I love Britain. This country has played a disproportionate role in the betterment of humanity – from the freedoms we all enjoy, the laws that protect us, the language that millions of us communicate with and the culture that enriches us. I will always be eternally grateful to Britain for providing shelter to four generations of my family when they otherwise would have been murdered in the Russian pogroms or Hitler’s war of extermination. Without the benefits of British citizenship, we could never have enjoyed the comfortable, happy and secure lives that we have led for the past one hundred years. I imagine most of the Anglo-Jewish Community feels the same way about Britain. I am very lucky to have encountered little anti-Semitism in my life, an experience backed up by the Anti-Defamation League’s report earlier this year which stated that the levels of anti-Jewish prejudice in the United Kingdom were at an all time low.
However my belief in British exceptionalism has been shaken these past few weeks. Ever since the time of the British Mandate, there has been a rather nasty and unpleasant attitude towards Israelis amongst segments of British public opinion. At times this has exploded into outright hostility from the usual suspects – the Left Wing press as well as certain politicians, ambassadors and businessmen with interests in the Arab world. When Israel has undertaken some of her largest defensive operations such as Lebanon in 2006 or Cast Lead in 2009, there have been outpourings of anti-Israel sentiment within the media and on busy shopping streets. To counter this prevailing attitude there have always been a plethora of British Prime Ministers on both sides of the political divide who have heroically stood with the free world and with Israel – Harold Wilson, Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to name the most notable.
In the past, I looked at the middle class schoolgirls standing in Trafalgar Square and waving placards saying “We are all Hezbollah Now” with a mixture of contempt, bemusement and ridicule. I sure as hell don’t now.
Following Operation Protective Edge, I have been sickened to the very core by the current state of discourse in this country surrounding Israel, Israelis and Jews more generally. These feelings have been building up for a long time now, but these past few weeks have made me realise a very unsettling fact; if we Jews wish to continue to live happy lives in Britain then it must come at the price of publicly dissociating ourselves from Israel. Douglas Murray warned us of this incoming storm in the Spectator a while back.
It has now become acceptable mainstream parlance to make some imaginary distinction between the ‘good’ Jews (who heroically oppose Zionism and the State of Israel) and the ‘bad’ Jews (who continue to defend both). As one of the ‘bad’ Jews who avidly follows the media and news reports, I have been shocked at the amount of biased, vitriolic reporting not just amongst the predictable outlets (the Guardian, the Independent, the New Statesman, the London Standard, the BBC, Channel 4) but even previously neutral or sympathetic voices (the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph, the Times, the Spectator, Sky News and, most worryingly of all considering their immense press runs, the Sun and the Express).
I think it is now safe to confirm that there is indeed a cross partisan consensus in this country that is deeply anti-Israel. As a British Jew at odds with this unthinking, hateful consensus, like Emma Barnett of the Telegraph I no longer feel comfortable talking about my identity or my political beliefs. Like her, I too risk being called a supporter of child murder even by other Jews such as the Communist (and once shockingly self described ‘Maoist’) Alexei Sayle. I am heart broken by the way this terrible conflict has not just turned others against Jews, but Jews against each other.
It is true that Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Minister Philip Hammond have been resolute in their support for Israel’s right to defend herself against rocket fire and tunnel attacks. David Cameron has certainly come a long way from his Gaza ‘prison camp’ comments in Turkey a number of years ago. Yet I fear they are just holding back a huge tide.
Just watch this video of politicians from all three major parties lining up to attack Israel in the House of Commons. All employ the language of ‘war crimes’, ‘land grab’, ‘dispossession’, ‘massacres’ and ‘occupation’ – even those, like Labour’s Liam Byrne, who claim to be one of Israel’s friends! I have always been prepared to countenance street protesters and the odd dodgy backbencher, but to see such a consensus of language revolving around lies and slander amongst major politicians from Labour, the Liberal Democrats and even the Conservatives is deeply unsettling. David Cameron may be an ally of Israel but its becoming almost impossible now to say that Britain is too.
There is also a more sinister side to these attacks. The Liberal Democrats have shamefully shown their reluctance to take anti-Semitic discourse seriously after Bradford MP David Ward suggested that if he were a Palestinian in Gaza he too would fire rockets at Israel (thereby condoning terrorism in what could technically be against UK Law). Ward has a recent history of making offensive comments about Jews in order to cynically win Muslim votes in his constituency, including suggesting that ‘the Jews’ – not just Israelis – learnt little from the Holocaust and were committing new atrocities against Palestinians. Following Ward’s more recent comments, ex-Liberal MEP Edward McMillan Scott tweeted in defence, claiming that the British Board of Deputies was a “frightful bag of disputatious Jews” and after provoking outrage, tweeted a half-hearted apology. These are comments that would have been considered unacceptable five or ten years ago. All of these incidents are indicative of shameful conduct from a Party with a terrible history of anti-Semitic outbursts from the likes of Baroness Jenny Tonge. Far from being a centrist Party standing for liberal and democratic values, the Liberal Democrats are quickly earning a reputation for standing against the Middle East’s only true liberal democracy.
