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Israel, Palestine and the anti-Semitism of the Left (TELEGRAPH UK) By Allan Massie / Blog 03/30/12) Source: http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/culture/allanmassie/100062019/israel-palestine-and-the-anti-semitism-of-the-left/ DAILY TELEGRAPH DAILY TELEGRAPH Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
Allan Massie is a Scottish writer who has published nearly 30 books, including a sequence of novels set in ancient Rome. His non-fiction works range from a study of Byron´s travels to a celebration of Scottish rugby. He has been a political columnist for The Scotsman, The Sunday Times and The Daily Telegraph and writes a literary column for The Spectator.

Nick Cohen has a characteristically good article on “anti-Semitism of the Left” in the April edition of Standpoint. The argument he advances is a fair one. Anti-Semitism has been found across the political spectrum. In Britain the anti-Semitism of the Left was often directed at bankers and financiers. This was the anti-Semitism of Belloc and Chesterton.

But there was also an anti-Semitism of the generally decent liberal elite. In the introduction to Harold Nicolson’s Diaries and Letters (utterly addictive – I go back to them time and again), his son Nigel, wrote that his father “knew that he belonged to an elite, an elite more of intelligence and achievement than of birth, and he tended to feel that people outside that elite had something wrong with them: Business-men, for example, the humbler type of schoolmaster or clergyman, most women, actors, most Americans, Jews, all coloured or Levantine peoples, and the great mass of the middle and working classes."

This is a splendid array of prejudices, which I guess most people today will find shocking. Nigel Nicolson might have added the Tory Party to that list, for Harold detested it – even though many of his friends and his beloved wife Vita Sackville-West were Tories. He entered Parliament as a member of Ramsay MacDonald’s tiny National Labour Party, and after the war contested a by-election in Croydon as the Labour candidate despite his feeling that "the great mass of the middle and working classes … had something wrong with them". Who ever thought people were simple?

As to the Jews, here is a Diary entry (11 July, 1930): “We go on afterwards to the Woolfs. Hugh Dalton is there. I attack the nomination board at the Foreign Office” – Nicolson had recently resigned from the FO – “not on the grounds that it rejects good men, but on the grounds that its very existence prevents good men from coming up for fear that they may be ploughed for social reasons. The awkward question of the Jews arises. I admit that is the snag. Jews are far more interested in international life than are Englishmen, and if we opened the service it might be flooded with clever Jews. It was a little difficult to argue this point frankly with Leonard there” – Leonard Woolf, husband of Virginia, being himself Jewish.

This is a very English anti-Semitism: let’s keep the Jews out because they are too clever. Harold Nicolson’s anti-Semitism was of the mild milk-and-water type. He had a flirtation with Sir Oswald Mosley – in, it should be said, Mosley’s New Party days before he came out as a Fascist and indulged in his own opportunistic anti-Semitism.

Nevertheless Nicolson was uncompromisingly anti-Nazi and a consistent critic of Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement policy. Whatever his own distaste for Jews, he was disgusted, long before the opening of the Death Camps, by the discrimination, humiliations and persecution they suffered at the hands of the Nazis. Indignation was stronger than his prejudices.

Today the anti-Semitism of the Left takes the form of hostility to Israel or, if you prefer, of anti-Zionism. Nick Cohen generously admits that there is some justification for this: “Those who say that the bias of much leftist protest is a reason to exonerate Israel miss the point that injustice in Palestine is still injustice, anti- Semitism plays a part in Israel-hating … but many who defend the rights of Palestinians are not fanatics … They oppose Israeli policy because contrary to the Balfour Declaration it impinges on the civil rights of non-Jewish communities.” Early in his essay he quotes the key sentence of that Declaration from the British Foreign Secretary: that the Empire would allow the Jewish people to find a home in

Palestine, “it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non- Jewish communities.”

However well-intentioned – some think it was cynical – the Balfour Declaration led to difficulties. Promises to Jews were incompatible with promises to Arabs, and so, almost a hundred years later, supporting the State of Israel contra mundum, and the policies of successive Israeli governments makes justice for the Palestinians impossible. Yet supporting the Palestinian cause may threaten the very existence of Israel.

Is it possible to reject and deplore anti-Semitism while also deploring the policies of the Israeli state? Yes, of course it is, difficult though it may be to hold this line. For one thing, you may believe that the aggressive intransigence of Benjamin Netanyahu is not in the long-term interest of Israel; that Israel cannot survive forever embattled. For another, a great many Israelis think this too.

As Cohen writes, there is a workable solution: “Most Israelis and most Palestinians favour a compromise, which includes a fair distribution of land, an end to violence, and security – essentially dividing the country on 1967 lines.” But: “Compromise is as much an anathema to the far Left and the Islamists as it is to the Israeli and American Right. Increasingly, it is anathema to the liberal Left too.”

Harold Nicolson in the 1930s could dislike Jews and yet condemn the Nazi persecutions. Someone who still regards himself as a friend of Israel can nevertheless condemn Israeli treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank, and argue that it is not only morally wrong, but will prove self-defeating. Israel needs a statesman with the vision of F W de Klerk, who dismantled apartheid, and, in doing so, secured the future of white South Africans.(© Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited 2012. 03/30/12)

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