At my dinner table on Friday night, a holocaust survivor admits that she is trying to persuade her son to take his family out of Europe to America, Canada, Australia, Canada, Australia, Israel…’They say they can’t leave me, but I tell them: “Go, get out. My parents left my grandparents behind in Berlin and brought me to safety in England. Now I want you to leave so that my grandchildren will be safe.”’ There is an unbearable desperation in her plea. But she has a point.
As tens of thousands of demonstrators march through the streets of Europe, the chants are modified but the message remains substantially intact: ‘Hamas, Hamas, Hamas — Jews to the Gas’. Or, more simply: ‘Death to the Jews’. Many European Jews, even well-established, affluent Jews, have been checking the suitcase they keep packed under the bed. They have been here before and many are (albeit reluctantly) reading the writing on the wall.
To some extent I thought I was inured. I grew up in postwar apartheid South Africa where a subtle undercurrent of anti-Semitism was a fact of everyday life. So while I was disturbed by manifestations of mob anti-Semitism, I was also less vulnerable to shock. That’s just how people are. Living in genteel, leafy Hampstead Garden Suburb provides an additional layer of protection from such crass outbursts.
But my sanguine state ends abruptly when I am out walking on Saturday. A hundred yards from my front door, I encounter the slogan, freshly painted in yellow, across the pavement: ‘Kill the Filthy Jews’. I am shocked. And shocked that I am shocked. The message is too close for comfort. The leafy gentility is, after all, an illusion.
Those who study these matters tell me that the current convulsion of anti-Semitism is the worst in a generation. They also say that there is a direct, causal link with the Israeli military operation against Hamas in Gaza. Once upon a time, anti-Israel protesters insisted they were motivated by political animus against Zionism rather than racial prejudice against Jews. The Hamas Charter, which sets out of the guiding principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement — xenophobic, racist and anti-Semitic — removes the distinction.
Last week Basim Naim, the Hamas Minister of Health in Gaza, sought to capitalise on the wave of European support for his movement and to confer some respectability on Hamas among those who lean to the left. Writing in the Guardian, he decried the ‘continuing attempt to discredit and demonise Hamas’. Boldly, he asserted: ‘Our struggle is not against the Jewish people, but against oppression and occupation. This is not a religious war. We have no quarrel with the Jewish people’.
Mr Naim’s disingenuous depiction of Hamas as a friend of the Jews took my sense of credulity to a place that is accessible only to my psychiatrist. The ideology contained in the Hamas Charter (which was adopted in 1987, not 1887), leaves no room for interpretation. ‘Our struggle against the Jews is extremely wide-ranging and grave,’ it declares. Every Muslim is enjoined to confront the enemy in the land of the Muslims: ‘a woman must fight the enemy even without her husband’s authorisation, and a slave without his master’s permission… In order to face the usurpation of Palestine by the Jews, we have no escape from raising the banner of Jihad. We must…join the ranks of the Jihad fighters’.
Article Seven of the Charter provides the religious justification: ‘The Prophet, prayer and peace be upon him, said: “The [end of days] will not come until Muslims fight the Jews and kill them; until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: ‘Oh Muslim, there is a Jew hiding behind me, come and kill him!’”’
Then the Hamas Charter morphs into the oldest hatred: primitive, European anti-Semitism. Jews, says the Charter, have accumulated ‘huge and influential wealth’ which they use to implement their ‘dream’. It has allowed them to take over the world media and to foment revolutions (the French and Communist revolutions receive special mention) in order to ‘fulfil their interests and pick the fruit’. The Jews, it says, used their influence to start both world wars and they used their money to ‘establish clandestine organisations which are spreading around the world to destroy societies and promote Zionist interests’. Among these ‘destructive spying organisations’, the Hamas Charter makes special mention of the Freemasons, Rotary clubs, Lions clubs and B’nai B’rith.
This psychopathic babble is unpleasant stuff, but, like it or not, that is the formally enshrined ideological platform and considered worldview of Hamas. It should be dismissed with contempt, but its message resonates in important Middle East capitals, from Tehran to Damascus and Doha. Sadly, it has found an echo on the streets of Europe, too.
All this raises some important questions. What part of the Hamas message inspires tens of thousands from the left, right and centre of the political spectrum to take to the streets of Europe with their chants of support for Hamas and hatred of Jews? What part of that noxious Hamas ideology is so compelling that it has led some into violent confrontation with the police? And where are those protestors when Muslims are killed in other conflicts, from Afghanistan and Chechnya to Darfur and the Philippines?
Hamas has provided the touchpaper for a Thirties-style outburst in Europe. Anti-Semitism is rampant. Synagogues are burned and Jewish cemeteries are desecrated, while individual Jews are met with gratuitous verbal and, at times, physical abuse in the street.
In Britain, a cross-party group of MPs is moved to speak of their ‘horror’ as ‘a wave of anti-Semitic incidents has affected the Jewish community’. There is, they note, a ‘discernible sense of anxiety and vulnerability’ among British Jews.
In Germany, anti-Semitic violence directed at Jewish institutions is reported to be spreading nationwide after a police officer guarding a synagogue in Berlin’s Mitte district, the pre-war centre of Jewish life, was attacked with an iron bar.
In Italy, the Flaica-Uniti-Cub trade union, which represents workers in shops and malls, calls for a boycott of businesses with Jewish associations, directing shoppers to focus particularly on clothing stores, many of which, the union pointed out, are traditionally owned by Italian Jews. And in Denmark — Denmark! — schools with large numbers of Muslim pupils are refusing to enrol Jews because, they say, their security cannot be assured.
There can be no doubt that, for many, Israel-hatred is a cover for Jew-hatred. There can also be no doubt that this figleaf is becoming redundant. The contagion has passed through the membrane and the post-Holocaust taboo against open expressions of anti-Semitism is slipping away.
The Hamas Health Minister might have been stretching the truth when he said ‘we have no quarrel with the Jewish people’. Sadly, though, he was not telling fibs when he said he and his comrades ‘welcome and appreciate the stand taken by leading Jewish figures in Britain and around the world against Israel’s aggression against Gaza and for the rights of our people’.
I am hoping that my psychiatrist will be able to explain why so many Jews have been propelled into the arms of those who seek their destruction. Precisely what part of the Hamas Charter are they defending?
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated January 24, 2009