At my dinner table on a recent Friday night, a Holocaust survivor admited that she is trying to persuade her son to take his family to America, Canada, Australia, Israel… “They say they can’t leave me, but I tell them: ‘Go, get out of Europe. My parents left my grandparents behind in Berlin and brought me to safety in England. Now I want you to leave so that my grandchildren will be safe.’”
As tens of thousands of demonstrators marched through the streets of Europe over the past month, the chants were modified but the message remained substantially intact: “Hamas, Hamas, Hamas – Jews to the Gas.” Or, more simply: “Death to the Jews.” Many European Jews, even well-established, affluent Jews, have been checking the proverbial suitcase they keep packed under the bed. They have been here before and many are, albeit reluctantly, reading the writing on the wall.
To some extent I thought I was inured. I grew up in post-war apartheid South Africa where a subtle undercurrent of antisemitism was a fact of everyday life. Living in London’s genteel, leafy Hampstead Garden suburb provides an additional layer of protection from such crass outbursts. But my sanguine state ended abruptly when I was out walking recently. A hundred yards from my front door, I encountered the slogan, freshly painted in yellow across the pavement: “Kill the Filthy Jews.” The message is too close for comfort. The leafy gentility is, after all, an illusion.
The current convulsion of antisemitism is said to be the worst in a generation. Once upon a time, anti-Israel protesters insisted they were motivated by political animus against Zionism rather than racial prejudice against Jews. The Hamas Charter, which sets out the guiding principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement – xenophobic, racist and antisemitic – removes that distinction.
In mid-January, Basim Naim, the Hamas Minister of Health in Gaza, sought to capitalise on the wave of European support for his movement and to confer some respectability on Hamas among those who lean to the left. Writing in the Guardian, he decried the “continuing attempt to discredit and demonise Hamas.” Boldly, he asserted: “Our struggle is not against the Jewish people, but against oppression and occupation. This is not a religious war. We have no quarrel with the Jewish people.”
Naim’s disingenuous depiction of Hamas as a friend of the Jews took my sense of credulity to a place that is accessible only to my psychiatrist. The ideology contained in the Hamas Charter (adopted in 1987, not 1887), leaves no room for interpretation. “Our struggle against the Jews is extremely wide-ranging and grave,” it declares. “Every Muslim is enjoined to confront the enemy in the land of the Muslims… In order to face the usurpation of Palestine by the Jews, we have no escape from raising the banner of Jihad. We must… join the ranks of the Jihad fighters.”
Article Seven of the Charter provides the religious justification: “The Prophet, prayer and peace be upon him, said: ‘The [end of days] will not come until Muslims fight the Jews and kill them; until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim, there is a Jew hiding behind me, come and kill him!’”
Then the Hamas Charter morphs into the oldest hatred: primitive, European antisemitism. Jews, says the Charter, have accumulated “huge and influential wealth” which they use to implement their “dream”. It has allowed them to take over the world media and to foment revolutions in order to “fulfil their interests and pick the fruit.” The Jews, it says, used their influence to start both world wars and they used their money to “establish clandestine organisations which are spreading around the world to destroy societies and promote Zionist interests.” The Hamas Charter makes special mention of the Freemasons, Rotary clubs, Lions clubs and B’nai Brith.
This psychopathic babble should be dismissed with contempt, but its message resonates in important Middle East capitals, from Teheran to Damascus and Doha. Sadly, it has found an echo on the streets of Europe, too.
Hamas has provided the touch-paper for a 1930s-style outburst in Europe. Antisemitism is rampant. Synagogues are burned and Jewish cemeteries are desecrated, while individual Jews are met with gratuitous verbal and, at times, physical abuse in the street.
In Britain, a cross-party group of MPs was moved to speak of their “horror” as “a wave of antisemitic incidents has affected the Jewish community.” In Germany, antisemitic violence directed at Jewish institutions was reported to be spreading nationwide after a police officer guarding a synagogue in Berlin’s Mitte district, the pre-war centre of Jewish life, was attacked with an iron bar. In Italy, the Flaica-Uniti-Cub trade union, which represents workers in shops and malls, called for a boycott of businesses with Jewish associations, directing shoppers to focus particularly on clothing stores, many of which, the union pointed out, are traditionally owned by Italian Jews. And in Denmark – Denmark! – schools with large numbers of Muslim pupils are refusing to enrol Jews because, they say, their security cannot be assured.
There can be no doubt that, for many, Israel-hatred was a cover for Jew-hatred. But this fig-leaf is becoming redundant. The contagion has passed through the flimsy membrane and the post-Holocaust taboo against open expressions of antisemitism is slipping away.