The “New Antisemitism” in Britain: Thoughts and Reflections
Thursday, April 29, 2010
Anthony Julius, prominent British lawyer and academic well known for his defense of Deborah Lipstadt when she was sued for libel by Holocaust denier David Irving, examines contemporary antisemitism in the United Kingdom. Specifically, he examines how it treats Zionism and the State of Israel as illegitimate Jewish enterprises and, in his view, constitutes a great threat to Anglo-Jewish security and morale.
An evening with Anthony Julius
SARA J. BLOOMFIELD:
We have a very important program tonight, and I'm Sara Bloomfield for those of you who don't know me -- welcome to the Museum. Tonight we have one of several programs we've been conducting at the Museum to explore one of the most important and perplexing issues of our time: contemporary antisemitism and its various manifestations. As we know antisemitism has a very long and varied history. It was a very strong phenomenon well before the Holocaust or the formation of the State of Israel, and yet those two pivotal events of the 20th century have now become very much the basis of an antisemitism that you see today, including forms of Holocaust denial. I know that those of us who are concerned about this issue look at its manifestations in the United States, in Europe, in the Middle East, and tonight we have a view from Europe from a very distinguished scholar. But to introduce that scholar, it’s my pleasure to introduce someone who for most of us needs no introduction in this Museum. Deborah Lipstadt's imprint you will see all over this Museum, from our Permanent Exhibition to our Web site to our governing council -- she chaired our academic committee, our education committee --so she has really had a strong influence on many parts of the Museum. And of course, she is well known to most of the world for her work on denial and her trial. Deborah, it’s a great pleasure to introduce you. [applause]
Were this a traditional introduction, I would read a long list of accolades and positions that our speaker, Anthony Julius, has held. I would tell you that he's Deputy Chairman of a prominent and very important law firm in London, Mishcon de Reya, I would tell you that he is a professor at London University in the English Department, where he teaches Comparative Literature, I would list all the honors and the accomplishments. But you can Google that and find that out. I'd like to speak to you more personally tonight because Anthony and I have had a relationship now that goes back probably 15 years, and I'd like to do it by reading to you from my own book, History on Trial. The scene is a couple of months after I've learned that David Irving is intending to sue me for libel in the United Kingdom. At that point, I am depending on Penguin, my co-defendant and my publisher, for legal representation. They had published my book in which I called David Irving a Holocaust denier, something I thought was not at all edgy to do, and he threatened to sue me for libel and was proceeding with that. And I thought I would let Penguin represent me until my own lawyer in Atlanta said to me, "Deborah, you should get someone who cares about your interests and only your interests." And I didn't know what to do and somewhat serendipitously, a common friend of mine and of Anthony's, Mike Whine, who works for a Jewish organization in the United Kingdom that fights antisemitism and racism, called me and I'd like to describe what happened at this point.
[Reads from book] “Although Penguin and I were both being sued, our perspectives on the case were clearly different. Penguin was a worldwide publishing conglomerate with an extensive backlist of classics in the adult and childrens book market. It was a subsidiary of Pearson, one of the United Kingdom's largest public companies which owned, among other companies, The Financial Times. It was a leading publisher of college texts. Though I realized that as a publisher of distinguished literature with an impressive list of authors, Penguin would have an incentive not to settle with David Irving, still I feared that the undetermined, but clearly high, cost of a lawsuit might make them and their parent company wary. I realized that I needed someone to formulate a legal strategy to suit my interests. As I was contemplating my options, a friend in London who knew about the case called me. He reported that Anthony Julius, an exceptionally smart, first-rate lawyer had contacted him to say that he would help me, pro bono if need be. Having heard all the right words -- ‘exceptionally smart,’ ‘first-rate,’ and ‘pro bono,’ -- I breathed a sigh of relief. Julius' name rang a bell. I asked my friend if this was the same person who had written T.S. Eliot: Anti-Semitism & Literary Form. The book had been published a few months earlier and all the reviews had mentioned that the author, Anthony Julius, was a lawyer in London with clients such as the Princess of Wales. My friend laughed. He was clearly laughing at me. Confused by his laughter, I said nothing. But then I added as an afterthought, ‘Isn't he also Princess Diana's lawyer?’ Still chuckling, my friend remarked that I was one of the few people who would put it in that order.”
