Time to leave? The question the Jews of Britain and Europe must ponder
These are alarming times for Jews in Britain and Europe.
The British Labour Party is convulsed over the realization that it is riddled with antisemitism. Jeremy Corbyn, its leader and a friend to Hamas, has been exposed as belonging to Facebook groups hosting claims that the Jews were behind ISIS and 9/11, that the Rothschilds controlled the world’s finances and other such paranoid theories. The backwash from the exposure of these groups revealed a tsunami of anti-Jewish insults, smears and libels by Labour supporters. Corbyn’s responses, often truculent and insulting to the Jewish community, have only deepened the crisis.
Last year, according to the Community Security Trust, saw the highest number of antisemitic incidents in Britain since the CST started recording such data in 1984. In the past, surges in these incidents had occurred in response to the reporting of Israeli military action. That’s disturbing enough. But what was more disturbing here was that this record surge had occurred in the absence of any such Israeli activity.
Worse is happening in mainland Europe. In Paris, an 85-year-old survivor of the Shoah, Mireille Knoll, was stabbed to death and her body burned by a young Muslim. Last year, a man shouting “Allahu akbar” beat up Jewish schoolteacher Sarah Halimi and threw her to her death out of her Paris apartment window. In January, a teenage girl in the Paris suburb of Sarcelles wearing the uniform of her Jewish school was slashed in the face with a knife. Later that month, an eight-year-old boy was beaten in the same area because he was wearing a kippah. In February, two Jewish men in Paris were attacked with a hacksaw amid a volley of Jew-hating abuse.
In Amsterdam, a kosher restaurant long targeted for attack had its windows smashed in March by a man holding a Palestinian flag and shouting “Allahu akbar.” Holland’s chief rabbi says that, on the street, curses or taunts of “dirty Jew” are now quite normal. At the beginning of Chanukah last year, two Syrians and a Palestinian firebombed a synagogue in Gothenburg, Sweden. A few days later, a Jewish cemetery in Malmö was attacked. In Germany, the Israeli flag has been burned and Jewish pupils bullied by Arab schoolmates. And so on and on.
In May 2017, the Pew Institute conducted a survey of 2,000 residents in each country in Eastern and Central Europe. Twenty percent of respondents said that they didn’t want Jews in their country, and 30 percent didn’t want them as neighbors. In Romania, 22 percent wanted to revoke rights of citizenship for Jews, and 18 percent of Poles said the same. Across Europe, nationalist parties, some with disturbing antisemitic echoes and histories, are rising.
And, so, many Jews are asking: Isn’t this 1933 all over again? Or the Weimar Republic, which enabled the rise to power of German Nazism? Isn’t history just repeating itself?
Well, yes, and no. Yes, we can all hear the unmistakable echoes. In particular, we can recognize the refusal once again to acknowledge the true nature and extent of a gathering threat, not least among Jews themselves.
But there are certain key differences. Nazi Germany involved a state policy of genocide. Today, European governments may be ineffectual in resisting Islamist extremism or defending their Jewish populations against the broader Jew-hatred coursing through their societies—but this time most of the people of Britain and Europe are passionately opposed to what they also see as a threat to their own way of life from Islamization and the erosion of national boundaries. They are passionately committed to upholding Western values, human rights and one law for all.
There are three different sources of antisemitism in Britain and Europe: on the left, on the right, and in the Muslim community. All these threats to the Jews are connected to one another. All are rooted in threats to Britain and Europe. All are creating a perfect anti-Jewish storm.
THE THREAT FROM THE ISLAMIC WORLD
The threats to Britain and Europe are coming both from within and without. From without, they are coming from Islamism and Islamization. From within, they are coming from an anti-Western view of the world that also refuses to correctly identify the Islamist threat from without and combat it.
The nature of the Islamist threat takes several forms. There are the constant eruptions of terrorist violence. The vast majority of terror attacks in Britain and Europe is the work of Islamic extremists. Intelligence officials say that 23,000 jihadists who pose some degree of terrorism risk are living in Britain, with 3,000—only!—under investigation or active monitoring.
