Between the Iron Lady and the Wedding Cake: conflict in Belle Époque Paris

Between 1789 and 1871 Paris went through five kings, two Bonapartist empires, two republics, several revolutions and a Commune. Each had been an attempt to accommodate or neutralise one of two visions of France. The oldest was traditional and conventional; it mourned the ancien régime, and preferred the safety of autocracy over the chaos of democracy and God over science. The younger was progressive and eager for change, building on the ideas of the Enlightenment and the revolutionary ideals of 1789. We are taken through slums, cafés, law courts, theatres, brothels, strikes and demonstrations For Mike Rapport, ‘the friction between change and tradition is perhaps the defining characteristic of the modern

The Dreyfus Affair continues to haunt France to this day

A short new book on Captain Alfred Dreyfus, the proudly patriotic French army officer who was falsely accused in 1894 of being a German spy, and whose court cases divided France into two warring camps, could not have been better timed. For the division sounds horribly familiar. Liberal, democratic, secular, cosmopolitan, urban France was pitted against provincial, religious, authoritarian, anti-immigrant, chauvinistic France. Dreyfus, an assimilated Alsatian Jew, was first sentenced by a military court, using faked documents and trumped-up charges, to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island, off the coast of French Guiana. When it became obvious that it wasn’t Dreyfus who had handed military secrets to the Germans but Ferdinand

How on earth does Rishi Sunak keep going?

It’s my birthday this week and the end of my seventh decade (mathematicians will note that this does not make me 79). Looking at my long and generally happy life, I do wonder quite how we arrived where we are with this all-pervading sense of gloom and despondency. Gaza, Ukraine, Putin, Trump, Islamic State, Brexit… whichever way you look, there’s something you don’t want to see. The doomsday clock now stands at 90 seconds to midnight, the closest we’ve ever been to complete annihilation. Happy birthday to me. It’s not all bad though. Last week my son came home with a borrowed Apple Vision Pro, the wrap-around headset which retails

Grappling with anti-Semitism at Easter

Easter meant little to me as a child. It was chocolate eggs, magical rabbits, films about Jesus on television. I had three Jewish grandparents and, though not raised with any particular religious identity, there was a sense of cultural Jewishness in the home. But those Easter movies must have made an impact, because I became a Christian in my mid-twenties and am now an Anglican priest. I am, however, deeply aware of Christian anti-Semitism – something that is once again becoming grimly fashionable. Anti-Semitism is especially poignant at Easter, the epicentre of the Christian calendar. We remember the great commandment to love one another, and take shelter from an increasingly

Will Keir Starmer ever learn to loosen up?

Tom Baldwin declares at the outset: ‘It’s only fair to warn those hoping to find these pages spattered with blood that they will be disappointed.’ Fair enough. This is not an authorised biography, but it is a friendly one, written with Keir Starmer’s co-operation. Baldwin briefly worked as Labour’s communications director, and then was asked to help Starmer with his autobiography. They did several interviews, but Starmer always had reservations and finally pulled the plug last spring. Instead, he agreed that Baldwin could write this book, using some of the material he had already gathered, and that he would assist him with contacts. Starmer’s worst fault, according to his friends,

Has Germany finally shaken off its dark past?

In 1982, a board game appeared in West Germany. If you landed on square B9 you were sent to a refugee camp in Hesse where you became ill from loneliness, unfamiliar food and not being allowed to work. Worse still, you had to miss a go and spend the free time thinking about ‘how you would feel in such a situation’. Even if, like me, your childhood was spent crying over lost games of Monopoly, nothing could quite prepare you for the cheerless experience of playing ‘Flight and Expulsion Across the World’. It’s unlikely an updated version has been commissioned for our home secretary, with players assigned counters representing the

Why the story of the Holocaust still needs telling

In Chekhov’s The Seagull Dr Dorn is asked which is his favourite foreign city. Genoa, he replies: in the evening the streets are full of strolling people and you became part of the crowd, body and soul. ‘You start to think there really might be a universal spirit,’ he says. I remembered Dr Dorn when I was discovering Genoa in October. Then it suddenly came to me that I had been to the city before. Genoa was where my family embarked for the Far East, when I was 18 months old, fleeing the Nazis. I don’t know about the universal spirit, though. I’m reading Enemies and Neighbours: Arabs and Jews

Why are so many young people anti-Semitic?