But for me, after this case, Anthony became far more than either Princess Diana's lawyer or an author of a book on T.S. Eliot, he became my lawyer and my friend. Many people here, including some as I walked into this room and today sitting in the library of this institution doing my own research, came up to me to tell me how important they thought my trial was and how significant. Survivors say it to me every time I cross the doorstep of this building, come to me to thank me. Well, if you're going to thank me, I think it is imperative that you also thank the person from whom you are going to hear tonight. I am pleased, honored, privileged to introduce to you my friend, my lawyer, someone from whom I learned, sometimes whom I teach things, my compatriot, but best of all, my friend, Anthony Julius. [applause]
Thank you very much, good evening. I have a tendency to speak softly, which is not what you'd expect from a courtroom lawyer, so if people can't hear me, just wave. You can’t hear me. You see, I thought I'd start well even if I declined. How's that? Much better. I need to lean forward I think. Look, I'm very taken aback really to be here, it’s a rather overwhelming experience for me, I've not been to this Museum before. Its associations, the very purpose to which it’s dedicated, leaves one feeling rather dwarfed. It’s important I think to recognize that, because when one talks about antisemitism now, it’s almost impossible not to talk about it in the shadow of the Holocaust, and that’s something which is so to speak for good and for ill. And I'm going to develop that a bit, but can I just say now that my plan is to speak for 30 minutes -- although how I'll tell that 30 minutes have elapsed I'm not sure because I'm not sure because I don’t think there's a... will someone that can hear me wave? But I need two different signals. I need a "speak up" signal and I need a "30 minute signal." And let’s not confuse them. [laughter]
I sometimes… I’ve just finished a long book on English antisemitism and it has been been largely a dispiriting and unrewarding experience, I have felt pretty much like someone must feel who has run a long distance race through a sewer. I've spent time with something that I detest because I thought it was important to elaborate on its place in English culture over 700, 800, years. The undertaking is a novel one, there has been no other general history of English antisemitism and it seemed something that was important to do, but it has not been an experience that has come without cost. I felt it to be a distraction, an unrewarding distraction, and I think that parallels the experience that most of us have of antisemitism in general. It intrudes itself in our lives, it’s unwelcome, at the very least it’s unwelcome, because it takes us away from the things that we value and it demands, in an aggressive and unappealing way, it demands our attention.
Sometimes when working on the subject, I felt that the whole exercise was utterly pointless. And then I consoled myself with a remark that the great Talmudist Saul Lieberman who taught at the JTS for many years, made when introducing Gershom Scholem, the great Kabbalist. This is a story that has acquired a great deal of significance for me and I’d like to share it with you tonight. Lieberman was a Talmudist of the old school, utterly rationalist, committed to the close study of Talmudic concepts in a rigorous and unsparing style. Scholem, Gershon Scholem, the great historian of the Kaballah, that kind of monument one might say to irrationalism and represented everything Lieberman most disliked in the Jewish intellectual tradition.
He was asked to introduce Scholem at the JTS and how to reconcile the disregard he had for Scholem’s subject with the necessary politeness he would have to show to Scholem and the genuine regard he had for Scholem as a scholar. And it’s plain that it caused him some considerable anxiety, and his friends and colleagues were aware of this anxiety and they then themselves became anxious because he was charged with introducing Scholem and his colleagues began to fret that he would do so in a way which simply exasperated Scholem and didn't show the appropriate respect for a visiting scholar. In any event, Lieberman hoisted himself up in front of a large audience of students and scholars and said, "Well, rubbish is rubbish of course, but the study of rubbish, that can be scholarship. Professor Scholem, stand up." [laughter] I thought that the study of antisemitism is rubbish. Forgive me! A significant slip. Antisemitism is rubbish. The study of antisemitism, I hope that that can be scholarship. I hope that it can enlighten us and also it can be a weapon. It can help us understand the challenge of contemporary antisemitism and not mix it up with other antisemitism in the past to which the present has a family relation, but is not identical, and I'm going to develop that in a moment.
But the reception of my book caused me and continues to cause me some bemusement and what I'd like to do is I’d like to tell you one story and then draw certain conclusions from it and that will lead me into a discussion of the nature of English antisemitism, and I'm going to distinguish that from other forms of contemporary antisemitism and historical antisemitism. That’s the plan, and I'm going to do that over the next 20 or so minutes and then we'll have questions and I'm sure the discussion will then range somewhat more widely. But let me begin with the anecdote.
I was speaking at a literary festival about a month ago in Oxford. The audience was almost entirely non-Jewish, sympathetic, perfectly amenable to what I was saying. And then there was the inevitable book signing afterwards and there was more than an acceptable queue. And halfway through the signing the woman in the queue, she came to the head of the queue, she stood in front of me and she just folded her arms and beamed at me with no book in her hand. Someone who beams at you with no book in their hand is a kind of challenge of etiquette. Do you beam back? Do you smile at the face or scowl at the folded arms? Of course, I beamed and she beamed back and we were caught in a moment out of time of mutual and uncomprehending, reciprocal beaming, and I thought, “Is she going to say something? How am I going to break out of this?” She shook her head and she said to me, "You Jews. You Jews." And I said, "Yes?" "You Jews, your Jews..." and I said, "Yes?" The people behind who HAD books in their hands were becoming slightly restive, and then she said, "My husband is an undertaker.” Okay. “You Jews... you Jews, you’re so powerful, I'm so impressed, you're so powerful. You bury your dead the next day." And then she left. [laughter] Running the world is one thing, burying your dead is plainly a rather more significant achievement in this fantasist's mind. She only meant well, she didn't buy the book so she didn't mean that well, but she only meant well. She stood in appreciative amazement at a representative Jew and she wanted to impart her admiration for our extraordinary power.
