Life & Culture

Let's not keep deluding ourselves


I have the diary entry in front of me. I wrote the words down a day or so after the event because the significance took a while to register, such was my shock. I had been summoned into the office of an extremely important and powerful public figure. An intimidating one, too.

It was a February morning six years ago. We were chatting about the controversial business dealings of a Jewish entrepreneur and he suddenly said: "What is it with Jews and money?"


"I mean they do like to keep hold of it don't they. What's that all about?"

I struggled for an answer and, sensing my discomfort, he hastily added: ''Just a joke, don't get all paranoid.''

Tell me, why are Jews so good at holding on to money?

And perhaps it was a joke. It was certainly crass, thoughtless and highly offensive but it was only when I shared this story with a trusted confidant that I realised it was antisemitic, too. I think I was so stunned that this highly educated, successful individual had openly equated Judaism with miserliness that I think I must have buried the underlying meaning of his comments in my subconscious at first. Sharing them helped me understand the sinister truth.

This was in much the same way as Ken Livingstone's sharing of his abhorrent once-private thoughts about Hitler's supposed fondness for Zionism and Israel ''before he went mad'' made me at first regard him as offensive and idiotic, only to probe deeper and ask myself whether he is actually an anti-Semite in denial.

In today's febrile atmosphere, it is no surprise that such questions are being asked of so many on the left.

Jeremy Corbyn and his close adviser Seumas Milne, along with MPs such as Naz Shah and Rupa Huq, seem oblivious to what is and isn't offensive, what is hurtful to Jews and what is fair criticism of Israel. Their ignorance of what antisemitism is and tacit acceptance of antisemitic tropes is, we're told, symptomatic of the hard-left's problem with Jews.

The "filth", as one commentator so memorably wrote, swept in when Corbyn was elected and now these militant morons feel liberated to say what they really think.

One must at least applaud Corbyn for launching an independent investigation into the undoubted antisemitic elements of his party - too late, perhaps, but I'm sure Shami Chakrabarti will eventually conclude that elements of Labour need to be reminded what is and isn't racism.

But this will reveal only a part of the truth, which will be conveniently latched on to by Labour's anti-Corbynites and Tories alike. Because, if we see this rising tide of antisemitism through the prism of the loony-left, we will have missed what is a far more worrying story.

Alarming new figures from the Campaign Against Antisemitism show that Britain's police forces recorded almost 1,000 antisemitic offences in 2015, a 25-per-cent rise on the previous year.

This isn't about left and right, Islington and Bradford, Judaism and Zionism. It's about something evil that we pretended had gone away, but in reality never did.

The businessman I alluded to earlier is a card-carrying member of the Conservatives, a proud Thatcherite. As is the QC I dined with a couple of years ago, whose opinion of a Jewish entrepreneur I once worked for - and who, unfortunately, didn't always receive flattering media coverage - is etched on my memory: "The trouble is, he's very Jewish." Only my wife's sharp kick to the shin under the table stopped me from piling in. I'll forever regret biting my tongue.

Then there's the chap I know whose notorious litany of abusive terms for foreigners and minorities is extraordinarily offensive - yet, for him, entirely appropriate. "Thieving gyppos, Polacks, dagos, wops and spicks" (used to describe a variety of "sponging" Europeans), "slanty-eyed" (Asian), "tinted brethren" (Indian), "bongo-bongo land" (Africa). That he's on first-name terms with David Cameron is obviously irrelevant.

Jewish friends are currently enduring the trauma of their teenage son coming home from one of Britain's finest public schools in tears because, after English lessons during which the children are studying The Merchant Of Venice, his classmates throw coins on the ground and taunt him with ''Pick it up, Jewboy.'' To its credit, the school has reacted forcefully, though I've no idea what, if anything, the parents of the ignorant (racist?) boys have said.

It reminds me of my own schooling experience and one with which perhaps George Osborne will sympathise. Going through expensive, private schools with the name Gideon (it was my middle, his first), is not easy. He was so hurt he changed it to George, whereas I stuck with it and was commonly known as Gid The Yid until the age of 18, sometimes prefaced with a gas chamber hiss.

Childish banter perhaps. You know the kind of banter that football managers tend to indulge in (remember Cardiff's Malky Mackay and his ''fat Jew'' malarkey). Or fashion designers (John Galliano) and film stars (Mel Gibson) who blame alcohol for their vile abuse of Jews.

Perhaps, in the words of the man I first mentioned, I'm just being ''paranoid''. Like Woody Allen in Annie Hall who badgers his friend with the story of how a colleague asked him: '''Jew eat?' Not did you, but 'Jew eat…'''

It's ironic that one of the funniest lines in that film is also its most uncomfortably racist. Woody and Diane Keaton are sipping awful wine on her balcony when she laughs and turns to him by saying: ''You're what Grammy Hall would call a real Jew.'' What - short, curly-haired, nebbishy, argumentative and rude? Sounds about right.

The point of all this is that intentional and unintentional racism is not just a problem with the left and focusing on such a skewed agenda will entirely miss the point. Militant Labour and Muslims in Jew-baiting scandal. Well knock me down with a feather, who'd have guessed?

Certainly, it's a convenient and welcome stick with which Labour can be beaten, and, it must be hoped, this series of events will hasten the end of Corbyn's incompetent tenure.

However, the problems of racism and especially antisemitism in this country are not confined to a political stance, nor are they associated with particular socio-economic factors, levels of education and religious backgrounds. They permeate throughout society.

This is a rare opportunity to tackle, through education, a problem that has been allowed to fester for generations, instead of it being used as a political football by opportunists seeking to score in an empty goal. By passing it off as "just Ken and that lot" we're lying to ourselves.

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