There was always going to be a first attack. Personally, I was convinced it was going to be a Jew, or at least an Israel supporter. A few weeks ago, in those innocent days when counter-protesters still dared to appear on the sidelines of the marches, the Iranian activist Vahid Beheshdi was pursued by the mob and threatened with beheading. The police protected him. But so far as I can see, he wasn’t attacked simply for representing Britain. Not like the alleged attack on a poppy seller.
This week, a 78-year-old veteran by the name of Jim Henderson, who served in Northern Ireland, said he was assaulted while manning a stall at Edinburgh’s Waverley Station. Social media footage showed him trying to escape, wearing his red beret. "I went down, and as I bent down someone punched me in the back," he said. "And then I got another punch in my side. I’ve never known anything like it." Revealingly, he added his impressions of the crowd. "Chanting," he said. "Saying it’s all about the British Government, British people, Jews."
The British Government, British people, Jews. What does this bring to mind? During the Second World War, Hitler figured the Allied powers as the Jewish people’s puppets, blaming them for the evil of the War. Remember the Der Stürmer slogan, "Die Juden sind unser Unglück" ‘the Jews are our misfortune’? Remember the propaganda poster from 1942 showing a sinister Jew lurking behind the flags of Britain, the United States and others, accompanied by the words, "Hinter den Feindmächten: der Jude’, or ‘behind the enemy powers: the Jew’?
As I said, I thought it was going to be a Jew. In Lyon, a 30-year-old Jewish woman was stabbed and had a swastika daubed on her door. In Los Angeles, a Jewish man lost his life after being struck on the head with a megaphone. But no: in Britain,allegedly it was a poppy seller.
For the mob, it is not only about the Palestinians. If it was, then these same protesters would have taken to the streets in equal numbers when Palestinians in Yarmouk in southern Syria were being barrel-bombed by Assad. If they truly cared about Muslims, they would have risen up in equal force when China rounded up the Uighurs and sent them to concentration camps, or when the Rohingya were hounded out of Myanmar. If they were acting out of humanitarian instincts, they would have held peaceful vigils. No, this isn’t about the victims. It’s about identity. It is about the perpetrators. It is about the Jews.
But it is not entirely about the Jews. It is about the Jews as the most vivid, detested and vulnerable expression of our collective values. And those values are also symbolised by the poppy. Many of the marchers, of course, were not that sophisticated. Looking at the videos of the rally that circulated last weekend, it was apparent that many were young. You could see them smirking, revelling in the naughtiness of it all, glancing over their shoulders for Teacher.
What did they know of the history of Israel and the origins of Hamas? What did they know of liberalism, jihadism, and Just War theory? What did they know of the First World War? What did they know of what they were doing? I’d venture not very much. They knew about trainers, pop music, parties and detentions. They knew that bad things were happening in Gaza and that the Jews were behind it all. Theirs was a social media revolution. They were the idiot foot soldiers in a movement saluted by the Hezbollah leader in his speech last Friday, the movement to undermine the West.
In my mind, the crowds of 2023 – none of whom chant “peace now” as people did in the Nineties, but instead yell “jihad”, “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” (what river? What sea? Many don’t know), or “from London to Gaza, globalise the Intifada”, as if we have not had our fill of suicide bombs in Britain – echo the riots of 2011.
Back then, it was about racial tension, class unrest, social disenfranchisement, the lack of opportunity, and unemployment. It is still about all those things, but with the added poisons of identity politics and antisemitism. It has become about the Jews, but not only about the Jews.