Anti-Semitism appears to be returning to Europe, including to the UK. (Yes, I know that implies that it went away for a time, which may not really be true. But it was certainly a lot less noticeable from the 1950s to the 1980s.) Certain very traditional anti-Semitic tropes - Jews as a sinister force shaping world events in their own interests; Jews as exploitative and bloodthirsty towards others, particularly towards the children of others; and Jews as constantly whining about their mistreatment for ulterior purposes – have been resurrected and are now quite widely deployed, though largely under the cloak of anti-Zionism. But the grubby underwear constantly shows beneath the hem of that cloak: notoriously in Caryl Churchill's little theatrical riff on some of these themes, whose revealing title is 'Seven Jewish Children'; but also in the sympathetic understanding offered to those who are overtly anti-Semitic and in the singling out of the Jewish state for condemnation and punitive boycott, in preference to the many other states whose human rights violations are so very much more notable. The demonization and condemnation heaped on Israel by many anti-Zionists is singularly absent from their treatment of other and worse (sometimes hideously worse) malefactors - an ominous selectivity towards the Jewish state which is hard to account for in normal political terms.
The resurgence of anti-Semitism is most noticeable in (though it's by no means confined to) parts of the liberal-left; that is, among people who would otherwise be expected to be very alert, and very hostile, to any form of racism. And it's hard to know how to combat this, since a largely successful campaign has been mounted to defuse the charge of anti-Semitism by way of the Livingstone Formulation – the all-purpose response which claims that charges of anti-Semitism are all really attempts to distract people from the crimes of Israel (or possibly the insidious influence of the Jewish Lobby). This, too, is a traditional anti-Semitic trope – Jews, it is said, whine about their ill-treatment in order to escape censure for their misdeeds. Furthermore, there are also people on the left who refrain from deploying the worst anti-Semitic tropes themselves, but who nonetheless belittle, and deride as exaggerated, Jewish concern about anti-Semitism, thereby strengthening the position of those whose hostility is more overt. It is not surprising that some people who have spent a great deal of energy trying to fight anti-Semitism from the left over the last few years begin to feel that their efforts have been largely pointless, since their adversaries don't actually care about the arguments, or even about the facts: the gratifications of believing in (supposed) Jewish conspiracies and bloodthirstiness and duplicity are too great to yield to reasoned argument or empirical evidence.
If anti-Semitism is really on the march again, then this is a seriously worrying development. Already Jews are beginning to feel that the environment in which they live has become more hostile and alien (and hence of course more alienating). Many of us used to think that the terrible precedent of the Nazi genocide would itself prevent any recurrence of Jew-hatred, since the contemplation of what anti-Semitism had led to was and is so appalling. But if in spite of that history Jew-hatred is once more on the rise, then we simply can't tell whether people will continue to see, or even care about, where it might lead. There are parts of the left which do not have a good track record of seeing, or caring about, crimes against humanity when it's politically inconvenient to do so. (It goes without saying that there are also parts of the right which suffer from a similar selective blindness.)
So we don't know how things will develop, and the current methods of combating anti-Semitism by presenting arguments and critiques and evidence don't seem to have worked very well. And when the opinion of some of the most non-fanatical and non-hysterical left-liberal Jews is that anti-Semitism is becoming normalized, and that a bleak or worse than bleak future can't be ruled out, we can be reasonably sure that things are indeed getting worse. So what is to be done?
There are various strategies that could be adopted by those who are concerned about these developments. Firstly, Jews can band together to fight against the rising tide. Israel itself is in some respects a large-scale version of that strategy, but smaller-scale versions can be developed nationally – through the Board of Deputies, for example, and other community groups such as CST. Alternatively, rather than fight, Jews can take flight – they can emigrate to some other country in which tolerance and support for Jews is more reliable, and which is prepared to let Jews in. In practice this probably means Israel or America (though India might be an interesting option) – but it is a miserable prospect for Jews who love their own country. Or they can keep their heads down, individually and collectively, and hope it all blows over. This last is not a strategy with an entirely successful history, and it also involves accepting a subordinate standing in a democracy whose other members feel able to overtly combat racism against their groups.
