Commentary May 2009
On Holocaust Memorial Day 2008, a group of just under 100 people—Londoners and a few visitors —took a guided tour of the old Jewish East End. They visited, among other sites of interest, the birthplace of my old chum Lionel Bart, the author of Oliver! Three generations of schoolchildren have grown up singing Bart’s lyric:
One of the family!
Those few dozen London Jews considered themselves at ’ome. But they weren’t. Not any more. The tour was abruptly terminated when the group was pelted with stones, thrown by “youths”—or to be slightly less evasive, in the current euphemism of Fleet Street, “Asian” youths. “If you go any further, you’ll die,” they shouted, in between the flying rubble.
A New Yorker who had just moved to Britain to start a job at the Metropolitan University had her head cut open and had to be taken to the Royal London Hospital at Whitechapel, causing her to miss the Holocaust Day “interfaith memorial service” at the East London Central Synagogue. Her friend, Eric Litwack from Canada, was also struck but did not require stitches. But if you hadn’t recently landed at Heathrow, it wasn’t that big a deal, not these days: Nobody was killed or permanently disfigured. And given the number of Jewish community events that now require security, perhaps Her Majesty’s Constabulary was right and these Londoners walking the streets of their own city would have been better advised to do so behind a police escort.
A European Holocaust Memorial Day on which Jews are stoned sounds like a parody of the old joke that the Germans will never forgive the Jews for Auschwitz. According to a 2005 poll by the University of Bielefeld, 62 percent of Germans “are sick of all the harping on about German crimes against the Jews”—which is a cheerfully straightforward way of putting it. Nevertheless, when it comes to “harping on,” these days it’s the Jews who are mostly on the receiving end. While we’re reprising old gags, here’s one a reader reminded me of a couple of years ago, during Israel’s famously “disproportionate” incursion into Lebanon: One day the U.N. Secretary General proposes that, in the interest of global peace and harmony, the world’s soccer players should come together and form one United Nations global soccer team.
“Great idea,” says his deputy. “Er, but who would we play?”
“Israel, of course.”
Ha-ha. It always had a grain of truth, now it’s the whole loaf.
“Israel is unfashionable,” a Continental foreign minister said to me a decade back. “But maybe Israel will change, and then fashions will change.” Fashions do change. But however Israel changes, this fashion won’t. The shift of most (non-American) Western opinion against the Jewish state that began in the 1970s was, as my Continental politician had it, simply a reflection of casting: Israel was no longer the underdog but the overdog, and why would that appeal to a post-war polytechnic Euro Left unburdened by Holocaust guilt?
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