Anti-Semitism is a very ancient and a thoroughly modern phenomenon: it was as common among ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans as it is among their present-day successor states. It constantly mutates: Christian anti-Judaism became right-wing anti-Semitism and now left-wing anti-Zionism. Those who wish to resist and if possible destroy its roots must also adapt to the moving target.
Take, for example, the case of Karel De Gucht. He is a leading Belgian liberal politician, who served as foreign minister and then as a European Union commissioner from 2009 to 2014, responsible for aid and trade. Two of the Belgian prime ministers under whom he served, Guy Verhofstadt and Herman Van Rompuy, also became high EU officials and it is fair to assume that De Gucht’s outlook is typical of the European political elite.
Yet in 2010, this supposedly liberal representative of this supposedly liberal union of supposedly liberal nations told Belgian radio: “Don’t underestimate the opinion . . . of the average Jew outside Israel. There is indeed a belief — it’s difficult to describe it otherwise — among most Jews that they are right. And a belief is something that’s difficult to counter with rational arguments. And it’s not so much whether these are religious Jews or not. Lay Jews also share the same belief that they are right. So it is not easy to have, even with moderate Jews, a rational discussion about what is actually happening in the Middle East.” Washington was controlled by Jews, De Gucht declared, even in the Obama era: “Do not underestimate the Jewish lobby on Capitol Hill. That is the best organised lobby, you shouldn’t underestimate the grip it has on American politics — no matter whether it’s Republicans or Democrats.”
It is revealing that De Gucht not only got away with this public outburst, but that it is not even mentioned in his Wikipedia entry under the heading “Controversies”. Such views are indeed seen as uncontroversial by many Europeans who consider themselves liberal. To utter them in public is a breach of diplomatic etiquette, but certainly not a resigning matter, and De Gucht in fact faced no serious consequences. At a public event just after the De Gucht incident I asked Peter Mandelson, a former EU commissioner who happens to be Jewish on his father’s side, what he thought about it. Lord Mandelson looked uncomfortable with the question and gave a non-committal reply, but later in private he made it clear that he was indeed disgusted by De Gucht’s conduct. Should the commissioner resign? “That is for him to decide,” was the reply. The fact that De Gucht came under no pressure to resign suggests that his brand of “soft” anti-Semitism is ubiquitous in Continental corridors of power.
Yet the greatest danger to Jews today comes from a different quarter. Anti-Semitism has mutated again and is now a particular problem among Muslim communities in Western Europe. According to the study by Günther Jikeli, “Antisemitic Attitudes among Muslims in Europe”, Muslims show consistently higher levels of anti-Semitism than the general population in every country that has been surveyed. In the UK, for example, a Pew survey in 2006 showed that 46 per cent of the Muslim population had an unfavourable view of Jews compared to 7 per cent of the population as a whole. A 2008 survey comparing Christians and Muslims found that in Austria — historically one of the most anti-Semitic countries in Europe — 10.7 per cent of Christians agreed with the statement: “Jews cannot be trusted.” Among Muslims, the figure was 64.1 per cent.
In Britain, there is anecdotal evidence that polling organisations are reluctant to conduct surveys that might show the Muslim community in an unfavourable light. The most detailed work, however, has been done in France. Repeated surveys show, according to Jikeli, that the three most anti-Semitic groups in France are supporters of the far-Right (the Front National), the far-Left (the Front de Gauche) and Muslims. Of these three, Muslims “show by far the highest level of anti-Semitism” across a range of attitudes. Nearly half of all French Muslims, 46 per cent, emerge as “coherent” anti-Semites, compared to 38 per cent of Front National and 22 per cent of Front de Gauche supporters, while 15 per cent of the general population share such views — about twice as many as in the UK. Among Muslims, such factors as education, occupation and income make relatively little difference. Whether or not anti-Semites know Jews personally is also statistically insignificant — this applies both to Muslims and non-Muslims. Nor do levels of discrimination or legal restrictions on Islamic practice. There is no evidence that Muslims become anti-Semitic because they are persecuted or marginalised.
What does make a difference to Muslim anti-Semitism is religious fundamentalism. Surveys found that non-practising and non-believing Muslims were much less likely to be anti- Semitic, while anti-Semitic attitudes are held by the great majority of devoutly religious Muslims. Hence we may conclude that anti-Semitism is not merely a transient phenomenon among European Muslims, which will pass away over time as they become more integrated, but a deeply-held conviction that is intimately connected to Islamic beliefs and the political mindset that usually accompanies them.