There’s sexual violence. Britain has lived through grooming and pimping gangs, overwhelmingly composed of men of Pakistani Muslim heritage targeting young white girls as “trash.” Germany and Sweden have seen a huge rise in rape and sexual violence associated with Muslim migrants.
Then there’s the cultural attack, as in the “Trojan Horse” infiltration of schools in Birmingham by Muslim extremists aimed to force them to confirm to Islamic precepts. Similar infiltration of Labour Party constituencies, as attested by one or two brave Labour MPs, aims to force the party to conform to Muslim demands.
Despite all this, the officials governing Britain and Europe refuse to acknowledge that the Islamist threat is based on religious fanaticism—on an interpretation of Islam that although not supported by many Muslims is nevertheless dominant within the Islamic world. Instead, identifying these threats as rooted in Islam is damned as Islamophobic.
Since any criticism of Islam is deemed Islamophobic, there’s a refusal to acknowledge the enormous problem of Muslim antisemitism. Yet this is one of the principal drivers of the Islamist threat to the West. Islamist ideologues and jihadists believe that modernity is a threat to Islam that must be eradicated and that the Jews are the demonic creators of modernity.
Paranoid conspiracy theories and other deranged falsehoods about Jews pour out of the Islamic world in an unstoppable torrent. Opinion polls consistently show that hatred of Jews is far more prevalent among Muslims than in the wider community. The Muslim British journalist Mehdi Hasan wrote in 2013: “Antisemitism isn’t just tolerated in some sections of the British Muslim community; it’s routine and commonplace…. It’s our dirty little secret.”
CST figures suggest that a disproportionate number of Muslims are involved in anti-Jewish attacks. Out of 420 antisemitic offenders in 2017 of whom an ethnic description was obtained, 238 were described as white Europeans, 77 as black, 75 as Asian, and 30 as Arab or north African. Muslims are officially estimated to constitute just over 4 percent of Britain’s population. Although it’s not possible to be exact, the proportion of Muslim offenders in the CST figures would seem to be several times more than 4 percent.
It’s apparently Islamophobic to draw attention to these things.
We have to be very careful not to promote true prejudice against Muslims, just as we would be regarding any other group. Many Muslims are opposed to Islamist extremism, and Muslims are most of its victims.
But there is enormous pressure not to acknowledge the threats to life and liberty that are widespread within the Muslim world, including antisemitism. Anyone who calls out these threats is denounced as a bigot. But those who issue such denunciations themselves help perpetuate Muslim Jew-hatred.
The reason no one is allowed to talk about Muslim antisemitism is the cultural prism through which left-wing progressive circles view the world. And this represents the threat from within.
This left-wing prism is responsible for eroding Western values, undermining the defense of Britain and Europe against jihad, and exposing Jews to attack. These are all connected. You cannot understand the resurgence of paranoid, unhinged antisemitism unless you understand that the West has been tearing up the very idea of reason itself along with the moral codes at the heart of Western civilization.
Leftists view the West as the historic and current oppressor of the entire developing world. This Western cultural self-hatred has a complex history, at the root of which lies the erosion of biblical morality by the tides of secularism. But in my view, the key political driver of this cultural demoralization was the Holocaust.
It simply smashed to smithereens Europe’s belief in itself as the exemplar of superior cultural values. The Holocaust was conceived and directed, after all, in the heartlands of high European culture, the supposed crucible of enlightenment and rationality. It wasn’t just the Jews who died in the extermination camps: It was also the West’s (or Europe’s) concept of itself as moral and rational.
Lethally demoralized, Western cultural elites took an axe to the building blocks of their civilization: an axe to education as the transmission of that civilization, an axe to the traditional family as the best way to generate emotionally resilient inheritors of that civilization, and an axe to national identity as the political expression of that civilization.
Policies and laws passed by national governments now had to take second place to transnational institutions, such as the UN and EU, and legal frameworks, such as international human-rights law. With no Western nation or values thought worthy of defending to the death, wars to establish justice and freedom were deemed inferior to conflict resolution, negotiation and peace processes. Between God and the devil, Western liberals would split the difference and broker a triumphant compromise.
