London is an amazing place, full of vitality, intensity, foreign tourists and residents, a patchwork of pluralism. Talk to the average person, and nothing seems amiss: this cab driver, having driven in London for 40 years, sees no significant change in the neighborhoods he travels through; this financier sees no signs of intimidation; this shopper, this tavern-hopper, this man on the bus, lives in an interesting and relatively normal world. A superficial walk through the [Regent’s] park gives the distinct sense of normality.
But talk to the Jews, and you get a different story. The International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists held a conference here this week. The topic: Democratic and Legal Norms in an Age of Terror. Panels discussed everything from the Goldstone Report, to the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement, to “universal jurisdiction” (lawfare against Israelis brought in foreign courts). Here, in the Khalili Lecture Theatre of the SOAS (School for Oriental and African Studies), Jewish lawyers discussed a grim reality whose only public appearance on an everyday basis is the drumbeat of calumny that a boisterous elite — NGOs, journalists, academics — rain down on Israel.
Perhaps the most startling of the sessions concerned the BDS movement. Jonathan Rynhold, from the BESA Center at Bar Ilan, and Anthony Julius, author of Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England, both presented a picture of British anti-Zionist activity whose intellectual and moral foundations were profoundly irrational, a dogmatic will to stigmatize and destroy Israel that responded to no argument about proportion (what about other places?) or reason (you make no moral demands of the Palestinians). And behind that lies a much weightier volume of negative feeling, a kind of unthinking animosity that expressed itself in its most banal form when a woman explained to Julius: “We all know why the Jews are hated: you marry among yourselves and live in ghettos like Golders Green and Vienna [sic].” In so doing, she put her finger on the most widespread subtext for hostility to Jews – “they think they’re the chosen people.”
Daniel Eilon, an English barrister, explained to me one of the mechanisms. It isn’t real anti-Semitism. In fact, most of the stuff that comes out against Israel is intellectually hopeless — phony narratives based on fantasy “facts.” This is really just good old-fashioned Jew-baiting. It’s saying things in all righteous innocence that you know will hurt the Jews to whom you address the criticism. The problem for the Brits (and the Europeans in general), he pointed out, is that historically, there’s never been a particularly high price to pay for Jew-baiting. Now there is.
What my friend referred to with this last remark is lucidly analyzed by Robin Shepherd in his recent book, A State Beyond the Pale: Europe’s Problem with Israel. The elephant in the room, of course, is radical Islam — the people who interpret being “chosen” by Allah as a charter to dominate the world and submit everyone, willingly or not, to Islam. They’re the people no one dares bait; and they’re the folks who take full advantage of every deference to press for more. Daily aggressions from violent gangs constantly expand the territories where the Queen’s writ does not run. In tempo with the retreat of British law and enforcement, Sharia advances from internal community affairs (explicitly on the model of Jewish religious courts) towards the policing of community boundaries and claims on the state for special treatment. The British — like so many other Western nations –mainstream the extremists and marginalize the moderates. As Nick Cohen put it: “The world faces a psychotic movement and won’t admit it to themselves.”
A documentary filmmaker reveals a double assault on freedom of speech: on the one hand, everyone is terrified of peers calling them Islamophobes; and on the other, anyone who does something negative on Islam puts his or her life in danger. When I respond animatedly to her point, she looks around nervously and signals for me to lower my voice. How often did my British informants tell me in hushed tones about being intimidated!
News agencies send their journalists to special courses in self-defense for how to deal with hostile situations. How much of this responds to the pervasive dangers of doing journalism in Muslim countries, and how often does it come up in those areas where the Queen’s writ does not run? One such journalist who works for the BBC reports that when a mob turns ugly, they are told to stand back to back, palms open, pointing down and out — a posture of non-threat, but also one of subjection.
And of course, the best protection is positive coverage. Most of the time, “but we’re from the BBC” works to allay Muslim hostility: it’s code for “we’re on your side.” But for some crowds, even that’s not enough.
The result of this pervasive intimidation that comes from both peers and enemies is a body politic that feels no pain. Like a victim of CIP (congenital insensitivity to pain), the British public receives only vague hints of the assaults on its body. A widespread omerta operates in the mainstream news media, guaranteeing that many, if not most aggressions go unreported, or in a code — Asian street gangs — that only those looking for clues will notice. Aggregator sites online offer deeply disturbing collections of news items.
As a result, Brits look away while their Muslim communities are taken over by fascist zealots who enforce dress and behavior codes, who silence dissent, and who mobilize a resentful youth with violent hatreds. For these men, infidels are by definition guilty, deserving rape and lethal assault, as part of Allah’s justice. Douglas Murray’s study of twenty-seven Muslims, targeted by zealots, reveals the workings of a community hijacked by thugs.
The trials and tribulations of Afshan Azad, the Bengali Muslim-born actress in the Harry Potter films, beaten and threatened with death by her family, illustrate the depth of the community pressures. Her brothers’ failures to bring her to heel (or kill her) endanger their lives: “We are going to get trouble from the community now. It is bad news for our safety, her safety. My younger brother is going to get harassed at college. All our family is going to be harassed by the community because of this.” The tribal community rules, even in college.
