Commentary Magazine


Topic: european anti-Semitism

Why Scots Leader Compares Israel to ISIS

It might have been assumed that among Scottish nationalists, there would be a certain sympathy for Israel. Perhaps they would see some parallel between Zionism and their own efforts to regain sovereignty after many centuries without it, to revive an almost unspoken language long after most people in Scotland had lost the ability to so much as string together a sentence of Scots Gaelic. But, as a matter of fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Scottish nationalism appears to have aligned itself with a radically anti-Israel impulse, one that enjoys substantial popularity with the wider public. And if there was any doubt about just how extreme that reflexive hostility toward Israel really is, we need only observe Scotland’s first minister, Alex Salmond, comparing Israel to ISIS.

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It might have been assumed that among Scottish nationalists, there would be a certain sympathy for Israel. Perhaps they would see some parallel between Zionism and their own efforts to regain sovereignty after many centuries without it, to revive an almost unspoken language long after most people in Scotland had lost the ability to so much as string together a sentence of Scots Gaelic. But, as a matter of fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Scottish nationalism appears to have aligned itself with a radically anti-Israel impulse, one that enjoys substantial popularity with the wider public. And if there was any doubt about just how extreme that reflexive hostility toward Israel really is, we need only observe Scotland’s first minister, Alex Salmond, comparing Israel to ISIS.

During a BBC television interview that took place yesterday, Alex Salmond was discussing the latest ISIS beheading, this time of a British national. Salmond pointed out that British Muslims shouldn’t be held responsible for ISIS. Well, leaving aside the fact that many British Muslim families have members off on jihad in Iraq and Syria, Salmond’s point stands. But what he went on to say reveals just how second nature negativity toward Israel has become among Scottish nationalists. For, having referred to ISIS’s actions as “unspeakable barbarism” for which British Muslim’s shouldn’t be blamed, the first minister went on to add: “I mean, just like a few weeks ago, the Jewish community of Scotland wasn’t responsible for the policies of the State of Israel.”

First of all, that will come as news to many in Britain. During the war in Gaza, British Jews experienced a tremendous rise in anti-Semitic attacks, many of which in some way referenced Israel, and Scotland was no exception in this. But the comparison was clear; two evils in the Middle East, and two religious minorities in Britain who are not to be blamed for those evils.

Breathtakingly, some in Britain’s Jewish leadership have actually defended Salmond’s remarks, arguing that he had not intended any direct comparison between ISIS and the Jewish state. Well, yes, no doubt if questioned Mr. Salmond would not maintain that Israel and ISIS are morally indistinguishable. Yet the casual throwaway categorization was entirely evident. Quite simply Salmond’s point was that ISIS’s actions are “unspeakable barbarism,” and so were Israel’s in Gaza. There was no hint that Israel’s war might have been justifiable; Salmond’s remark makes clear that that’s beyond question. But as an enlightened and tolerant man, he simply asks that Scotland’s Jews not be held responsible.

Such attitudes are the norm among Scottish nationalists. Salmond’s second in command–and prominent face in the campaign for independence–Nicola Sturgeon was recently the headline speaker at Glasgow’s “Women for Gaza” rally. Also on the line-up was Yvonne Ridley, a prominent convert to Islam who has often voiced her support for terrorist groups, Hezbollah among them. Ridley recently called for a “Zionist-free Scotland.” So with the leading lights of the Scottish nationalist movement sharing a platform with those advocating a Scotland free of “Zionists,” one has to wonder just how serious they really are about not extending their antipathy for the Jewish state to Jews in general.

Mercifully, Scotland’s devolved government has no authority over foreign policy. Yet during the recent war in Gaza, the nationalists, who dominate the Scottish parliament, released eight separate condemnations of Israel. Salmond’s government even called for an arms embargo against Israel as the Jewish state attempted to halt the barrage of rockets and maze of tunnels directed against its civilians. And such sentiments are shared by much of the Scottish public. During the referendum campaign nationalists have reminded Scots that if they left the union they could be free of David Cameron’s pro-Israel stance. It was, after all, with considerable public approval that Glasgow city hall recently flew the Palestinian flag as an act of solidarity with Scotland’s Palestinian cousins.

And that is how one senses Scottish nationalists view the Palestinians; as Arab cousins. The same attitude is visible in Ireland, and among Welsh nationalists—the founder of the Welsh nationalist party was said to have hated the Jews as much as the English and harbored sympathies for European fascism. But to understand why these parts of the United Kingdom have become particularly hostile to Israel, one should look to Belfast. There the Catholic and Republican neighborhoods fly the Palestinian flag, but the Protestant and Unionists are more likely to be flying the Israeli one. The Celtic parts of Britain, rather bizarrely, seem to have conceived of themselves through the lexicon of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, with the English firmly framed as the Israelis. It’s only disappointing that the rest of England doesn’t identify accordingly.