National identity was replaced by factional interest groups. Morality was replaced by a view of the world based on competing power blocs. Biblical morality was replaced by man-made, universalizing ideologies such as moral and cultural relativism or multiculturalism.
Every one of these ideologies was anti-Judaism or anti-Israel. Jews, after all, are always in the way of any universalizing ideology. We are the people of one book alone and of one land alone. We are ha’ivrim, the people from the other side—the people who have always dwelled alone. This is something many diaspora Jews try to deny. It is something our postmodern culture will not accept. And it is something that has helped fuel the madness over Israel.
It’s a commonplace that the hatred of Israel on the left was caused by the Israeli David supposedly turning into Goliath. That, though, doesn’t begin to explain it.
Anti-Israelism has exactly the same characteristics that make traditional antisemitism a unique derangement. Both are based entirely on falsehoods and malicious distortions; both single out Israel and the Jews for double standards and treatment afforded to no other nation, people or cause; both accuse Israel or the Jews of crimes of which they are not only innocent but are in fact the victims; both dehumanize Israel or the Jewish people; both impute to Israel or the Jewish people demonic global conspiratorial power; both are utterly beyond reason.
Yet on the left, this connection is vehemently denied. The treatment of Israel is described as mere “criticism” of its behavior. But it isn’t criticism at all. Criticism is rational. This is irrational and malicious demonization and delegitimization of Israel and of Zionism. Zionism is merely the right of the Jewish people to self-determination. This anti-Zionism singles out the Jews alone for the destruction of their nationhood.
The distinction between anti-Zionism and antisemitism is fake. As Ruth Wisse has observed: “Antisemitism and anti-Zionism combined into the modern phenomena of ‘antisemitism / Zionism’can best be described as the organization of politics against the Jews.”
WHY LEFT-WING ANTISEMITISM?
This is the new antisemitism. Trying to understand it, however, is like peeling a rotten onion: Beneath every rancid layer lies a yet more rancid layer.
The outer, most visible layer is fairly obvious. The left in general now subscribes to beliefs once considered extreme. It has absorbed the Marxist concept that everything has to be understood in terms of political power. The world is divided into the powerful and the powerless. Those with power can never be good; those without power can never be bad. Those who make money have power over those who don’t make money. Those who make money are bad; those without money are good. Jews make money. Therefore Jews are powerful and bad.
The 19th-century German antisemite Wilhelm Marr, who is credited with inventing the term, ascribed to the Jews the attribute of global power. Israel — which isn’t really Western at all — is seen as menacingly powerful. That is its crime, and that is also why anti-Israelism is umbilically connected to antisemitism. Even though Jews are now equipped with military power solely to defend themselves against annihilation, this breathes life into the paranoid delusion that the Jews are so powerful that they pose a threat to everyone else.
The next layer of the onion is even more rank. This is that — as the black joke that isn’t a joke at all would have it — the West will never forgive the Jews for the Holocaust. This isn’t just because of the terrible legacy of guilt carried by the West. It is because of jealousy.
What on earth about the Holocaust can provoke such jealousy? It gives the Jews what many in the West perceive as the trump card of victimhood.
I have often heard the Jews accused of sucking up all the victimhood in the world and leaving no room for anyone else to be a victim. What does this nonsensical claim mean? It can only mean that the enormity of the crime against the Jews was so vast that people think any victim status claimed by anyone else is rendered minor by comparison and thus devalued.
But why do these people want to be considered victims in the first place?
It’s because victimization gives them a moral free pass. The belief is that if you are a victim, you can’t be held responsible for your own misdeeds. You can never be a victimizer; you can never be a racist; you can never be a genocidal psychopath.
And so no one in the developing world can ever be a victimizer, a racist, or a genocidal psychopath. They can only ever be the victims of such people. The Palestinian Arabs can only ever be their victims. And as such, the Palestinian Arabs and the rest of the developing world obtain a get-out-of-jail-free card for everything—including genocidal mass murder.