Now, what can one say about that? It’s a curious thing but it’s not freakish, it has a representative quality about it. And I'd like to suggest that its representative quality says something about one kind of contemporary antisemitism. You see in this place, on this stage, it’s actually, I was going to say it’s easy, let me say it’s almost impossible not to think of antisemitism in terms of the Shoah. And any lesser expression of antisemitism one simply assimilates to the Shoah as so to speak preparatory to it. One has a conception of antisemitism as one thing, a lethal, genocidal thing, and every kind of antisemitism that is not that in itself, has it, so to speak, latently. There's one antisemitism. And it is exterminatory. The French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre said, the antisemite is a man who has murder in his heart. This is a proposition at the beginning of the 21st century that it is, at the very least, counterintuitive to challenge. And yet it seemed to me, that actually it would be perhaps an aid to an understanding of the protean character of antisemitism if one did undertake the exercise of challenging it, perhaps arriving at the end of the process of investigation at a conclusion that perhaps some antisemites have nothing more than a kind of confused mixture of admiration and perplexity and a certain measure of ill-will in their hearts and would draw back from murder or even legislative restriction or discrimination. That rather unintelligent woman, she was imparting to me that lesson. I mean she wasn't intending to, but she so to speak spoke the lesson.
English antisemitism, which is the principal focus of my study, English antisemitism cannot be assimilated to the Holocaust paradigm. It cannot be treated as so to speak resting at some mid-point on a single slippery slope to the death camps. And because of that, it encourages us to think about different kinds of antisemitism, the possibility that there are different kinds of antisemitism. Indeed, if one reflects on English antisemitism, one finds that it itself is not one thing, it’s in fact four different things.
There was an English antisemitism that was medieval, the Jews arrived in England in the wake of the Norman conquests, they settled at first peaceably, they were prosperous, but by the middle of the 12th century, the blood libel had emerged, the King began to tax the Jews, and then from taxing them simply began to expropriate their assets, their wealth. Jews were exposed to random and state-led violence. Antisemitism in England, in that 150-year period until the Jews were expelled in 1290, actually had all the characteristics of the exterminatory antisemitism that this institution is such a distinguished and remarkable monument to.
But then the Jews left. And they were away for several hundred years. And during that time, a literary antisemitism emerged and it took hold in the great authors of the English canon: Chaucer, Shakespeare, the 19th century Dickens. And it was specific to literature. It had no necessary implications for the way in which Jews were treated in day-to-day life. It didn't lead to prescriptions, to discrimination. It was a discourse that was sufficient in itself. And that literary antisemitism has persisted to the present day and that's the second kind and it’s quite different to the first kind, so already we must recognize two different kinds of antisemitism.
Then there was a third kind and that emerged when Jews began to return in the middle of the 17th century. There was a civil war, it led to the execution of a king, for a brief time England was a republic, and during that republican period, Jews petitioned for the right to return and although that petition was ultimately rejected, nonetheless in a typically British way, the authorities looked the other way and Jews began to return, established the synagogue, and here we are...(or here we are when I’m speaking in England). But there was an antisemitism, again different; it was an antisemitism of snobbery, of condescension, of partial exclusion, restriction, it was an antisemitism that kept Jews at somewhat of a distance, but it didn't really exercise as a constraint on our ability to prosper, realize ourselves as Jews as well as English men and women. When I left university and I applied to law firms for a training contract, I was told there were some law firms in the city, in London, that didn't take Jews. When I applied to what we call public school but here would be called a private school, there was a quota. Only a certain number of Jews were allowed each year. Scandalous. Scandalous that there should be a numerous clausus, scandalous that there should be law firms that don't take Jews or don't promote Jews to partner. But did that lead to oppression? We got round it. We set up our own firms, we worked that bit harder, I'm not recommending it, of course not, but at the same time to seek to relate it to that first kind of antisemitism, that lethal, innovative, state-sponsored antisemitism of the first Jewish settlement, still less to a Holocaust model, makes no sense. It simply leaves one confused, and perplexed, and mystified before the heterogeneous phenomenon of antisemitism.
Then there's a fourth kind, and it’s the fourth kind that is subsisting now. It’s the one which is the least distinctively British but it has its own British characteristics and that’s what I think will be recognized in this room as an antisemitic anti-Zionism, a hatred of the Jewish state. A hatred which makes of the Jewish state the Jew among the nations. And that again is distinct.
So of these four antisemitisms, one can say many things and there are of course many characteristics that they share. But there are also many differences and just as it would be wrong to interpret the one by reference to the other, so I suggest that it would be wrong to interpret any of them by reference to the Holocaust paradigm, if I can call it that. Now this is a challenge to advocacy, it’s a challenge to Jews today, what I’ve just described is a challenge because it would be so much simpler if one were able to say, "Yes, antisemitism is always and ever one thing and it is that ultimate horror of the death camps and any antisemite in any context who embraces hatred of the Jews is, so to speak, a candidate for a job in Auschwitz." Let me put it as bluntly as that.
