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The Dark Side of Tolerance: British Anti-Semitism

The specter of anti-Semitism is stalking Britain. It is guilt-free and unrestrained by historical literacy. According to a recent survey, many British children believe Auschwitz is a brand of beer. Placards equating the swastika to the Star of David have become so common a feature at demonstrations that the linkage has become virtually common wisdom. The Holocaust is not so much something that happened, as something that is happening now—to Palestinians. With all the obstacles to ignorance presented by an informed understanding of the past now being smoothed away, the future is increasingly shaped in Britain by a politically tinged anti-Semitism that seeks to impose itself on national culture wherever possible and by whatever means available. This triumphalist movement’s fanciful but murderous perception of Jews has become one of those bad ideas whose bad consequences are everywhere on display in British society.

As Israel’s military operation in Gaza came to a halt in mid-February, a Jewish defense organization had already recorded some 270 cases of anti-Semitic attacks and harassment in Britain. This figure included 88 violent assaults and 74 cases of damage to Jewish property. The year 2009, therefore, is likely to surpass the total of 598 and 541 anti-Semitic attacks for the entire years of 2006 and 2008 respectively, hitherto the highest on record. These incidents were mostly disorganized, local disturbances in the street or the playground that were anecdotal in character but nonetheless a barometer of evolving public opinion. A man, incidentally a lawyer, shouts “Jew boy” at a fan of the rival team at a football match. In Birmingham, a 12-year-old girl and the only Jewish child in the school is terrorized by a mob of twenty youths shouting, “Kill all Jews” and “Death to Jews.” In the East End of London, windows are smashed and “Kill Jews” daubed on a supermarket, part of a chain started by a Jewish owner.

Such events have played out against a backdrop of demographic change whose net effect has been to remind Britons which side their bread is buttered on. There are roughly 300,000 Jews in Britain. Over the decades, Muslims have been immigrating legally and illegally, often not identified as Muslims in censuses, and therefore not easily quantifiable. But according to best estimates, there are probably 2 million in Britain.

True to their pragmatic nature, the British dealt with Muslim immigration by improvising an informal policy of multiculturalism, which in practice became a high-flown euphemism for separation. Politicians did not bother to think through the consequences of the new social world being created as a fact on the ground. In what was assumed to be their best interest, Muslims were encouraged to stay together but apart, to build mosques, keep to Islamic dietary injunctions, and cultivate their original languages and customs. When these customs included Jew-hatred, the authorities, which had enabled these developments by surrendering their ideal of assimilation, had little choice but to look away. Whether to promote further multiculturalism or to reverse it, and if so how: these are questions that demographic critical mass and past political incoherence forbid being asked today.

David Pryce-Jones is a senior editor for National Review. He is the author of, among other books, The Closed Circle: An Interpretation of the Arabs.

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