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Cruel Britannia

By Robert S. Wistrich

Anti-Semitism in Britain has gone mainstream.


A superb example of the ways in which anti-Zionism merged with anti-Semitism can be found in the person of John Bagot Glubb, the supreme commander of the Arab Legion in Israel’s War of Independence in 1948. Like many of his Arabist friends, this conservative Englishman regarded the creation of Israel as a crime. Glubb was an unabashed anti-Semite, who firmly believed that the “unlikable character” of the Jews had provoked their persecution throughout history; that most Russian and East European Jews were really Khazar Turks with no connection to the promised land; that the Jews were by nature aggressive and stiff-necked; and that the “vengeful” mentality of the Jewish people had been “passed down without a break from generation to generation.”18 Since biblical times, Jews had been imbued with “the idea of a superior race,” whose blood must not be contaminated “by inter-mixture with others.” Not only did Jews invent the idea of the “master race” theory, but their behavior towards Arabs was, he supposed, driven by Hitlerian politics.19
In a secret July 1946 memorandum, Glubb described the new Jews in Palestine as fusing the ancient, hateful Hebrew tradition with “a layer of up-to-date Eastern European fanaticism.” He claimed that they had copied Nazi techniques—embracing “the theories of race, blood and soil, the terrorism of the gunman, the inculcation of hate into the young, and the youth movements.” The young Jew of Palestine, Glubb concluded, was “as hard, as narrow, as fanatical, and as bitter as the Hitler youth on whom he is modeled.”20 At least four decades before it became fashionable to do so, Glubb described Zionism as a combination of “Judaism and Nazism.”
But the intellectual pioneer of the idea that Judaism is a form of Nazism in the 1950s was another eminent member of the British establishment, the historian Arnold J. Toynbee. His monumental A Study in History unequivocally indicted the Zionists as “disciples of the Nazis”; they had even chosen “to imitate some of the evil deeds that the Nazis had committed against the Jews.”21 Ignoring the Arab determination to strangle the infant State of Israel at birth, he suggested that Jews had gratuitously murdered and expelled peaceful Arabs in a bloodthirsty and unprovoked frenzy.
After the Six Day War, such comparisons became commonplace in the Soviet Union and spread more gradually in Western Europe, including Britain. One source in the Western liberal democracies was the rise of the New Left, with its dogmatic “anti-racism” that pilloried Zionist policy toward the Palestinian Arabs as “genocide” and upbraided British Jews for being reactionary accomplices of Israeli “fascism.”22
During the Lebanon war, the far-Left News Line accused the Zionists of employing “horrendous gas weapons which were once used against the Jewish people by the Nazis,” and of trying to carry out a “Final Solution” against four million Palestinians.23 Another organ of the British Left, Labor Herald, published in 1982 a cartoon that anticipated present-day calumny down to the last detail. A bespectacled, obviously Jewish Menachem Begin, then Israel’s prime minister, is shown wearing Nazi jackboots, a Death’s Head insignia, and a Star of David armband, raising his right arm in a Sieg Heil salute over a mountain of skull bones, Lebanon lying bleeding at his feet. The headline, in Gothic script, reads: “The ‘Final Solution.’”24
Then, as now, prominent British writers were in the vanguard of demonizing Israel, inverting the Holocaust, and spinning a web of anti-Semitic allusions. Best-selling children’s author Roald Dahl, for example, did not hesitate to brand Begin and Sharon in 1983 as “almost the exact carbon copies in miniature of Mr. Hitler and Mr. Goering.”25 They were “equally shortsighted,” “bloodthirsty,” and as deserving as their Nazi models to be arraigned by a war-crimes tribunal. “Never before in the history of mankind,” Dahl proclaimed, “has a race of people switched so rapidly from being much pitied victims to barbarous murderers.”26 For good measure he added that the Jews had been “cowards” in World War II.27
Demonization of Jews, whether as individuals or as a collective, thus enjoys a long pedigree in the upper echelons of British public life. True, it has never become the mainstay of public expression, the way it was in Soviet Russia and continues to be in many Arab countries. Yet unlike the rest of Europe, where since the Holocaust anti-Semitism has become far less acceptable among the ruling elites, and tends to be relegated to immigrant populations or political extremists, in Great Britain demonization of Jews and Israel has continued to enjoy the status of a legitimate minority opinion. It is especially troubling at so sensitive a moment for Europe’s Jews.
 
