Kim Harris Kim Harris Sun, 17 Apr 2011 09:53:01 +0000 en hourly 1 Hating Jews: Ancient and Modern Sat, 16 Apr 2011 16:38:21 +0000 kimharris

One of the most dispiriting cultural downturns of recent years has been the recrudescence of the archaic prejudice of anti-Semitism. To mangle Brecht and Camus, the bitch that bore it is in heat again and the plague against which we’d hoped the Forties had proofed us, is sending forth its rats once more to die on the streets of a free city.

Some lowlights from an almost indefinitely extensible list: Offences against Jewish persons and property have been red-needling in Europe and the United States for some time now. In the United Kingdom alone (home to a mere 300,000 Jews) the year 2009 saw a reported 638 anti-Jewish hate crimes – a figure that has more than doubled since 2001. The word ‘yid’ is routinely screamed across football terraces, and shouts of “Hamas! Hamas! Jews to the gas!” have been heard on anti-Israel demonstrations. Synagogues and Jewish cemeteries unable to afford security arrangements have been trashed and daubed with the usual Nazi slogans and insignia. Even the only country on Earth with no tradition of anti-Semitic persecution (India) saw its Jews targeted in the recent Bombay atrocity, though not of course by Indians. (Sidebar – Sadly, not all Indians partake of the majority’s philo-Semitism; and I say “Bombay” because the name change to Mumbai was not so softly urged on us in by the far-Right, ultra-nationalist Shiv Sena party under the leadership of Hitler-loving Bal Thackeray. So, Bombay it is. And anyway, “Mullywood”, anyone? )

There are, I believe, two main reasons for this resurgence in Judaeophobia but before we get into that or become too dejected, here’s a joke and a partial clue:

One day Abe and Solly were taking their customary stroll together when they were arrested by the sight of a large sign outside a church emblazoned with the rubric “Jews for Jesus”. The deal on the sign was this: Any Jew who consented to enter the church and convert to Christianity would be given a thousand dollars in cash.

Abe surveyed the sign and at length said, “I’m having some of that.” Solly was aghast. “You can’t be serious.” “Sure I am,” said Abe, “I’m gonna do it right now.” “Well, should I wait for you?” asked Solly. “Sure,” said Abe. “I won’t be long.”

An hour later Abe emerged from the church. Solly said, “So?” and Abe replied, “I’m a Christian now.” “You’re kidding,” said Solly. “Nope,” said Abe. “I sank to my knees and accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as my personal Saviour.” A beat later a bewildered Solly asked, “Did you at least get the grand up front?” And Abe said, “It’s always the same with you people, isn’t it…?”

I know one should be wary of letting too much daylight in on the magic but let me take a spade to a soufflé and ask: Does this joke hate Jews?

In his brilliant Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture on the subject of anti-Semitism Christopher Hitchens cites this as a specimen of mild and more than mildly amusing Judaeophobia. Now, one hesitates to disagree with The Mighty Hitch, but is he right? It’s funny all right and it certainly plays with anti-Semitism but that doesn’t of itself make it Jew-hostile. Nor does it suggest that the blithe switching of allegiances for a quick buck is an exclusively or exceptionally Jewish trait.  Sure, one of the Jews in the joke behaves precisely in that way but the other does not. (Similarly, in the case of The Merchant of Venice the fact that Tubal, a fellow Jew, disapproves of Shylock’s monomania for vengeance is enough to acquit the text of anti-Semitism) Like most Jewish jokes it’s a proper pearler and one that dares you take a mallet to a cherrystone and ask: what’s so funny?  So, Is the joke’s target supposed Jewish cupidity? Or does it take aim at hypocritically projected Christian attitudes towards same? Is the gag celebrating an archetype or gunning for a stereotype?

There will always be some people who’ll laugh because well, them Jews are all about the money, aren’t they? They control the money markets as well as the media. It’s not just a Palestinian land-grab that interests them. Huddled in their back-scratching cabals they mean ultimately to Zionize the planet. Oh, they’re bright and busy, all right. Unlike differently-pigmented ethnicities they can rather sneakily pass. (Spike Lee told Howard Jacobson, “You can always get a nose job.”) And aren’t they bright and busy? They’re a restless, rootless cosmopolitan bunch of self-appointed consciousness-raising intellectuals forever upsetting the natural order under cover of agitating for social justice with their Lenins and their Marxes and their Trotskys.  Didn’t old Adolf have more than a ghost of a point when he underlined the Judaeo in Judaeo-Bolshevism? And didn’t T. S Eliot say that the presence of too many Jewish freethinkers cannot be tolerated by a healthy society?

