Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/3/2017 (972 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
I was born in 1959 in Britain to a mixed family: three of my grandparents were Jewish but my maternal grandma — and that’s the one that matters — was not. So I was Jewish enough for anti-Semites but not quite sufficiently kosher for most Jews. It was a supremely happy, if humble, upbringing and if there were any Jew-haters around I wasn’t really aware of them. English Nazis were lonely and impotent freaks living in obscurity, and anti-Semitism was a toxin that had been long rejected by the vast majority of people.
Today, the situation in Europe and North America appears on the surface to have changed. Jewish cemeteries vandalized, racist graffiti on Jewish homes, countless bomb threats to Jewish schools and institutions and, we are told, widespread hostility on college campuses. These are actually profoundly different things, but more on that later.
The bomb threats and attacks are clearly motivated by hatred; the one perpetrator who has been caught was motivated, bizarrely, by a broken romance, but that’s an aberration. The desecration of graves is equally and obviously anti-Semitic in cause — and how telling it is that members of the master race are only brave enough to confront the dead.
So do we construe from all this that obsessive despisers of Jews have suddenly multiplied? I very much doubt that. What has happened is that anti-Semites — and for that matter racists in general — have recently felt empowered, partly by the election of Donald Trump but also because of the rise of the hard right in Europe. Ironically, the far right in Holland, Britain and even to a degree in France is not specifically anti-Jewish and is often pro-Israel.
The point about the racist coward, however, is that it’s a creature easily intimidated but quickly emboldened by the assumption of numbers. When longtime anti-Semites believe through the distorted lens of social media they are not alone, they tend to act. And there is nothing so apparently safe as making bomb threats by phone through a foreign-based and untraceable number.
The result is confusion, fear and panic: the precise results the rancid Hitlerites desire and the exact reason members of the Jewish community have to realize they are in fact supported, defended and loved. The Nazi bullies are more goose poop than goose step, and while they can intimidate and annoy, they can never win.
Ostensible campus anti-Semitism is a different issue and one we must get right. In spite of what radical Israel supporters might claim, most critics of Israeli policy are certainly not anti-Jewish. That applies even to those who are passionately opposed to Israeli actions. Of course some racists join the anti-Zionist ranks, but then, the contrary also holds true: Arthur Balfour of the eponymous declaration that gave rise to Israel was repulsed by the idea of a country full of Jews!
Yet to label the anti-Israel left, even the boycott and divestment movement, as being anti-Semitic is reductive and dangerous. More than this, to dismiss Jewish anti-Zionists — and there are more all the time — as self-loathing is simply insulting.
Of course, there are valid questions to be asked about the double standards applied to, for example, Israel and Iran; vital discussions to be had about what some radical Muslims say about Jews; essential conversations over how the left understands the Jewish experience; and please, please have the sensitivity and intelligence not to accuse Jews of being Nazis.
But informed criticism, even of a harsh kind, of a powerful and highly military state in the Middle East is not the same as smashing a Jewish cemetery or threatening to bomb a school. This stuff matters, and shame on those conservative websites and organizations that seem to exploit all this for their own ends, and who blame Islam and socialism for every act of gutter racism.
The current revival of that old ghoul that we thought buried in 1945 is horrible, but I am convinced it will slither back to its bog before too long. In the meantime, react sensibly and cleverly and know that the world hasn’t changed as much as some people would like us to believe. The good guys won then; they will win again now.
Michael Coren’s latest book is Epiphany: A Christian’s Change of Heart and Mind over Same-Sex Marriage (Random House).