It stands out among the recollections I have of my first visit to Rome when I was in my teens. It’s not the Coliseum, or Saint Peter’s, or the Sistine Chapel, or the Forum, or the Baths of Caracalla; no, it was the armed police guard outside the city’s main synagogue.
This was the summer of Schindler’s List, a movie that we had been discussing in school. It was easy to comfort ourselves that the murderous anti-Semitism shown in Spielberg’s movie was a thing of the past, that it could never happen again. That Roman carbinieri opened my mind to a sobering truth: it had never really gone away.
It’s different now. At one time Jew-haters were all fascists. Now one is just as likely to find them on the liberal left, except the people who parade under this banner do not define themselves in such terms; no, they are anti-Zionist. But the language is the same, the terminology the same, the belief in an all powerful Jewish or Zionist conspiracy is just the same. The ideological and semantic nuances seem to me to be almost irrelevant. The fascism of the left is no contradiction in terms.
Ever since 2001 Britain has had an official Holocaust Memorial day, celebrated, if that’s the word, on 27 January, the anniversary of the day in 1945 when the Russians liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau, the main Nazi extermination facility. Four years later the United Nations inaugurated International Holocaust Remembrance Day, marked also on the same date.
But as the world pays lip-service to past victims it remains blind to present threats, to the rise of vicious new forms of Jew, sorry, Zionist hatred. What irony there is that the United Nations marks the liberation of Auschwitz only to play host to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the world’s leading Holocaust-denier, president of the clerical-fascist state of Iran.
What irony there is in the pious platitudes of an international body that has consistently marginalised Israel while condoning the actions of its enemies, particularly the terrorist anti-Semites of Hamas. In a period of forty years some 30% of the resolutions condemning specific states have been directed against Israel. How much has been directed, I wonder, against North Korea, against Zimbabwe, against Sudan and against Syria?
I rather suspect that we have an illustration here of Moynihan’s Law at its most refined. If you are not familiar with the concept it was defined by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the former US ambassador to the United Nations, best placed to observe the process from the inside. He held that the number of complaints about a nation’s violation of human rights is in inverse proportion to its actual violation of such rights. In other words, there are lots of complaints about Israel and hardly a peep about North Korea.
This summer saw the attempt by a shower of political illiterates, headed by Alice Walker, the American writer I have likened to Mrs Jellyby, the ‘telescopic philanthropist’ from Charles Dickens’ novel Bleak House, to mount a second ‘peace’ flotilla to Gaza, the stronghold of Hamas. How much does she know about Hamas, a movement dedicated to the destruction of Israel; how much do you know? If you know nothing you might like top consider article 22 of the Hamas covenant, which says of the Jews:
They were behind the French Revolution, the communist revolution and most of the revolutions that we heard about and hear about, here and there. With their money they formed secret societies such as Freemasons, Rotary Clubs, the Lions and others in different parts of the world for the purpose of sabotaging societies and achieving Zionist interests. With their money they were able to control imperialistic countries and instigate them to colonise many other countries in order to enable them to exploit their resources and spread corruption there.
Rotary clubs?! Well, it must be; Hamas says so.
One of the greatest lies of all, enthusiastically embraced by left-liberal factions, is that the upsurge of modern anti-Semitism is a corollary of Israeli actions against the Palestinians, actions, I have to add, that are exclusively defensive in nature. There are few people I admire on the soft left, but Nick Cohen stands high among them, a journalist and author of unimpeachable integrity. Commenting on the new anti-Semitism he once wrote;
While we are at it, don’t excuse Hamas and Islamic Jihad and all the rest by saying the foundation of Israel and the defeat of the Arab attempts to destroy it made it that way [reactionary, obscurantist, misogynist and homophobic.] Anti-Semitism isn’t the local side effect of a dirty war over a patch of land smaller than Wales. It’s everywhere from Malaysia to Morocco, and it has arrived here [Britain]. When the BBC showed a Panorama documentary about the ideological roots of the Muslim Council of Britain in the Pakistani religious right, the first reaction of the Council was to accuse it of following an ‘Israeli agenda’. The other day the Telegraph reported that Ahmad Thomson, a Muslim layer…had declared that that a ‘sinister’ group of Jews and Freemasons was behind the invasion of Iraq. To explain away a global phenomenon as a rational reaction to Israeli oppression, you have once again to turn the Jew into a supernatural figure whose existence is the cause of discontents throughout the earth. You have to revive anti-Semitism.
And, my, how it has revived, even so far as the home of Liberté, égalité, fraternité. Christopher Caldwell, writing in the September issue of the political journal Standpoint, shows how the pernicious influence of multi-culturalism in France has allowed for the revival of levels of anti-Semitism not evident since the days of Vichy (An old hatred returns by Europe’s back door.) It’s sobering to learn that attacks on Jewish people now run into the hundreds every year in that country.
It’s not just France; the cancer spreads elsewhere in Europe. High days, holidays and Memorial Days all sit uncomfortably with the view, apparently embraced by a majority of Germans, that what the state of Israel does today to the Palestinians is in principle no different from what the Nazis did in the Third Reich to the Jews. Some years ago a German bishop went so far as to compare Ramallah on the West Bank to the Warsaw Ghetto. People who take that view are in the deepest ignorance over the simple facts of history. Those who cannot remember the past, or those who wilfully mistake its meaning, those who sink into the most abject forms of moral relativism, are condemned to fulfil it.
Portraying Jews as Nazis has long been commonplace in the Arab world, an odd schizophrenia, in that Nazis in general and Hitler in particular are often admired in Islamist circles. The tendency is now well-entrenched in Europe. Most obscene of all, it’s possible to buy T-shirts and greeting cards in the Netherlands showing Anne Frank wearing a kaffiyeh, the traditional Palestinian headdress, the inference being that they are the new Jews, with the corollary that the Israelis are the new Nazis.
Tanya Gold shared my naïve assumption that anti-Semitism was a thing of the past. Writing in last week’s Spectator, she says that she thought that it had burnt itself out in the gas chambers. But no, it’s perennial; it simply mutates over time: one time well-poisoners and causers of the Black Death become the corrupters of nations, become international conspirators, become genocidal destroyers of Arabs. The Holocaust is merely an ‘incident’ of history, no more significant than any other. Israel is singled out for ‘special treatment’, while the worst form of oppression elsewhere pass almost unremarked. In Poland anti-Semitic figurines are to be found on sale in duty free shops in Warsaw Airport. I suppose it’s just to remind people what Jews look like, as the Nazis almost completely destroyed the country’s vibrant pre-war community, a process that the Poles themselves attempted to finish.
In England a leading left-wing journal even appeared with a Star of David stabbing the national flag, all under the heading “A Kosher Conspiracy?” A leading member of the soft-left Liberal Democrat Party has embraced modern notions of the medieval blood libel, adopted from Palestinian sources. On demonstrations the Star of David has been equated with the swastika. A new axis has arisen between an old left devoid of all certainty since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and Islamic fundamentalism of the most reactionary type, an alliance that singles out not just the Jewish state but Jewish people in general, regardless of their views.
So, it’s there right across the political spectrum, Jew hatred, almost as bad as it was in the 1930s. I’m not Jewish but if I was I would give thanks for Israel, that place of final refuge. As Gold says, the only memorial the Holocaust needs is a Jewish state. It’s a defence against the new spectre that is haunting Europe and the world, the spectre of left-wing anti-Semitism.