This is a temptation that we all have. Now I think, and I spend a great deal of my time in Israel advocacy, a large part of my pro bono practice is acting for Israeli institutions and against anti-Zionist entities. I have been engaged, for example, for some time now, about 5 years, every year in litigating or threatening to sue the academic union, the UCU, for its boycott resolutions against Israel. But I work hard in the context of the conflict which is very bitter in Britain at the moment, between Jews on the one hand and anti-Zionists on the other hand, I work hard to promote an understanding of antisemitism which does not allow own goals. Now, let me spend a moment talking about anti-Zionism. There was a time about 110, 120 years ago, there was a time when the only anti-Zionists were Jews. When Zionism/anti-Zionism were political positions that were only of interest to Jews. Jews debated the future of the Jewish people intensively at the end of the 19th century. There was a generation following the emancipation, perhaps two generations, in some parts of Europe -- in eastern Europe emancipation was still a very fragile thing -- but Jews asked themselves, “What is our future?” And they gave three answers. Some said our future rests in the nations of which we're citizens, which is perhaps best described as the acculturation or assimilation option. Jews would practice their religion privately, but in all other respects would identify themselves with the fortunes, the character of the nation to which they belonged, a powerfully appealing option for Jews in America and in western Europe.
In eastern Europe, things were rather different. Wasn't so easy for Jews to identify with nations that essentially didn't want them. And there two other options were canvassed. One was an option of revolution. The other was an option of Jewish nationalism. The first option, the socialist option, invited Jews to subordinate their national religious identity to class, to the class interests of the proletariat, to the revolutionary ambitions of the radical leftist parties and that was immensely appealing to many, many Jews. The other option, the nationalist option, was the Zionist option. And eastern Europe was divided, essentially between revolutionaries and Jewish nationalists; the anti-Zionists were revolutionaries, they were anti-Zionists BECAUSE they were revolutionaries. One of the interesting features of contemporary anti-Zionism is that it actually is not a consequence of any positive position. Anti-Zionism now is a free-floating substitute for an ideology. It is a kind of nihilistic, destructive desire to pull down the Jewish state regardless of what can replace it. It is an important distinction between what plagues us now and what existed then. But then that was the landscape.
And even in the 1920s, even in the 1920s, when things were already looking pretty bleak, the debate raged. In Poland alone, there were no less than 20 socialist Zionist parties contending for Jewish support -- never mind the revisionist Zionists, never mind the non-Zionist parties. 20 socialist Zionist parties, each one arguing with the other, of course, over the minutest of ideological differences -- what Freud called the narcissism of small differences, the ones that really pinch -- divided the Polish Jewish kehillah.
Now, what happened to all that ideological ferment and debate in the Jewish community? The Holocaust smashed it to pieces. The Iron Curtain cut it and the only bright thing that enlivened Jewish communal life in the middle of the 20th century, the State of Israel was established. Assimilation was a fact for western European/American Jews. Socialism was utterly dead for Jews. And Zionism realized itself in a sovereign state, and the Jewish question, the question of what is the future of the Jews just died for Jews. And we entered an apolitical period of at least a generation. After the horrors of the Second World War and the miracle of 1948, we entered an apolitical period of 45, 46, 47, 48, to 67. 20-25 years. Antisemitism ceased to be a creditable position. The Jewish question itself was solved in ways that combined horror with a kind of elevated achievement and that was that. And then the Six Day War happened and then the Yom Kippur War happened in '73, and then there was the UN motion on Zionism and racism in '75 in '82 there was the Lebanon War, and then most consequential of all in '89, the most consequential of all, the whole socialist ambition, the whole revolutionary program that still seized the imagination of large parts of the European left came crashing down with the implosion of the Soviet system, the utter ignominious collapse of communism. And during that period, from '67-'89, and then from 1989 to the present, in various stages and with a detail that's impossible to relate in this brief period that I have in front of you, but nevertheless across this period in the sketchiest way, let me say that an antisemitic version of anti-Zionism emerged, which is the one that we grapple with now.
And it has very little to do, except in one major respect, it has very little to do with the antisemitism that led to the Shoah. And one can identify the differences quite easily. Number one: it’s an antisemitism that comes from the left, or as I prefer to think of it, the post-left, the post-1989 activists who are marooned in a place in which socialism is dead and there is no positive program for the future. There are instead merely a legacy of hatreds; hatred of America the winner of the Cold War; ahatred of capitalism; a hatred of the Jewish state. It’s a kind of impure, post-leftist, nihilism that seizes the imagination of the largest element of Israel's enemies. But it comes from that place, it doesn't come from the right, the Holocaust was a creation of the right, of the radical right. Antisemitic anti-Zionism is a creation of the left, of the radical left. One difference.
Second difference: contemporary antisemitic, anti-Zionism lives in and is a creation of civil society, not the state. The state, and please, allow me for one moment to put to one side the monumental problem, or threat, of Iran and state-sponsored antisemitism in the Arab world. Let me put that to one side and I promise you I'll come back to it. But as far as the west is concerned, as far as the anti-Zionism in the west is concerned, the kind of antisemitic anti-Zionism that is such a problem for young Jewish students at universities, this is a product of non-state actors. Of NGOs, of political parties, of pressure groups, of lobby groups, and so on. Radically different to the state-sponsored persecutions of the Shoah. Indeed it is quite interesting because in the anti-boycott work that I'm doing, I'm often able to rely upon anti-racism legislation to defeat boycott proposals. So one is actually invoking so to speak the authority of the state against the antisemites. This contest between state and antisemites is radically different to the Shoah model.
