of our purported war crimes, seen the boycott campaigns winding up again on university campuses and in the unions.
Those oldster warnings in the Tea Packs lyrics I quoted above seemed amusingly paranoid when that album first came out in 1997; the song was a gentle satire on the over-fussy protectiveness of the out-of-touch older generation. But today? Diaspora Jews, Israelis abroad, how prominently do you display your Stars of David?
I WONDER especially because of an article I was forwarded this week from the Jewish Chronicle, titled "Hatred is turning me into a Jew," by a journalist named Nick Cohen.
I don't know Cohen personally, though he was working at the Independent many years ago when I was doing some reporting from Israel for that newspaper. He was a compelling writer, and a firm man of the Left, and I was fascinated to read a book he wrote two years ago that critiqued the camp in which he had been brought up: What's Left? How Liberals Lost Their Way.
"In the early seventies," that book begins deliciously, "my mother searched the supermarkets for politically reputable citrus fruit."
Seville oranges were out (she couldn't be subsidizing General Franco). So, too, Algarve oranges (Portugal's Antonio Salazar), Outspan (apartheid South Africa), Florida (the loathsome Nixon) and of course our own Jaffas (occupation). "My sisters and I didn't know it, but when Franco fell ill in 1975, we were in a race to the death," writes Cohen. "Either he died of Parkinson's disease or we died of scurvy. Luckily for us and the peoples of Spain, the dictator went first..."
Cohen's Jewish Chronicle piece is as deftly constructed, but with little of the light humor. Despite the name, he's not halachicly Jewish, he makes clear, but "the more the British Left indulges anti-Semitism, the more kosher I feel."
His only interest in Judaism when he was growing up, he recalls, was as a left-wing adversary of the neo-fascists. Back then, "You did not have to be a Jew to oppose fascism; everyone I knew did that regardless of color or creed."
Nowadays, though, while the modern Left still opposes the white neo-Nazi parties, Cohen claims, it "succors and indulges... the clerical fascists of radical Islam." Britain's so-called liberals may not applaud the Islamists, but they won't condemn them either. "From the broadcasters, through the liberal press, the Civil Service, the Metropolitan Police, the bench of bishops and the judiciary, anti-Semitism is no longer an unthinkable mental deformation. As long as the conspiracy theories of the counter-enlightenment come from ideologues with dark rather than white skins, nominally liberal men and women will not speak out."
Cohen, who might have added the unions, teachers and academics to his list, steers his agonized polemic toward the consequent dangers facing his local Jewish community. In a stunning indictment of the current mindset, he asserts that Britain's Jews are "the only ethnic minority whose slaughter official society will excuse. If a mass murderer bombed a mosque or black Pentecostal church, no respectable person would say that the 'root cause' of the crime was an understandable repulsion at the deeds of al-Qaida or a legitimate opposition to mass immigration. Rightly, they would blame the criminal for the crime."
But if a synagogue were attacked, "I guarantee that within minutes the airwaves will be filled with insinuating voices insisting that the 'root cause' of the crime was a rational anger at the behavior of Israel or the Jewish Diaspora. Put like this, the position of British Jewry sounds grim."
I have no doubt that Cohen is correct.
At a conference in London this week, 125 members of parliament from 40 countries solemnly put their signatures to a document that commendably acknowledges the morphing of anti-Zionism into anti-Semitism, and expresses alarm "at the resurgence of the old language of prejudice and its modern manifestations - in rhetoric and political action - against Jews, Jewish belief and practice and the State of Israel."
The venue was appropriate, indeed. As Natan Sharansky told The Jerusalem Post from the conference, "If you look at the new anti-Semitism, the leading force is the UK."
The same UK where, just days before the Conference on Combating Anti-Semitism convened, that bible of the modern Left, the Guardian, allowed the Islamists to further skew and poison its readers' minds by publishing an op-ed by Hamas's Health Minister Bassam Naim that bewails the "demonization" of Hamas and duplicitously claims "Our struggle is not against the Jewish people, but against oppression and occupation. This is not a religious war. We have no quarrel with the Jewish people." (His movement's guiding charter, Article Seven, proclaims the sorry truth: "The Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him salvation, has said: 'The Day of Judgement will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Muslims, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.")
Naim, incidentally, is the uncle of Anas Naim, who was described as a medic from the Palestinian Red Crescent in the Palestinian media when he was killed during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza City on January 4, but who, as the Post reported this week, is shown in numerous pictures on Hamas Web sites posing with an RPG and a Kalashnikov assault rifle.
COHEN IS correct, but I don't believe for a moment that the malaise is limited to Britain and its Jews. Indeed, I know directly from Jewish leaders in France, Scandinavia, South Africa and Latin America how acutely threatened some members of their community feel. The wails of concern flood into my e-mail box every day from the Netherlands, Ireland, Spain, Venezuela and beyond, from country after country where newspapers place distorted dispatches from Israel's battle for survival on their front pages - misrepresenting our policies, our actions and the motivations of our enemy - while their home news pages carry features disingenuously bemoaning an upsurge of domestic anti-Jewish sentiment.
And as Israel's Ambassador to the UK Ron Prosor cautioned his audience at the Herzliya Conference earlier this month, in a talk on the delegitimization of Israel, "where Britain is today, America will be in a few years' time."
People of roughly my generation grew up, it now begins to seem, not, as we had fondly believed, in a post-World War II era in which the scourge of anti-Semitism had finally been eliminated, and a sobered international community was truly determined after the Nazi horrors to ensure "Never again."
That period of relative tranquility was, rather, merely a blip. A scandalized pause. And the interregnum is well and truly over now, with the oldest hatred propelled afresh by the benighted Islamists and seized upon by latent bigots everywhere.
While the very English and hardly Jewish (father's side) Cohen's concerns are understandably focused on his doorstep, his warning about the revived immoral readiness to let the fascists come for the Jews applies internationally. But most of all, it applies in the case of Israel itself.
Let's just slightly rework his key sentences: Israel is the only sovereign state whose destruction international society will excuse. If it came under existential attack, we can guarantee that within minutes the airwaves would be filled with insinuating voices insisting that the 'root cause' of the crime was a rational anger at its behavior. Put like this, the position of Israel sounds grim.
Do we doubt any of this? Terribly, we cannot.
Indulged by societies that have lost their moral compass, Iran and the Islamists are banking on nothing less.