So now every group that doesn’t conform to the left-wing definition of power—deemed to be pale, male, heterosexual, Western—claims victim status and that get-out-of-jail-free card. That’s our victim culture. It now drives all before it. But Jews can’t be victims because, as everyone knows, they emerged from the Holocaust to run the financial world, the media, the law, the arts, American foreign policy. So the Jews are all-powerful, aren’t they?
Yet Jews are in fact the most persecuted people on earth, who even now have to sacrifice their children in Israel to defend themselves year in, year out against genocidal fanatics bent on their extermination. So how can this not be recognized?
And here’s where we peel down to the most sickening layer of the onion. For the real reason for the burning resentment against the Jews over their status as supreme victims is that it’s thought the Holocaust enabled them to get away with it.
Get away with what, exactly? Why, all the stuff that antisemites think about the Jews, that they are rapacious and disloyal and grasping and are out to control the world. In other words, such people think these antisemitic libels are actually true; but the Jews’ status as ultimate victims has silenced people who can no longer utter them. And that’s resented as unfair.
It is this reaction by antisemites to the Holocaust, no less, that has helped create our invidious victim culture. People thought that if the Jews had got a free pass for their misdeeds, then so too could any group that claimed to be victims. The difference, though, is that, while victim groups thus claim impunity for acts of irresponsibility, abuses of power or other bad behavior, the Jews are by contrast wholly innocent of the crimes that antisemites so falsely lay at their door.
Thus, victim culture is innately anti-Jew. But victim culture lies at the very heart of progressive left-wing thinking.
Moreover, support for Palestinianism is also innately anti-Jew. So-called Palestinian identity is a fiction invented to exterminate the uniquely historically and legally valid Jewish claim to the land of Israel. Mahmoud Abbas, viewed by the Western left as a moderate entitled to a state, has a doctorate in Holocaust denial, explicitly venerates the wartime Palestinian Nazi-ally Haj Amin al-Husseini, and uses his media outlets to transmit Nazi-style demonization of the Jews.
In the week of Holocaust Memorial Day, PA TV misrepresented a photograph of concentration-camp victims as Arabs and wrote that Jews burned Arabs in Nazi ovens. Every single person who supports the Palestinian cause connives at promoting this murderous anti-Jewish filth.
So why should Labour Party members who support the Palestinian agenda of Holocaust denial, attacks on Judaism, and unhinged conspiracy theories about Jewish power now be so shocked that other Labour Party members are coming out themselves with Holocaust denial, attacks on Judaism and unhinged conspiracy theories about Jewish power?
THE LEFT CAN’T ADMIT ITS ANTISEMITISM
The fact is that the new antisemitism is a seamless robe of Israel-hatred and Jew-hatred. People deny this because they think of antisemitism as only against Jews as people. They can’t recognize it when it’s against the collective Jew in the State of Israel.
Those on the left also believe that they embody virtue so they can’t possibly be antisemitic. Only the right can be anti-Jew. This is historically and philosophically illiterate. Both left and right have the same parent in the counter-Enlightenment and German romanticism. This spawned in due course both Communism and Fascism. Karl Marx wrote: “What is the worldly religion of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly God? Money.”
Left-wingers, however, are constitutionally unable to accept that they can be racist or antisemitic because such an admission would undermine their self-image of unimpeachable moral purity and go right to the root of their entire political and moral personality. So they shelter behind the fiction that hating Israel is decent and moral while hating Jews is beyond the pale. We can hear this self-serving solecism from some who claim to have seen the light about Labour Party antisemitism, and who say they now realize they were wrong to blame all Jews for the crimes of Israel.
Anti-Israelism is inescapably anti-Jew. Yet anti-Israelism is the default position in progressive circles. So even if Jeremy Corbyn were deposed tomorrow, antisemitism on the British left would not disappear. The symbiosis between hatred of Israel and hatred of Jews is now part of the DNA of the progressive world.
ISLAMIZATION AND NATIONALISM
Because those progressives believe that antisemitism is to be found only on the nationalist right, the very same left-wingers who obsessively anathematize Israel, support its Arab would-be destroyers and are struck dumb about Muslim antisemitism in Europe strike a pose of pious concern about antisemitism among European nationalists. Yet although some of those nationalists do have troubling antisemitic or fascist overtones, Jews have much more to fear from those they are trying to stop.
