May 2003 Journal

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The longest hatred – and the longest march (editorial)

Since 1945 a plethora of studies have appeared which traced the history of antisemitism from the Holocaust all the way to its original roots in the Christian charge of deicide (i.e. the killing of Jesus). Since this dismal history extends over close on two millennia one noted historian, Robert Wistrich, called his study The Longest Hatred.

Alas, it seems that even the 2,000-year estimate of the duration of Judeophobia is an understatement. The twentieth-century Iraqi nationalist Khayrallah Msallat’s pamphlet Three Whom God Should Not Have Created: Persians, Jews and Flies indicates as much.

The significance of this caption becomes clear when we glance back at ancient history. The Babylonian Empire, from which modern Iraqi nationalism draws its inspiration, reached its apogee with Nebuchadnezzar, conqueror of Jerusalem (586 BC). Later that century though, the Persian king Cyrus the Great overthrew the Babylonian Empire, captured its capital, and let the Jews return to Jerusalem. Khayrallah had relatives who died in Rashid Ali’s anti-British uprising of 1941. This would have turned Iraq into a Nazi outpost at the very same time as the Wehrmacht was advancing towards the Middle East through Russia as well as North Africa. Mercifully, the British suppression of the uprising put paid to Rashid Ali’s plan. Four years earlier in 1937 Khayrallah’s widowed sister bore a child, Saddam Hussein, whose upbringing the pamphleteering nationalist took in hand. His formative influence explains the Iraqi dictator’s megalomaniac identification with Nebuchadnezzar, destroyer of Jerusalem. Their joint images are currently projected on outsize billboards throughout the length and breadth of Iraq.

Several Sundays ago Prime Minister Blair was adjured by a million demonstrators – among them many Jews – to refrain from military action against the self-styled Emperor of the Second Babylonian Empire and would-be conqueror of Jerusalem. Note well that these peaceniks marched under the twin slogans ‘No War on Iraq’ and ‘Freedom for Palestine’. The conflation of these two quite disparate issues has prompted the well-known author and Independent columnist Howard Jacobson to engage the denigrators of Israel in open combat. The redoubtable Jacobson is currently battling the many anti-Zionist zealots among Independent readers and your Editor – a grizzled fellow combatant on a Lilliputian parallel battlefield – feels for him.

While the deeply flawed thinking behind the coupling of the rally’s pre-published keynote demands – the pacifist ‘No War on Iraq’ and the bellicose ‘Freedom for Palestine’ – should already have sounded a cautionary note to Jewish demonstrators, worse was to follow. The placards issued by the rally’s co-sponsors, the Muslim Association of Britain, showed a map of undivided Palestine (in glaring contrast to the ‘two-state solution’ allegedly favoured by that organisation). Mayor Livingstone’s speech was a long, hate-filled diatribe against the Jewish State, for whose actions Red Ken could think of none of the extenuating circumstances he urged HM Government to consider in dealing with UK-born Taliban volunteers. Another speaker was Tony Benn, whose televised interview with Saddam amounted to a replay of the questions the Daily Mail’s obsequious Ward Price put to Hitler at Linz on 12 March 1938. The entitlement of a third speaker, George Galloway, to address a peace-and-freedom rally is surely fatally undercut by his admission that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the saddest event of his life.

Completing the quartet of left-wing advocates of appeasement laying claim to the moral high ground in an insidious guerrilla war against their Party leader and Prime Minister – surely the most morally driven occupant of No 10 since William Ewart Gladstone – was Mo Mowlam, who enjoys secular sainthood on account of her folksiness and battle with cancer. Her halo lost much of its lustre when she blundered into the peace-or-war debate with a display of culpable ignorance. She warned her Hyde Park audience that battling Saddam would be far harder and costlier than fighting the Taliban because ‘Iraq is far larger, both in area and population, than Afghanistan.’

I do not necessarily share the feeling taking root in the Jewish community that these persistent critics of Israel are motivated by antisemitism. No – my great fear is that anti-Americanism is now gripping Western Europe with the same virulence as that with which antisemitism previously infested Central and Eastern Europe. And if the paths of America and (Western) Europe diverge any further, we face the prospect that the genie of global anarchy – incubated in places like Iraq, Iran and North Korea – will finally escape from the bottle.

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