Back to the Future: British anti-Semitism returns-with a vengeance.
by Gabriel Schoenfeld
Like cancer, ideas can metastasize. In 2007, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt — the former a professor at the University of Chicago, the latter at Harvard — came out with The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. A “situation [that] has no equal in American history” had arisen, they wrote in the book (and in a paper bearing the same title posted on Harvard’s website). A domestic pressure-lobby–a body mostly comprising “American Jews making a significant effort in their daily lives to bend U.S. foreign policy so that it advances Israel’s interests” — had accumulated “unmatched power” and was using it to “skew” the American political system for its own narrow ends. Among other things, the Jewish lobby had used its “stranglehold” on Congress and “manipulation” of the mass media to propel the United States into war in Iraq.
Mearsheimer and Walt provoked a raging controversy, but apart from a few pockets in the universities and on the far left and right (the white supremacist David Duke was among their most enthusiastic endorsers), the book was mostly given short shrift. Reviewing The Israel Lobby in the New York Times, Leslie Gelb, former head of the Council on Foreign Relations, expressed dismay at the “puzzlingly shoddy scholarship” that led Mearsheimer and Walt to “fuel, inadvertently, . . . the fires of anti-Semitism.”
But if the respectable center dismissed the book in the United States, matters stand quite differently abroad. Before their book was published, Mearsheimer and Walt tried to peddle a shorter version, but found no takers. The article wound up appearing in the London Review of Books in 2006. The locale was not an accident. The soil in Great Britain was fertile for their thesis. Today, three years later, we can see some of its fruits.
An official inquest is now under way in London into the decisions that led Tony Blair’s government to join with the United States in going to war in Iraq. On the five-member board of inquiry sit Sir Martin Gilbert and Sir Lawrence Freedman, both distinguished historians and students of warfare. But their scholarly credentials are not what is today garnering attention.
Writing in the Independent, Oliver Miles, Great Britain’s former ambassador to Libya, has unearthed “facts” about the two men that he says are “not usually mentioned in the mainstream British and American media”: Both, he writes, “are Jewish.” This detail of their background, says Miles, threatens to undercut the credibility of the inquest: “Membership should not only be balanced; it should be seen to be balanced.”
In the same newspaper, the columnist Richard Ingrams called Miles’s comments “helpful.” The Iraq war, after all, was “initiated . . . by a group of influential American neocons . . . nearly all of whom were ardent Zionists.” Given the panel’s composition, the question arises of whether it will “investigate or even refer to the U.S. neocons and their links to Israel?” In other words, can Jews be trusted to investigate themselves?
Anti-Semitism has deep roots in England. In the 12th century, many of the country’s Jews were put to the sword in a wave of massacres. The 13th century began with the introduction of the yellow badge, the mandatory marking that Jews were compelled to wear, and ended with the mass expulsion of the Jews.
Fast forward to the 20th century. In its first half, anti-Semitism was rampant among the upper classes. It also thrived in the gutter. Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists — the “blackshirts” — drew fully a quarter of the vote in London’s 1937 municipal elections.
Today, Britain is awash with hatred of Jews carried in by followers of radical Islam who have found a congenial home in which to preach their genocidal doctrines. British soccer fans — where so many of the country’s violent dregs are concentrated — have never been shy about giving voice to neo-Nazi slogans. Anti-Semitic incidents in the first six months of 2009 alone — vandalism, hate mail, and direct violent attacks on Jews — already exceeded the entire number for 2008 and reached a level not seen since such statistics began to be compiled in 1984.
Both the soccer hooligans, the Muslim fanatics, and the perpetrators of violence are situated on the fringe. In the post-World War II era, the British establishment was resistant to the most blatant forms of a prejudice severely discredited by the scope of German atrocities committed in its name. To the extent it remained visible, it typically took the form of phantasmagorical demonization of the state of Israel.
In the direct assault on Gilbert and Freedman a corner has been turned. The old prewar brand of British anti-Semitism has reared its head. It is in this climate that Britain’s Channel 4 broadcast a documentary “investigation” of Britain’s own “pro-Israel Lobby.” This exposé examines what is said to be the extraordinary power of organized Jewry: “who they are, how they are funded, how they work and what influence they have, from the key groups to the wealthy individuals who help bankroll the lobbying.” With shades of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and shades of Mearsheimer-Walt, the program conveyed a picture of a nefarious conspiracy to plunge Britain into war in Iraq.
Voices in the Jewish community have expressed outrage at the documentary. The Times of London has denounced Ambassador Miles’s remarks about Gilbert and Freedman as “extraordinary and disgraceful.” But the Times‘s editorial declined to call the comments anti-Semitic, labeling them instead a “snide attack and irrelevant innuendo.” On the heels of this episode comes an astonishing ruling from Great Britain’s newly created high court holding that an Orthodox Jewish school is guilty of “discrimination” for insisting that matrilineal descent — a core precept of Judaism — determines who is a Jew and eligible to enroll. This not only tells Jews, laments the columnist Melanie Phillips in the Spectator, “that the state will not accept their own decision about who is or is not a member of their own community but uniquely stigmatises them for doing so.” Anti-Semitism is playing offense in Great Britain and those alarmed by it are in a crouch.
Writing not long after World War II, George Orwell noted that “prejudice against Jews has always been pretty widespread in England,” but the depredations of Hitler had caused a lull in public expression of such sentiments. During the war, many came to realize that “this is not a time to throw stones at the Jews.” But even though a taboo had set in, this hardly altered underlying sentiments: “Many people who would perish rather than admit to anti-Semitic feelings,” wrote Orwell, are nonetheless “secretly prone to them.”
Times have changed. Mearsheimer and Walt’s poison is doing its work, and the secret feelings are no longer so secret. Indeed, when it comes to Great Britain’s small Jewish community — some 300,000 souls in a country of 61 million — the soccer hooligans and the intellectual and media elite are increasingly united in their loutishness.
Gabriel Schoenfeld is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a resident scholar at the Witherspoon Institute. His Necessary Secrets: National Security, the Media, and the Rule of Law is due out next year.