Alex Brummer on anti-Semitism
There is no doubting that Britain saw a vicious outbreak of anti-Semitism during Operation Protective Edge. Scenes such as the display of ‘Hitler was right’ placard at an anti-Israel were deeply disturbing especially for those of us from families that survived or escaped the Shoah.
British life has long been peppered with anti-Semitic dating back to Norwich in the 12th Century and the first known appearance of the blood libel. It is a canard enthusiastically adopted, in modern times, in parts of the Muslim world.
Many of us, in our daily lives, have been confronted with low level, ignorant anti-Semitism. At school in Brighton I remember the art master Mr Slocombe who would loudly insist to rest of the class that Jewish boys can’t paint: this was long before I and my classmates came to know the likes of Kadinsky, Pissarro, Chagall and dozens of others. Or that of one of my own forebears, Joseph Brummer, had been a Parisian art dealer painted by Rousseau.
Then on the other hand it was not just the Jewish boys who were expected to take the flak. My recollection is that Roman Catholics were treated as outsiders and with similar contempt and name calling. That was Britain in the 1960s.
But I was also aware that much of this stuff was not terribly serious. Beneath it all there was a wonderful tolerance and acceptance. Moreover, there was celebrating of the derring-do of Israeli soldiers at the time of the 1967 Six-Day when non-Jewish six-formers queued with their Jewish friends to sign-up as volunteers in the Israel cause.
Suffice it to say some ghastly, mendacious behaviour was recorded among our enemies during ‘Protective Edge’ with politicians such as renegade MPs George Galloway and David Ward using vile, inflammatory language. There were other stupid acts including the ‘lie in’ at Birmingham Tesco, the short-lived Tricycle boycott and the nasty demonstrations in Jewish Manchester.
When the statistics were put together by the tremendously hard working and vigilant watchdogs of the Community Security Trust (CST) they looked ugly and made for some worry inducing headlines. It did at times feel as the social contract between Britain’s accultured Jews and the rest of its citizens might be fracturing.
Yet much of the Jewish reaction to all this was unnecessarily panicky. Whipped up by some perverted media coverage Israel was being put in the stocks in some quarters and Jews and their institutions received some of the backlash. Flying the Palestinian flag over Glasgow city hall, the crass behaviour of Brent Cross security guard and the daubing of the Shul I grew up with in Hove was spiteful and scary, but it was hardly Hitler’s Germany in the 1930s.
If anything the present government in Britain is one of the most philo-Semetic in our history. It is David Cameron who set up the all-party Holocaust Commission chaired by natural resources entrepreneur Mick Davis. All of our political leaders are enthusiastic supporters of the Holocaust Memorial Day, Mitzvah Day and many of the other movements commemorating the appalling events of the Shoah and demonstrating the British Jewish community’s contributions to society.
We do not have to look far across Europe to spy much more virulent threats to Jews. In Belgium it took the brutal shootings at the Jewish Museum in Brussels, allegedly carried out by French returnee from the Syrian front, to draw attention to years of anti-Semitic threats to Belgium’s Jews. The violent attacks on Jewish neighbourhoods and shops in Paris turned the clocks back more than seven decades. In Hungary the vicious Jobbik led anti-Semitic discourse continues unabated. From Greece to parts of Sweden racist, anti-Semitic rhetoric and attacks have become the norm.
Of course British Jews are right to fear the worst. But there must also be a recognition that by living and talking so much to each other about perceived hate crime and anti-Israel activity judgement can at times become blurred and perspective lost. It is right that we all remain vigilant and that every outbreak of anti-Semitic and boycott activity is challenged vigorously.
But we shouldn’t forget also that Britain is and remain a place of tolerance. As we saw in the recent Scottish referendum election campaign nastiness, ugly placards and malicious speech rarely descends into violence on the streets. A truly anti-Semitic society would not tolerate a Jewish leaders of a major political party, a Jewish head of BBC News, a Jewish editor of Newsnight as well as the Jews that lead across the arts, commerce and media.
Anti-Semitism may live on the mad fringes of our politics and national life, but it is not mainstream.
Alex Brummer is City Editor of the Daily Mail and Chair of the Board’s International Division