Within hours of the Labour party giving its members wriggle room to defame Israel without any pushback, posters appeared on central London bus-shelters slandering Israel as a “a racist endeavour”.
The virus of left-wing antisemitism is out of control. Why is anyone surprised? None of this is new. Jeremy Corbyn may have made the poison more toxic but he didn’t release it. He is rather its most malevolent symptom.
I first experienced this in 1982. Colleagues implied that my real country wasn’t Britain but Israel. At the time, I’d never even been there and never wanted to go. All I’d done was stick up for it against the lies and blood libels.
For that, I was instantly pigeon-holed as not fully British. During the following years, Jewish defenders of Israel like me were accused of dual loyalty.
So why was anyone surprised when Corbyn suggested that British Jews who supported Israel were a breed apart who couldn’t understand English irony?
Over the past few decades, Israel has been the victim of a campaign of demonisation and delegitimisation of a kind directed at no other country, people or cause.
Every accusation hurled at it is untrue. Displaced the indigenous people of the land: untrue. Acts illegally: untrue. Racist, apartheid, colonialist state: untrue. Disproportionately aggressive: untrue. Contemptuous of the lives of innocent Palestinians: untrue.
To these obscene falsehoods and more from the left, others have shrugged or, worse, nodded along. Even now, it’s not the lies about Israel that are provoking such horror. It’s the stuff about hook-nosed bankers or Jewish conspiracy theories or Jewish fascists.
Shocking and vile indeed. But this loathing of Jews is umbilically connected to loathing of Israel.
One of the most sly claims is that those protesting about antisemitism want to silence criticism of Israel.
That is itself bigoted nonsense. Criticism is rational and legitimate. Pathological lying about Israel is not.
Israel is presented as a demonic conspiracy to manipulate the world. It is dwelt upon obsessively as a global menace. It is singled out for impossible double standards. It is accused of crimes of which it is not only innocent but the victim such as genocidal aggression, illegality, colonialism, racism, ethnic cleansing and the wilful slaughter of civilians.
Precisely the same derangement of reason characterises classic antisemitism. This is not a coincidence.
There is a yet deeper link. Judaism comprises an unbreakable and unique connection between the religion, the people and the land. Denying any one of these three elements is to deny Judaism itself.
This doesn’t mean every Jew must be a Zionist, any more than the fact that many Jews don’t observe Shabbat, for example, means Shabbat is not an essential part of the religion.
What it does mean is that those who vilify Jewish nationhood in the Jews’ historic homeland as innately racist, or who endorse Palestinian fabrications writing the Jews out of their own national story, are not “criticising” Israel. They are attacking Judaism itself.
Britain’s Jewish leadership generally tries to avoid linking antisemitism to the subject of Israel. It says Israel “complicates the issue”. But it is the issue.
One reason why Jewish leaders are reluctant to make this link is that many themselves believe some of the lies about Israel: that the settlements are illegal, for example, or that the Israeli government is the obstacle to peace.
Remarkably, some of the victims of Labour’s antisemitic onslaught themselves parrot wicked falsehoods about Israel — that the IDF deliberately killed peaceful demonstrators at the Gaza border, for example, or that the nation-state law turns Israeli Arabs into second-class citizens. Even while denouncing Labour’s antisemitism, they are currently falling over themselves to repeat such claims.
But accusing the IDF of killing innocent demonstrators is tantamount to slandering them as psychopathic child-killers. Claiming the nation-state law discriminates against Israeli Arabs is tantamount to calling Israel racist —merely because it’s a Jewish nation-state.
It’s almost as if these Jews are saying it’s fine to call Netanyahu a racist or accuse the IDF of being wanton child-killers — but to call Netanyahu a racist “puppet-master” or the IDF “Nazi” child-killers would be antisemitism. The distinction is weaselly and spurious.
Until British Jews themselves distinguish legitimate criticism of Israel from the malicious slanders which constitute the new antisemitism, they will continue to contribute inadvertently to the appalling climate of hate which now threatens to engulf them.
Melanie Phillips is a Times columnist