The above litany is but a selection of canapés in the banquet of hate that the Jewish people has long had stuffed down its throat.  (Another familiar dish being the stranglehold the Zionist lobby is supposed to have on U.S. foreign policy; though it doesn’t seem to have got very far with, say, Saudi Arabia.)

Given the above, why the (mercifully) low incidence of Sinophobia? Why aren’t overseas Chinese called upon to pick up the tab for Beijing’s occupation of Tibet in the way that the Jewish Diaspora is often held accountable for the actions of Israel? It’s not as if an ascendant China is not in our future. Might that not count as a bid for world domination? Could the reason be that there are just too many of them to subject to intimidation?  (Racists being natural bullies.)

Very well, then, let’s find a much smaller group to pick on. Why not the Scots? Again, not that I’m advocating it for one moment, you understand, but why don’t the Scots get the same treatment as the Jews? They too are a very small nation of brilliant overachievers who do well in exile. Consider any field of endeavour and ask yourself what it would look like without the tartan touch. Science (Kelvin, James Clerk Maxwell), Medicine (Alexander Fleming), Engineering, Literature (Peter Pan, Long John Silver, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Mr Toad and Sherlock Holmes are all Scottish inventions), Drama, Comedy, Music, Economics, Philosophy, Politics. The Scots too have impeccable Leftist credentials. Like the Jews, the Scots have also produced their titans of Capital in theory and practice (Adam Smith, Andrew Carnegie, Max Aitken). If thinkers of genuine subversiveness tickle your ear, why not try Thomas Reid or better yet, David Hume whose speculations have proved so fatal to religion and most unsettling even to the method of Inductive Reasoning. If conspiracy theories around media control turn your crank, let me lay before you just one name of Scots extraction: that of Rupert Murdoch, whose interests and holdings are so vastly tentacular it’s unlikely even he can grasp their true extent. Want more? How about world domination and that little Anglo-Scots condominium formerly known as The British Empire? And if any group could be said to be clannish…

Yet who would believe you if you said, “911? Holyrood plot. I just don’t think it’s a coincidence that not a single Scot turned up for work at the Twin Towers on that day.”

It has to be the Jews.

Elsewhere in his lecture Hitchens seeks to enforce a distinction between what is and what is not harmless in anti-Semitism. “Don’t make a federal case of everything,” he likes to tell Abraham Foxman of The Anti-Defamation League. And while it is true that antipathy towards Jews is probably and ultimately ineradicable, a low bourdon note of non-philo-Semitism can be tolerated as long as it doesn’t get too screechy.

And until very recently most anti-Jewish sentiment in the United Kingdom at any rate had indeed disclosed itself at the level of a bat squeak (to borrow Jonathan Miller’s phrase). You would catch it on the edge of a remark. “I expect he has plenty of free time on a Sunday.” Or “Moshkowitz: A fine Anglo-Saxon name”. Other examples include the late Ronnie Barker’s description of Ben Elton as a “Jewish insurance salesman” and Lord Snowdon’s famous outburst at Princess Margaret, “You look like a Jewish manicurist and I hate you.” (As it happens I met a Jewish manicurist once and he didn’t mind the comparison at all. Perhaps that’s an aria for another day…)

Some anti-Semitism is just plain perplexing. The strangest case Hitchens cites is that of Gore Vidal. According to Hitchens, there is a note in Thomas Keneally’s possession written to him by Vidal in which he accuses Keneally of doing the Jews’ dirty work for them in providing a disobliging notice of Vidal’s Lincoln. It’s hard to believe the champion of radical wit and author of Pink Triangle, Yellow Star capable of such a thing. It’s all the weirder since his companion of so many years – and the man with whom Vidal intends to occupy a parallel grave – was Howard Auster, whose name Vidal even suggested changing to “Austen” in order to circumvent anti-Jewish prejudice in the advertising industry of Fifties America. Vidal used to laugh off accusations of anti-Semitism by explaining he breakfasted daily with someone who increasingly resembled Golda Meir. It’s the little things in a relationship, isn’t it?

(By the by, those who are convinced of a Jewish plot to win global mastery may take what they will from the following anecdote which purports to describe the first meeting between Henry Kissinger and Golda Meir.

HK: Mrs Meir, I must tell you that first and foremost I am an American; secondly, I am the Secretary of State, and only thirdly am I a Jew.

GM: That’s OK, Henry. We read from right to left.)

