Antisemitism in Europe is running at 1930s levels. But there are no anti-semites, only anti-Zionists.
with Douglas Davis
Rowan Laxton was watching news of Israeli military activity in Gaza on television while working out on an exercise bike at his central London gym. What happened next unnerved fellow gym patrons: "F-ing Israelis. F-ing Jews," he screamed repeatedly, interspersing his rant with demands for Israeli troops to be "wiped off the face of the earth". He was still bellowing when the police arrived several minutes later to arrest him on a charge of inciting religious hatred.
This bizarre episode is worth recording for two reasons. First, because it is an example, albeit extreme, of how anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism have become conflated. Second, because the 47-year-old ranter is not a low-life Jew-hater who had just crawled out from under an antediluvian rock. Rowan Laxton is a high-ranking British diplomat, a former deputy ambassador to Afghanistan and now head of the South Asia Group at the Foreign Office (currently suspended), reporting directly to his (Jewish) boss, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband.
The sad fact of this little episode is that the hateful sentiments articulated in that London gym are now common currency across Europe. Anti-Semitism is said to be running at 1930s levels. Last month, CNN used footage of anti-Israeli protesters in London to illustrate hatred of Israel in the Arab and Muslim world, prompting one observer to note that, "the mythical Arab Street now reaches deep into Paris, London, Berlin and Madrid".
Europe is overflowing with Rowan Laxtons, educated, sophisticated, cultured, civilised and urbane. What made his outburst a minor cause célèbre is that high-ranking European diplomats are usually smart enough -- and controlled enough -- to speak their anti-Semitism in private, and in more nuanced language.
But a conjunction of events is accelerating the return of Europe's oldest hatred across the political and the socio-economic spectrum. There is a deepening sense of political uncertainty over European integration, economic dislocation caused by the global financial crisis, profound social change, and the absence of a political will to oppose the substantial minority of radicalised Islamists among the 18-million-strong Muslim population of Europe (ten times the size of Europe's Jewish inhabitants). Not least, there is a profound, widespread loathing of Israel.
The fact that we are able to understand the causes and rationalise the toxic phenomenon does not make this slow-motion car-crash less compelling to observe. Neo-Nazi anti-Semitism is not new to Europe, but the casual, pervasive "high-class" anti-Semitism -- from the patrician boardrooms of Swiss banks to the bawdy shower rooms of the House of Lords -- is discomfiting to Jews.
It is particularly discomfiting to those who thought they had, at last, made themselves socially digestible. They believed they had transcended their origins, penetrated the barrier that separated their fathers from polite society and been granted unlimited access to the "mainstream." They were wrong. And a succession of polling organisations is telling them so.
A study conducted by the Pew organisation last September told them that 25 per cent of Germans and 20 per cent of Frenchmen are still infected by anti-Semitism. In Spain, which has virtually no Jews but which boasts Europe's most virulently anti-Israel media and political establishment, the figure rises to 46 per cent.
More recently, a poll conducted in seven European countries by the US-based Anti-Defamation League between December 2008 and January 2009, found that 31 per cent of respondents blame Jews working in the financial sector for the economic meltdown, while 58 per cent acknowledge that their antipathy toward Jews has increased in line with their hostility toward Israel.
There is more. Nearly one-half said they believe Jews are more loyal to Israel than to their home country, 44 per cent said it is "probably true" that Jews make too much of the Holocaust, while 23 per cent say they blame Jews for the death of Jesus. Overall, 40 per cent of the European respondents believe Jews exercise overweening power in the business world, a figure that rises to more than 50 per cent in judenrein Spain, Poland and Hungary.
The concept of "anti-Semitism without Jews" is not new. It was, indeed, a defining characteristic of the old East European Soviet bloc, which has remained virulently anti-Semitic long after its Jewish population had been destroyed in the Holocaust.
But no sooner had we got our head around the concept of "anti-Semitism without Jews" than the new anti-Semitism has produced a new concept: "Anti-Semitism without Anti-Semites."
The father of the phrase is the German writer Henryk Broder, and the circumstance of its birth was, appropriately, the interior committee of the German Bundestag, to which Broder was giving evidence.
The supposedly non-existent anti-Semites are the phalanx of "progressive" academics, journalists and politicians who express unlimited hatred of Israel and would boycott the state out of existence but vehemently reject the suggestion that they are anti-Semitic.
Polite, sophisticated, educated, cultured Europeans have altered their vocabulary. Today they speak of "Zionists" and "lobby" rather than "Jews" and "conspiracy." The words have changed, but the meaning retains a chilling familiarity.