OPINION: Israel is the best and worst thing to have happened to the Jews

OPINION: Israel is the best and worst thing to have happened to the Jews

Richard Ferrer has become a leading voice on Jewish communal issues since becoming editor of the Jewish News in 2009, writing about contemporary Jewish life for a national audience. He edited the Boston Jewish Advocate, America's oldest Jewish newspaper and created the Channel 4 series Jewish Mum of the Year.

A Shomrim volunteer removing a swastika from a wall in Lower Clapton.
A Shomrim volunteer removing a swastika from a wall in Lower Clapton.

By Richard Ferrer, Editor Jewish News

Richard Ferrer Editor, Jewish News
Richard Ferrer, Editor, Jewish News

‘As we prepare to mark the 75th anniversary of WWII, the warning signs from history seem familiar’

More than 130 anti-Semitic incidents were reported across the UK in July – double the number under normal circumstances. Cases included a brick thrown at a Belfast synagogue and “baby murderers” shouted at a synagogue in Liverpool.

In north London, a rabbi was verbally abused by youths shouting, “Free Palestine, F*** the Zionists, F*** the Jews”. It’s far more terrifying in France, home to Europe’s largest Jewish community, where prime minister Manuel Valls has warned of a “new anti-Semitism” taking hold.

Synagogues are being firebombed and Jewish shops pillaged. Gangs of young men, intoxicated by a cause and angered by their own inadequacies, roam the streets chanting “death to Jews”.

On Twitter, Liberal Democrat MP David Ward declared he would fire terrorist rockets at Israelis and Labour MP Graham Jones accused one of my Jewish News reporters of “killing children” in Gaza. And the hashtags #HitlerWasRight and #HitlerDidNothingWrong continue to trend worldwide.

Complacency is a natural human instinct. We often ask why the Jews of 1930s Europe didn’t see the warning signs. Too often we choose to ignore them, bolstering ourselves with the reassuring maxim “It won’t last forever.” This time, I’m not so sure.

As Europe prepares to mark the 75th anniversary of the start of the Second World War, the warning signs from history seem hauntingly familiar. Nazi imagery has been used to abuse Israel and Jews at “Free Palestine” rallies in London.

Decent, fair-minded people, horrified at the appalling loss of life in Gaza (if not Hamas rockets), join these demonstrations. They march among barbaric Jew-hate banners and the chants “Hitler Was Right”, “Well done Israel, Hitler would be proud’, “Hamas, Jews to the gas”, From The River to the Sea, Palestine will be free!”

These crowds are comprised of the usual suspects – Stop the War Coalition members, whose selective fury is blind to victims of the Taliban, al-Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram, Hezbollah or, tellingly, Hamas; trade unionists (you cannot have credentials on the left unless you vilify Israel); ‘V for Vendetta’-masked anarchists; sanctimonious students getting up early to look cool in keffiyehs and day-trip do-gooders who worry about rocketing house prices rather than their houses getting rocketed.

And up on stage, whipping them all into a frenzy, George Galloway and Jenny Tonge – those demagogues of Israel defamation, drunk on their own righteous indignation. Looking at them all marching and hysterically slandering Israel as a “terrorist state”, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion Israel is the best and worst thing that’s happened to the Jews.

The best, for being a shelter from a 3,000-year storm that culminated in the gas chambers. The worst, for being the focal point of global anti-Semitism, gifting ancient hatred a geographical focus. For many of these marchers an Israeli is a Jew and a Jew an Israeli. And ‘X’ marks the spot.

Israel’s other big problem is, of course, its location – slap bang in the middle of a really bad neighbourhood. From Gibraltar to the Khyber Pass, it’s hemmed in by despots, dictators and angry Islamists like Hamas who won’t tolerate democracy and diversity in their midst.

The 2,000 rockets that have targeted Israel’s towns and cities in recent weeks are fired not out of resistance from occupation but a genocidal, psychopathic obsession with Israel’s annihilation. You remember the chant: “From The River to the Sea, Palestine will be free!” There can be no political solution because Hamas is not a political party. It is an ideology. It wants to kill Jews. Every last one. You and me included. If it’s the last thing it does.

The only way forward, the only chance to end this merry-go-round of misery, is for the Palestinian Authority, bolstered by the EU, UN and USA, to remove finally this malignant cancer from its midst. Then there can genuinely be hope for peace.

Of course, all this can be complex and tough to follow. So the rent-a-mobs keep marching and the rent-a-gobs keep chanting. And as long as they do, the boundary between rational and irrational debate about Israel will continue to shift.

Where it will come to rest is a question that right now is causing immense unease among Jewish communities around the world.

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