Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: Still no hope of common sense in the war against anti-Semitism

These defenders to the end of all Israeli actions knowingly mix politics and race

Related Topics

One would not choose to roll around naked in a field of nettles. One learns that choosing to write on anti-Semitism is just as rash, possibly more so. Protesters and malicious maligners stalk anyone who ventures on to the subject. And for the only Muslim weekly columnist in the country (who knows for how long) to tread into that field is extreme recklessness. Or reveals a worrying proclivity for masochism. Stinging rebukes will arrive before I am awake and all manner of outrageous allegations will roam the streets of the internet, rogue rumours against which there is no defence. Every word typed can be distorted or has the potential to offend. The column will madden both hyper-Zionists and insufferable Islamicists. So divisive is the issue today that many who see themselves as "reasonable" Muslims and Jews may not be too happy either. Ah well so be it. No more procrastination. Unto the breach dear friends.

The lofty, intellectual lawyer Anthony Julius, whose most famous client was Diana, Princess of Wales, has written Trials Of The Diaspora, an erudite history of anti-Semitism in Britain. He convincingly exposes the "polite", almost naturalised anti-Jewish attitudes still rife among genteel folk of this country. When Diana chose him as her divorce lawyer, to The Daily Telegraph Julius was a clever Jew who was unlikely to understand the "English" idea of fair play. The paper was obliged to publish a grovelling apology.

George Orwell wrote a stirring essay in 1945 on this English prejudice. Julius describes a train journey when he was a young boy. An Englishman who did business with his father praised the excellent manners of a young Jewish girl who knew his daughter, as if such good manners were remarkable and unexpected. Orwell describes such moments too and asks: "Was it a conscious effort to behave decently by people whose subjective feelings in many cases must have been very different?"

This week we had a report published by the Community Security Trust, a Jewish organisation that monitors hate crimes against British Jews. In 2009, there were 598 incidents and attacks, 56 per cent more than in 2006, another bad year. I believe both Julius and the CST. Wagner said: "I hold the Jewish race to be the born enemy of pure humanity and everything noble in it."

In a coffee shop before Christmas, I overheard a group of yummy mummies of all races going on about Bernie Madoff and how "these people" got the world into the mess it is in. It really is all around us. Just look up the Jew-haters on the internet, the neo-Nazis and Islamicists and the bloggers who say anti-Semitism is exaggerated. Across Europe, even in Sweden, Jewish citizens say hatred against them is in the air once more.

More wounding than racism itself is the denial of it, the invalidation of lived and felt experience. Racist statements and judgements are today defended with unprecedented ardour and conviction. Black and Asian people are instructed to learn toleration, to understand banter and brave free expression, to stop inventing pain and to end their wretched PC whinges. Muslims too are suspected of making up stories, imagining humiliation and "using" discrimination for unholy purposes. Ironically, Julius rejects the claim that Muslims are facing increasing hostility in Britain. I know Muslim activists who say exactly the same about the rise in anti-Semitism.

We should trust witness and victim testimonies of bigotry. But we can't and shouldn't become credulous. Unquestioning accommodation would be naïve. Accusations of racism are used by all vulnerable groups to deflect legitimate concerns about, say, female genital mutilation, or forced marriages, or the too many young black men sunk into drug addiction and violence, or the lack of real democracy in the Muslim world.

Julius plays that game, dextrously extending the accusation of anti-Semitism to implicate principled critics of the Israeli state. Jewish objectors, like the esteemed American Tony Judt, are also cut down with a poisoned blade. Richard Goldstone, the South African Zionist, has found himself similarly discredited by Zionists for writing a scathing UN assessment of the Israeli assault on Gaza. Similar treatment is meted out to others who try to remain scrupulously fair yet tough when scrutinising the government of Israel.

These defenders to the end of all Israeli actions knowingly mix politics and race. Their enemies do the same: when Lebanon was attacked, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said: "This is a war that is fought by all the Jews." It wasn't. To say so is iniquitous, just as bad as the Jihadis who claim all of us Muslims are on their side or must be. The much admired writer Anne Karpf points this out in a beautifully articulated column: "If the Israeli government (wrongly) elides Israel with all Jews it is hardly surprising if anti-Semites do so too."

By reproducing this conflation in his book, the eloquent Anthony Julius undercuts his powerful case that anti-Semitism, a very light sleeper, is up again. Doubters have been given a reason to repudiate him. Oh, the pity of it all.


React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Front end web developer - URGENT CONTRACT

£250 - £300 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: **URGENT CONTRACT** Our...

Year 3 Teacher

£21000 - £31000 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: KS2 Teachers - Chelm...

ABAP Developer

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ampersand Consulting LLP: SAP ABAP Developer - Rugb...

Head of Finance - Media

£80000 - £90000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: Working for an International Mul...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Daily catch-up: Hislop the Younger, by-election polling and all about the olden days

John Rentoul
The bustling Accident & Emergency ward at Milton Keynes Hospital  

The NHS needs the courage to 'adapt and survive'

Nigel Edwards
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?