A German government study published in January found that male migrants may be responsible for more than 90 percent of a recent increase in violent crime. In Sweden, a leaked report last year revealed that there were now 61 Islamic “no-go zones” where Islamist extremists have taken over. Sweden’s National Police Commissioner, Dan Eliasson, pleaded, “Help us, help us!”— warning that the police could no longer uphold the law.
Across Europe, the entire political establishment has for years connived at or turned a blind eye to the mass immigration of mainly Muslim migrants and the steady march of Islamization — the evidence for which is demonstrated not least by the attempt to criminalize as “Islamophobic” any criticism of the migrants or concern about the resulting erosion of Western culture.
As a result of this political and cultural disenfranchisement, the people of Europe are now turning to parties outside the political establishment that promise an end to uncontrolled mass immigration. For this, such voters are dismissed as bigots and xenophobes. The aggressive or antisemitic behavior by many migrants is ignored or denied.
Instead, those who want to stop this influx are themselves demonized as racists and antisemites. The president of the European Jewish Congress, Moshe Kantor, says: “Right-wing populist parties are resorting to both antisemitic and anti-immigrant discourse to gather political support.”
Now, there’s no doubt that there is an enduring strand of virulent, indigenous antisemitism in Eastern Europe. Research suggests that almost one in five Hungarians openly demands the emigration of the Jews. In Poland, the government is intent upon denying its antisemitic past. A new law criminalizes anyone who accuses Poland of having been complicit in the Holocaust. (As it happens, I have written a novel, The Legacy, which has just been published and which deals with this very issue — and which even features a walk-on role for the Simon Wiesenthal Foundation.)
Those who deny their antisemitism are doomed to repeat it. So it is in Poland. Antisemitic outbursts in the Polish media and among politicians have significantly increased since the law’s passage last February, with wild claims of Jewish conspiracies and comparisons of Jews to animals.
So traditional, old-style Jew-hatred is unfortunately still very prevalent in countries with a terrible history of persecuting the Jews. Some of the new ultra-nationalist parties coming to the fore in Europe, such as the Austrian Freedom Party, Golden Dawn in Greece or Jobbik in Hungary, are openly antisemitic or have Nazi pasts. Others, though, merely want to restore and defend national identity, democratic national sovereignty and Western cultural norms and practices against creeping Islamization. Yet all parties committed to the defense of Western cultural norms and national identity in Europe are being equally damned as racist, antisemitic and Islamophobic.
In Britain, the government’s failure to identify correctly and tackle Islamist extremism is turning the Jewish community into collateral damage. The refusal to acknowledge that the problem of Islamist extremism is particular to Muslim culture — although many Muslims are opposed to such extremism — has meant that the government strategy for dealing with it involves imposing equal restrictions on all religious practices it believes lie outside the liberal consensus, such as the refusal to teach sexuality in ultra-orthodox Jewish schools.Throughout Europe there are growing pressures to ban circumcision and ritual slaughter. This liberal secular intolerance poses a real threat to religious Jewish life.
British Jews themselves, however, are also reluctant to call out Muslim extremism. Recently the chief rabbi, Efraim Mirvis, broke cover to complain that Muslim leaders were silent in the fight against rising antisemitism. “The threat to Judaism and Jews from the world of Islam is one which can only be cured from within the world of Islam,” he said. Quite right. But Jewish leaders themselves urged the British government under Prime Minister David Cameron (to his astonishment and irritation) to admit many more Muslim migrants; and they appear more anxious to make common cause against Islamophobia and xenophobia than to bring the full extent and nature of Muslim antisemitism into the open.
More dangerous still, Jews on the left who promote multiculturalism and campaign loudly against Islamophobia are themselves helping to stoke antisemitism. People who are angry and resentful at the way mass immigration is destroying their national identity bitterly resent being told by Diaspora Jews who have their own potential refuge in Israel that it’s racist to oppose multiculturalism. Not only is it dangerous for Jews to oppose Europeans’ pursuit of their own national identity. It’s morally wrong. We Jews have ours. Why can’t they have theirs?