On reflection, perhaps it’s not surprising Scottish nationalists couldn’t identify with Zionism, the national liberation movement of a people persecuted and destitute in the world. Scottish nationalism has in no small part sustained itself on a diet of anti-English rhetoric; they have done well out of the politics of jealousy and resentment. No wonder it’s the Palestinians that Salmond feels a certain kinship with.

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Spain, Basketball, and Jew Hatred

Spain has recently attempted to woo back the descendants of Jews who were expelled from the country in 1492. The offer of citizenship to those Sephardi Jews who can’t trace their ancestry back to the exile from the Iberian peninsula is primarily motivated by a desire to attract both capital and tourism to a country that is in dire economic straits. But if any Jews are tempted to take Madrid up on its offer, and apparently some may be, they should take into consideration the fact that Spain ranked third in the list of most anti-Semitic countries in Europe in the survey of international opinion published last week by the Anti-Defamation League.

Anyone who doubted the accuracy or the methods employed by the ADL in compiling its poll, especially with regard to Spain, ought to have second thoughts today. The reaction of Spaniards to the defeat of the Real Madrid basketball team at the hands of the Maccabi Tel Aviv team in the European championship game on Sunday is deeply troubling to the small Jewish community in that country. But the rash of anti-Semitic statements, especially on Twitter, in reaction to the victory of the Israeli squad shouldn’t be dismissed as only the sour reaction of supporters of a losing sports team. That the outcome of a basketball game would lead so many to resort to anti-Semitic language is not an accident or people just blowing off steam. The willingness to invoke traditional stereotypes of Jew-hatred as well as echoes of the Holocaust under these circumstances illustrates not only how deeply entrenched such attitudes are in European culture but the way Israel has become a stand-in for traditional anti-Semitism.

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Spain has recently attempted to woo back the descendants of Jews who were expelled from the country in 1492. The offer of citizenship to those Sephardi Jews who can’t trace their ancestry back to the exile from the Iberian peninsula is primarily motivated by a desire to attract both capital and tourism to a country that is in dire economic straits. But if any Jews are tempted to take Madrid up on its offer, and apparently some may be, they should take into consideration the fact that Spain ranked third in the list of most anti-Semitic countries in Europe in the survey of international opinion published last week by the Anti-Defamation League.

Anyone who doubted the accuracy or the methods employed by the ADL in compiling its poll, especially with regard to Spain, ought to have second thoughts today. The reaction of Spaniards to the defeat of the Real Madrid basketball team at the hands of the Maccabi Tel Aviv team in the European championship game on Sunday is deeply troubling to the small Jewish community in that country. But the rash of anti-Semitic statements, especially on Twitter, in reaction to the victory of the Israeli squad shouldn’t be dismissed as only the sour reaction of supporters of a losing sports team. That the outcome of a basketball game would lead so many to resort to anti-Semitic language is not an accident or people just blowing off steam. The willingness to invoke traditional stereotypes of Jew-hatred as well as echoes of the Holocaust under these circumstances illustrates not only how deeply entrenched such attitudes are in European culture but the way Israel has become a stand-in for traditional anti-Semitism.

The fact that so many Spaniards adopt anti-Semitic attitudes is remarkable not only because of their nation’s desire to attract Jews and to honor the lost heritage of the Jewish communities that were destroyed by the expulsion and the Inquisition. It must be understood that most Spaniards have had little or no contact with Jews. Yet many Spaniards seem to have retained the remnants of the vicious anti-Semitic attitudes that led to the expulsion even all these centuries later. As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s late father wrote in his definitive history of the Inquisition, the persecution of the many Jews who converted and remained in Spain after 1492 was not so much a function of religious prejudice as it was a form of racism that would lay the foundation for future European horrors.

Just as important, this latest outbreak is a reminder that for many Europeans, expressing prejudice against Israel, even in the crudest manner possible that invokes memories of the Holocaust, has become legitimized by the campaign of demonization of the Jewish state that has been conducted by intellectuals and other elites. A Europe in which Israel is falsely accused of being a rerun of Nazi Germany is one in which anti-Semitism is starting to migrate from the margins of society in the wake of 1945 to the contemporary mainstream.

While I doubt that efforts by Spanish Jews to sue those who insulted them and Israel on Twitter will do much good, they deserve credit for not taking this hate lying down. While it would be hoped that the spectacle of an Israeli team winning a basketball game against Europe’s best would help to convince Spaniards and others that it is a normal country that should be accorded the same respect or indifference given other nations, that is probably too much to hope for. Anti-Semitism, including its anti-Zionist variety, is not really about anything the Jews do but the function of the sick minds of the anti-Semites. But in Europe today, it is becoming all too typical for any event involving Israel, be it good or bad, to serve as an excuse for hate.

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