In recent weeks, I let it slip. I’d kept it hidden for a long time, and my regular synagogue attendance, learning Torah, standing in defence of Israel and visible Jewishness kept everyone off the scent. I was the last person you’d expect, but now that I’m out, I need to explain why I am the quintessential British anti-Semite.
You see in Britain it’s quite easy to be anti-Semitic. You don’t need to hate Jews, Judaism or Israel. I’m really quite keen on all three. Anti-Semitism in Britain is different to other countries. In America, anti-Semitism may manifest in believing in a Jewish conspiracy to run the country. In France, it can be expressed through the “quenelle” salute. In Ukraine the drawing of swastikas on synagogues is the preferred form of anti-Semitism. A certain group amongst Britain’s anti-Semites are distinguished not by any of these characteristics: All they are guilty of is Zionism.
Perhaps I should take a moment to explain: The country in which I live is one of which Jews are especially fond. We have a comparatively long and peaceful history here — the massacre of York is thought of as some kind of antediluvian fable and even the rise of Mosley’s blackshirts is tempered by the fact that they were beaten back in the East End at the battle of Cable Street. Britain, it is thought, is Jew-friendly.
I grew up in this complacent environment, in which it was proudly declared “I am a British Jew.” The complacency, however, was superficial. The endless discussion was whether one was a “Jewish Briton” or a “British Jew” as if the appropriate selection of noun and adjective was the only obstacle to true emancipation.
This obsession reveals the darkest secret of Anglo-Jewry: a seething mass of identity in turmoil churns under the veneer of respectable integration. National identities collide in an unending battle centuries old. Through the 19th century, Ashkenazi Jews were shedding their Jewish nationality (though some opted to keep their religion) and integrating into their native lands. Austrians, Germans and French “of the Jewish persuasion” abounded. The fate of these is well-known, but the British, the untouched spectators of their brothers’ failure, are the last inheritors of the dream of emancipated Jewry.
Of course, trouble reached this assimilationist paradise early on. As Zionism swept across Eastern Europe’s Jews, and as those Jews found their way into Britain, the establishment of venerable (read wealthy) Jews who found these foreign Jews polluting their doorsteps. No one fought harder against the Balfour Declaration than these quite English Jews who had no need of a further national identity. This inconvenient Zionism was opposed, or at least ignored.
Nowadays, the existence of a Jewish nation cannot be ignored — a state has been founded and the call to return heard in the four corners of the Earth. Quite predictably, this call has been largely ignored. Youthful ideologues remain, ceaselessly preaching the imperative of Aliyah but sager heads preferred to simply not address the issue — a passive support for Israel and a holiday home in Ra’anana was all that was required to fulfill one’s Jewish national obligations.
Would that it were so easy: Iudaeus Britanniae has had its sleep disturbed by many a public figure pointing out that the term “British Jew” may in fact point to two separate parts of an identity. Recently, the Ambassador to Israel from the UK recounted the horror he felt when accused by an MP of having “divided loyalties”. Of course a barrage of claims went forth suggesting that this MP was none other than that most malicious of monsters, the anti-Semite.
It is not clear whether the MP was as hateful as his comments were taken to be or whether he let them slip in an unguarded moment of candidness. His statement itself was composed of the most logical of deductions: the term British Jew (or indeed Jewish Briton) is composed of two parts, each of which has a claim on its bearers’ identity. Thus, the British anti-Semite need not hate Jews, only understand them, and have a grasp of rather basic arithmetic.
Fear not, Jews of Britain, I, self-professed anti-Semite in your ranks have come before you with a solution to this intractable dilemma. Follow my example and rationalise your identity. Neither Britishness, nor Jewishness is much complimented by the other. I myself, shall be almost entirely Jewish from now on.
By the end of this process, should I succeed, the only thing British about me, will be my anti-Semitism.