THE Nazi Holocaust and the murder of six million Jews are just about within living memory; the last few elderly witnesses are still with us. But the lessons of those terrible events are being forgotten too quickly. The poisonous hatred that lay behind the Holocaust, something that once we thought was banished, is creeping back.
The Community Security Trust, a Jewish organisation which monitors anti-Semitism, reported in February that attacks of all kinds on Jewish people in the UK are at a record high for the third successive year.
And of course that’s apart from the almost endless saga of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party which, like it or not, is a major part of public life in this country.
In much of Europe, the situation is far worse. Outright violence against Jews is increasingly common. In Germany, the government’s anti-Semitism commissioner has just warned against wearing the kippah, the Jewish skullcap, in public as it marks Jews out, putting them at risk of attack. Last year, France saw a jump of 74 per cent in recorded anti-Semitic attacks.
Anti-Semitism is something quite apart from other forms of prejudice. If you believe (as I do) that all human beings, irrespective of race, are born with equal moral worth, then it’s no worse to despise a Jew for his ethnicity than a Pakistani or a Swede for theirs. But anti-Semitism seems to touch its adherents with a peculiar madness, with grotesque fantasies and a level of hatred that goes beyond ordinary nastiness. Anti-Semites often see Jews not just inferior but as diabolically malevolent.
For a flavour of this, just type ‘anti-Semitic cartoons’ into Google images and see what comes up. You will see Jews portrayed as inhuman, nightmarish figures. The Jew as a huge spider or with a human face on a rat’s body. Anti-Semitism is more than racism and more than evil, it’s a mental disease.
One of modern anti-Semitism’s foundations is the mad forgery The Secret Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. It’s a work of uncertain provenance but probably dreamt up by the secret police of pre-revolutionary Russia. It purports to reveal a cabal of Jews running the world in a sinister and monstrous conspiracy. Apart from being an evil slander, it’s about as realistic as a Batman comic. Yet many anti-Semites, even today, take it seriously.
In the Arab world, it’s been adapted into a television series and used in schools. Edition after edition has been printed across the Middle East and parts of Asia in very recent years.
It repays the difficulty of getting hold of to read it as it’s such a good demonstration of how demented serious anti-Semites are.
It seems there is no evil for which someone, somewhere, won’t blame Jews. No claim is too bizarre or unlikely, from the claims of medieval times that Jews baked their unleavened bread with the blood of Christian children to the more recent lies that Israeli relief agencies harvested the organs from Haitian earthquake victims.
Jews have been accused by reactionaries of various stripes of attempting the destruction of Western civilisation in its entirety through creating Bolshevism. From the Left of politics, there is a long tradition of caricaturing Jews as bloated and corrupt plutocrats, the wicked exploiter of the working man feasting on the misery of the oppressed. This idea was illustrated in the infamous mural that Jeremy Corbyn defended on ‘free speech grounds’ which depicted Jewish financiers playing monopoly on the backs of the world’s poor. (Of course Mr Corbyn has since retracted his support for the artist and expressed his condemnation of anti-Semitism).
Mr Corbyn isn’t the first Labour leader to offend Jews. The party’s revered founder Keir Hardie wrote in the 1890s about ‘hook-nosed Rothschilds’ being to blame for many of the world’s troubles.
Despite Hardie, though, Labour can justifiably claim that for most of its history it has been the party that stood against anti-Semitism. When I joined it in 1981 as a 15-year-old, the thought of expressing an anti-Semitic opinion, however masked or mild, would simply have been unimaginable. We were emphatically against racism in any form, and following a long tradition many Jews identified almost instinctively with our party.
Not any more. It has just been announced that the Equalities and Human Rights Commission will conduct, as the Daily Telegraph puts it, ‘a root and branch review of the party’s approach to allegations of anti-Jewish hatred’.
Of course, Labour still has many members who are decent-minded and not bigots (how they can remain is another question). However the Jewish Chronicle reports that whistle-blowers among the party’s staff are claiming that anti-Semitism, and just as importantly its cover-up, is now ‘on a scale and at a level the public does not begin to understand’, with examples in the ‘tens of thousands’.
As many have already pointed out, the only other political party to have been subjected to the same investigative process by the EHRC is the British National Party. For anyone from an old-fashioned Labour background like me this is barely believable and beyond shameful. But it’s true.
Should we be that surprised, though, given that last year, the BNP’s former leader Nick Griffin expressed his approval of Jeremy Corbyn?
Mr Corbyn gained his new supporter more or less simultaneously with the announcement that the Israeli Labour Party was cutting all formal ties to Jeremy Corbyn over his hostility to Israel. Quite a startling piece of symmetry to sum up Labour’s problem.