Today, anti-Semitic expression in Britain most commonly takes the form of virulent, disproportionate criticism of the Jewish state. It is of course the case that not all disagreement with Israeli policy should be considered anti-Semitic or illegitimate. But in Britain, and especially in the media, such criticism frequently leaves the bounds of civilized debate and indulges in demonization, flagrant double standards, and the implicit denial of Israel’s right to defend itself—in short, in the appropriation of the traditional modes of anti-Semitism.
One of the most important venues for anti-Israel views has been the media outlets, especially the state-owned British Broadcasting Corporation. While generally downplaying the jihadist motivations of militant Islam, the BBC has shown no such reticence in representing Israel’s efforts at self-defense. In many current-affairs programs, the image of a bloodthirsty, implacable Ariel Sharon was frequently contrasted with a relatively benign Yasser Arafat, portrayed until his death last year as the amiable, fatherly leader of the Palestinians. In interviews, Palestinian spokespeople are usually treated to soft and respectful questioning on British television, whereas Israelis, unless they explicitly repudiate Israeli policies, tend to be handled far more harshly. This partiality extends to vocabulary. The BBC consistently calls Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists “militants” or “radicals.”28 The word “terror” is almost never used, even for the most brutal Palestinian assaults on Israeli civilians—even as the network has no qualms about using the word to describe the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington, the Bali bombing, or similar attacks in Djerba, Casablanca, and Istanbul.29 The same pattern of bias is revealed when the BBC quotes verbatim unsubstantiated Palestinian accusations against Israel—such as the use of poison gas or depleted uranium—but openly challenges the authenticity of evidence Israel presents in its defense. Israeli sources cited by the BBC merely “allege” while Palestinians “report.” This attitude was particularly apparent in the screening on BBC Correspondent on March 17, 2003 of “Israel’s Secret Weapon,” a documentary depicting Israel as a rogue regime, Ariel Sharon as a Jewish Saddam Hussein, and Dimona, rather than Baghdad, as the rightful target of UN inspectors.30
The prejudice is not just a matter of bias among individual editors and reporters, but appears to be a consistent pattern throughout the BBC. Media Tenor, an independent, Bonn-based research group, conducted a 2003 study that found that the BBC’s Middle East coverage was 85 percent negative, 15 percent neutral, and 0 percent positive toward Israel.31
The Jenin affair offers a prime example of Israel-baiting in the British media. Many British journalists hailed the grossly inflated claims of 3,000 Palestinian dead after Israel’s assault on the refugee camp in April 2002 as proof of a major atrocity, without any attempt at serious verification. A.N. Wilson, a leading columnist of the London Evening Standard, informed his readers that “we are talking here of massacre, and a cover-up of genocide.”32 The Guardian compared Israel’s incursion into Jenin with al-Qaida’s attack of September 11 on New York. The Israeli action, it said, was “every bit as repellent in its particulars, no less distressing, and every bit as man-made.” The incursion, it added, “already has that aura of infamy that attaches to a crime of especial notoriety.”33 The Times’ correspondent, Janine di Giovanni, wrote that rarely had anyone seen “such deliberate destruction, such disrespect for human life.”34 Phil Reeves of the Independent spoke of Cambodia-style “killing fields,” quoting without any verification Palestinian claims of “mass murder” and wholesale “executions.” His dispatch began thus: “A monstrous war crime that Israel has tried to cover up for a fortnight has finally been exposed.”35 Indeed, months after a UN investigation concluded that there was no massacre in Jenin, and even Palestinian leaders had conceded the point, BBC anchors and its web site were implying that there were doubts about what had really happened.36
A particularly insidious example of how easily anti-Israeli defamation slides into anti-Semitic imagery was afforded by Dave Brown’s cartoon in the Independent, showing Ariel Sharon in the act of devouring the flesh of a Palestinian baby. Sharon is shown, nearly naked, wearing a Likud fig leaf, and in the background Apache helicopters fire missiles and blare, “Vote Likud.”37 This cartoon would not have looked out of place in Der Stürmer, but more strikingly recalls images of the medieval blood libels.38 But the Press Complaints Committee in the United Kingdom dismissed all protests, and this caricature was subsequently awarded first prize in the British Political Cartoon Society’s annual competition for 2003.39


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