What is it about the Jews?
Thursday, April 12, 2018
I never encountered anti-semitism until I went to work in Poland in 1992. I was a partner in a Jewish law firm, by which I mean it had been founded by Jewish lawyers and most of the partners were Jewish. I don't remember considering the matter when deciding to apply for a job and it didn't occur to me that it might feature in their decision to hire me. Clearly, it didn't as they didn't even ask. My new boss sent his secretary to my office on my first day at work to ask if I would be free for a meeting on a certain date. I remember thinking that it was a dumb question as I had just arrived and my diary was empty. I went through the motions of checking and had my pen poised to write something in when she said, "No, that's fine. He'll get back to you." He didn't. When I mentioned to a Jewish colleague that I thought it was a puzzling episode he laughed and said "That's a holy day. He was checking." Even then it didn't occur to me that my faith, or lack of it, might affect my future career. It didn't. Within two years they offered me a partnership.
So I was surprised when a colleague in Warsaw told me that the general counsel of a Polish client kept asking him whether I was Jewish or not. "Why does he ask?" I said and my colleague told me that the guy was something of a Catholic Nationalist anti-semite and was probably unhappy that his company had hired us. "What shall I tell him?" he asked me and I said he should say he didn't know. "Let him wonder", I said. "Let any assholes to whom it matters wonder and if it matters enough for them not to hire us then screw them!"
Years later, I was invited, by a Jewish friend who had project managed the restoration, to the re-opening of a synagogue in Oświęcim (better known to the world by the name, Auschwitz, that it bore during its darkest days under German occupation). For the first time in my life I was wearing a yarmulke, handed to me by the Chief Rabbi of Poland, whose daughter was in the same class at school as Miss P the Elder. The event attracted international coverage and I apparently appeared on the television news as, at two metres / 6' 7" tall, I towered above the crowd. When I got to the office in Warsaw the next day, the colleague who had asked what to say to our anti-semitic client during my first month in Poland laughed. He said this had finally answered the question and that the office was buzzing. I was the office managing partner by this time and was rather shocked by the idea that there might be anti-semites in our own ranks. So I made a point of leaving my yarmulke on my desk as a kind of talisman to scare them away.
It was about this point that I came up with one of my jokes to use at Warsaw parties. "How does a Jew become Polish?" it went. "He wins the Nobel Prize." That's unfair to most modern, reasonable Poles, you understand, but satirises a tendency even for them to distinguish "Jews" from "Poles" when they mean to distinguish Jewish from Catholic Poles. If you ever want to wind up a less reasonable Pole, you might try mentioning the arguably Jewish heritage of their "Shakespeare", Adam Mickiewicz. How hard they defend him from such a "slur" is a jolly good litmus test of their anti-semitism.
I don't really get racism. I never did. It's fairly obvious that we are all Homo sapiens and that evolution has simply varied our skin tones to adapt to the intensity of the sunlight where our ancestors lived and ensure us paler people get our Vitamin D. Who could possibly care about that? Racism based on skin colour, however, at least addresses visible difference. It doesn't make sense but it's a stupidity the origins of which can at least be understood. Jews on the other hand are indistinguishable unless (as in the case of some Orthodox) they make a point of standing out. The one moment when I understood how anti-semitism might arise, occurred when I was celebrating a deal-closing in NYC at the offices of a famous Jewish real estate guy. We were drinking champagne out of paper cups and when I asked why they were cheaping-out on glassware I was told that the boss couldn't drink from a vessel that might previously have been used by a goy. That didn't make me anti-semitic you understand, but it did make me think "... these guys could use some PR".
Polish friends patiently explained to me, during various conversations over my decade+ living in their country, that Christianity, and specifically Catholicism, had created anti-semitism in Europe. I remember a colleague who had grown up in a backwards rural area of the country telling me that his own Catholic priest had ranted from the pulpit about "the killers of Christ". "But the Holocaust happened here!" I exclaimed, shocked, "... how could a post-war priest still be an anti-semite when the Church has denounced the idea?" He couldn't explain it and I still don't get it. Ideas persist despite evidence and experience to a very shocking extent. As witness the young Poles who are Social Justice Warriors today when their parents were inoculated against leftism by growing up amid its terrible consequences and their grandparents are mostly still there to tell them precisely what socialism was like. "Clogs to clogs in three generations" as Sir Keith Joseph told a young me when I said I was bothered by the idea of inherited wealth. "The hog cycle" as economists call it, when people fail to remember history.
