Gathering Storm


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The Gathering Storm – detail (Georges Michel ca 1830s)

It must be the magic mushrooms. There’s been an otherworldly, surreal feel to the news in recent times, a watercolour wash gently dissolving in the rain which is a slightly poetic beginning to a singularly unpoetic phenomenon. The Jews here in France have been looking over their shoulders for almost a decade. Now, British Jewry is twitching, angry and, as a friend wrote to me, “snippy”, which understates a little bit, but, you get the idea.

The antisemitism saga seems unending. Every day, the skies get a little darker and the hallucinations of a gathering storm seem more gravelly and frightening. No, don’t accuse me of Project Fear until you have tried walking through certain districts wearing a yarmulke. One can almost hear glass shattering in darkened streets.

A man called Damien Enticott, a Labour councillor in Bognor Regis, of all places, has been suspended by his local party because on his Facebook page he invoked the ancient libel that Jews drink blood as part of their rituals. He went on to refer to “Talmud” Jews, as ‘parasites’, whom he has said ‘need executing’, alleging that they believe it to be quite OK to rape small girls. He further suggested – entirely correctly, as it happens – that Hitler would have found a solution to the Israel problem. With either careless inattention to detail or beautiful irony, in his defence he wrote “I am anti-Zionist, not anti semantic (sic).” He will refuse to attend ‘courses’ if asked to do so, suggesting a strong disinclination to modify his views.

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Bragg and Corbyn

This is an extreme example amongst a welter of others. The singer/songwriter and left-wing activist Billy Bragg’s star is in the ascendant in recent times – his support for Jeremy Corbyn has hoovered up an army of new enthusiasts for the post-punk protest songs for which he has become known. The other day, he had the temerity to tell the Jews that they are “pouring petrol on the fire” and that they must “work” to “rebuild trust” with an extremist hard-left party stoking violent prejudice against them and who represent an existential threat should they ever gain power. Jeremy Corbyn cannot really escape either since his ideological hero is Karl Marx. Many have argued about Marx’s alleged antisemitism – this will do as a start: Marx’s position is essentially an assimilationist one in which there is no room within emancipated humanity for Jews as a separate ethnic or cultural identity. According to the Jewish writer Dennis Fischman: “Jews, Marx seems to be saying, can only become free when, as Jews, they no longer exist.” This is at the heart of the Corbyn ambiguity and why his protestations of antisemitic innocence largely fall on deaf ears. Furthermore, calling Israel racist because it exists primarily for Jews is like calling a home for battered women sexist because it was set up for women.

Some people have tried to argue that Mossad is behind all the recent antisemitic allegations in order to destabilise the Corbynistas and their handmaidens in Momentum, in which case, they haven’t been doing a very good job. The great man himself has appeared in times past on Iranian television attempting to blame Israel for fomenting unrest in the Sinai. There isn’t much he can now do to repair the damage to either himself or the Labour Party since more and more of their collectively murky past is being dredged up. And the smell isn’t pleasant. And, it gets worse. Antisemitism has once again become a dark, poisonous stain which has spread far beyond the Corbynistas, indeed beyond the Labour party who are, it has to be said, the useful idiots here. I suggest that broad-brush pathological anti-Israelism is the leitmotif or the recurring theme of progressive politics, the oxygen of the chattering classes, fuelled by chic, trendy social science campus protest from Berkeley to King’s. Most people – even many of those who are generally benignly disposed towards Israel, including some Jews – have absolutely no idea of the extent to which the bad things they have been invited to believe about Israel are the polar opposite of the truth.

The BBC, once the comfortable political wallpaper of the nation, trusted by almost everyone, has become inexplicably malignant with its systematic demonisation of all things Israeli. Israel is directly responsible for Gaza having become a concentration camp, where millions are held in detention, Palestinians’ land is systematically looted by greedy, rapacious Jews, Ahed Tamimi who was jailed for assaulting an Israeli soldier replaces Malala Yousafzai as the new heroine, and is described, laughably, on leftist websites as a ‘political’ prisoner, and so on. Furthermore, and much more significantly, there are no opposing voices pointing out the exaggerations, misdirections and sheer, undiluted lies.

I used to listen to Radio 4 a lot when I lived in the UK. I found a way to listen again here, and, my, what a lot has changed. Rod Liddle of the Times wrote:

“The BBC and Radio 4 in particular are in the grip of what the American author Tom Wolfe called ‘radical chic attitudinising’. In other words, they are naive middle-class liberals who believe the Palestinian cause is unequivocally just and there is no real argument about that. Which is why, when Hamas rains 200 rockets and mortars down upon southern Israel, you hear nothing on the BBC. You hear about it only when Israel responds.”

He goes on to rail against ‘fashionable stupidity’ – I so wish I had thought of this phrase – and asks when it overbalances into racial hatred. The writer Ben Cohen distinguishes between quasi-intellectual ‘bistro’ and street-level ‘bierkeller’ antisemitism and how one is metamorphosing into the other. The former is favoured by the twitterati, the dinner party set, the middle classes in the wine bars and is mostly verbal. The latter, a much more muscular variety, favours the fist over the pen and thuggery over dialectic. This particular re-invention of antisemitism is well on the road to passing its bistro phase and becoming something much uglier.

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People hold up placards and Union flags as they gather for a demonstration organized by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism outside the head office of the British opposition Labour Party in central London on April 8, 2018. (AFP/Tolga Akmen)

Oh, yes. And while we’re here, let the denunciations and stonings begin. Israel finally expressed in constitutional law the basic achievement of Zionism: Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people. Well, who knew? Didn’t someone say something similar in 1948?  It should, of course be pointed out that the State of Israel is not some kind of European colonialist experiment, it’s a lifeboat, a refuge. In the seven years since the new provision was first proposed, it has attracted a barrage of criticism from the U.S., Europe and elsewhere. Foreign politicians have demanded Israel do not pass the law, and they have not been mollified by the removal of most of its disputed provisions. A Monday headline at Foreign Policy warned that Israel was “debating democracy itself.” Arab Knesset members ripped up copies of the bill after its passage. One called it “the official beginning of fascism and apartheid.” which I suppose makes a change from all the other times that those two particularly inflammatory epithets have been directed at the place. Not.

For those who have taken the trouble to look, Israel’s Basic Law as worded would not be out of place among the liberal democratic constitutions of Europe, which include similar provisions that have not aroused controversy. The law does not infringe on the individual rights of any Israeli citizen, including Arabs, or indeed Druze; nor does it create individual privileges only for the Jews. If there is a curmudgeonly illiberalism, it lies with the law’s critics, those who for political reasons would deny the Jewish state the freedom to legislate just like everybody else. And, of course they’re allowed to be antisemitic, because it’s Zionism under fire, first and foremost, which is what the world hates more than anything else. Guess what. Israel is a Zionist country. Get used to it.