Protests in Kiev: for Putin, being afraid of Russia makes Ukrainians into Nazis. For the Radical Left, being afraid of Hamas does the same for Israel and Jews. (Photo: Stephen Games)
Something is bothering me. When Russia invaded Georgia in 2014, one of its pretexts was the supposed need to save ethnic Russians from Ukrainian Nazis. Putin is obsessed with the idea that Ukrainian nationalism — i.e., resistance to Russia — is tantamount to Nazism and that Ukraine’s Nazism justifies its being absorbed back into his unlovely empire.
It is an obsession that strikes most of us as ridiculous but, as with many of Putin’s lunacies, there is historical backing for it. A lot of Ukrainians welcomed the arrival of German troops in 1940, blissfully unaware that Germany intended to treat their part of the world as a dustbin for what Hitler considered the trash of Europe.
They welcomed the Germans because of how they had been treated by Stalin who, between 1934-36, stole Ukraine’s grain to feed Russians, thereby starving the Ukrainians and causing the deaths of over a million people. Germany may have been a horror but, caught between the two forces, Germany had the virtue of not being Russia.
Here’s the parallel. For many years, Western Jews have regarded themselves as moderates, and have sat very comfortably on the liberal left – as I do. But as they see how the politics of moderation is shaping up, how it identifies with and encourages the ideology of division and name-calling and intolerance (to put it mildly), a lot of my co-religionists are gravitating to the right. I don’t like it but I can see why.
For the older ones at least, they never wanted to be there and may be appalled by the company they have to keep but they don’t (for the moment) feel threatened and falsely accused, as they do by the Left, and they take comfort – improper comfort, I would say – from the Right’s greater dislike of Islamic extremism, something that seems to cause the Left no real worries at all.
In short, on the basis of my enemy’s enemy being my friend, I’m not surprised that the once majoritarian leftish Jewish community has swung rightwards. The question I have to ask myself is: if I am similarly threatened, is it in my best interests to go with the flow, as others are doing, or can I somehow hold out?
In the 1990s, I spent a few years in Los Angeles and felt both comfortable and uncomfortable living in a beautiful, warm, accommodating, hospitable Jewish community made up of people who had retreated from their vaguely Sixties counter-cultural secular roots and adopted a more assertive, more insular Neo-Con position.
I had every opportunity to stay and make a new life for myself there. Instead, I came back to London. I can’t decide now where feels like home. This morning, for example, I woke up to read a very upsetting post by an American-Jewish journalist now living in the UK about how he felt it was the fate of Jews to be hated. I wrote back, telling him that I thought he was overstating the case.
But then I listened to BBC Radio’s news magazine program and found myself firing off three emails of complaint – which is odd because I usually defend the BBC against what I think are hysterical and imaginary complaints. Here’s what concerned me.
Respected reporter Lyse Doucet CM OBE, a darling of the Left, co-hosted the program live from Ashkelon and played out a five-minute report she had made. In it, she met a woman as they took cover in a bomb shelter on Saturday morning.
“Hello,” she said to the woman. “Do you live in Ashkelon?”
“Yes. Where are you from?”
“We’re journalists,” Doucet answered. “From, from, I’m from Canada.”
The truthful answer was, of course, that she was from the BBC. Instead, we heard her hesitating and not revealing her affiliation. That sounded tricksy.
She then met a man who showed her the damage done to his flat by a Hamas rocket, as well as demonstrating how the flat was partly protected by a steel wall. Doucet put on a rather unconvincing show of sympathy, the meaning of which – I inferred – was that this was bad but nothing to what the IDF is now doing in Gaza. (Why was he making such a fuss: he was alive, wasn’t he?)
She then told him, a little sanctimoniously, it seemed (as if he needed to have it explained to him), that the UN and Israel’s Western friends have been reminding Israel that there are rules of war and that it shouldn’t target civilians. She asked him what he thought of that.
He replied that the international community should firstly blame Hamas for its massacre and he went on to say that “we” will fight the terrorism of Hamas and Hizbollah. To this, she commented ““So, no mercy, no pity for what’s happening on the other side?”
It was an inexcusably biased reply, because it took for granted that in wanting to eliminate terrorism, the man was also merciless—a claim for which she had no evidence, and which they had not been discussing, but which is a standard anti-Jewish accusation. It sounded to me as if she had led him into a trap.
If Doucet had been hired as a commentator, she’d have had the freedom to express this opinion, hateful though it be, but she was actually co-hosting the program and therefore representing the BBC (in spite of having denied doing so at the start).
I have asked the BBC to reply to this. I know what I will get back, if anything. I will be told that they are sorry if I found anything offensive, as if the fault was mine for being over-sensitive, and that they always do their best to maintain editorial balance under difficult circumstances.
I hate lining up among the ranks of those who cry wolf all the time, which is what I feel is the standard Jewish kneejerk, but there do seem to be a lot of wolves around, and a lot of harbouring of unacknowledged biases.
And that’s apart from those who are entirely unapologetic about their foulness, examples of which abound on the internet, not just from those who are incandescent Islamicists but those who seem like everyday normal British people, who had no difficulty protesting on Saturday among those crying for “Jewish blood” at pro-Gazan rallies – among them, the ex- and now disgraced Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
These people are not my people but nor are those who tell me they are Israel’s friends and who currently seem to offer more accommodating company. I do not want to find myself forced by circumstance, like the Ukrainians in 1940, to face rightwards but the icy blast from the cuddly Left is chilling and since it cannot be resisted, given its apparent trajectory, I don’t know if I have the strength to hold out as a non-aligned outlier. Having no friends is also not a nice place to be.
Nor can I imagine anything coming of what seems an obvious solution. Protesters at Saturday’s rallies came together under the banner of “Freedom for Palestine”. I can’t think of anything I agree with more, in terms of Israel’s security. Palestine does need to be freed – from its own treacherous leaders – and Jews worldwide should be able to make common cause in finding ways of leading the Palestinians to a happier future, freed from the burden of their own betrayal by Islamic radicalism, internal corruption, blinkered small-mindedness and the encouragement of political theorists who have made their homes in our universities.
None of these goals, however, seems to be shared by the protesters and I am confident that no Jewish offer to play our part in bringing about Palestinian freedom would be welcome – because only one kind of freedom is truly sought: our eradication. That, at least, is how they make me feel today. No wonder I want to protect myself.