So if a warped interpretation of Christianity is what gave us anti-semitism in Europe and if an accurate interpretation of the teachings of Mohammed is what brought it back by way of Muslim immigration, how come such a mind-bogglingly stupid idea is now most evident on the Left of British politics rather than on the Right? Marxists oblivious to the ethnicity of Marx and Trotsky? Atheists informed by religious medievalism, for goodness sake?
"But it's not about Judaism", they say, "it's about the State of Israel". The wrongs of the Holocaust, say those Momentum-ites who don't deny it, don't justify the misconduct of modern Jews in the Middle East. Fair enough. I am a supporter of Israel, for the good reason that it's the only democracy in the region and that its Arab citizens have the vote and equal civil rights. It's a tolerant place where dissent is permitted, gays are not thrown off roofs and apostasy (from any religion) is not a criminal offence. That kind of liberalism is rather unusual in the Middle East, to put it mildly. I also support Israel because of the thought experiment posed by one of my Israeli friends, an eminent lawyer who is also, as it happens, on the Left. "Disarm Israel's enemies" he said, "and you will have peace. Disarm Israel and you will have genocide." A cursory read of the Hamas Charter or a few minutes spent watching videos published by MEMRI suggests he is right. Nonetheless I would not suggest that Israel never does wrong. Nor, obviously, would I seek to prevent it from being criticised.
How then to distinguish between being anti-Israel and anti-semitic? They clearly have the potential to be two different things, even if they do often seem to coincide in the same people. One of the wisest chaps I know (sadly not personally) Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks explained it like this.
Not liking Jews is not antisemitism. We all have people we don’t like. That’s OK; that’s human; it isn’t dangerous. Second, criticizing Israel is not antisemitism. I was recently talking to some schoolchildren and they asked me: is criticizing Israel antisemitism? I said No and I explained the difference. I asked them: Do you believe you have a right to criticize the British government? They all put up their hands. Then I asked, Which of you believes that Britain has no right to exist? No one put up their hands. Now you know the difference, I said, and they all did.
The speech to the European Parliament in which he told that story can be viewed in full here.
Pace the good rabbi, if anti-semitism was "only about Jews" it would still matter. Jews matter not because they are Jews, but because they are human. No different qualification is required. That anyone thinks a better qualification than being a human is required to enjoy particular human rights is precisely what is wrong with our society today. Every time someone speaks of "Gay Rights" or "Women's Rights" or "Black Rights" or "Muslim Rights" or uses the phrase "hate crimes" I am immediately on my guard. Such people are more than likely to be a threat to human rights in general.
Damn it, how often does this need to be said before tribalists stop blathering? The whole point of the post-Enlightenment West is that every individual matters, regardless of who they are. Not just anti-semitism but tribalism in general is the virus that, as Rabbi Sacks says, keeps mutating. The only valid reason to regard an individual as better or worse is, as Dr King famously said (but as the Left seems to have forgotten) "the content of his character." The only valid reason to treat an individual differently before the law is his or her conduct. Amen to that.
"I suspect, in fact, that many of our most difficult and hostile immigrants would never have come at all if it we had NOT made it possible for them to live apart, ignore our customs and function without fully learning our language."
And there it is in one.
Posted by: James Higham | Saturday, April 14, 2018 at 06:07 PM
Rabbi Sacks suggests that in Medieval Europe the (then) mostly Orthodox Jews were the "most visibly different" people and that it's human to fear differences. But we have almost nothing in common with our Medieval ancestors when it comes to other attitudes, so why some of us have held on to this one is, as you say, baffling. I thought the most telling part of his speech was the point he made about how Jew-haters have sought the highest available moral justification in each historical era. It tells us a lot about our own era that its the "equality" merchants who are doing the Jew-hating.
Posted by: Tom | Friday, April 13, 2018 at 12:42 PM
Those interactions would rarely be a problem if there were honesty on both sides. To the extent there are difficulties in Britain, I would argue that they are the fault of Leftist idiots in the "native" (i.e. more recently immigrated) population who have made it impossible to talk honestly about integration issues. An Indian friend of mine, recently arrived on these shores, was amazed to learn that I find it irritating when our many new arrivals in London chat loudly on the tubes and buses. In the London I left in 1992, we traveled to work in near-total silence. It was not our custom to talk to strangers and in consequence pubic transport was a place to read, think or simply calm oneself on the way to or from a busy day. I remember a young French assistant to my teachers at secondary school remarking on the fact that people looked shocked when she greeted everyone on her bus to work with a bright "good morning" as French commuters do. It was a cultural thing and it has died. Why? Because we were too damned shy to "shush" people who knew nothing of the custom when they broke it.