Where does Muslim anti-Semitism come from? It is well known that many passages in the Koran depict Jews in a bad light. But not so many people realise that the founder of Islam showed by his own example what he thought should happen to Jews who did not submit to Islam. Ibn Ishaq, his first biographer, records what happened when the Messenger (as he was known) had defeated and captured a Jewish tribe, the Banu Qurayza: “Then the Messenger went out to the market of Medina . . . and dug trenches in it. Then he sent for them and struck off their heads in those trenches as they were brought out to him in batches . . . There were 600 or 700 in all, though some put the figure as high as 800 or 900 . . . This went on until the Messenger made an end to them.”
It is not, therefore, an accident that Islamist states and terrorist organisations today execute or murder Jews wherever they can find them. The global nature of their anti-Semitism is very striking. Take, for example, Latin America, where Iranian-backed terrorists have not only carried out attacks on the Jewish community in Argentina, but have implicated successive governments in cover-ups and secret diplomacy. In India, a country with hardly any Jews, the Mumbai terrorists managed to find and kill several. In South Africa, demagogues are demanding that Jews either subscribe to their own anti-Semitic agenda, or face discrimination or even expulsion. And in Europe, we have recently seen a series of murderous attacks on Jews in France and Belgium, where they make up less than 1 per cent of the population. It is only a matter of time before such lethal anti-Semitic attacks take place here in Britain. Indeed, the level of anti-Semitic incidents has risen steadily here and last year reached an all-time high. We are dealing with an epidemic of anti-Semitism that goes far beyond anything seen in the 1930s during the fascist agitation in the East End.
What has changed? In two words, Islam and Israel. The rise of Islam in Western Europe has made anti-Semitism a useful recruiting sergeant for unscrupulous preachers and politicians. And the existence of Israel has given them a cloak of respectability, by enabling them to disguise anti-Semitism as criticism of the Jewish state. When George Galloway, for example, declared Bradford an “Israeli-free city”, the meaning and effect of the then MP’s action well understood by British Jews. But Galloway was not prosecuted because his threats were ostensibly only directed at Israelis, who are not a race but a nation. A politician who declared a British city “Pakistani-free” would, though, have been unlikely to get away with it.
Yet the truth is that anti-Semitism is not just a sub-species of racism, but something unique and different. It is a hatred — and ultimately always a lethal hatred — directed simultaneously against a people, a race and a religion. It is thus universal and ubiquitous, not particular or localised; it does not even require actual Jews.
Because the attempt to exterminate the whole Jewish people took place in Europe, the post-war nations of our continent made a collective vow never to allow such a thing to happen again. Yet today, 70 years later, anti-Semitism has redoubled its strength and has returned to Europe with a vengeance. Jews are leaving in record numbers. Governments are tacitly acquiescing in this silent exodus by making life more difficult for Jews — restricting kosher slaughter or circumcision, for example — and by failing to take adequate steps to ensure their security. Jewish Europe is vanishing before our eyes, as the Dia-spora goes into reverse.
Does all this matter? As a Catholic, as an Englishman, as a civilised human being, I feel a profound sense of responsibility towards the Jewish people as a whole, but towards my Jewish compatriots in particular. Preserving the Jewish presence in our midst is as much a solemn duty for our generation as it was for our parents and grandparents, who fought to defeat the Nazis. As the last survivors of the Holocaust and the last exiles and émigrés pass away, we must take over their role as witnesses to the truth and guardians of that moral obligation. Never again should Jews have to live in fear among us. Never again should Jews feel that their loyalty is distrusted. Never again should they lack a state that is theirs, living in peace and security within recognised borders. Britain’s commitment to defend Israel’s right, not merely to exist, but to flourish, should be especially strong: it was, after all, the Balfour Declaration that brought the Jewish homeland back to life. Britain did not cover itself with glory during the Mandate period, but we do have a chance to redeem ourselves today by standing up for Israel at the UN and other international bodies, as our Anglophone cousins in Canada, Australia and the United States generally do. When Israel responded to attacks from Gaza last year by destroying the ability of Hamas to launch missiles and use tunnels to infiltrate Israel, the Prime Minister refused to join in the chorus of condemnation. Like Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair, David Cameron has proved himself a friend of Israel. If only the rest of Europe could say the same.
“Never again” must be our watchword. Never again shall we betray the people whom St John Paul — the Polish Pope and righteous gentile who himself saved Edith Zierer, a Jewish concentration camp survivor — called our “elder brothers”.