Thursday 11 March 2004

A grotesque choice

A superb, well-balanced article...

Israel's repression of the Palestinian people is fuelling a resurgence of anti-semitism

by Max Hastings

It is impossible to doubt that genuine anti-semitism - racial antipathy towards Jews - is resurgent in Europe and even, in some circles, becoming respectable. A few years ago, my wife and I found ourselves at a dinner party that included several Austrian guests. Mischievously, I asked a female member of the Vienna government sitting opposite me how her country was coping with the Nazi embarrassments of its president, Kurt Waldheim.

She stiffened. "President Waldheim is a fine and good man, who has been grossly traduced by a conspiracy of Jews," she said severely. Her husband interjected: "My father always told me that most of the things the Jews say about the war are lies." Our English host added supportively: "Jews cause most of the trouble in the world, what?"

At this point, the Hastingses departed without explanation. In the car, still shaking with rage, my wife said: "They weren't just pretending to be anti-semitic, were they? They were the real thing." It is rare to encounter such unashamed malevolence at a modern English dinner table, and thus all the more shocking when it happens.

Before the second world war, such sentiments were commonplace, not least in the "Clubland Hero" thrillers of Buchan, Sapper and Dornford Yates. "Bolshevik Jews" were responsible for many of the villainous conspiracies frustrated by Richard Hannay, Bulldog Drummond and Jonah Mansell, before they gave the culprits a good flogging.

It has often been observed that Hitler did the British ruling classes a favour by making anti-semitism no longer respectable. Yet as late as September 1944, a Foreign Office official named Arminius Dew minuted: "In my opinion, a disproportionate amount of the time of the Office is wasted on dealing with these wailing Jews." Only in April 1945, when the concentration camps were revealed to the world, did the historic sea change in sentiment take place.

I would suggest that the first stirrings of renewed animosity towards Jews in Europe emerged in the 70s. When I made this point to an Israeli acquaintance, he observed sourly: "Yeah, when the world stopped seeing us losers on trains to the death camps." For it is, of course, the issue of Israel that has provoked some change of sentiment.

Many of the remarks that Jewish critics denounce as anti-semitic are, in reality, criticisms of Israel or its government. Five years ago, when I was editing the Evening Standard, the Board of Deputies of British Jews asked to send a delegation to my office to protest at our coverage of the Middle East. I refused, saying that I would meet at any time to discuss matters pertaining to British Jews, but that Israeli affairs were the province of the Israeli ambassador.

Full story...