There is now little point denying what many of us have suspected for some time: antisemitism is not a minor issue in Western society, the preserve of a fringe who do not matter, but a mainstream attitude. For all our obsession over the Second World War, and our constant invocation of the Nazis, the heroism of liberating the death camps and the sacrifice made by our nations, rather than address the root causes of antisemitism, we merely swept the thing under the carpet. That failure has now returned to haunt us.
As the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported this week, Donald Trump's White House invited a cartoonist, Ben Garrison, to a social media summit. The reason this is a controversial invitation is that Garrison has form, having penned images depicting the financier George Soros and members of the Rothchild family as sinister puppeteers.
The invitation has since been withdrawn, following a backlash. But it is the latest in a series of moments in US politics when prejudice against Jews has risen to the fore.
The New York Times recently did away with political cartoons entirely after publishing an image of a blind Trump in a kippah being led by Benjamin Netanyahu, portrayed as a dachshund with a Star of David collar tag. There were the infamous scenes in Charlottesville, where white nationalists paraded chanting "Jews will not replace us", while Democratic congresswoman Ilhan Omar has infuriated many in her own party for her unapologetic statements over Israel.
And, as we know, it isn’t just the US. The Labour Party has been embroiled in scandal after scandal, which has seen members suspended, MPs resign, and which will be laid bare in a BBC Panorama documentary this week. Across Europe, in France, Germany and even progressive Sweden, attacks on Jews are rising. German Jews were instructed by the government to avoid wearing kippahs in public to avoid being assaulted. Synagogues and kosher supermarkets are regular targets of vandalism and arson. Jewish schools are guarded by armed police.
Even today, following the tragic death of 15-year-old Iris Annabel, tabloids filled their column inches with references to her extended family, the Rothchilds and the Goldsmiths, lacing straight news stories with talk of "dynasties" and "bloodlines" holding "sway" over global financial markets.
The reasons are myriad. For many, certainly on the political right, the creation of Israel was seen as recompense for the horrors visited on the Jews of Europe over centuries. Granting national autonomy washed Europe’s hands of responsibility for what had happened, as now Israel would command its own destiny. This meant that many of the underlying causes of the prejudice were never truly addressed, because right was considered to have been done by the Jewish community.
On the left, though, in addition to tropes ingrained into European culture by centuries of Christian-driven antisemitism, the demonisation of Jews for their perceived role in the capitalist system was also never adequately challenged, which was then only exacerbated by the displacement of Palestinian Arabs, and the allying of the Israeli state with the West’s political right.
Add to this the low key prejudices of Europe’s Christians against Jews, as well as the more visceral loathing of Muslims from countries where many were ta
ught from birth that Israel and Judaism were synonymous, and that both were the enemy, and it isn’t hard to read the recipe for disaster.
All major factions, religious and political, in the West, have unresolved ideological antisemitism within them. Sooner or later, it was always going to break cove
We have done much to tackle racism in our society, but antisemitism isn’t just racism; it's much more complex. In our obsession with not allowing the return of fascism, we explain that fascism is bad because it is racist; that fails because it does not address why, for example, Europe’s fascists were so prejudiced against Jews, beyond just, say, slavs and other ethnic minorities. Perhaps, I suspect, we don’t want to address the issues at hand because they are more widespread among us than we’d like to admit to ourselves.
Now though, antisemitism is well and truly in the mainstream. It has reached the stage where, rather than be a taboo, it is now a tool.
I don’t believe that Donald Trump or Jeremy Corbyn hate Jews, but the US president has indulged the Charlottesville types, and will host a cartoonist like Ben Garrison at the White House, not because he agrees with their views but because it is expedient.
Corbyn’s allies are prepared to send Carter Ruck after the party's whistleblowers. I don't believe they brought in the lawyers because they are antisemitic, but because they are protecting many who are as expedient. The journalists at the tabloids who wrote about Iris Annabel are not antisemites, but those lines were published because they were expedient.
It’s not that we forgot what we pledged to never forget; it’s that we never learned what was right and what was wrong in the first place. But now it is out in the open, we know the roots of the problem, and there can be no more excuses.