A different strategy is to join with the accusers to accuse. Throughout the history of Jew-hatred, there have always been some Jews who choose to ally themselves with the haters. We shouldn't necessarily be too hard on such people. Being Jewish at a time when this is increasingly unpopular is not a comfortable business, and seeking to escape disapproval and contempt by throwing in your lot with the principal condemners is an understandable, though unlovely, response. Such compliant Jews are naturally of great value to anti-Semites, especially in a populist political regime, since they can be paraded to legitimize anti-Semitic activities; hence the rewards these Jews can gain, in terms of approval and esteem from people who are effectively their social superiors, are very great. So even where the role they play is a contemptible one, it is nonetheless understandable that some Jews will be unable to resist these temptations. But most people of course will not want to take that road.
Another and perhaps more respectable strategy is to assimilate. Arthur Koestler argued that after the Holocaust it has now become plain that Jews should either go to Israel or assimilate into their host societies and abandon their Jewishness. In his view the burden of being a Jew in the Diaspora is too heavy for anyone to be justified in laying it on their children. The evidence of ineradicable, nightmarish hostility to Jews is, he felt, too great to be dismissed. We should put an end to it by normalizing Jewishness in the Jewish state, and abandoning it elsewhere. There are many objections to this proposal, and a lot has happened since Koestler wrote those words. He didn't, I think, foresee the extent to which Israel itself would become the Jew among states. But the main thing to point out here is that what he recommended hasn't happened. Some Jews have assimilated into their host societies, and others will do so in the future; but there are still many Jews in Europe, both religious and secular, for whom it would be grotesquely objectionable, perhaps impossible, to abandon their Jewish identity, or to deny or repudiate their long, remarkable, tragic history.
There is, however, one further strategy which can be canvassed. We should bear in mind that Jews are not friendless, even on the left, and we should try to build on that. There is a distinct section of the liberal-left which sees what is happening, and doesn't like it - within the blogosphere, and beyond that domain as well. Some of these people are heroes, who have themselves been the object of hostility and condemnation for the stance which they've adopted. They don't think that Jews should be singled out for special obloquy for supporting the Jewish state, nor do they see Jews as exercising sinister powers in expressing that support. The anti-racism of these people doesn't make an exception for anti-Semitism; they and their views form the basis for a genuinely universal struggle against discrimination uninfected by the traditional prejudices which are once again crawling out of the shadows. One strategy for Jews is to work with these figures and others like them to revive a universal anti-racism, alongside support for other universal rights and values, as well as more particular ones appropriate for individual situations and commitments.
There is an extra reason why this last strategy might be especially appealing for British Jews on the liberal-left. Jews, like everyone else, have multiple identities, criss-crossing and overlapping in a variety of ways. With respect to her identity as a Jew, a British Jew might in the first instance feel fear and dread at the spectacle of resurgent anti-Semitism on the left (or anywhere else). But with respect to her identity as a Briton, she might feel appalled, furious, outraged at what is being done to the liberal culture which she (rightly) loves and admires and feels proud of. When the British left is ready to compare Israel to the Nazis, declare Gaza to be similar to the Warsaw Ghetto, and treat genocidal threats against Jews as a trivial matter; when the Guardian, the principal media organ of this sector of society, opens its columns to a constant stream of such venom; when members of the intelligentsia are ready with breezy nonchalance to dismiss Jewish concerns about anti-Semitism as overheated overstatement, and Jewish self-defence as sinister brutality; then a terrible degradation of thought and sentiment has taken place here in the UK, among an influential part of the chattering classes. For the sake of liberal culture in Britain, as well as for the sake of its Jewish citizens, we all have reason to fight resurgent anti-Semitism, and to support a renewed commitment to the universal values which protect us, irrespective of our race or gender or religion, and which make the inhabitants of this country, in global and historical terms, a very fortunate group of people. (Eve Garrard)