Sunday, February 03, 2008

An Open Letter to PM Gordon Brown on anti-Semitism

The following is the text of a letter I shall be posting in a few days. It is addressed to Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister, asking him to take more serious steps, both domestically and internationally, to tackle the rampant evil of anti-Semitism. I originally intended to send it to him after he came into office, then realized that that was probably the worst time to do so. With Tony Blair seeming to do nothing in the Middle East, I think it's still worth raising the subject. Perhaps this could spark off a concerted approach from all of us and all our contacts. A torrent of letters, all with different texts, all from different people, all on this issue might communicate why, at this juncture, this is such a pressing matter.

The Hon. Gordon Brown
Prime Minister
10 Downing Street

Dear Mr Brown,

I seldom write to politicians. I am not much of a lobbyist, nor am I someone who gets a kick from writing letters that may be unwelcome or that may simply be overlooked. But I have started this letter on the day after you became Prime Minister with the thought that I will send it later, when you have had time to settle into your new job. Following last month's parliamentary debate on the Holocaust, I think the moment has come to send it.

I would not be writing this at all were it not that I feel something untoward is happening in modern Britain. Not, I hasten to say, a plot, a conspiracy, or anything of that kind. It is more tangible than that, but I see little sign of widespread recognition that it exists at all.

It is, quite simply, the recrudescence of anti-Semitism, both in its old forms and in new ones that make it palatable to wider and wider sections of the British public, an anti-Semitism that conflates all too easily with anti-Zionism and anti-Israelism. I'm not a Jew, and I could well distance myself from all this and sit at my desk reading or writing something else. I am a busy person, the world has much to preoccupy me. But the Jewish problem troubles me, if only because anti-Semitism has been at the heart of so much evil down the centuries in Europe and because it still flourishes here and abroad in increasingly dangerous forms and threatens to grow into something ever more tangible, nestling as it does with such ease among the rising wave of Islamic radicalism and terror. They have become part of a single thing, nourished from abroad and suckled within, by the far right and the far left alike.

You and I were born two years apart. I grew up in Northern Ireland, you in Scotland. As you were growing up, did you not experience that strong awareness of a war that had been fought not that long ago, a war in which our parents had been involved? And with that awareness, a consciousness that grew in childhood and over our teenage years that the greatest crime in history had taken place only years before we were born? I can remember it vividly. Photographs and films of the concentration and death camps, bodies piled like images from Bosch, revelations about Nazi atrocities, movies like the Diary of Anne Frank. It was all part of our consciousness, was it not? I have never forgotten the moment when one of my teachers at the drama school I attended rolled back her sleeve to reveal the numbers tattooed on her arm at Theresienstadt. Like me, I'm sure you will remember feeling that it was no longer possible for people to hate the Jews the way so many had done, in that smug, uninformed way typical of my parents' generation, the conviction that the wickedness of the Nazis had been so vast, so all-encompassing and so past common humanity that anti-Semitism had been consigned to oblivion for good.

And then I remember, as I do not doubt you do as well, a growing awareness that not everyone felt as decent people felt, that there were old and new Nazis, that there were still men and women whose dearest wish was to carry out the extermination of the Jews. The Neo-Nazis were then incomprehensible, for the defeat of Nazism in Germany and Fascism in Italy, indeed of fascist groupings and ideologies throughout Europe had been so complete, so devastating, and so damning that it was hard to understand just what would motivate people to dream dreams that they surely knew would turn to nightmare. But so it was.

I went to university three times and emerged with qualifications in English, Arabic, Persian, and Islamic Studies. I got to know the Middle East. I visited Israel three times and found it an exciting and beautiful country. In the course of my studies, I discovered something that remains unknown to most people in Europe, that anti-Semitism is alive and well in the Middle East.

Almost without anyone noticing, anti-Semitism has shifted its course. As you will be aware, and as last year's Report of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism
clarified, much of the threat to Jews in this country now comes from within the Muslim community. This point has been emphasized in the unpublished 2003 EU report, Manifestations of anti-Semitism in the European Union: 'The data of the CST show that an increasing number of incidents are "caused by Muslims or Palestinian sympathisers, whether or not they are Muslims". This indicates a change of direction from which anti-Semitism comes, which is closely connected to the tensions in the Middle East conflict.'

As you will know, the forces of liberal democracy faced a threat throughout the Middle East during World War II, when Britain and its allies were waging a battle against Germany in North Africa. Widespread anti-British feeling created a fifth column throughout the region, in particular in the 1941 Rashid 'Ali coup in Iraq, the strong anti-British feeling in Egypt, and the activities of the Grand Mufti of Palestine, Hajj Amin al-Husayni, a major war criminal who escaped justice after 1945 and died in his bed many years later.

