The latest intellectual detail

By Denis MacShane, October 3, 2011
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Kiev: The Sunday afternoon sun shines down on the ravine at Babi Yar. Seventy years ago on 29 September 1941, 33,000 Jews were killed in one day. 100,000 were shot at Babi Yar, the biggest single killing in what is known as the "Shoah by Bullets". Now MPs from different countries assemble to ensure that Babi Yar is not forgotten.

Fifty years ago, the Russian poet, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, wrote his famous poem with the name of the first great Holocaust massacre. In 1961, Yevtushenko expressed in the poem what must have seemed then a reasonable hope:

When for all time, is buried and forgotten

The last of antisemites on this earth.

Antisemitism is not some wild or deranged insanity

He wished in vain. Petra Pau, the deputy speaker of the German Bundestag, reminded John Mann MP and myself and other European parliamentarians in Kiev that "in 1945, Europe, including Germany, was liberated from fascism. That does not mean that antisemitism was also consigned to history. It lingers on in old and new guises."

Babi Yar is calm and verdant now. It takes an effort of imagination to recreate the long lines of naked Jewish men and women, inching forward to the edge of a steep cliff to be shot, one by one, with a bullet in the back of the neck. Lawyers and economists formed the bulk of the officer class of the Einsatzgruppen who collaborated with the German army in the mass shooting of Jews after the invasion of Russia in July 1941.

Antisemitism is not some wild deranged insanity but the organised ideology of clever men. In 1941, it was the elimination of Jews from Europe. In 2011 it is the elimination of the Jewish state of Israel.

Not all agree. In Open Democracy, the best of the London foreign policy web sites, Anthony Lerman recently attacked those campaigning against antisemitism. The concept of "new antisemitism", he argued, was an artificial creation fashioned after the September 11 attacks to shield Israel from criticism. "Jews everywhere", he wrote, are left "at the mercy of an idea that is ultimately self-contradictory and self-defeating."

The idea that Islamist antisemitism was only revealed after 9/11 will come as news to the victims of the Luxor massacre of 1997 or the Paris metro bombing of 1995. The truth is that antisemitism was always clear in Islamist texts going back decades and remains fully incorporated in key Islamist texts like the Hamas charter.

Instead of exposing the thinking behind Islamist ideology, European intellectuals prefer to argue that antisemitism is just an invention of pro-Israel supporters.

Antisemitism denial thus joins Holocaust denial as an element in a 21st century trahison des clercs – the betrayal of the intellectual's duty to tell truth about political evil.

Lerman has endless access to the Guardian's comment pages (where else?) to sell this line but, ultimately, it is unimportant. The real duty we have is to tell the world that the ideology that led to shivering Jewish mothers clutching their babies to their breast as they waited for the lawyer-turned-SS man to give the order to fire has not yet been buried.

As Petra Pau reminded her audience in Kiev: "the reason fascism gained power was not that the Nazis were so strong. It was because democrats were hopelessly divided on crucial issues."

Antisemitic politics has been re-imported from Islamists back into European politics, especially in the Baltics and central Europe which gets little coverage in British media. In contrast, in 2008, the German parliament adopted a resolution not just on fighting antisemitism but on "fostering Jewish life".

It would be no bad thing if every parliament in Europe acted similarly. Those papers that describe modern Germany as the "Fourth Reich" are creating the hate of the other that was rampant in the 1920s and in the 1930s.

Denis MacShane is MP for Rotherham and a former Europe minister. He is the author of 'Globalising Hatred. The New Antisemitism' (Weidenfeld 2008)

    Last updated: 11:48am, October 3 2011