Now, where does that leave an understanding of the phenomenon of antisemitic anti-Zionism in the west? I think it leaves us in this position. It is not to be characterized as constituting a threat comparable to the Nazi threat. It therefore has to be addressed in a radically different way. What is that way? In my view, it’s the way of education. Of advocacy, it’s a way which is intimately associated with education, with research, with argument. I debate quite a lot and I'm constantly struck by the ignorance of our enemies. I debated in Parliament a year or so ago and a young chap stood up, after I'd finished my address, and said, "That's all very well, but everybody knows that Israel is a racist, settlist state, was founded on the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, and it practices apartheid." And I said to him, "Do you know that?" "Everybody knows it." And I said, "Yes, but do you know that? And how do you know it? Have you made a study of the events of 1947-48, do you know about the Peel Commission report? Do you know that the Palestinians turned down not once but twice the opportunity of a state before Israel was created? Have you read the work of Benny Morris and Efraim Karsh on the circumstances of the '48 war? Do you understand that there would have been no population transfers were it not for the war, war which was started by the Arab states, do you know that the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza was an occupation conducted by Jordan & Egypt from '48 to '67? Did you know that the only universities that exist in the West Bank and Gaza were built after '67? Are you aware that Arabs have civil rights, in Israel, that are the envy of the rest of the Arab world?" I found that this antisemitic, anti-Zionism, this anti-Zionism which is hospitable to the oldest tropes of antisemitism -- that the Jews are a maligned conspiracy seeking to exercise the direction of the world in ways that suit our collective, corporate interests; that Jews prey in menacing and sometimes lethal ways on non-Jews; the blood libel that is routinely deployed and applied to IDF troops; the very entertaining of what is absurdly called the one-state solution which is in fact nothing more than a call for the dissolution for the Jewish state with all the chaos and suffering and human disaster that would follow from, God forbid, such an event. All of this is predicated yes, on some malice, yes on ill will, but essentially from the generality of the advocates of these positions, the generality of the people who use this kind of language saturated in antisemitism, is based on the most abysmal ignorance and it collapses, often, not always, it collapses in the face of the facts.
Now, are we in possession of the facts? One of the problems, certainly in Britain, is that our Jewish young are themselves desperately uneducated in Jewish history and the history of Israel and the character of antisemitism. They shrink from confrontation often, because they find themselves ill-equipped to address it. I have a number of children and they are "Jewishly" educated and they have been to university, three of them, one of them is at university at the moment, and they are engaged in advocacy of the kind that I have described but they also sometimes find themselves, they are relatively unusual, but they find themselves in a position where they are repeatedly caught out by statements that are made which have no foundation in fact but which have becomes such received wisdom that they are asserted with utter confidence and one has to push through the barrier of that self confidence before it’s even possible to get an acknowledgement that just perhaps the statements have no truth in them.
My daughter told me a story. She went to Sussex University, this was several years ago now, and she phoned me and said, "You know Daddy, I have only been at University for two weeks." I said, "I know, I miss you already." "I went to a debate and it was about Israel. Why should the first debate of the year be about Israel?" I said, "You've got a lot to learn." She said some guy stood up and said all the Jews of Israel should go back to where they came from...America. And she said, "What was that guy on?" So I said, "What did you do?" And she said, "Well, I stood up and I said to him, 'Are you an idiot?'" So I said, "Uh huh, what did he say?" And she said, "No, Daddy you don't understand. I just repeated ‘are you an idiot’ until he sat down." And she's very brave, very enterprising, and I only tell this story with appropriate parental pride, but nevertheless, it is somewhat limited as a response. It doesn't always work, apparently. Deborah and I were talking, yesterday or today, I can't remember, the last 24 hours about a nonsense that has become a part of the received wisdom, this idea that Israel was the creation of the West because the guilt that the West experienced over the Holocaust. And one hears it everywhere and it’s then followed by the complaint, " then why should the poor Arab people suffer for the crimes and sins of the West?" It’s taken for granted that this is the case and then one is expected to argue, "Well, not withstanding, Israel now exists…" and so on. It’s just rubbish. There is absolutely no truth in it. There was no guilt experienced by the victorious Allies because, of course, they were only impressed, and rightly so, with their efforts to bring the war to an end, and the misery of the Jews to an end, and however much it was too late and however much it was too little, and of course it is also not true as we know from the research of Robert Satloff and others that the Arab world was neutral during the Holocaust. We know that had the Peel Commission's recommendations been accepted and a Jewish state been established in '37, '38, passports could have been issued to the shortly to be stateless Jews of central Europe and some but not all -- the suggestion that all the Jews of central Europe could have been saved is a radical and absurd overstatement -- but nevertheless many Jews would have found a home and Rommel permitting as we know would have lived. We also know that the leader of the Palestinian Arabs was an active supporter of Hitler and spent many of the war years in Berlin agitating in favor of harsher and harsher treatment of Jews; raised an SS unit from Bosnian Muslims; and I could go on. So the idea that Israel was so to speak "brought into existence" through some act of guilt by the West rather than so to speak Jews in Palestine taking their future into their own hands and making a state, and the idea that that state was imposed on an Arab population that was neutral during the second war...both those propositions are utter nonsense. I'm optimistic enough to think that if adequately informed, that kind of antisemitism, an antisemitism which essentially derives from ignorance and a rather facile, kind of liberal guilt by proxy, can be dissipated. It doesn't come from the state. It doesn't express itself in legislation enacted by antisemitic parties. Its instead a public sentiment which is widespread but is essentially dispersible.
