Friend of Israel = Friend of Jews?

Members of the European Parliament Michal Kaminski, of Poland's Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc, and Nick Griffin of the UK's British National Party have both faced accusations of anti-semitism in recent weeks. We can take some comfort in the fact that both have strenuously tried to refute such claims - it was, after all, within living memory that professing openly anti-semitic philosophies during an election campaign would guarantee plenty of votes and very little, if any, protest. Thankfully, in these times, even suspected fascists don't wish to be labelled Jew-haters because they perceive quite correctly that gaining such a tag amounts to political suicide in most countries. So Mr. Kaminski tries to deny he's an anti-semite (and the debate rages on) and Mr. Griffin tries to claim that although he was a Holocaust denier, he has moderated his views (come on - who does he think he's kidding?) and that he now thinks Jews are quite nice people, actually. Didn't he laugh matily when the rabbi's son spoke on Question Time, and how long before he turns up in Golders Green munching a lox bagel for the cameras?
Michal Kaminsky visited Israel with British Conservative friends. Does this mean he cannot be an anti-semite?

Both men have taken a similar approach - how can we be anti-semites, they ask us, when we are both supporters of Israel? Jewish Chronicle writer Miriam Shaviv points out, Mr. Kaminski has even visited our fair nation as a special guest of the Conservative Friends of Israel and he's even been to Israel itself with his Tory chums. The odious Mr. Griffin, meanwhile, claims that his equally unpleasant party are the only British political group to have "supported Israel's right to deal with Hamas terrorists." Surely we can't be both friends of Israel and enemies of the Jews, can we? they seem to be saying.

All around Britain and Europe, people both Jewish and otherwise listen and think, "Hmm. That's a point. Maybe they're really not anti-semites. I'm not a racist, but I am a bit worried about immigration - perhaps I should consider voting for these people?"

Here in Britain, it seems that most people can sniff out a fascist's lie from miles away. According to the 12 Marcheshvan JC, the vast majority of British people realise that the BNP are dangerous - a mere 9% of those polled expressed positive feelings about the party. 54% (64% in London) believe that Jews would have reason to be fearful if the BNP came into power. That is, thankfully, more than half. If we scale figures up to the same size as the entire UK electorate (approximately 40 million people) that's 1,600,000 more who believe the BNP is anti-semitic than do not - enough to make a lot of difference. But it does mean that 18,400,000 (46%) either think that the BNP is not anti-semitic or are unsure. That's a worrying amount.

So, back to the question in hand. Can an anti-semite support Israel? Are the two as mutually incompatible as they might at first seem? Let's have a look at the nation generally considered to have been Israel's greatest ally, the United States of America. Jewish Americans have long been afforded rights and freedoms kept from the Jewish populations in some other countries, but just as is the case almost everywhere else have also been used as a convenient scapegoat on many occasions - in the last century, Jews were popularly blamed for both the First World War and the Great Depression. In 1941, Charles Lindbergh - a man suspected of ideas both racist and sympathetic to the Nazis - stated his belief that a Jewish minority was pushing America into a war against its interests. There is no doubt that anti-semitism was rampant in the USA prior to the Second World War.

That war, of course, brought the Shoah. When the world discovered the full and almost unimaginable horror of what had taken place in Nazi-occupied Europe, there was widespread shock. Many people may not have liked Jews very much but nobody with even a trace of humanity ever wished for wholesale slaughter of innocent men, women and children. Anti-semitism and anti-semitic thought was widely considered utterly repugnant for the first time in history.

But deep-rooted beliefs and fears do not simply vanish overnight. People realised that anti-semitism needed to be held in check so that nothing like the Shoah would ever happen again, but they did not lose their own anti-semitic beliefs. Those beliefs have been a part of everyday life for so long that they are deeply ingrained in society, even within language, and it will take more than one or two generations until they are finally - if ever - eradicated.

The Zionists, who had long sought a homeland for Jews, found they suddenly had a huge increase in numbers of people supporting their aims (and let me point out here that not even for a second do I wish to claim that Zionists benefited from the Shoah - Jews lost more than will ever be regained and will continue to suffer the Shoah's legacy for as long as there are Jews). Millions of non-Jewish people agreed that Jews needed a homeland and that the establishment of such a place would ensure non-Jews never again have to endure the horror or not feel the guilt for what the Nazis did. So they supported Israel, even though many still held anti-semitic beliefs.

What a handy way to solve the Jewish problem! Imagine you're an anti-semite for a moment. You hate Jews, you hate their religion, you hate the ways that they live. You feel that they are to blame for many of your country's problems; after all, they control the banks, don't they - and whoever controls the money controls the nation. But if people know you hate the Jews, they're not going to think much of you; they might even agree with you in their hearts, but they won't admit it because nobody dares to these days and hey - nobody wants to be called a Nazi. You want to get rid of them, but you don't want them to be killed obviously. If only they'd all just disappear...wait a minute! How about if they all just moved somewhere else, some other country altogether? Not your problem anymore if that happened.

You can stop imagining you're an anti-semite now - I hope you didn't get too into the role and start doing anything embarrassing that might lead to some awkward questions from anybody around you. You could find yourself in as much trouble as I did when my bubbeh found out I'd pretended I was a German while playing The Great Escape with my schoolfriends 25 years ago.

Thank G-d that Israel does exist, and may it do so forever - even if the only reason you can think of for doing so is that it provides democracy with a foothold in the Middle East. But, if you will, please use your imagination again to picture a world in which the land promised by G-d to the Jewish Patriarch was not a thin strip of Mediterranean coastline wihout any oil and previously inhabited by a group of Arabs who had not exactly made their mark on the world stage over the last few centuries and imagine instead it was Florida, or East Anglia, or the Dordogne, or Schwarzwald, or some other sizable chunk of any Western nation. Do you think our governments would have been quite so keen on a Jewish homeland then? Many of these nations had expressed no particular support nor love towards Jews before the Second World War and as the old saying goes, a leopard cannot change its spots - at least, not that quickly. Could it be that the real reason Israel was allowed to exist was not because Western nations supported the Jewish need for a land of their own but because it presented an opportunity to get rid of Jews without resorting to the abhorrent methods of the past?

That's why it is entirely possible to be both a supporter of Israel and an anti-semite. Those who call themselves Friends of Israel are not necessarily friends to those Jews that choose to live in other nations.

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