So while a large and growing population falls under the grip of a Mafioso culture with an imperialist ideology of world conquest, the British look away. The “prestigious” London School of Economics disinvited Douglas Murray from speaking, lest his presence provoke violence. Paralyzed by an inability to discuss the problem, they become a train-wreck in slow motion. The lavish expenses that the government has paid out to immigrant families, which has at once increased their numbers and stilled their rage, is now run out. Budget cuts of up to 40% across the board will only exacerbate the frictions, and if the government pours money into appeasing the Muslims, they will alienate the British working class losing their benefits.
Which brings us back to Jew-baiting. As Shepherd explains in his chapter on Islam in Europe, this is a European-wide phenomenon that is directly related to the fear of criticizing Muslims. Anti-Zionism is the key extremist discourse by which jihadis radicalize communities and mobilize warriors for Allah’s armies. The disturbing figures for how many British Muslims support terror, think Muslims did not commit either 9-11 or 7-7, think the law should punish people who insult Islam, and think that apostates from Islam should die should not be read the way we read political polls in the West. These minorities are the dominant voices in their communities, if only because they use their terror tactics against fellow Muslims far more readily than against outsiders.
So while their enemies advance, the British elites are like deer in the headlights, incapable of speaking up for even their own principles of free speech and tolerance. Intimidated into silence about Muslims, somehow, they find their voice in denouncing the “real” genocidal evil empire: Israel. Thus some wax eloquent, like the Methodists with their thinly-disguised, resentful supersessionism; and others wax violent, like the anti-Zionist vandals, who damaged hundreds of thousands of pounds of property and got off scott free to the cheers of a Green MP.
Of course, every sin these brave ideologues accuse Israel of committing is done a thousand-fold by the very people who generate their demonizing narrative — the radical Muslims. It is these zealots who interpret their chosenness as a warrant to rape and massacre, to dominate and humiliate infidels. They are the toxic communitarians who believe in their side right or wrong, to the death — not the Jews, who can’t stop publicly beating their breasts about all their sins. Indeed, one of the mysterious factors in this madness is the role played by Jewish anti-Zionists, who, in Julius’ memorable phrase, are “proud to be ashamed to be Jewish.”
Instead of taking note of such sobering perspectives, Western anti-Zionists shy away from the dangerous and painful but legitimate and necessary criticism of Muslim radicals. They prefer the easy, cost-free baiting of any Jew proud enough to feel that his or her own people deserve a state. Instead of turning to the Muslims and saying “why can’t you express a fraction of the self-criticism of the Zionists?” they prefer to repeat the most toxic accusations against the Jews and claim: “I’m not saying anything that Jews haven’t said.”
They are the true Islamophobes — afraid to criticize Islam, eager to join in its chorus of hatred.
And in this act of demission before the Islamist challenge, British opinion makers and shapers also submit to their own bullies, their own zealots who push the Jew-baiting beyond the weekend sport of the salons, into the professional arena of anti-Zionist activism. When the founders of Hamas in 1988 penned their genocidal charter that explicitly targeted all infidels, little did they suspect that within twenty years, those infidels would chant “We are Hamas!” in the streets of London. Who could hope for a more useful infidel than that?
In the European past, Jew-baiting may have seemed relatively cost-free. After all, humiliate a Jew and the worst he’ll do is hector you. Sure, sometimes the sport got out of hand, and killing Jews en masse, or forcing them to convert, or kicking them out may have deeply damaged the economy and empowered repressive forces, like the Inquisition, to go after other religious dissidents. But who really noticed?
Today, however, the situation has changed dramatically because Europe doesn’t just run the risk of internal failure, but getting vanquished by an implacable and merciless foe. By failing to denounce toxic Muslim communitarianism and instead adopting its shrill discourse of demonization about Jews, Brits feed the monster that devours them. If it continues apace, if the British do not make Muslim civility towards Jews the shibboleth of assimilation to a free and democratic culture, they risk losing that civil polity entirely. As always with real anti-Semites, the Jews are only their first target.
Can Britain wake up in time? And if and when it does, can it swallow the painful price of giving up its addiction to Jew-baiting? Or will it be, as some close observers think, the first country in Europe to succumb to Islamism? Walking through the delightful streets of London, watching a brilliant performance of Henry IV Part II at the reconstituted Globe Theatre, passing by a multi-cultural mass of dancers by the embankment at night, viewing the vibrant energy of the city, one has little clue to the problem.
Or is watching this joyful celebration akin to seeing a fat man with a serious cholesterol problem dine on his deep-fried fish-and-chips and wash down those tasty truffles of moral Schadenfreude that so grieve the Jews and comfort the resentful?
Richard Landes is a Professor of History at Boston University. He blogs at The Augean Stables, and maintains The Second Draft as an archival site for all matters pertaining to Pallywood and al Durah. The Second Draft has recently been reorganized and relaunched with new features.