I said I would speak for 30 minutes and nobody has waved to tell me -- so I'm over the limit -- you waved. You did it in a very gentle and subtle way. I'm going to pause now…then in that case, let me take a brief break and ask if there are any questions at the moment.
The question, at least I think the way the question is formulated is, do I believe that all the vice is on one side and all the virtue on the other, and to formulate the question is to invite the inevitable answer, "No," because politics is not like that and people are not like that. Israel has made many mistakes and in fact, in my book, I ask the question, what would a non-antisemitic criticism of Israel look like? And I ponder the question across 2 or 3 pages, I don't dismiss it in a perfunctory way, and explore what could be said about the character of the post-1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and I think many tough things can be said. But I don't think that we should allow ourselves to be seduced into a kind of phony symmetry. I think that the Arab national movement in what was Palestine, was hopelessly badly led and continues to be badly led, now led in two entirely different directions, and I think that the hostility to the Zionist project is so mired in a specifically Islamist, antisemitism, one that simply cannot acknowledge that the Jews have, so to speak, a right to a life which is not one of subordination that this in itself without looking any further [inaudible]... peace between Israel and Arabs who live next door to Israel and those who live in Israel. And I think that that's all I want to say about that, other than this. It seems to me that to be perfectly possible to take a position on Israel which is tough and critical without at the same time resorting to antisemitism.
Let me identify three simple rules that I think would evacuate much of the debate, much of the conflict, of its antisemitic character. Rule number one: don't compare Israel to the Nazis. Don't talk about a 120- year conflict between two parties who have engaged with each other in relative positions of strength and weakness as if the whole war, the whole conflict, can be understood in reference to a model of a ruthless persecutor and an utterly virtuous and innocent victim. That's nonsense and the utterly disgusting analogies that are routinely drawn in antisemitic, anti-Zionist discourse between Israel and the Nazis is simply an elaboration in contemporary times of a very very long established, antisemitic trope which is to relate Jews to what they are most taken to fear or hate or be in conflict with. That’s the first thing.
The second thing is do not write about Israel in language that is resonant of the blood libel, do not write about Israel as if Israel is engaged in some murderous project against non-Jews, against the non-Jewish world, don’t write about Israel as if it is part or leading some international Jewish conspiracy with representatives of the Jewish lobby in the nations of the West, particularly of this country and in Britain. Don't write about Israel in that way either. So, no Nazi comparisons, no blood libel, no conspiracy theories, and don't think, last point -- fourth of three points -- don't think that when you propose a one-state solution, that you are promoting anything less than the destruction of the Jewish state and of the Jews. And if Israel’s critics, through what I consider to be a perfectly manageable of moral self-restraint eschewed those stances, I think the whole debate would be elevated and the course of peace would be advanced.
I am something of an optimist; the pessimistic view is that there is a monolithic Muslim entity which is transnational in its character, which is squatting now inside Europe, and adheres to anti-Western and antisemitic political positions and is simply waiting until it gains that critical mass through population growth to make the lives of Jews and, so to speak, older Europeans intolerable -- that's the view, I don't think I am caricaturing it. I think that it overlooks the curiously self-doubting way the immense potency of the appeals of the values of the West, and I see in my own experience, my own law firm is exceptionally diverse in its composition, and I see in my children's generation and indeed in my own generation, a gradual integration and indeed to some degree secularization of the quite heterogeneous Muslim communities in Britain. Of course, one always sees a great deal unfortunately of a withdrawing from civil society; one sees a great deal of the sort of voluntary ghettoization and there is no doubt that there is a conflict going on within the Anglo-Muslim world, actually. But I believe sufficiently in the appeal of the values that I think we all adhere to, to believe that that they will prevail. I'm more optimistic.
I'm particularly wary of questions which begin with "I'm kind of confused by what you said," because usually it means, "You're completely wrong. But I'm just too polite to say so." And it may be that it was phrased in that polite way because after all, you're dealing with an English Jew, and we are a little different. Let me answer your three points in this way. First of all, are English Jews different? Yes, I think it was truly said of Jewish communities that they are distinguished from the non-Jewish larger community of which they find themselves only by the fact that they are, in England for example, more English than the English. We take on and so to speak unintentionally parody some of the virtues and charactistics of our host nations, maybe, I'm not quite sure what aspects of your behavior encouraged your friends to think that you were not Jewish but perhaps that’s for a private discussion. I see nothing at the moment which troubles me. Your second question, I've completely forgotten. Education, thank you. Yes, of course, my examples are ad-hoc. Yes, education has to be more systematic than that. An initiative which my firm actually undertook with the Union of Jewish Students, was to produce a pamphlet, a guide for Jewish students to contemporary antisemitism and this academic year, last September, it was given out at the freshers fair, the first week of the first term, to all Jewish students. I think this was an important initiative and I believe it is beginning to come to fruition now because I think students are beginning to feel intellectually empowered, somewhat, to address the kind of challenges that I was describing.
