It Wouldn't Take Much to Stir the Sediment of Hate; the French Ambassador Is Said to Have Called Israel 'That Shitty Little Country'. Zionism May Not Be Living Up to Its Dream, Says Howard Jacobson, but That's No Excuse for 'Salon Anti-Semitism'

Article excerpt

Byline: HOWARD JACOBSON

SUDDENLY it doesn't feel safe to be a Jew again.

Take that "again" with a pinch of salt.

I have not felt Jewishly unsafe before, not in this country anyway. But older Jews and other Jews in other places have; and anxiety of the sort they experienced gets passed on down the line.

I grew up with the idea of unsafety encoded into my Jewish identity, put it like that. Now it is as though I have come into my inheritance. The thing I was programmed to expect - the uncertainty, and even the beginnings of alarm - is here. Not a Kristallnacht, I grant you. But an atmosphere, post 11 September, of rumours and counterrumours, reports of a resurgence of "salon" anti-Semitism, and most recently the French Ambassador's purely topographical description of Israel as "that shitty little country".

Is Israel the problem or the pretext? Impossible to know, but once again the tape of historical consequences is being rewound, and once again it is being stopped, where it has stopped so many times before: at us. Or, at least in this instance, at Israel - a version of us, and the underlying cause, as some would have it, of the religious disturbances threatening us all.

Myself, I do not feel defined by Israel. In the long run this might turn out to be irrelevant, since Israel's closest neighbours and enemies draw no distinction between the Jew and the Israeli and educate their children in anti-Jewish slanders purloined from Nazi Germany.

All the more reason to insist on the difference, you might think, but in fact all the more reason to do the opposite. I cannot refuse Israel in my heart simply because I do not wish to be implicated in Arab propaganda.

THIS does not mean that I take any criticism of Israel or Israeli policies to be ipso facto anti-Semitic. To be a friend of Israel is to want her to survive, yes, but to want her to survive honourably, remembering the great secular dream which Zionism once was, liberating Jews everywhere from themselves as well as from their oppressors, freeing them from superstition and smallmindedness, fitting them for a life of the body as well as the mind, and preparing them for their Utopian cooperation with those Arabs already inhabiting the land.

To see settlers, mostly American and born-again, garbed in some parody of 18th century Jewish peasant dress, pointing to the Bible with their rifle butts, finding justificationfor what they have stolen in holy writ, is to despair for Israelis no less than for Palestinians. Zionism was never meant to look like this. And it is not anti-Jewish to say so. In fact, nearly all the Jews of my acquaintance say nothing else.

At one time they said it quietly, to one another, not wishing to draw attention.

More recently they have been saying it aloud - leaders of the Jewish community as well as fugitive Jews like me, rabbis as well as journalists, Israeli commentators and academics no less than foreign ones. …