In Britain, most Jews voted against Brexit. They are frightened by assertions of national identity. They think it leads to nationalism, and that means antisemitism. They think Europe protects against antisemitism and that Brexit is motivated by nationalism. Haven’t they noticed that the rise of the ethno-nationalist groups in Europe that frighten them so much has taken place under rule by, and precisely because of, the EU?
Jews are protected only when a culture feels confident and strong. Which is why, in fact, Brexit offers a sliver of hope.The revival of British national identity may, over time, see off group rights and identity politics. Greater cultural and national confidence should mean more tolerance of Jews, not less.
THE LOST SOUL OF EUROPE
Why is antisemitism on the rise in the West? Broadly because the West is in trouble. And a society in trouble always turns on the Jews. So much general hatred and irrationality now course through the West. Antisemitism, though, is not just a prejudice or a species of bigotry or hatred. It’s much more than that. It represents a kind of moral and spiritual death.
Europe lost its soul in the Shoah: the soul that was created by Jewish Biblical precepts. Turning against itself, Europe has turned on the Jews.
Without its Christian base, the West is nothing. But Christianity in Britain and Europe lost its way a long time ago. Losing their faith, many Christian churches turned instead to social and political activism, liberation theology, and the radical Marxist analysis of the World Council of Churches. Those progressive churches have denied their Jewish parent. Embracing instead their Islamist assassin in the misguided hope of saving their flock, they are in the forefront of the charge against Israel. In the process, they are destroying themselves. But a society without a religious core rests on sand.
Many Jews, especially those on the left, see no problem with mass Muslim immigration except for Islamophobia. Such Jews are either indifferent to Israel or they believe many of the lies told about it. Indeed, tragically, many of the leaders of the new antisemitism are themselves Jews.
For all these members of the tribe, the idea that it may be time for the Jews to leave Britain is no more than paranoid hysteria. For other British Jews, though, the current situation is deeply, profoundly upsetting and lowering. The antisemitism is bad enough. But it’s not just the antisemitism that’s so devastating. It’s the reaction to those who call it out for what it is.
The same people who claim to see antisemitism in European populism or the political base of Donald Trump regularly accuse Jews of claiming antisemitism just to “sanitize the crimes of Israel” or “bring down Jeremy Corbyn.”
This reaction is worse, far worse, than the antisemitism itself. It’s worse even than indifference. For it imputes to the Jews malicious intent in claiming that Jewish people are being maliciously targeted. It says they are lying. It blames the Jews for their own victimization.
This reaction is the inescapable evidence that the Jews are being abandoned. Those of us who have loved Britain for its gentleness, its tolerance, its decency, its stoicism, its reasonableness and the dampness of both its weather and national temperament feel as if we have been orphaned. But maybe we were living all along in a fool’s paradise.
Some people think Europe is over, that the demographics are against it and that it will become a majority-Muslim culture in a few decades. My guess is that Europe won’t go down without a fight. If that happens, the Jews are likely to get it in the neck from all sides. Whichever way it goes, it’s not a pleasant prospect.
So is it time to leave? It’s very personal, and I wouldn’t presume to advise anyone what to do. I can only speak for myself and say that for some years now, I’ve been spending a great deal of my time in Israel. Because even with 150,000 Hezbollah rockets pointing at us from Lebanon, even with Hamas trying every day to murder us and even with Iran working toward its genocide bomb to wipe us out, Israel is where I feel so much safer and the air is so much sweeter, and it’s where Jews are not on their knees and where no one will ever make me feel I am not entitled to live and don’t properly belong.
Israel is where we have astonishingly renewed ourselves as a nation out of the ashes of the Shoah. Israel is where all those who want us gone meet their nemesis in the political realization of the eternal people. Israel is the ultimate, and ultimately the only, definitive and triumphant repudiation of antisemitism and the true vindication of the millions of us who perished in the unspeakable events that we memorialize on Holocaust Memorial Day.
*This article is based on the Simon Wiesenthal memorial lecture which I delivered in London on Holocaust Memorial Day.