New lyrics to the old tunes of antisemitism
At Oxford University, a member of the Conservative Association sings a charming ditty to the tune of Jingle Bells: "Dashing through the Third Reich… In a black Mercedes Benz… Killing all the kikes…"
In the 1980s, Thatcherite students knew all the words of Tomorrow Belongs to Me - the Nazi song from the musical, Cabaret. Now the singing is more sinister. Did our clever young Tory lift up his hands and swivel as he sprayed the machine gun "Ra ta ta" like the SS at Babi Yar? "They are only drunken adolescents", will be the excuse. After all, if the old Etonian Prince Harry thought it was just fine to turn up dressed as a Nazi officer, why should the products of minor public schools think there is anything wrong with a sing-song celebrating the Holocaust?
An exceptional example? Not quite. Take Prince William's alma mater, the equally elite University of St Andrews. Earlier this year, a 21-year-old American student on exchange from a New York university found his room invaded by two fellow students. Chanan Reitblat is proud of being Jewish. He was studying chemistry. Paul Donnachie, 19, and Sam Colchester, 20, decided to teach him a lesson.
Donnachie was active in the campus Palestine Solidarity Campaign. Reitblat, whose family had fled Lithuania because of antisemitic prejudice, had hung an Israeli flag on his wall. His fellow students came in to his room and one, Colchester, urinated in his sink. Donnachie put his hand down his trousers and rubbed it over the flag. They called Reitblat a "Nazi, fascist and terrorist". Instead of condemning this grotesque anti-Jewish assault the Scottish PSC demonstrated in support of Donnachie, arguing that it was a free-speech case.
At north American campuses, there are hate-filled "Israel Apartheid" weeks, often backed by professors, the message of which is essentially that Israel should not exist. That's quite a moral hit on young Jewish students who have an affinity for Israel. But for the Islamist ideologues of the Middle East who are serious about doing away with Israel and Jews in the region, references to apartheid and Nazis from professors are nectar to nourish their hate.
Meanwhile, the TUC voted in September to boycott Israeli workers just at a time when unions and progressive forces in Israel were launching mass protests against the rising inequality in the once proudly egalitarian Jewish state.
As Islamist fanatics firebomb the offices of a French magazine to protest against its Voltaire-style satire of religion, Europe's journalists avert their eyes. The National Union of Journalists prefers to cut links with Jewish journalists in Israel than tackle the overtly racist antisemitism of much Islamist and Arab media discourse.
Too easily it crosses the line into contempt for Jews
European and British antisemitism is now viral. It spreads fast and invades minds, especially those of students. The great causes of 20th-century, left-liberal activism have disappeared. Fascism, military juntas, Stalinism, apartheid, homophobia, denial of rights to women and other evils have been more or less conquered. The professors, unions and student activists need a new cause, and one offers itself - solidarity with the Palestinians. There is nothing wrong with support for a people who suffer dreadfully, as much from the failings and feuds of their leadership as from the Israeli government's actions.
But too often such support becomes unreflective criticism of Israel. Too easily it crosses the line into contempt for Jews and their heritage. Canadians and Australians are proud of having settled a land where others dwelt and building their nations. But Zionism, an assertion of the same right to nationhood that other nations, old and new, proclaim, remains a dirty word on the campuses of western democracies.
Contemporary antisemitism is growing as a nationalist populist force in eastern Europe. In November 1933, a Yes vote at a referendum allowed Hitler to withdraw from the League of Nations and move further and faster into anti-Jewish laws, no longer required to pay even lip service to international or multilateral obligations. Britain's university lecturers' union has repudiated the EU's definition of antisemitism because it wants no external check on the filling of young minds with anti-Israel hate.
Those higher political points were far from the thoughts of the Oxford and St Andrews students who seemingly revealed that the post-1945 taboo against antisemitic acts no longer exists. What was unsayable when I was at Oxford is now singable, as a coarsening of discourse about Jews and Israel infects the minds of the next generation. Singing Holocaust songs and calling for the elimination of Israel are the twin faces of the new antisemitism, and antisemitism is now a major British and European problem.
Denis MacShane is MP for Rotherham and a former Europe minister. He is the author of 'Globalising Hatred. The New Antisemitism' (Weidenfeld 2008)