The surest way to work up a crusade in favour of some good cause is to promise people they will have a chance of maltreating someone. To be able to destroy with good conscience, to be able to behave badly and call your bad behaviour ‘righteous indignation’ – this is the height of psychological luxury, the most delicious of moral treats. Aldous Huxley, Crome Yellow Anti-Semitism ­– the socialism of fools – is a shapeshifter supreme. The oldest hatred has taken many forms, and is enjoyed by Christians and Muslims, communists and fascists alike. Now it can add another string to its bow. Anti-Semitism has become deeply fashionable. You might

Who do the police protect?

The function of the police, one might have thought, was to protect the weak against the overbearing and the bullying. Unfortunately, a by-product of the Gaza crisis has been to suggest that, at least on the streets of London, a bit of carefully targeted thuggery against your political opponents can pay useful dividends. For some days now, the Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) has been raising awareness of the plight of abducted Israelis in Gaza by driving display vans around iconic parts of London. These vans are fitted with electronic billboards on the sides and back containing the names of children taken by Hamas from Israel a couple of weeks ago,

A deadly game of chance: The Story of a Forest, by Linda Grant, reviewed

‘Like a child in a fairy tale’, 14-year old Mina Mendel walks into a Latvian forest one day in 1913. With her basket and shawl, she looks like Little Red Riding Hood, but the wolves she meets – Bolsheviks, ‘agents of the coming revolution’ – are anything but mythical. Linda Grant begins her sweeping, ambitious ninth novel The Story of the Forest with this accidental encounter. From Latvia to Liverpool – and Soho to World’s End – she tells the story of one Jewish family in the 20th century as they live through plots to overthrow the tsar, the trenches of of the Great War, the racism of Liverpudlian suburbs

A masterpiece: Rose, at Park Theatre, reviewed

Look at this line. ‘I’m 80 years old. I find that unforgivable.’ Could an actor get a laugh on ‘unforgivable’? Maureen Lipman does just that in Rose, by Martin Sherman, a monologue spoken by a Ukrainian Jew who lived through the horrors of the 20th century. In the opening sections, Lipman plays it like a professional comic and she fills the theatre with warm, loving laughter. Rose’s dad is a hypochondriac who spends all day in bed. ‘He never stopped dying but as far as we could tell there was nothing wrong with him.’ Eventually he loses his life when a wardrobe stuffed with pills topples on to him. ‘He

Is T.S. Eliot’s great aura fading?

For much of his life T.S. Eliot was surrounded by an aura of greatness: people accepted it, and behaved accordingly. That kind of consensus is not helpful for a writer or his works, as Eliot himself clearly saw, observing that nobody had ever written anything significant after winning the Nobel Prize for Literature – true at the time and mostly true since. His work is now in the position of Hamlet when he wrote a famous essay on the play: that the universal agreement of its greatness had hidden an understanding of its failures, its strangeness and what it couldn’t do. We take the greatness of Eliot’s poetry pretty much

Was another tragic Jewish death covered up in France?

Not for the first time in France the death of a Jew is dominating the news, and not for the first time there are whispers of an attempted cover-up. Several candidates in Sunday’s election have paused from their campaigning to air their views on the death of Jeremy Cohen, a 31-year-old who was struck by a tram in Seine-Saint-Denis, north of Paris. The candidates portrayed by the commentariat as ‘extreme right’ were the most direct. ‘Did he die because he was a Jew?’ tweeted Eric Zemmour, himself a Jew. ‘Why is this case hushed up?’ Marine Le Pen also wondered on social media if ‘what was presented as an accident

Eric Zemmour isn’t to blame for France’s anti-Semitism crisis

Emmanuel Macron sees anti-Semitism everywhere except where it really lurks. Earlier this month his government accused protesters opposed to the Covid Passport of giving the Nazi salute, a charge that was disproved by video footage and this week dismissed by the public prosecutor’s office in Paris. Yesterday, in a speech to mark International Holocaust Day, Macron warned of the return of ‘an ill wind’ blowing through the continent in some ‘political discourse’. He vowed that France would never cease to honour the memory of the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust ‘particularly when some try to falsify it.’ Macron’s Prime Minister, Jean Castex, spoke on similar lines during a