And your third point was, yes, can you remember? Yes, perhaps there is only one paradigm after all, because certainly preceding state-sponsored antisemitism, there was a broader current of antisemitism in civil society into which the Nazis tapped. Let me answer like this. At a certain height, everything looks the same. The great German philosopher Hegel, who was not known for his sense of humor, made one joke in his masterwork The Phenomenology of Mind which I spent many unrewarding months studying when I was an undergraduate. He said of an earlier German philosopher with whom he was in contention, "Of course, so and so, Schlegel thinks this, but that's because he doesn't understand that at night time, all cows are black." The point that he was making is that once one gets to a birds-eye or even Olympian perspective, everything seems the same. I think actually that the Jewish principle of lehavdil, the making of a distinction, this I think serves us better, and the distinctions that I’m making, I think, honor that perspective.
There is an argument inside Anglo-Jewish historiography about whether something called an emancipation contract existed and if so, what its characteristics were. The emancipation contract essentially is articulated in this way: in return for emancipating you, you have to meet and continue to meet, certain conditions. [inaudible] There is an implication there, it is said, by those who advocate this historiographical position that England's Jews were presented with this emancipation contract: in return for emancipation, you will be required not to distinguish yourselves as a separate community in political terms, you will identify yourselves with the fortunes and future of the nation, and you will, so to speak, keep your heads down.
The other view is that no such emancipation contract was required, not least because it doesn't really make sense to talk of emancipation in Britain, certainly not on the continental European model. Jews born in Britain from the middle of the 17th century, with some marginal exceptions, were broadly speaking in no different a position to the generality of the population and most restrictions on Jews were the byproduct of restrictions on Catholics. So my view, to address your actual question on deficiencies of Anglo-Jewish advocacy... I don't think we do too badly. I think that we could do better. But I think it would be wrong to look at the situation in America, in a country which is committed to the full-throated advocacy of special interest groups and minority groups which actually understands the nature of robust debate in civil society, and in which there is a Jewish community of very very significant proportion in comparison with a paltry 200,000, 225,000 Jews in a country of 60 million, Britain. I don't think we do too badly. I think that we have failed to adequately address the challenge of the boycott movement and that is a personal regret for me, and there are a complicated reasons for that, I hope that we will do better. [Question from audience] Can I do better? Sorry? Actually, disdain is not the problem. Disdain from the non-Jewish world is not the problem. The problem is the Jews finding the strength in themselves to actually engage in the fight, that's the problem. And it is a problem.
Difficult questions. Let me say this. Deborah and I talk about this a lot because Holocaust denial is what brought us together. My sense is that Holocaust denial and the way in which we confronted it 15 years ago is not so much a problem now as a kind of Holocaust affirmation of a rather perverse kind. A Holocaust affirmation which consists of saying "Yes the Holocaust happened, and it’s happening again." So it’s happening in Gaza, it’s happening in Ramallah, it’s happening in Nablus, that that perverse Holocaust affirmation, which is entirely antisemitic in its thrust because what it’s saying is, "Let us rub the Jews' noses in their own suffering and compare them to their persecutors. Let’s drag them down to the moral level of their tormenters as a way of insulting them.” And what could be a greater insult? And the relish of the insult is what is so striking. A role of the Holocaust Museum to insist upon the specificity of the Holocaust and to stand against that kind of grotesque analogizing, that seems to answer your second question, a very easy thing to do, conceptually a very easy thing to do, and something that should be done.
Let me answer your first question by making a confession that I actually had a substantial part in drafting the first version of the report. Yes, it does very much take the line that the contemporary challenge to Jews is essentially the challenge of antisemitic anti-Zionism. The next question which is what does it propose by way of solution, that’s much more difficult because in the end, it’s very hard for parliamentarians to do anything other than propose legislation and legislation is not the way that this problem is to be addressed. It can't be legislated out of existence, it can only be dealt with and addressed in different ways by the kind of ways I have described; by advocacy, by collective efforts, but the report welcomes that kind of effort. And certainly John Mann and Denis MacShane, who is the then chair of the parliamentary committee against antisemitism, have themselves joined that fight. They are extraordinary doughty fighters on behalf of the Jewish community--neither of them are Jewish--and against antisemitism. The report by the way can be read online. And Denis MacShane has written a book on contemporary antisemitism called Globalizing Hatred or Globalized Hatred, which I recommend, it also has the significant merit of being a fraction of the length of my own.
