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The Slow Awakening Of UK Jewish Leftists


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Mindless Jew-hatred conveniently masquerading as mere criticism of Israel is not a new phenomenon by any means, but it’s been rising to heretofore unimaginable levels in Britain – to the point where a number of left-wing British Jews have begun publicly moving away from their ideological soul mates.

First, for a taste of what passes for intellectual discourse among the British intellectual elite, consider the following tidbits from a London Review of Books symposium on January’s Gaza war (more than dozen academics and writers, Jewish and non-Jewish, Israeli, British and American, contributed, with nary a sympathetic note sounded on Israel’s behalf):

Eric Hobsbawm: “For three weeks barbarism has been on show before a universal public, which has watched, judged and with few exceptions rejected Israel’s use of armed terror against the one and a half million inhabitants blockaded since 2006 in the Gaza Strip….”

Yitzhak Laor: “Israel is engaged in a long war of annihilation against Palestinian society. The objective is to destroy the Palestinian nation and drive it back into pre-modern groupings based on the tribe, the clan and the enclave….”

Conor Gearty: It is just possible the killings in Gaza may mark the end of Israel’s disastrous plunge into militant Zionism. The key is Obama: will he collapse under pressure like most of his predecessors, or is there more to him? Let us assume he knows how senseless it is for the U.S. to collude in a crime of the kind going on in Gaza. There are ways of marking this without unleashing the pro-Israeli forces against him at too early a stage.”

There’s much, much more of this sort of thing, of course, and we’re dealing here with tweedy intellectuals or those who imagine themselves as such, not the excitable and increasingly violent rabble – protesters, graffiti vandals and street thugs – who have sent the rate of anti-Jewish incidents in the UK skyward.

And so it is perhaps understandable that a growing number of Britain’s leftist Jews are exceedingly uncomfortable with the constant comparisons of Israel to Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa issuing mostly from the political precincts they still call home, and that several have made that discomfort known.

Most of them take great pains to note their longstanding critique of Israeli policy, their support for the Palestinians, their revulsion at Israel’s allegedly inhumane behavior in prosecuting Operation Cast Lead, etc., but at least there’s a budding recognition that a significant proportion of anti-Israel sentiment is anti-Semitic at its core and that most of it is found on the Left.

We’ll end with an excerpt from an impassioned piece by the prominent British author Howard Jacobson (whose 1994 book Roots Schmoots is one of the wittiest and brutally honest attempts by a thoroughly secularized Jew to come to grips with Jewish culture and identity). Writing in the Feb. 18 edition of The Independent, Jacobson portrays the very air of Merry Old England as being suffused with hatred:

[T]he hatred of Israel expressed in our streets, on our campuses, in our newspapers, on our radios and televisions, and now in our theatres. A discriminatory, over-and-above hatred, inexplicable in its hysteria and virulence whatever justification is adduced for it; an unreasoning, deranged and as far as I can see irreversible revulsion that is poisoning everything we are supposed to believe in here – the free exchange of opinions, the clear-headedness of thinkers and teachers, the fine tracery of social interdependence we call community relations, modernity of outlook, tolerance, truth. You can taste the toxins on your tongue.But I am not allowed to ascribe any of this to anti-Semitism. It is, I am assured, “criticism” of Israel, pure and simple. In the matter of Israel and the Palestinians this country has been heading towards a dictatorship of the one-minded for a long time; we seem now to have attained it. Deviate a fraction of a moral millimeter from the prevailing orthodoxy and you are either not listened to or you are jeered at and abused, your reading of history trashed, your humanity itself called into question. I don’t say that self-pityingly. As always with dictatorships of the mind, the worst harmed are not the ones not listened to, but the ones not listening….

But responses to the fighting in Gaza have been such as to drive even the most quiescent of English Jews – whether quiescent because we have learnt to expect nothing else, or because we are desperate to avoid trouble, or because we have our own frustrations with Israel to deal with – out of our usual stoical reserve.

Jason Maoz can be reached at jmaoz@jewishpress.com

About the Author: Jason Maoz is the Senior Editor of The Jewish Press.


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