The dark story behind Bambi, the book Hitler banned

The extent of Walt Disney’s grasp of the natural world remains unclear. After the Austrian author Felix Salten sold the rights to his 1923 bestseller Bambi for a paltry $1,000, Walt is reputed to have suggested myriad unhelpful plot additions to the simple story. ‘Suppose we have Bambi step on an ant hill,’ he offered at one script meeting, ‘and then cut away to see all the damage he’s done to the ant civilisation?’ His writers knew better. The resulting 1942 forest fantasia, which leaps in swooning bounds from one extravagantly coloured and orchestrated natural history lesson to another, was nominated for three Oscars, and by 2005 had grossed $102

Azeem Rafiq and the hypocrisy of victimhood

On the face of it, it seemed the most startling irony. Azeem Rafiq, the former Yorkshire spin bowler who has been giving tearful evidence to a select committee about racism at the club, was found to have made racist remarks himself. Well, anti-Semitic remarks. Which is just as serious, right? In the eyes of many, it was a case of pot and kettle. Here was a man making a very public display of his victimhood, who seemingly felt it was OK to mete out the same treatment to others. #Hypocrite, they cried. #Humbug. With almost no exceptions, reports focussed on the apology that Mr Rafiq gave and the fact that

A troubling tide of anti-Semitism is sweeping Britain and France

A day after the Israeli ambassador to Britain, Tzipi Hotovely, was harassed as she left the London School of Economics, a murder trial in France reached its grisly conclusion. Yacine Mihoub was handed a life term after being convicted of stabbing 85-year-old Mireille Knoll multiple times and then setting her body alight in March 2018. The elderly woman, a Holocaust survivor, had known Mihoub since he was a boy, but he still snuffed out her life because she was a Jew. An accomplice claimed Mihoub screamed ‘Allahu Akbar’ as he stabbed Knoll. It was a murder almost identical in nature to that of Sarah Halimi, slain in the same arrondissement of

The sinister targeting of Israel’s ambassador at the LSE

A mob waving flags and chanting slogans hounds a Jewish leader, forcing her to be bundled into a car and driven off for her own safety. These were scenes that might have been expected on 9 November 1938, when the ‘Kristallnacht’ pogroms raged across Nazi Germany, marking the beginning of the Holocaust. Instead, they took place 83 years later, on 9 November 2021, outside that august institution, the London School of Economics, in the heart of the British capital. The recent BBC series Ridley Road smugly suggested that antisemitism in this country was confined to decades past; real life is far more worrying. Antisemitic, you say? That’s a bit strong. The baying

Why does Kamala Harris refuse to confront anti-Semitism?

Kamala Harris’s pandering to anti-Semitism in a photo-op at George Mason University last week confirms that when it comes to the Democrats, the fish now rots from the head. What should a vice president of the United States say when a foreign student ambushes her with boilerplate lies – in this case, lies which fit her State Department’s own definition of how the more fantastical forms of anti-Zionism are in fact anti-Semitism? You don’t need to be a genius like Joe Biden to know the answer. Speak the truth. Push back against the corrosion of fake news and identity politics which is pulling American society apart. The student, who described

Louis-Ferdinand Céline was lucky to escape retribution in 1945

They rather like bad boys, the French. Louis-Ferdinand Céline (1894-1961) is one, in a tradition that stretches from François Villon to the dyspeptic Michel Houellebecq. But provocation doesn’t always get you where you want to be, as the careers of Richard Millet and Marc-Édouard Nabe demonstrate. Journey to the End of the Night, Céline’s first novel, was a huge success when it was published in 1932 and made him a darling of the left, with applause from Trotsky and Jean-Paul Sartre. That didn’t last long. His virulently anti-Semitic pamphlets (so extreme that André Gide thought he was joking) and his arguments for accommodating Hitler resulted in him going on the