It’s a most interesting question, when I was thinking about the specific properties of English antisemitism, it was terribly easy to do so in relation to the first because the medieval acts of antisemitism were distinguished by its extraordinary innovative properties; the blood lie first appeared in England and then spread elsewhere and the expulsion of Jews in 1290 was the first nationwide expulsion anywhere in the world. The church-led persecution was more intense in England than anywhere else. That was easy. It was easy to identify what was specifically English about that. As for the second kind of antisemitism, no nation has contributed such rich antisemitic literary works as England, it’s a matter of a kind of perverse pride. If one thinks about it Shylock and Fagan are astride the world literary stage and no other nation has contributed such extraordinarily powerful antisemitic representations. The third kind, the kind I was talking about in my main address, that antisemitism of condescension, of constraint, that does not go beyond that, that too is exemplary in a way that when one thinks about an antisemitism of snobbery, one necessarily thinks of English antisemitism. So that too is an easy exercise. But then this question of antisemitic, anti-Zionism, one is slightly defeated at first glance to see anything that's specifically English about what we're struggling with at the moment and is being struggled with elsewhere. I think it’s very interesting that you should raise these two points, which is the kind of love affair with Britain, especially by foreigners, and this kind of idealized conception of the Arab, the Orient as one consideration, and the second being Britain's own imperial past. Of course, Britain was responsible for the administration of the mandate for 20-odd years and it was nothing but trouble for Britain. The question that you pose is does this have any bearing on contemporary British attitudes and the answer is no. It’s there in history but I don't think that it has any bearing on the contemporary scene. There is a third aspect though which does, and that is the specifically Christian position. The Anglican Church, she has a significant presence in Jerusalem and that leads to a continuing engagement of the established church in Britain, the Anglican Church, with Israel, with Zionism, and broadly speaking, it’s an engagement which is hostile. So in that respect, in that limited respect, there is something specifically English about the character of the anti-Zionism.
Let me finish with some comments on Iran because I understand that I should have finished 3 minutes ago and I don't mean to overstay my welcome. But let me address the question of Iran. Let me say three things about Iran, and I'm not going to pretend to speak on any authority... certainly not going to pretend to speak in any definitive way about it. Having studied specifically English antisemitism, I hesitate to stand as an authority on any other kind of antisemitism, and certainly the Iranian version, and it’s real and it’s potent, is not within my specialist scholarly competence. But having made that disavow, let me say three things about it. First of all, let me offer three observations about it.
First of all, it is very striking to me, coming from Britain to here, seeing the ways the two radically different ways, in which the question of Iran is addressed. In Britain, we have an election in a matter of a few days, the question of Iran barely figures. Barely figures. And not just generally but even amongst the Anglo-Jewish community. Yes, there is a sense that Ahmadinejad is a deeply dangerous and objectionable person, yes there is a sense that for Iran to possess nuclear weapons would give it a position of influence which could only be exercised to the disadvantage of Israel, not to mention the West, but these are problems, so to speak, of the most peripheral part of political vision in Britain. And I think that's unfortunate, but I'm sufficiently influenced by it myself, I confess, to be somewhat skeptical when I come here and am confronted by a radically different perspective of its seriousness, as to whether that perspective does not represent some modest over-statement of the risk. I just don't know. And I confess the possibility of the influence of my own political culture when I say that. But that's the first thing.
The second thing I want to say is that it is exceptionally interesting to me that there is no consideration in the political discussion, either in my own country or frankly from what I've seen elsewhere in the world, including this country, there is practically no consideration outside of Jewish communities of the specific antisemitic character of Ahmadinejad's language and the threat posed to Israel by Iran and its proxies. That does seem to me to call for the kind of specifically focused advocacy which is I think still lacking. There is no serious account of the character of Shiite/Iranian antisemitism around. There is no serious academic, academically grounded study of Ahmadinejad's speeches and the place of Ahmadinejad in the exceptionally complicated, one could almost say Byzantine, political structure which is Iran. That is the second thing -- and that seems to me to be a deficiency which needs to be filled. Because there is nothing authoritative which we can point to which makes the case that we believe is right. And I'm surprised at the continued absence and I believe it will continue to be a problem for us. Thats the second thing I want to say.
The third thing I want to say is that, and I speak as someone with a son in Israel, is that I'm deeply troubled by the engagement of the government of Israel in this issue and I look, at the moment, I fear in vain, for some leadership from Israel on it. It’s a matter of grave concern to me, that the character, the specific character of the Iranian threat has not been more carefully and more clearly articulated, so that too seems to me to be a deficiency which needs to be corrected and let me just slightly elaborate on that. There is all the difference in the world between a state that says of another state, "We don't want that second state to be armed or further armed because we rather enjoy the influence that we exercise at the moment and we don't want to lose it." Everyone understands power politics, everyone understands Realpolitik. The perception of Israel's opposition to Iran is essentially assimilated to that paradigm in general political discourse. The case that Iran represents an existential threat to Israel's existence, the case that Iran is committed to a version of history, a kind of eschatological version of history which embraces the extinction of a sovereign Jewish state -- that case is not made by Israel. Now it may be that it’s not made because it can't be made -- I believe it can be made but that’s my belief. So it’s related, my third point to my second point, and I say so, my friends those who are engaged in this in Israel and elsewhere, we sorely lack the kind of arguments, the kind of explanation, the properly grounded academic explanation, that would support that kind of advocacy. That, I’m afraid, is all I have to say on the subject of Iran.
Thank you. [applause]