My Word: No offense, but...

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.

'Sunday Times' anti-Semitic cartoon 370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
'Sunday Times' anti-Semitic cartoon 370
(photo credit: Courtesy)
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 mutual.
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 trendy.
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.”
The 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 power.
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 27.
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.
I 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.
The 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.
Indeed, International 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 atrocities everywhere.
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 it.
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 state.
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 mid-1970s.
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 “Bye-bye London.”
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 passions.”
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.