It’s odd – not unsurprising but still odd – how all the people who were clucking about racism in Europe when they thought the Toulouse gunman was a nutbag nativist have quietened now it’s said to be a Muslim fanatic. It’s the bigotry they feel the action might inspire, not the bigotry that’s thought to have inspired it, that’s being discussed. Why?
Outside of fractious debates on Israel and Palestine anti-semitism doesn’t receive the attention that bigotry against other minorities does. The reason, I think, is that it can’t be plausibly asserted that there’s an institutional bias against Jews. They tend to be as or more well-off than other Brits; they’re obviously not excluded from the higher rungs of the social ladder and our government enjoys friendly relations with the only Jewish majority state. While the boundaries of our discourse aren’t as fiercely policed as those of the States people who are thought to harbour ill-feeling against Jews are, by and large, unwelcome in the public sphere. (This isn’t always true, of course, but the point is that trying to make the case that society is geared towards keeping the Jews down would take an impressive feat of the imagination.)
I think people of a left wing and liberal persuasion tend to think that bigotry is a top-down phenomenon: emanating from the state into minds of plebeians. (Thus, when ethnic minorities are gunned down in France, the natural target for blame is the short man in the high places.) This is sometimes true – and European leaders have achieved it with daunting efficiency in years gone by – but it doesn’t hold as a rule. To a greater extent, I think, considering how few they are, than any other ethnic group the Jews face attacks in Europe, and by that I don’t mean voices of dim prejudices but the sort with bloodied bodies, smoking synagogues and desecrated gravestones. This, to some extent, can be explained by the fact that new arrivals have had virulent tribal hatreds among their baggage but that’s not enough to account for the trends. Assuming that the claims of a new ADL report are valid, a formidable proportion of the citizenries of Europe, especially Eastern Europe, hold today’s Jews responsible for the apparent death of a certain Jewish bloke two thousand years ago. (This has to be the most pathetic grievance ever. I’ve known rappers with more valid beefs.)
My point, in raising the spectre of one of civilisation’s oldest hatreds, is not to add my voice to the interminable if necessary debates around, say, when criticism of Israel becomes anti-semitic. It’s almost the opposite. It’s that the commentariat, if it wants to be relevant in any positive sense, should spend less time consumed by its internal habits and obsessions and reflect on what the great unwashed and ignored actually think and actually do.