The year Israelophobia took over

In 2023, the world’s oldest hatred returned with a vengeance.

Jake Wallis Simons

Topics Politics World

As the end of the year draws close, it’s clear the oldest hatred is back with a vengeance.

Following Hamas’s pogrom in Israel on 7 October, and Israel’s assault on Hamas in response, every day has brought new examples of Israelophobia. One episode from December that stands out in my mind was a statement from the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols. He said that the Jewish state had shot two women in a church in Gaza ‘in a cold-blooded killing’. But how did the clergyman, from the comfort of his home in London and having carried out no investigation, know with such certainty that it was a ‘cold-blooded killing’?

Similarly, Alex Crawford, Sky News’ most prominent foreign correspondent, tweeted at the start of December that Israel was barring entry for journalists into Gaza in order to hide its ‘war crimes’. Charges of ‘war crimes’ would need to be proven by a court of law. Yet without even being in Gaza, and presumably without any legal training, Crawford felt entitled to place the black cap of the hanging judge upon her head.

The ease with which supposedly impartial observers have unwittingly become activists belies something darker – the willingness to believe the very worst of the Jewish State. It has become commonplace to airily assert that Israel is committing ‘genocide’. And it has become commonplace to talk of its disregard for Palestinian life, especially the life of Palestinian children. Little wonder the fate of neonatal babies has been placed by Hamas at the very centre of its propaganda campaign. Hamas knows this will be lapped up by the world’s media. Why is this? Could it be because there has been a racist association between Jews and the murder of Gentile children since 1144, when the blood libel was invented in Norwich? Whether people realise it or not, the Israelophobia we see today contains dark echoes of an old anti-Semitism.

The rivers of anti-Semitism run deep. Fascinating research by two German economic historians, Nico Voigtländer and Hans-Joachim Voth, has revealed that areas of Germany in which people burned Jews at the stake in the 14th century, blaming them for the Black Death, were more likely to vote for the Nazis 600 years later. This is despite the fact that Jews had been absent from the regions in question for 400 of those years. This illustrates how, once it has taken hold, the potent virus of anti-Semitism can be passed down through the generations, inclining people to believe stories, as George Orwell once put it, ‘that could not possibly be true’.

Hamas leaders understand very well what makes us in the West tick. They know that if they refuse to tell the press how many of the dead were terrorists, the media will repeat its figures unthinkingly. They know that normally rigorous Western journalists will fail to ask how the civilian death toll can be totted up so quickly after every attack on Gaza. The number of Israeli victims on 7 October, for example, was initially estimated at nearly 1,400, but was later revised downwards to 1,200 once the investigation was concluded. By contrast, when the world’s media wrongly reported that Gaza’s al-Ahli hospital had been struck by an Israeli missile, it accompanied the claim with a figure of 500 dead. The truth was likely in double digits, if that.

The same wilful credulity applies to the absence of footage of dead or injured Hamas combatants. In the eyes of Western media, Israel appears to be waging a war without an enemy. Has any reporter wondered why dead Hamas men are never pictured, only dead civilians?

The message we are being fed is that Israel, a liberal democracy, is sending its sons into mortal danger simply to murder Palestinian babies. To any thinking person this is preposterous. But this is the impression created by the footage emerging from the Gaza Strip, which is, of course, tightly controlled by Hamas. And nobody asks any questions.

Thus, the oldest hatred endures. If the past year has been dominated by anything, it has been Israelophobia.

My book by that name was published, eerily, on 7 September. Four weeks later, the world was subjected to a relentless stream of evidence in support of its thesis. That thesis is this: as the late chief rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks, pointed out, the hatred of Jews began in the Middle Ages as a religious matter, targeting them because they were the killers of Christ; in the 20th century, it took on the language of pseudo-science, seeking to exterminate them because they were a subhuman species responsible for all the world’s woes; and in modern times, it has evolved to assume the language of politics, despising Jews on account of Israel, their nation state.

Since 7 October, Israelophobic Jew hatred has become even more prevalent. The same tropes are trotted out time and again. The Jews like killing Gentile children. The Jews are mendacious, unable to prevent themselves from fabricating footage of 7 October, or exaggerating their grievances for political gain. The Jews are cruel and crafty, using a legitimate act of Palestinian resistance as a pretext for unleashing genocide on Gaza. The Jews are possessed by a bloodlust.

In previous centuries, the treacherous Chosen People were responsible for the primordial sin of killing the son of God. Today, they are guilty of the deadly sins of identity politics: racism, white supremacy, colonialism, ethnic cleansing and apartheid. They are even accused of replicating the behaviour of the Nazis.

Israelophobia, as Howard Jacobson has memorably put it, consists of ‘old poisons decanted into new bottles’. And it has now been given full rein to express itself across the Western world. Weekly, we have street protests where activists spout the lie that Jews love genocide while, ironically enough, calling for the genocide of Jews, ‘From the river to the sea’. And the news is now daily full of little items of persecution: red paint splashed over a Jewish school, Hanukkah candelabras vandalised, posters of Jewish hostages torn down, Star of Davids daubed on Jewish houses. Palestine graffiti was even scrawled outside my house, for God’s sake.

During the Nazi era, the build-up of everyday anti-Semitism eventually led to an orgy of violence. In 2023, by contrast, an orgy of violence has led to the spread of everyday anti-Semitism, which can be seen in all corners of society, from hospitals (where radicalised medics have marched for Palestine) to schools. In my children’s state school, for example, an English teacher recently informed the class that a contemporary example of the savagery depicted in Lord of the Flies was Israeli behaviour in Gaza. Note: Israeli behaviour, not the true savagery of Hamas in southern Israel.

Some will no doubt accuse me of exaggeration when I call 2023 the year of Israelophobia. Those Jews up to their tricks again. Some might argue it is absurd to characterise the entire year by a cultural phenomenon that erupted only in its dying moments – from 7 October onwards. Perhaps other more consequential geopolitical or cultural events should be taken into consideration first: the war in Ukraine, for example, or the sexual-assault allegations against Russell Brand.

I get that. But I would conclude by making two points, linked to two British chief rabbis. The first is the famous observation by the late Jonathan Sacks that ‘what begins with Jews never ends with Jews’. In this case, I am talking about anti-Western identity politics and jihadism, those twin evils that have joined hands on our streets every Saturday since 7 October. These target not just the Jewish right to exist, but also the flags, monuments and traditions of wider society. The hatred of Jews is simply the most prominent expression of a hatred of Western liberal values, culture and life. That’s why it matters so much.

The second observation comes by way of the current chief rabbi, Sir Ephraim Mirvis. During a 2016 Home Affairs Committee inquiry into anti-Semitism, he held up a piece of paper on which a large dot had been drawn and asked MPs what they saw. A large dot, came the reply. No, he said: you see an expanse of white paper defiled by a large dot. Rabbi Mirvis was suggesting that while life is good for Jews in the UK, and the overwhelming majority of Britons have no truck with anti-Semitism, there is nonetheless a problem with anti-Jewish bigotry that needs to be taken seriously.

That dot is far bigger now than when Mirvis made his remarks. And if society doesn’t rouse itself from its stupor, that darkness will expand until there’s nothing left. The struggle against this darkness has never been more urgent.

Jake Wallis Simons is a journalist and the author of Israelophobia: The Newest Version of the Oldest Hatred and What To Do About It.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics World


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