Rising British antisemitism a threat to Jews everywhere

We need to get past the mentality that if we don’t make an issue over this turn of events, the bad feelings will blow over and just go away.

A MEMBER of the Jewish community walks in north London in 2015 as police officials stand watch. (photo credit: REUTERS)
A MEMBER of the Jewish community walks in north London in 2015 as police officials stand watch.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In a recent article, Isi Leibler presented a grim picture of the predicament of Great Britain’s Jews. The threat to the well-being and safety of that community is real, and he suggests the threat may be worse than at any time since 1656 when Jews returned to that country after having been expelled in 1290. The need for Jews in that country to hide their identity and provide armed guards for Jewish facilities and events has reached a critical point.
Leibler thinks that immigrating to Israel will be considered a living option by greater numbers than before, but does not expect that to be the option chosen by most Jews in Britain.
Attacks upon Jews have been increasing, but the large vote in favor of the British Labour Party is really the ominous sign. The leader of that party, Jeremy Corbyn, came dangerously close to ousting Prime Minister Theresa May. He is a clear friend of Hamas and is a terrorist partisan. His surging popularity therefore suggests an imbalanced and negative attitude on the part of the British population toward Israel, and following that, hostility toward the Jewish People.
Despite disclaimers by many of Israel’s enemies, anti-Zionism or anti-Israel movements, programs and policies are deeply antisemitic in intent, and represent a threat to Jews living outside of Israel. Imagine this: despite 69 years of sovereignty, despite thousands of years of claims to the Holy Land, Israel is still trying to “prove” its right to exist to people throughout the world. In fact, such “proof-of-Israel’s-right-to-exist-as-a-nation” would be laughable were it not in fact proof 1) of the sinfulness of the human race, 2) a perverse and neurotic denial of history and 3) a sign of the intense violence – even of a “death wish” as Sigmund Freud suggested – that is deeply embedded in the human psyche.
Antisemitism is clearly alive and well in Great Britain, and throughout the world.
Although it is offensive and frightening to see this development in Great Britain, we as Jews really should never be surprised when otherwise accepting environments start to become centers of Jew hatred. War is a staple of the human race in general. Despite the yearning for peace in all mature hearts and minds, and despite a conception of the “noble savage” (such as was depicted by the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau) who lives in perpetual peace with his fellow man, peace is the exception rather than the rule.
Thomas Hobbes noted that without government, human existence would be a war of all against all. Even with government, and often because of government, we are driven to kill and maim others. How often humanity either plays the role of aggressor or defender against aggression. The Jewish People have had to fight for their existence for thousands of years. The urge to attack Jews is intimately associated with this murderous impulse of the human race.
Now the foul stench of antisemitism arises again in England and possibly Scotland.
On the one hand the British can be very principled and ethical. On the other hand, they can treat colonized peoples with barbaric contempt. The Jews are not exempt from this British cultural schizophrenia. The Balfour Declaration represented British justice and wisdom as it provided for a Jewish homeland. The White Paper of 1939 represented British cowardice and expediency. It “reject[ed] the idea of the creation of a Jewish state and the idea of partitioning Palestine.
It also limited Jewish immigration to 75,000 for 5 years, and ruled that further immigration was to be determined by the Arab majority” (section II).
Now cowardice is again ascendant.
Where is the British leader saying something to the effect that the country must stubbornly and consistently protect and support its Jewish fellow citizens from slanders and ignorant lies and denunciations? We know that persecution of our people can begin with a drift toward increased prejudice and sense of offense. This drift is the first stage of emergent antisemitism.
Then as this “drift” intensifies, it morphs into the second stage. At this point, threats and incidents of bullying and intimidation are met with shrugs of indifference by ordinary citizens as well as government officials. Then the third stage arises, in which there are some horrible “incidents” where the order of civilization is shown to be a sham, and the hate for Jews and the malignancy of the human heart reveals itself. The incidents of persecution in this stage might be “passive” as when Mayor David Dinkins allowed black rioters to attack Jews in Crown Heights and even murder Yankel Rosenbaum. Or they can be active pogroms by the military such as my cousin experienced in Russia under Tsar Nicholas II.
Finally, a fourth stage emerges. In this stage, there is full-blown persecution of Jews by the governmental authorities. It can be themed as Nazi genocide or the Arab call to drive the Jews of Israel into the Mediterranean.
Leibler is correct. It is a dark day for British Jews and for world Jewry to see the voter response to the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn in Great Britain. But we need to get past the mentality that if we don’t make an issue over this turn of events, the bad feelings will blow over and just go away. History teaches us that no matter how grand, lawful, or civilized governments may seem to be, the theme of Jew hatred does not “just go away.” It is a given in a fallen world.
The writer serves on the philosophy faculty of the City University of New York and is a member of the Zionist Organization of America, and author of the The Catastrophic Decline of America’s Public High Schools.