Authors: Phyllis Goldstein
Tags: #History, #Jewish, #Social Science, #Discrimination & Race Relations
A CONVENIENT HATRED:
THE HISTORY OF ANTISEMITISM
Roman soldiers after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, 70 CE
Expulsion of Jews from Vienna, 1670
Map of “Semitic invasion,” Western Europe, 1870s
Sir Harold Evans
Facing History and Ourselves is an international educational and professional development organization whose mission is to engage students of diverse backgrounds in an examination of racism, prejudice, and antisemitism in order to promote the development of a more humane and informed citizenry. By studying the historical development of the Holocaust and other examples of genocide, students make the essential connection between history and the moral choices they confront in their own lives. For more information about Facing History and Ourselves, please visit our website at
Copyright © 2012 by Facing History and Ourselves National Foundation. Foreword copyright © 2012 by Sir Harold Evans.
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I came late to an awareness of antisemitism. I grew up during wartime in a nonreligious but Protestant, working-class family in Manchester, Britain. We were a little uneasy about neighbors who were Catholic. We were barely aware of Jews. They were concentrated across town in Cheetham Hill. I played in a table tennis league for Manchester YMCA against Jewish youth clubs, but in the tensest matches I never heard the derogatory terms of
. I certainly never came across hatred of Jews from anyone in my family or the wider, evolving circle of friends and workmates. I suppose what emotional reservoirs of hate we had were exhausted by thinking about the German bombers overhead.
I first heard of antisemitism only later, when my father told me how Oswald Mosley had fomented riots in the thirties by marching his paramilitary Fascist thugs called “Blackshirts” through Jewish districts in London’s East End. It disgusted him. Mosley’s line was that it was only “big Jews” he hated, not the “little Jews.” The “big Jews” were conspiring to get Britain into war with Germany, whereas the “little Jews” were harmless. But Mosley did nothing to stop his thugs from hurling bricks through the windows of humble houses displaying lighted Sabbath candles.
My first personal experience of what antisemitism could do was in 1946–47. Britain came into conflict with radical Zionists because in the exercise of its mandate it tried to limit immigration to Palestine. The Irgun hanged two British soldiers and bombed the King David Hotel. A natural patriotism inspired antisemitic riots in my native Manchester and a number of other cities.
My first encounters with the stereotype of the Jew were literary—the villainous Fagin in
, and then the subtler Shylock in T
he Merchant of Venice
. Thanks to
A Convenient Hatred
, I have a better appreciation of why Jews so often attracted odium as usurious creditors. I learned there was not much else they were allowed to do. In much of Europe, Jews were denied ownership of land and property, denied entry to craft guilds and the like, and actually encouraged to take up money lending, which scripture prohibited for Christians.
If Shylock and Fagin imprinted a cartoon on my subconscious, it was obliterated when I plunged into reading histories of the 1930s and World War II, of Germany’s descent from grotesque caricatures of Jews to
genocide. I became interested in stereotypes. Reporting from the American Deep South in the 1950s for what was then the
, I saw how the stereotypical “cunning Jews” were portrayed as responsible for black protests, i.e., for stirring up blacks to seek the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Blacks, too, were stereotyped as ignorant by the very people who denied them fair and equal education. They were stereotyped, as subversive communists undermining freedom by those denying them the right to vote, and as lawless by the lynch mobs who went home for supper scot-free.
By the time I returned to the United Kingdom to become a newspaper editor in Britain, the new state of Israel was widely admired for making the desert flower. There is no doubt I paid too little thought to the Palestinians who’d been displaced, but I certainly tried to be fair to all when I edited
The Sunday Times
(1967–82). I resolved that the newspapers must treat Israel as we would any other country, neither more harshly nor less. Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s government was angry with me in 1977 for publishing in
The Sunday Times
the critical results of a five-month investigation of the ill-treatment of Palestinian prisoners (which the State Department subsequently confirmed). The Israeli government could not have been angrier than I was at the Israeli army’s facilitating role in the Christian Phalangists 1982 massacre of hundreds in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps during the Lebanese civil war. The subsequent outcry from the people of Israel and the investigation by the Israeli government did something to redeem the reputation of the state—a reputation that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) had damaged badly by betraying the state’s founding ideals.
At the same time, I did not hesitate to condemn the British media’s hysterical treatment of Israel when it retaliated for unprovoked rocket assaults from Jenin, the Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank. In April 2002, the IDF sealed off the town, which the Palestinians had booby-trapped with hundreds of explosives. Since the press could not immediately get in, they listened to stories of atrocities from Palestinian Authority spokesmen. There was a frenzy of indictments of Israel. The IDF was portrayed as murdering 3,000 defenseless Palestinians and then burying the victims in secret mass graves.
My old newspaper,
, was moved to write the editorial opinion that Israel’s attack was “every bit as repellent” as Osama Bin Laden’s on New York on September 11, 2001.
Come again? In fact, a gullible press published a cataract of lies. Tom Gross
of Mideast Media Analysis
produced a scalding review and was vindicated when both a United Nations investigation and Human Rights Watch later concluded that there had been no massacre, no secret mass graves. It was a military engagement in which the death toll was 54, of whom half were Palestinian combatants, about the same number as Israeli fatalities.
In June 2002, I was invited to speak at the 50th anniversary celebrations of Index on Censorship. Since 1972 when it first campaigned for writers suppressed in the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries, Index has been Britain’s leading organization promoting freedom of expression. As a newspaper editor who’d been a defendant in a fair share of secrecy prosecutions, I got the opportunity from the Index editors to compare my editing experiences in London with those over 20 years in the United States, and especially to gauge the advances in regressions on British press freedom in the 28 years since I’d given a lecture entitled “The Half Free Press.” The invitation came months after Jenin and nine months after Arab hijackers flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
But instead of reexamining the freedoms of the press, I found my mind obsessed by the paradox that a new freedom had brought with it new corruptions. The Internet has connected the world as never before, but much of what travels at the speed of light now is half-truth masquerading as knowingness, and vast amounts of disinformation and misinformation. I was intrigued, in particular, by a report that went viral on the Internet immediately after 9/11: 4,000 Jews with jobs at the World Trade Center stayed away that morning because they had been tipped off by Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency. It was all a brilliant Jewish plot to vilify Muslims and pave the way for a joint Israeli-U.S. military operation not just against Osama bin Laden but also against militants in Palestine. Sheikh Muhammed Gemeaha at the Cairo Centre of Islamic Learning at al-Azhar University explained it for dummies: “only the Jews” were capable of toppling the World Trade Center. If the conspiracy became known to the American people, “they would have done to the Jews what Hitler did.”
Of course, Jews and Israelis (400 of them) and Muslims and Catholics and Buddhists and Presbyterians who had jobs at the World Trade Center did what everybody employed there did on 9/11: they showed up for work and died for good timekeeping. There were among the 2,752 victims 77 nationalities of all religions (with some 60 Muslims) who earned their living as clerks, busboys, bond traders, cooks, accountants, managers, secretaries, and technicians. The attempt to shuffle off the guilt of the outrage seemed to have had effect. Gallup sampled opinion in nine predominantly Islamic
countries—Pakistan, Iran, Indonesia, Turkey, Lebanon, Morocco, Kuwait, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. It reported that some two-thirds of those polled found the 9/11 attack morally unjustified. Only in Turkey, by 46 to 43 percent, did they believe that groups of Arabs had carried out the attacks. In Pakistan, only 4 percent accepted that the hijackers were Arabs.