It was during this period and with considerable help from al-Husayni that the milder anti-Jewish sentiments of Islam came to be blended with Nazi-style racism. As a result, that anti-Semitism has infected whole parts of the Middle East and may be seen today in newspaper cartoons, children's TV shows, or soap operas.

Those are, perhaps matters your predecessor, Tony Blair, will want to look at in his new role as an envoy to the Middle East. But this singular evil is not restricted to that region, or even to wider parts of the Muslim world. It is, as I have pointed out, here with us, in Europe and here in the UK. And it is being met half way by a left-wing (and sometimes right-wing) coalition of anti-war protesters, pro-Palestinian activists, and generic anti-Western campaigners.

Middle East anti-Semitism has from its inception been linked to anger over the creation of the state of Israel. In the Islamic theory of international law, Israel, despite having been brought into being by a majority vote of the United Nations, remains illegitimate. This is for two reasons: one, that Islamic international law is based on jurisprudential outcomes from jihad regulations, which do not permit Islamic territory to be made non-Islamic (as happened to Islamic Spain and Portugal); and two, that Jews, as inferior 'People of the Book' are not entitled to rule over Muslims.

Out of this comes the now common conflation of anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism, and anti-Israelism that now infects a substantial part of Britain's non-Muslim left. It is, in other words, a political combination that sits well with exactly the same people who are most bitter about this country, about America, and about democratic societies in general. Fighting against terror and extremism has become something despicable in the eyes of those who proclaim 'we are all Hezbollah now' and who march for the destruction of the Jewish state. Their banners describe Israel as 'a Nazi state', 'a terrorist state', and 'an apartheid state', making horrors of those who survived the Holocaust and their offspring.

Last year witnessed a rapid increase in the number of British organizations threatening to boycott or actually boycott either the state of Israel or parts of it (such as Israeli universities and their staff). The NUJ, the UCU, and now UNISON have passed votes that show deep prejudice against Israel and, by extension, Jews. They condemn an open democracy and say nothing of the dictatorships that surround it; they focus on Israeli behaviour and make no comment on the human rights abuses that are so common elsewhere; they see Zionism as an unprecedented evil, yet support every other claim to national identity. Such outrageous imbalance passes for justice today. So common has it become to talk in these terms that it's clear we are sliding towards an easy acceptance of language and actions that might have caused our generation to blench. When the United Nations Humans Right Council seems to exist for no other purpose than to issue resolutions against one state, Israel, and when that body is itself made up in part of regimes that abuse human rights on a daily basis with impunity, we may conclude, may we not, that something is afoot that may yet tear down the very bases on which the UN itself is based: democracy, justice, and liberty for all.

The fight against terror focuses increasingly on these islands, as the first days of last July brought home yet again. For the security services, there are many doors into that struggle. For politicians, however, it is often too easily forgotten that the battle against anti-Semitism and its proxy, anti-Israelism is itself a crucial part of that wider battle against internal forces that seek to damage this country, often in conjunction with elements of radical Islam.

I would like to ask you to take whatever action you deem fit to tackle this multi-headed evil before it gets out of control. It threatens me, my Jewish friends, my moderate Muslim friends, indeed, everyone I know. You don't have to be Jewish to be deeply affected by this new form of anti-Semitism, mixed as it is with loathing for British liberal values, a preference for dictatorships over democracy, and sympathy for terrorists as 'freedom fighters' rather than for their victims. If unchecked, it will poison British politics beyond remedy. As the principal guardian of British values, I address this letter to you in the hope that you may find ways to encourage the Home Office, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and the Commission for Racial Equality to prioritize this most important of issues and to work to bring an end to all its manifestations in this country. I also implore you to become more frank than has been the custom in your talks with Arab and other Muslim leaders, and to draw their attention to the unacceptability of such lies and distortions as anti-Jewish speech or Holocaust denial on their TV and radio channels, their print media, and in political speeches or mosque sermons. They must be made to understand that anti-Semitism, in whatever guise, cannot be tolerated among civilized nations.

There was such a terrible price to pay when anti-Semitism was allowed to get out of hand in the first part of the 20th century, when countries, the UK included, turned a blind eye to so many threats and so much violence. It seems we have to defeat this evil for a second time. But we cannot let the torch fall from our hands lest the poison of Jew-hatred seep deeper and deeper into the hearts and souls of the British people, lest it spread through Europe again and bring dreadful consequences in its wake. You have my trust in this matter. Please take action to honour that trust.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. Denis MacEoin
Royal Literary Fund Fellow
Newcastle University
Author 'The Hijacking of British Islam'