In Britain, prominent Jewish figures are expressing concern about the rising tide of anti-Semitism in that country. Most recently the director of the BBC Danny Cohen has stated that he has never felt so uncomfortable being Jewish in Britain. He even went so far as to cast doubt on the long-term future of Anglo-Jewry. Similarly, Labor Party leader Ed Miliband—also Jewish—has called for a “zero tolerance” approach to anti-Semitism. The great irony here, however, is that both men are Jews heading organizations which, through their portrayal and policy on Israel, are laying the groundwork for yet more Jew-hatred.
The correlation between the demonization of Israel and attacks on Jews worldwide is hardly in doubt. The dramatic spike in anti-Semitic attacks throughout the diaspora that coincided with this summer’s Gaza war speaks for itself. That is not to suggest that Israeli policy is the underlying cause of anti-Semitism, but rather just as Church doctrine or Social Darwinism were ideologies used as a conduit for anti-Semitism, today anti-Zionism, with its depiction of events in Israel, takes the position as the primary outlet for anti-Semitism. And while both Danny Cohen and Ed Miliband are quite right to be concerned by the rising tide of Jew-hatred in Britain today, there is no escaping the fact that both the BBC and the Labor Party have played a role in stoking the kind of contempt for the Jewish state that leads directly to the increasingly common verbal and physical attacks on British Jews.
Danny Cohen only took over as head of BBC television in May 2013, and so can hardly be held responsible for the BBC’s long legacy of slanted reporting on Israel. And in fairness, Cohen has pledged to give prominence to programming about the Holocaust to mark the upcoming memorial day. Still, during the recent Gaza conflict there were several troubling moments at the BBC. One particularly memorable incident was news anchor Emily Maitlis’s grilling of Israeli spokesman Mark Regev. Maitlis—who is herself Jewish—hounded Regev on the point of a UN shelter that had been hit, possibly by Israel, possibly by Hamas. The implicit suggestion in Maitlis’s questioning was that Israel had the exact coordinates of the shelter, that Israel knew that it was full of women and children, that Israel had refused to permit an evacuation of those in the shelter, and that Israel had intentionally gone ahead and hit it anyway. Her accusatory questions became fiercest when she asserted: “But you said you were going to hit it, you hit it, you killed them! You knew there were children in that building!”
Meanwhile, under Ed Miliband Labor has veered toward being far more overtly hostile to the Jewish state. While it is true that this process has been taking place on the left of that party for some time, under the stewardship of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown Labor policy remained resolutely supportive of the Jewish state. Yet under Miliband, the son of Holocaust refugees, this has begun to change. Not only did Miliband condemn Israel’s war against Hamas this summer, but he publicly attacked Prime Minister Cameron’s refusal to join in with the chorus of condemnation, calling Cameron’s stance “unacceptable and unjustifiable.” Miliband further outraged Israel supporters when he recently attended the gala dinner for Labor Friends of Palestine—a group which reportedly backs anti-Israel boycotts.
More than anything else, what stood out was Miliband’s decision to whip the vote on Palestinian statehood, obliging all Labor parliamentarians to support unilateral recognition of Palestinian statehood regardless of the security implications for Israel. During the debate for that vote, some of the most aggressively anti-Israel speeches came from the Labor benches. The Jewish Labor MP Gerald Kaufman, who has previously compared Israeli actions in Gaza to those of the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto, denounced Israel for provoking the anti-Semitism that he claimed he wished to see an end of. Indeed, Kaufman quite preposterously claimed that Israel is damaging the image of Judaism. It seems not to occur to Mr. Kaufman that it might be his own very public misrepresentation of the Jewish state that could be contributing to anti-Semitism.
So many of the accusations thrown at Israel today echo far older incarnations of Jew-hatred. Once it was accusations of Jews murdering and kidnapping Christian children, and now the accusation is of Israelis imprisoning minors and bombing Palestinian children. Once it was said that the Jews poisoned wells and caused the crops to fail, now that waste water from settlements pollutes Palestinian fields and drinking water. Similarly, the prominent depiction of blood and Palestinian children in contemporary political cartoons about Israel mirrors so precisely the imagery found in medieval anti-Semitism. What was particularly remarkable about medieval anti-Semitism was that whether it was the show trials of the Talmud, the Spanish Inquisition, or the numerous blood libel cases, time and again the names of Jewish converts who had risen high in the Church establishment are found littering the history books on account of the unique role they played in putting anti-Jewish ideas into non-Jewish heads. Perhaps there really is nothing new under the sun.
To be clear: when Miliband and Cohen decry the rise of anti-Semitism it is not in doubt that they are being sincere. But they are also being woefully naive if they fail to see the role the organizations they head have in stoking that same anti-Semitism.