LONDON — You know anti-Semitism is still a problem when even Britain’s most blatantly anti-Israel major newspaper says it’s so.
The cover story in The Guardian’s daily magazine last Thursday was titled, “The Hatred that Refuses to Go Away.” The article reviewed the week’s extraordinary array of outrageous anti-Semitic pronouncements from the likes of Charlie Sheen, Glenn Beck, John Galliano, and Julian Assange. It gave proof of the persistence of “traditional” anti-Semitism in the world, despite recent efforts by some to assert that today’s anti-Semitism was strictly radical Islamic rhetoric motivated by callous treatment of the Palestinian people by their Israeli occupiers (The article probably gave some cover to The Guardian itself, which often makes that false distinction.)
The Guardian story appeared the morning after Prime Minister David Cameron addressed the annual dinner in London of the Community Security Trust, during which he reaffirmed his government’s unwillingness to tolerate discrimination against Jews from any source.
CST is the largest and most prominent Jewish defense organization in Britain. It provides Anglo-Jewry with physical protection of synagogues, schools, communal offices, functions, and public figures. It works directly with constabulary authorities, collects extensive information about anti-Semitic groups and activities, monitors group behavior, and trains volunteers to help protect the Jewish community. CST, in fact, has even developed training programs and outreach initiatives for some Muslim groups in Britain who are also seeking to better protect their schools, mosques, and public officials from harassment, vandalism, abuse, and violence.
At the CST dinner before a crowd of more than 1,100 guests, Cameron — in addition to declaring his personal defense and advocacy on behalf of Israel — proclaimed his commitment to the fight against anti-Semitism: “Anti-Semitism is abhorrent to me. There is never any excuse for it. And we must confront it together with the extremism from which it grows,” he said.
The thrust and intent of Cameron’s remarks on this point were more or less a reiteration of his February speech in Munich in which he sought to redefine how Britain addressed multiculturalism. He argued that multiculturalism was being misused to justify and tolerate radical groups in England, specifically Islamist extremists. In his CST speech he railed against double standards for “racist” speech, saying Britain could not continue presuming that the way to combat violent extremist groups is through dialogue. “We don’t do that for fascists,” he said. “And we shouldn’t do it for other extremists.”
Cameron also said in his Munich talk that it was wrong for the state to “encourage different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and the mainstream.”
In the current political climate, Cameron’s remarks are extremely important. The prime minister had been perceived by some as waffling on some of these issues during his first year in office. There appears to be tension between the prime minister and Foreign Secretary William Hague with respect to Middle East policy. There are genuine, serious differences between Cameron and his Liberal Democratic coalition partner, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, on these issues as well as how to approach radical groups. Cameron used the opportunity at the CST dinner to tell the Jewish community precisely where he stands on these issues.
In its own rather curious way, the Guardian article refocused and expanded the entire issue of anti-Semitism and multiculturalism. Underlying the recent scandals is the fact that Jews cannot assume that the classic forms of anti-Semitism have been laid to rest. In a book to appear this week, Pope Benedict XVI underscores his own commitment to eliminating the canard that Jews bear collective guilt for the killing of Jesus. And yet, if public figures continue to issue blatant anti-Semitic outbursts, Jews must ask themselves how very deeply classical anti-Semitism runs in the larger society, and not only in Britain.
Those attempting to isolate it to radical extremists and Islamic fundamentalist are tragically wrong. Anti-Semitism is well and alive.