:: Article

Some Of My Best Friends Are

By Max Dunbar.


Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England, Anthony Julius, Oxford University Press 2010

There’s an old Jewish joke that is really a joke against racism. It is Berlin, 1938. Two Jewish men sit on a bench reading the papers; one has a New York Times, the other is reading Die Sturmer. The first Jew says: ‘How can you read that Nazi trash?’ His friend responds: ‘Well, your paper is so depressing. It’s all about Jews getting their property burned down, Jews being rounded up and shot, Jews herded into camps. But when I read the Hitler paper… suddenly, we rule the world!’

‘In the four decades preceding the outbreak of World War I,’ Anthony Julius writes, ‘more than 2 million Jews migrated westward from Eastern Europe… [b]etween 120,000 and 150,000 Jews settled in Britain’. Julius goes on to analyse the different arguments employed to hide anti-semitic prejudice. Health-threat – only the least healthy Jews would come to the UK and therefore represented a threat to public health. Social-cost – Jewish labourers will flood the market, depress wage rates and take British jobs. Public-order – although we are not anti-semitic ourselves (heaven forbid!) we recognise that too many Jews will inevitably create an anti-semitic backlash amongst the confused masses, leading to violence and chaos. Finally, the national-identity argument – too many Jews will inevitably dilute England’s unique national character.

We hear those arguments today against black immigrants fleeing African poverty and disease, and against Asian immigrants running from Islamic slave states. Yet contemporary immigrants are never described as being in control: at worst they are seen as scheming welfare tourists, taking advantage of a bloated benefit system and a ‘politically correct’ elite that lets lots of migrants across our borders for ideological reasons.

By contrast, the racist contempt for Jews is entwined with envy and even a kind of awe. Jews have a supernatural talent with money; they are well connected in the City, the media and all the other circles that matter; they are credited with the most wild and conspiratorial powers, from arranging the 9/11 attacks to organising an invasion of Iraq. In reality, as Julius points out, Jewish people as a collective have barely succeeded in protecting themselves from harm. What kind of power elite would allow six million of its number to be murdered in concentration camps? But that question forgets the shifting, mutable nature of racist thought. The Holocaust did not kill anti-semitism. Anti-semites could work around it by claiming that the Holocaust was a great lie engineered by the Elders to extort billions in war reparations from Germany.

Anti-semitism is not a thing of the past. There are still racist attacks on Jews, still desecration of Jewish graves and synagogues, still anti-semitic graffiti that Jewish children have to walk past on their way to school. For all this, though, the Jews remain at the bottom of the equality and diversity pyramid. There’s a sense that they are a bit touchy about this sort of thing and, anyway, can look after themselves.

The relative lack of attention paid towards the subject means that we are seeing a new and dangerous kind of anti-semitism – the racism of the anti-racists. Over the last decade a significant part of the liberal-left sold itself out to the religious right in the shape of Islamic fundamentalism. There were different reasons for this. George Galloway’s Respect party was motivated by electoral opportunism; my-enemy’s-enemy commentators like Seamus Milne genuinely seemed to see the Middle Eastern theocracies as a bulwark against neoconservative imperialism; more thoughtful writers like Madeleine Bunting appeared to favour more ordered, spiritual societies over the godless, materialist chaos that our own capitalist economies dissolved into.

Whatever, the liberal-leftists soon adopted Islamist baggage and hang-ups, including a vicious hatred for Israel and all its works. Anti-semitism had a notionally leftwing appeal anyway in that the Jews were supposed to control finance. This is prejudice at its most versatile: Jews invented both capitalism and communism; they are both a solid national elite and a disparate set of rootless cosmopolitans; the beggar and the rich man, the driver and the slave. Anti-semitism is a palimpsest of hatred onto which you can project your deepest and least comprehensible fears.

The result is that, like prejudice against black and Asian immigrants, anti-semitism has become a form of racism that is socially acceptable. Pretty much anything could be said as long as the word ‘Zionists’ replaced the word ‘Jews’; and this allowed some very old arguments to come back into fashion. Trade unionists and charities called for boycotts of Israeli goods – seemingly unaware of the sinister historical resonance of such an idea. The silliest and nastiest was the call by the University College Union for an academic boycott of Israel. It made about as much sense as a Palestinian college voting to end communication with British universities because of UK participation in the war on Iraq. It would sacrifice the free exchange of ideas for short-term ideological gains and the maintenance of SWP fiefdoms; the idea was eventually derailed because UCU’s legal advice ruled that the measure would be racially discriminatory and therefore illegal.

And the boycott theme is not the oldest of these disinterred memes. The Lib Dem Baroness Tonge recently demanded that Israel hold a public inquiry into the possibility that Israel’s medical teams had ‘harvested’ the organs of earthquake victims for use in transplants; this story appeared in the Palestine Telegraph, an Islamist conspiracy website which has Tonge and journalists Lauren Booth as patrons. The Jews were still drinking Christian blood after all these centuries.

Old-style fascists were clear about their racism; they carved swastikas into their arms and wrote long treatises justifying eugenics. The new kind of racist is in a way more dangerous because s/he is so convinced that his argument is not racist. An inviolable forcefield of moral self-satisfaction glows around every word of the new anti-semites, from the pious platitudes of Seven Jewish Children to the self-pity of the pundit using his national column to complain that no one will let him criticise Israel. Moral fortitude makes for a formidable adversary. We see an entirely different column of lunatics marching over the hill.


Max Dunbar was born in London in 1981. He recently finished a full-length novel and his short fiction has appeared in various print and web journals including Open Wide, Straight from the Fridge and Lamport Court. He also writes articles on politics and religion for Butterflies and Wheels. He is Manchester’s regional editor of Succour magazine, a journal of new fiction and poetry. He is reviews editor of 3:AM and blogs here.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, February 17th, 2010.