Travelling in America last week, I found American Jews shaking their heads in amazement at what they considered to be the supine attitude of the British Jewish leadership towards Israel demonisation and the inroads made by Islamic radicalism.
I was particularly struck by one conversation. Why had Britain not experienced the American “culture wars” that have been raging in the US for more than four decades?
These battles in the US over issues such as family, morality and group rights have been fought between those who see themselves as defending bedrock western values and those who want to usher in a brave new secular world where subjective interests rule.
The reason there has been a war is largely due to the group known as the neo-conservatives, whose principal arena was western cultural change. Their founding fathers, such as former Trotskyites Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz, saw this as a battleground.
They had come to realise that the left was an enemy of civilisation, that it dominated intellectual life and that this destructive monopoly power had to be challenged.
The result was the creation of neo-con publications, think-tanks and broadcasting outlets, which created a robust political discourse that attacked the shibboleths of the left and put rocket-fuel behind conservative positions.
In the UK, this did not happen. Indeed, murmur “culture war” to British conservatives and they reach for the smelling salts. Far too aggressive and militaristic, they shudder.
The reason is that they just don’t see what has happened as a cultural onslaught which needs to be resisted. They have always been preoccupied instead with process — the size of the state, market forces, civil society. They never saw that the real threat, anti-western ideology, had made a Trojan horse of the mind.
Even Margaret Thatcher understood too little and too late. She was in office for almost a decade before she turned her reforming fire towards education.
She never acknowledged the fundamental attack on objective truth, moral authority and bedrock cultural values — nor the hijacking of language which effectively redefined the centre ground in leftist terms.
As a result, far from a culture war in Britain there was a rout. The “long march through the institutions” was achieved with no resistance.
Why the difference? The most significant feature of the neo-con founding fathers was surely that they were a certain type of Jew. They remained true to the defining Jewish characteristic of being contrarian and unafraid to stand alone against the mainstream.
Often educated by yeshivah-trained scholars who imbued them with Jewish ethics of truth, justice and morality, as well as inculcating a sense of their distinctive identity, they retained these fundamental Jewish traits even despite abandoning religion.
Interestingly, Mrs Thatcher’s guru, Keith Joseph, was also a Jew — but a very different type. Far from going into battle for Jewish values, he exemplified the defining Anglo-Jewish tradition of wanting to fit in.
The results of these differences are all around us. British conservatism moved seamlessly from its failure to fight left-wing ideology to actually embracing it under the Cameroon Tory “brand detoxification” strategy.
Elements of the British Jewish leadership continue to raise eyebrows abroad by fatuously asserting that reports of anti-Jewish feeling in the UK are much exaggerated, while themselves stoking the anti-Israel fires by absurdly demonising Benjamin Netanyahu as the cause of the Middle East impasse.
There is here a failure to understand that effective defence means the fight must be taken to the enemy. The US neocons believed they had a duty to fight for what is right. And that is a Jewish position.