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Apr 2008 Journal

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Letter from Israel

England anti-Semitic?
Forty-odd years ago, when I was a student at the LSE, the members of the Jewish Society would go along ‘for a laugh’ to the annual London University Students’ Union debate on the proposal to abolish the State of Israel and establish an Arab state in its stead. No Jewish student took the subject seriously, and the anger displayed by the handful of Arab students (there were no Palestinians at that time) seemed futile.

Many things have changed since then. A recent edition of the San Diego Jewish World, an internet journal serving the Jewish community of that august city, contained Norman Greene’s account of an address given there by the well-known American author, Harvard professor and lawyer Alan Dershowitz. It sent a shiver down my spine.

According to him, ‘the most virulently anti-Semitic, anti-Israel country in Europe is not Poland, the Ukraine or Russia, it is America’s closest ally, England … Many of the people who describe themselves as being pro-Palestinian are virulently anti-Israel, which means that they want to see no Jewish state more than they want to see a Palestinian state.’

Dershowitz claims that anti-Semitism is endemic to English society, dominating the media and the institutions of higher education, its chief perpetrator being the BBC, which ‘spends more time on the supposed humanitarian crisis in Gaza … and virtually no time reporting on the Congo, where millions of people have died.’

England anti-Semitic? What paranoid mind could produce a greater calumny? England is the country which took up arms against Hitler, which gave us and our families refuge, which took in 10,000 children on the Kindertransports and much more besides.

But that was 60 years ago, and the situation is very different today. Since then, England has given refuge to a plethora of populations, including many who adhere to the Muslim faith. And while some people claim that Islam is a religion of peace, it cannot be denied that almost all the acts of terrorism that have plagued the Western world in recent times have been perpetrated by persons claiming to be acting in the name of Islam.

Anyone who, like me, left England 40 years ago and returns to visit from time to time cannot fail to notice the change that has overtaken Britain. A stroll down one of my favourite haunts, Oxford Street, now brings one into contact with a variegated, multi-cultural throng, while the shops and eateries around Marble Arch and the Edgware Road resemble downtown Beirut more than the England I grew up in.

This may well be a good thing. It can’t be bad for a country to emerge from insularity and become more cosmopolitan. It need not necessarily follow, however, that this should bring on an access of anti-Semitism and a wish to annihilate Israel.

We all know that many students from Arab countries attend British universities, as do large numbers of English students who are Muslim by birth. By sheer force of numbers they have managed to get pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel resolutions passed by their student unions and recently almost succeeded in imposing an academic boycott on Israel.

The British man-in-the-street tends to support the underdog. Thus, the misrepresentation by the media of the situation in the Middle East, focusing on the suffering of impoverished Palestinians rather than their leaders’ intransigence or inability to come to the negotiating table, doubtless plays a role in furthering the view that Israel has no right to exist.

When Israel removed its settlers from the Gaza Strip the whole world applauded. Now, however, as I write, its civilian population inside Israel proper is bombarded daily by rockets from Gaza. Did that ever get a headline in The Guardian?


Dorothea Shefer-Vanson

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