So not all anti-Jewishness is frightening. All of it is stupid and some of it is just silly. But is this not already a concession too far? Hate speech is still hate speech. And other forms of anti-racism are not so relaxed. Two examples:-

A few years back a New York rabbi, alarmed by a sudden hike in the number of acts of intimidation and violence towards Jews, took it upon himself to offer his flock classes in self-defence. Russell Howard, a British comedian, found this terrifically droll and wondered on television if the rabbi shouldn’t in these racist days be nicknamed The Karate Yid. Around the same time the actor David Jason made a joke on radio about a Pakistani cloakroom attendant called Mahatma Coat. I know in neither case are we talking comedy gold here, and I also know that Mahatma is less of a Pakistani name than a Hindu honorific, but the interesting thing is that in Howard’s case the switchboards of complaint remained largely mute and dusky while for Jason they blazed with indignation. Racism is racism, it seems, only if its victims are seen to be weak or defenceless or dispossessed or downtrodden or brown or black. Could it be that Jews are seen to be too strong and too white to deserve our protection?

More recently we have seen a slew of flakier but no less intolerable incidents. Charlie Sheen’s name-calling of Chuck Lorre, Julian Assange’s invention of a Jewish conspiracy against him and John Galliano’s alleged Hitler-approving tirade flung at gaping diners of the Marais. (As if  Nazis were above beating the frock out of gay dressmakers.) All of which is rather more serious for the perpetrators than for their intended victims. Saul Bellow thought anti-Semitism a psychosis and it’s certainly possible to detect in the steam coming off these ranters the afflatus of psychic disintegration.

The Galliano case is interesting. Though Dior is owned and run by Jews, it wasn’t until a Dior “face”, the Jerusalem-born Natalie Portman made plain her objections that Galliano was shown the door. Up until then Paris had offered a more indulgent face towards its wayward fashionistas. There’s a tradition, possibly apocryphal though I like to think not, that Coco Chanel, when accused after the Occupation of having fraternized with the enemy, acquitted herself with the line, “My heart belongs to France, but my cunt is my own.”

A particularly alarming development has been the abandonment of the Jews by their traditional allies and defenders on the liberal left.

Take, for example, (and this may stand synechdochally for a plethora of examples) the disgusting spectacle of Ken Livingstone, as Mayor of London, slobbering all over Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, an Islamist cleric and anti-human rights theocrat who approves of female genital mutilation, thinks improperly attired women deserve to be raped, that gay sex merits the death penalty, and that pregnant Israeli women are meet for slaughter since they could be carrying future members of the Israeli Defence Force. What on earth Livingstone was doing fawning over such a character is perhaps a mystery too deep for the ages and cannot simply be explained by reflexive anti-Americanism, pro-Palestinianism or anti-globalization.

Livingstone’s love-in with his new best friend was embarrassed somewhat by the emergence of an open letter signed by 2,500 Muslim intellectuals (each and every one no doubt an Islamophobe and Zionist stooge) from over 23 countries condemning his new best friend out of hand. In the opinion of many, such antics helped cost Livingstone the mayoralty of London. One certainly hopes so.

And so we come to one of the main wellsprings (illsprings?) of modern anti-Semitism: The State of Israel. Martin Amis has noticed that there is a certain sort of bien pensant who is never more gorgeously at their ease than when attacking Israel. He or she is less troubled by the venomous eliminationism spewed out by Hezbollah and Hamas than by the many costly mistakes of some aspects of Israeli policy.

Now, I assure you, I could easily expend a further few thousand words detailing the many problems I have with Israeli history and its current policy towards the Palestinian people. But were I for one moment to couch my criticism in terms of Jewishness I would immediately lose the argument; abandon it in fact by changing the subject to that of Race. It’s a penny that never seems to drop with anti-Semitic critics of Israel: Racism is one of the very gravest threats to Palestinian justice. Those who hate Jews and Israelis more than they love Palestinians do not love Palestinians.

Those who have made race-based criticisms of Israel include Caryl Churchill whose Seven Jewish Children is a blatant piece of anti-Jewish propaganda that trots out the old Blood Libel as well as committing the vulgar solecism of conflating Zionists with all Jews. (The clue, as we now say, is in the title.) Paradoxical at first blush as it sounds – and again I’m indebted to Christopher Hitchens for making this point – the blunt racist mind is incapable of discrimination. It cannot tell an Obama from a Mugabe, or an Idi Amin from a Nelson Mandela. So it is with Jews and Zionists and Israelis. All Israelis are Jews, right? Obviously wrong. All Jews are Zionists, right? Wrong. All Zionists are Jews, surely? Wrong. But surely no Zionist could possibly be said to be anti-Semitic? This isn’t your lucky day, is it? Here are two examples.

The cynical and hypocritical support of Christian fundamentalism for Israel is given in the hope that the Jewish state will one day host an apocalyptic showdown that will raise the curtain on the Second Coming. Thereafter Jews shall be invited to convert or roast.

