Like Ralph Miliband, my own father was a Jewish refugee from Nazi Europe. Like him, he too volunteered to join the British Army and served three years in the 8th Army in North Africa and Italy.
Unlike Miliband Snr, my dad grew up in Berlin and saw the writing on the wall early enough to leave Germany at the age of 18 in 1933. The only son of a wealthy family, he had to go with nothing but the shirt on his back – and his life. Being an idealist Zionist, again in common with Ralph, he chose Palestine as his destination.
There he worked as a farm labourer until my mother, to whom he was engaged, arrived from Poland in 1935 and was able to support him through university where he shone brightly as a philosopher. But, with “Rommel at the gates of Palestine”, as he wrote in a foreword to one of his seminal books, and the emerging knowledge of the horrors taking place in Nazi Europe, he knew what he had to do.
Not long after the end of WW2, unlike Miliband who was by then carving out an impressive career in Far-Left academe, my father found himself in uniform again, fighting as an officer in the newly-formed Israeli Army in defence of the fledgling Jewish homeland, Israel.
The reason I am telling you all this, reader, is because the recent (and ongoing) row over the Daily Mail’s feature about Ralph Miliband has brought some things out of the woodwork which are, in my opinion, far more worrying than Paul Dacre’s failure to comply with Alastair Campbell’s demand that he appear at once and commit public self-evisceration.
What I find alarming is that it did not take long for the Mail story to be claimed by the anti-anti-Semitism league and raised high on its flagpole.
MP John Mann, chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism, began when he tweeted the article was a “classical age-old anti-Semitic smear about disloyal Jews”.
Mann and his mates are at the forefront of an alarming trend: stretching the definition of “anti-Semitism” well beyond what Mann correctly defined as the “classical age-old smear”. They want to be able to label all criticism of Israel, it’s Government, policies and/or actions as “anti-Semitism”, with the clear purpose of gagging all such criticism.
Let me explain. Basically, there are two kinds of anti-Semitism: Classical and Modern. The Classical is around 2,500 years old. It began with the Assyrian, Hellenic and Roman occupations of biblical Israel and Judea. The conquerors shared a common annoyance with the pesky Jews who refused to convert on pain of death and kept on fighting to the last.
After the Romans destroyed the (second) Temple and expelled most of the Jews, anti-Semitism in the diaspora began to emerge, combining timeless xenophobia with religious intolerance and scape-goatism. At around 1000AD the legacy of another victim of the Roman occupation, the crucified Jew of Nazareth, fuelled anti-Semitism in the wake of the Crusades. Expulsion – following massacres - from Catholic England in 1290 and – following the Inquisition - from Catholic Spain in 1492. In Russia they were chased from pillar to post from as early as the 4th century. Joined by others fleeing pogroms in Western Europe, they continued to seek relative safety before being ejected again.
With the Jews banned from Russia proper, Catherine the Great established the Pale of Settlement (hence the expression “beyond the pale”), which included Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine. There they were allowed to survive between pogroms (especially in Ukraine) but not thrive.
Classical anti-Semitism fed on the Jews being barred from owning land, and thereby forced into being merchants, traders and money-lenders. Figures of fear and hate in equal measure, like Shylock, they also became fair game, like Shylock.
Classical anti-Semitism underlay not just the Nazi holocaust but the enthusiasm with which it was greeted and assisted especially in Poland and Hungary. Both countries now have hardly any Jews living, but anti-Semitism is alive and well in both.
The creation of the State of Israel in 1948 created a new kind of anti-Semitism, which I describe as Modern. It did not entirely replace the original but it thrust it onto the naughty step. In the civilised West, overt attacks on Jews are not a route to political success. In polite society Classical anti-Semitism is restricted to private conversations among trusted friends. Holocaust deniers are shunned if not jailed.
But, creeping up to take its place, Modern anti-Semitism is the creation not of Jew-haters but of over-zealous Zionists.
The most extreme example was a case decided by an Employment Tribunal in March. The case was brought against the University and College Union (UCU) by lecturer Ronnie Fraser, who was represented by Anthony Julius, Princess Diana’s divorce lawyer. Julius is said to be “known for his opposition to new antisemitism, the alleged expression of antisemitic prejudice couched in terms of certain kinds of discursive assaults on Israel”. He gives frequent talks on the subject all over the world.
Fraser alleged that he was treated unfairly and with hostility during union debates about academic boycott of Israel, and about the decision not to use a contentious working definition of anti-Semitism that conflated it with any criticism of Israel.
Fraser did not dispute that he had been able to speak in UCU’s boycott debates but claimed that his speeches at the Annual Congress were not applauded (!) because of anti-Semitism on the part of fellow delegates. But UCU's Counsel showed that other Jewish speakers, both for and against the boycott motions, had been applauded.
All ten of Fraser’s claims were thrown out by the tribunal. Its judgement said: “We greatly regret that the case was ever brought. At heart it represents an impermissible attempt to achieve a political end by litigious means”.
They added that the 20-day hearing with 23 documents bundles was “manifestly unmeritorious“ and that MPs Denis MacShane and John Mann, in support of Fraser, ”gave glib evidence, appearing supremely confident of rightness of their positions“.
Julius tried to argue that the ‘attachment to Israel’ of many Jews in the UK constitutes a “protected characteristic” under the Equality Act 2010. Had the Tribunal had agreed with him, open discussion and reporting of Israeli policies – whether in the unions or in the media - would have become very difficult.
Tom Hickey, a senior member of UCU’s National Executive Committee, said: “The UCU’s record in fighting racism, including anti-Semitism, is second to none in the trade union movement. Had this vacuous charge been upheld, unions and universities would have been silenced on a key moral issue of the century”.
Having lost dozens of close family members in the Holocaust, I need no lectures about the dangers of Classical anti-Semitism. But having been a journalist for 45 years, in Israel and London, I now find Modern anti-Semitism a far bigger risk to Press Freedom than Ed Miliband’s tiff with Lord Rothermere which I suspect will achieve nothing but more hot air.
And the Mail’s article about Ralph Miliband? Oh, that old thing. Well, apart from the offensively mendacious and defamatory headline, I (like Eric Moonman and many other prominent Jews) could find NOTHING in the article that had a whiff, a sniff or any other hint of anti-Semitism. Given my slight familiarity with Dacre and slightly better acquaintance with Geoffrey Levy (who didn’t supply the headline) I would have been surprised to find anything.
In all my time in this country, which I love with all my heart, I have never – as an Israeli as well as a Jew - suffered a whiff or sniff etc, although I have been patronised by re-religionists who assumed I owed them some tribal loyalty.
My most vicious Twitter trolls are Jews from all over the world accusing me of treason for daring to criticise Israel’s racism and other excesses and trying their best to gag me. One lot even reported me to Enfield police expecting an arrest on a charge of anti-Semitism. The bemused cops found it mildly amusing.
Things have come to a pretty pass when a flourishing minority in the most wonderfully civilised and open-minded country feels a need to invent non-existent persecution and promulgate Classical anti-Semitism by going to the barricades over the unmeritorious Modern variety.