Similarly my local GP surgery in Ealing has signs and leaflets in all the languages spoken locally and offers translators to patients and even chaperones for Muslim ladies dealing with male doctors. No such services were provided in Poland, Russia or China when I worked in those countries - and I never expected them to be. I don't believe immigrants to Britain demanded them. But when virtue signalling, taxpayer money-wasting Leftist public servants decided to offer them, who can blame them for accepting them as their right. How many immigrants would speak better English and be more thoroughly integrated if we had not perpetrated these idiocies?
I suspect, in fact, that many of our most difficult and hostile immigrants would never have come at all if it we had NOT made it possible for them to live apart, ignore our customs and function without fully learning our language.
Posted by: Tom | Friday, April 13, 2018 at 12:35 PM
We are pack animals at base and our tribalism is natural enough. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't (as most of us in the West have) rise above it. Or at least get it harmlessly out of our system through such means as sport. I am in the unusual position of having started in my 50s to support a different football team from the one I had supported since I was a child. Rationally, it was a sensible thing to do. I live near Fulham. I do not live near Liverpool. It's convenient to go to Craven Cottage. It's bloody inconvenient to go to Anfield (and I have no friends or family who would ever want to go with me). Yet the feeling of guilt when Liverpool played at Craven Cottage and I was among the "wrong" supporters was very strong. The experience was educational as I tried to interpret my feelings. Abandoning one tribe to join another feels very disloyal and loyalty is a key human value upon which many of our institutions (trivial and important) are built. But being loyal to random factors is just dumb and I worry that the stupid posturing of those coining it in the "equalities" industry and of Leftist academics is stimulating more of it.
Posted by: Tom | Friday, April 13, 2018 at 12:25 PM
A friend of mine took exception to being asked about his race in the course of admission to an NHS hospital. When he refused to answer, the nurse said she would not admit him unless the form was complete. "You fill that in then", he told her. "I can't" she said, "because it's the race with which you identify. I can't decide". "So you will write whatever I say?" he asked and when she said yes, he said "OK put Chinese then". Suffice it to say that he wasn't Chinese but, hoist on her own petard of political correctness, that's what she angrily wrote. The Left used to say we should not discriminate and that both law and society in general should be "colour blind". Now they *Insist* that we talk about race all the time, when I can literally think of nothing less important. It's infuriating and therefore counter-productive. If, that is, they truly want less racism, not more. I suspect that such a lucrative industry has been made of "discrimination" that the parasites who work in it are trying to generate more.
Posted by: Tom | Friday, April 13, 2018 at 12:08 PM
Your excellent (as usual) piece reminds me of the cricket commentator John Arlott who when visiting South Africa had to answer a list of questions one of which was his race. His answer? The human race.
Posted by: Tcheuchter | Friday, April 13, 2018 at 11:10 AM
Beats me too. I can understand the roots of most prejudices, but not this one. It's utterly baffling.
Posted by: JuliaM | Friday, April 13, 2018 at 06:54 AM
I share the same beliefs as you on jews and Israel. Have no difficulty in accepting gay people in society or in believing women should have the same rights as men but note there are biological and other differences that make doing so not practical in all circumstances. Am ambivalent on my racial beliefs as my observations(non scientific) tells me that there are considerable differences in intellect and culture between them. Especially between Europeans, Asians and Africans that even when they relocate to regions to which they are not indigenous does not change for many their intellect or cultural ways in which makes them suitable for their new habitat and society they find themselves in. That does not mean to say that I am against immigrants or foreigners coming to my land. In the right quantity, quality and with the sufficient resources in place or available to accommodate them then there is much to be gained from both groups interacting.
Posted by: Epikouros | Thursday, April 12, 2018 at 01:23 PM
I've always said that it is family, friends, neighbours and then it expands to your area and so on.
It isn't racist as such but the fact that it is easy to recognise who fits in your groups at a glance and we always demonise those that are not in our groups as a way to make ourselves feel better about not treating them the same way as our friends.
Jews are not so easily recognised and thus you can't tell unless they make it obvious. Then it depends on your religious feelings and as I don't care about most religions it wouldn't make a difference to me.
I don't consider myself anti muslim but I sure as hell treat them differently when I know they are muslims and it isn't a phobia when they are openly out to get you.
Until the jews start doing that I'll be fine around them.
Posted by: Lord T | Thursday, April 12, 2018 at 12:58 PM