Then there’s the case of A. J. Balfour, whose eponymous Declaration famously looked with favour on the establishment of a Jewish National Home in Palestine. The reason it cast so favourable an eye was that it suited Balfour’s war aims to agitate German Jews against their own government and conscript them and their Russian counterparts into the project of replacing Ottoman with British power in the Middle East. There was another reason: Judaeophobe that he was, Balfour didn’t like Jews littering up the Home Counties.

He was opposed in Cabinet by the Jewish anti-Zionist, Sir Edwin Montagu, who considered himself British; who thought the Declaration anti-Semitic and who objected to mass emigration of Jews to Palestine on the grounds that it would seriously and unjustly disadvantage Palestine’s indigenous population.

A further tactic in the race-based critique of Israel is to describe it as an apartheid state. Such talk has infuriated some former South African anti-apartheid activists. Denis MacShane, MP for Rotherham, a former UK European Minister and a man who spent some time in South Africa in the Eighties agitating against its racist government, resents the comparison with Israel where an Arab Israeli is perfectly free to go about his or her business (which might include sitting in The Knesset.)

Some of Israel’s critics have used even more provocative language. When Brian Eno states that Israel “is creating a version of the Warsaw Ghetto” the glabrous sage rushes to congratulate himself on the gotcha of a historical irony and means to wound the Jewish people in their deepest anguish and to impute to Israel a race-based policy of exterminationism towards the Palestinians.

And so we turn with a heavy heart – or should that be with a patient shrug? – to the second of Judaeophobia’s main illsprings. The easiest way into the subject is to let me show you a few snapshots from the career of Mel Gibson.

On July 28, 2006 Gibson was arrested for driving under the influence. During the course of his arrest he said, “Fucking Jews…the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world.” He also demanded to know of a policewoman whether or not she was Jewish (duh..didn’t he know all cops were Irish?) To another policewoman he posed the gallant question, “What are you looking at, sugartits?” Bent as he was that night on licking the plate clean of any last scrap of political correctness or even decency, he reserves his nastier conduct for when he is sober. I refer you to his capolavoro of spanky gore-porn, The Passion of The Christ (or as it’s known in my house, Good Friday the 13th.)

This preposterous campstrocity of the film-maker’s art was not created in a spirit of mushy ecumenical consensus. Here you’ll find no clumps of flower children cherry-picking their way past a stern St. Paul to make a maypole of a tie-dyed hippy dippy Jesus. Nor shall you find a portrait of Jesus the Marxist revolutionary a la Pasolini. No, this movie was made according to a precise Catholic agenda (the inclusion of St. Veronica proves that). It means to show you in gruesome and protracted detail how Jesus was tortured to death and, by singling out one particular text from St. John in which The Sanhedrin calls for the blood of Christ to be on their heads unto the remotest generation, just who was responsible.

This one text – an early version of the so-called Blood Libel -  has been the incitement to and warrant for every anti-Jewish pogrom there has ever been up to and including The Holocaust. (Mein Kampf has Hitler cooing over  die Apodiktische Glaube – the strict faith – in obedience to which he means to cleanse Europe of its Jews.)

Naturally, the inclusion of the scene provoked an earthquake of protest that lead to the excision of the relevant subtitle. But when the film was shown in the Middle East the subtitle was restored. Since there is a strict interdiction on idolatry in Islam (of which Jesus is counted as a prophet), we’re left with the question: How did this film get a release in the Middle East?

Christopher Hitchens thinks Gibson should be asked the following question: “What are the origins of your furious, fanatical, decided hatred of the Jewish people?” He then leads us to a possible answer.

Mel Gibson’s father, Hutton, is said by his famous son never to have told him a lie. Gibson Snr denies the Holocaust and denies it in the usual thought-disordered way. You know the kind of thing: The Holocaust was a non-event but one the Jews had coming anyway.  He also made an intriguing reply to a letter promulgated by the present pope back when he was a Cardinal in which Ratzinger spoke of the Jews as standing in relation to Christianity as an elder brother in Faith. Hutton Gibson’s reply was that Abel had an elder brother too. Maybe Sartre had a point when he wrote that anti-Semitism must always eventuate in murder.

There can be no question that the non-subject of theology has made and continues to make the lives of many Jews intolerable. Hitchens puts it with his usual force and clarity when he points out that the only people ever to have enjoyed face-time with both Jesus and The Prophet Muhammad were the Jews. And in both cases the Jews declined to subscribe. “Which is not about to be forgotten or forgiven any time soon.”

“Love is wise and hatred is foolish.”
Bertrand Russell






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