How dare she tell us all to leave

By Daniel Finkelstein, February 25, 2013

'Which do you find more difficult? Being a Tory or being a Jew?" It was another evening speaking at a synagogue and another characteristically blunt audience question.

I stumbled through a response: "Erm, well, before 1997 when the Tories were in power and very unpopular that was quite hard. But, um, after 9/11 I did get quite a few pieces of antisemitic correspondence".

A couple of weeks ago I had cause to think about the question again. And I think the right answer is this: frankly, neither of them is all that difficult.

The reason I was thinking about it was the extraordinary remarks about the Holocaust made by the Liberal Democrat MP David Ward and the disappointing response of his party. Coming the same week as Gerald Scarfe's terrible cartoon, the events together were a cause of real dismay for the whole community. And it was during this time I read the remarks of Caroline Glick.

The Israeli-American journalist had been to London to take part in a debate on Israel and had found the experience distasteful. Here's how she put it: "I can say without hesitation that I hope never to return to Britain. I actually don't see any point. Jews are targeted by massive anti-Semitism of both the social and physical varieties. Why would anyone Jewish want to live there?"

The day I read this was probably the day in my life when I might have felt most receptive to it. It was the moment when her remarks about the feelings of British people towards Israel had the most justification. Yet still I thought it was nonsense. And not just nonsense that one could note and put to one side. Nonsense that needed to be tackled and refuted because people in America and Israel might read it and believe it to be true.

Why would anyone Jewish want to live here?

Because they don't steal our property here and send us to prison villages as the Russians did to my Dada; because they don't deport people to concentration camps as the Germans did to my Mum; because they don't fire rockets at us as Hamas do to the Jews of Israel; because I can worship in freedom here as a Jew.

Because it is a prosperous, peaceful, civilised place where people argue their corner and lose and win debates rather than shoot each other; because it is a tolerant democracy where you encounter prejudice but where you also have the means to deal with it.

Of course there is antisemitism and some people are targeted by it. But on the whole? For almost all of us, almost all the time? It is ridiculous to suggest we are targeted by massive antisemitism of both the social and physical varieties.

You can't fly in, Ms Glick, for a debate, experience a few hostile audience questions and make a vast sweeping judgment about Britain. I frankly resent being told by you that I shouldn't wish to live in my home.

We are proud of the Jewish community we have built in this country. We are proud of the way we are British and Jews at the same time.

And there's something else. Antisemitism is a serious charge, one we ought only to level when we are sure it is justified. Loose talk of "massive" antisemitism devalues a term we sometimes need.

I am truly sorry that Ms Glick had a rough ride at her debate. It does sometimes happen. We do, all of us, come across attitudes to Israel that induce rage and even despair. She had one of those evenings. But to conclude that no Jew should wish to live here is silly and offensive.

Daniel Finkelstein is Executive Editor of the Times

Last updated: 11:45am, February 25 2013