Things are far uglier away from the glitterati and the metropolitan Liberal Left. While many of us are aware of the appalling anti-Semitic attacks and mass chants occurring in other European capitals, things have been rapidly deteriorating here too. The Jerusalem Post has observed that “latest statistics indicate approximately 60 recorded incidents ranging from verbal abuse to physical attacks on buildings and people over the first two weeks of July and over half of which were attributable to the current situation.” One Jewish shopper was ambushed and assaulted by numerous protesters on London’s Oxford Street in broad daylight. In Manchester, as many as five cars drove through the heavily Orthodox area of Broughton Park, waving Palestinian flags and chanting ‘Heil Hitler’. In Belfast, a brick was hurled through a window at the city’s small Synagogue. A Rabbi in Gateshead was set upon and attacked by four youths as he returned from a Yeshiva. Simply for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Simply for being Jewish.
A man shouting from a megaphone at Newcastle’s Monument accused Israel of committing a ‘second Holocaust’ against the Palestinians; an accusation that is laughable considering the high birth rates in the Gaza Strip, not to mention the obvious moral and numerical disparity between accidentally killed Palestinians and deliberately exterminated European Jews.
I am sick of living in a country where anyone who raises concerns about the nature of anti-Israel discourse is accused of playing ‘the anti-Semitism card’. I am sick of living in a country where a major political Party is unwilling to properly discipline its members for making outrageous comments. I am sick of living in a country where one is considered ‘pro-Israel’ if they accept Israel’s right to exist; as if that is a discussion we should be having in the first place! I am sick of the callous disregard so many Britons seem to show towards Israeli lives, criticising Israel as not enough Jews have died or stating that Israel should not properly defend herself due to her Iron Dome defence system (as if a life spent running from bomb shelter to bomb shelter with seconds to spare is a life worth living). I am sick of my fellow countrymen holding Israel to a totally unreasonable standard, all the while as Iraq and Syria burn, Libya falls into chaos, pro-Russian terrorists shoot a plane from the sky and Islamists capture young Christian schoolgirls in Nigeria. On all those other matters no one seems to care, at least enough to march in the streets to protest them. I am sick of living in a country where an anti-Hamas/ pro-Israel cartoon is a very rare occurrence. The only thing that is ‘disproportionate’ is the mania that seems to be brought about every time Israel hits the headlines in Britain.
There is a very ugly supersessionism at play in British political discourse. While some Britons are eager to emphasise their dedication to the memory of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, like David Ward, they are disgusted with Jews today whom they accuse of doing the same as was done to them. Like the Medieval Christian Church, many modern Britons imagine they have moved on from backward urges which they now accuse Israel of embodying. In their eyes, Israel is guilty of a whole host of modern day blood libels; polluting sewage and water, killing children, committing a ‘genocide’. Some make a small concession but turn it into a false moral equivalence; with a smug sense of superiority, they claim Hamas and Israel are one and the same and are as bad as each other. It is shameful to see how widespread this false moral equivalence has become even amongst British Jews. Some think terrorism directed at Israelis is excessive but at times justified (or even understandable) in a way that terrorism against Britons is not. For them, Israel has absorbed all the world’s sins and become its Voodoo doll. “Only if Israel were to give up land for peace and stop building settlements”, they imagine, “then peace would prevail throughout the entire Middle East”, whilst ignoring the fall out from Israel’s evacuation of Gaza in 2005 or the totally unconnected Sunni-Shia conflicts in neighbouring countries. Luckily some of us aren’t so naive. Let’s not forget it has been Hamas which has so far ignored one ceasefire and broken another. We should be in no doubt as to who the aggressor is in this conflict.
If anything, the reaction to this recent conflict in Britain has shown just how essential Zionism is to the 21st Century – thank goodness it’s not up to these people how Jews should live their lives in peace and dignity, constantly relying on the ‘good will’ of their host population. I used to think that the people who hated Israel had little influence on the political class. I was wrong; so so wrong.
It is now impossible to discuss Israel and the Palestinians in a sane and nuanced way in this country, even amongst some other Jews. I was once hoping of writing an ode of love towards my country. Now I can only lament. So at odds am I with British public opinion, I am sad to reflect that I now feel a stranger in my own country. Socially and economically, I am extremely fortunate. Psychologically, I feel under constant siege. I do not aim to speak for any other British Jews although I imagine some of the other ‘bad’ Jews feel precisely as I do. This country which has done so much for freedom, democracy and prosperity is close to forgetting what it once stood for. While Britain sleeps, Israel defends not only herself but the values that guide us all; those same values that Britain once fought so valiantly to defend in the two world wars.
I haven’t forgotten that older Britain. But I also can’t ignore what it has become. Like that famous scene in the Matrix, I have been presented with the choice of the red pill (painful reality) and the blue pill (blissful ignorance). I’ve taken the red pill. I’ve woken up. I can’t keep my head in the sand any longer. It’s time for other British Jews to wake up too before it becomes impossible to call oneself a friend of Israel in public.
After BDS succeeds and the demonisation is complete, they will come for all Jews – history confirms we shouldn’t be in any doubt whatsoever.
“It is important to report antisemitic incidents to the Community Security Trust who are the official monitoring body. To report an incident to CST call 020-8457 9999 or report it online here http://www.thecst.org.uk/index.cfm?Content=31
You can also volunteer to help. See their website for the phone number: http://www.thecst.org.uk”