Recently I wrote a post about an obtuse remark by the British Foreign Secretary, which I called ‘Perfidious Albion‘. So I can’t use that title again. Too bad.
MK Amir Peretz narrowly managed to escape an arrest warrant issued for him in London this past weekend on suspicion of committing war crimes during the Lebanon War…
It’s almost funny — some would suggest that rather than arrest him, they should have given a medal to the man who was probably the least qualified Minister of Defense in Israel’s history.
But is is not funny at all that Israeli officials (Tzipi Livni and retired Maj.-Gen. Doron Almog had similar issues) cannot safely visit the UK. Although the British government promised to solve the problem, apparently they can’t or don’t wish to.
I’m sure most of my readers know about the history of Anglo-Israeli relations. After Lord Balfour — whose Zionism stemmed primarily from his Christian restorationist belief — it was all downhill, as Britain did its best to subvert the Mandate for a Jewish National Home in Palestine, reaching a nadir with the White Paper of 1939, which called for Jews to die in Europe rather than upset British plans for the Mideast.
Or maybe the nadir was reached in 1948, when the British detained men of military age in Cyprus, supplied arms to the Arabs, trained and led Jordan’s Arab Legion, and used their aircraft to spy on Israel’s armies for the Arabs’ benefit. Or when they stood by and watched (or worse) the massacre of the Hadassah medical convoy that April. Or perhaps when they planned to go to war with Israel on behalf of Jordan in 1954.
It was a long time ago, perhaps, but I don’t think fundamental attitudes have changed. Today, with the addition of millions of relatively militant ‘Asians’ — Muslims, mostly from Pakistan — who live in the UK, there are more reasons for British policy to be anti-Israel. And the distinction between Israel-haters and Jew-haters, always somewhat blurry, seems to be mostly gone as the two groups have become more or less coextensive.
In a 2005 article, Jonathan Rosenblum described the way British elites, the BBC, etc. have legitimized antisemitic discourse:
A few years back, Penelope Wyatt reported in the Spectator the remark of a liberal peer, “Thank God, we can once again say what we want about the Jews.” More recently, a liberal commentator tried to reassure Melanie Phillips that there has been no upsurge in anti-Semitism. No, he explained helpfully, the anti-Semitism has always been there. What is changed now is that the taboos against its expression have fallen.
“What you have to understand is that we are just so relieved that we don’t have to worry about the Jews any more. Ever since the war we were told that because of their suffering, the Jews were above criticism. But now [thanks to Israel] that’s no longer the case,” he said.
It goes way back, as far as the period immediately following the Norman Conquest, according to Anthony Julius, who wrote a massive book called “Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England” documenting the metamorphoses of antisemitism over the centuries. The more it changes — taking religious, racial and political forms, says Julius, the more it stays the same, hearkening back to similar images and themes. The blood libels of the eleventh century aren’t that different from that expressed by the cartoon that won an award from the British Political Cartoon Society in 2003, that shows Ariel Sharon biting the head off of an Arab baby.
It’s another story, but Tim Benson, the Society’s Jewish President was, er, outraged by the outrage:
Mr Benson said the cartoon was a criticism of Mr Sharon and his policies, not a harangue against Jews. “I’m probably the most hated person in British Jewry now,” he said. “Jewish groups around the world are up in arms. These hysterical idiots are coming onto my site and calling me a Nazi. Do they not want people to have the freedom to express themselves?
“You couldn’t meet a nicer guy than Dave Brown. Cartoonists depict George Bush and Tony Blair in exactly the same way. If a cartoonist attacks the Israeli prime minister, it’s not necessarily anti-Semitic. Dave left the Star of David off the helicopters in the background.
Benson, of course, massively missed the point, which is that Sharon’s policies did not involve killing children. So why this image?
The answer, of course, is that it gets its power precisely by ringing an ancient bell, one that is deeply embedded in the perfidious British soul.