First published in The Sunday Times
How do you know if someone’s an antisemite? They don’t all perform stiff-arm salutes for the camera and offer interesting 140-character thoughts about race theory on Twitter. Although those are helpful clues, as the American alt-right, Hezbollah and Iran’s leadership prove.
But antisemitism isn’t a prejudice restricted to the likes of Richard Spencer, Hassan Nasrallah and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. As befits the world’s oldest and most durable hatred, it has many more adherents and has taken many different forms.
In medieval times, when individuals made sense of their world through the prism of faith, antisemitism was a religious prejudice. In the 19th and early 20th centuries — the age of Darwinism — antisemitism clothed itself in the white coat of the scientist. Biological metaphors were deployed to modernise hate. The Jews were carriers of “racial contamination” who had to be eliminated as a pathological threat to humanity’s future.
That belief led to history’s greatest crime. The extermination of six million powered by hatred of one thing — Jewish identity. It should have been the case that antisemitism died in the furnaces of the Holocaust. But the hatred survived. And, like a virus, mutated.
Antisemitism has moved from hatred of Jews on religious or racial grounds to hostility towards the proudest expression of Jewish identity we now have — the Jewish state.
No other democracy is on the receiving end of a campaign calling for its people to be shunned and their labour to be blacklisted. The Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions movement is a growing force on our streets and campuses. Its campaigners argue that we should ignore ideas from Jewish thinkers if those thinkers come from Israel and treat Jewish commerce as a criminal enterprise if that business is carried on in Israel.
This is antisemitism, impure and simple. It is the latest recrudescence of the age-old demand that the Jew can only live on terms set by others. Once Jews had to live in the ghetto, now they cannot live in their historic home.
It is to Britain’s eternal credit that we rejected centuries of prejudice one hundred years ago and pledged to extend to the Jewish people the rights enjoyed by Germans and Italians, Japanese and Mexicans — the right to a land they could call their own. The Balfour Declaration in 1917 was followed in 1948 with the creation of the state of Israel. Since then, that state’s success has been near-miraculous.
Surrounded by enemies who sought to strangle it at birth, continually threatened by war and constantly under terrorist attack, a nation scarcely the size of Wales with no natural resources, half of whose territory is desert, has become a flourishing democracy, a centre of scientific innovation, one of the world’s major providers of international humanitarian relief and the only state from Casablanca to Kabul with a free press, free judiciary, a flourishing free enterprise economy and freedom for people of every sexual orientation to live and love as they wish.
And that is the reason it attracts such hostility. Not because of what Israel does. But because of what it is.
For those on the left addicted to guilt-tripping and grievance-mongering, who believe that poverty is a consequence of western exploitation and that bourgeois ethics lead to oppression, the existence of a political entity that is a runaway success precisely because it is a bourgeois-minded, capitalist-fuelled, western-oriented nation state is just too much to bear. Their ideological prejudices have collided with a stubborn, undeniable, fact.
So what do they do? Keep the prejudices, of course, and try to get rid of the fact. Try to undermine, delegitimise and reduce support for Israel. Make it the only country in the world whose right to exist is called continually into question. Make the belief in that state’s survival, Zionism, a dirty word. Denounce, as the NUS president has, a British university for being a “Zionist outpost”. And instead call organisations pledged to eliminate Israel such as Hezbollah and Hamas “friends”, as Jeremy Corbyn has.
Antizionism is not a brave anti-colonial and anti-racist stance, it is simply antisemitism minding its manners so it can sit in a seminar room. And as such it deserves to be called out, confronted and opposed.
Because the fate of the Jewish people, and the survival of the Jewish state, are critical tests for all of us. The darkest forces of our time — Islamic State, the Iranian leaders masterminding mass murder in Aleppo — are united by one thing above all: their hatred of the Jewish people and their home. Faced with such implacable hatred, and knowing where it has always led, we should not allow antisemitism any space to advance, or incubate.
Instead we should show we’re not going to be intimidated by those who want to treat Israel as a second-class state, we’re not going to indulge the antisemitic impulse to apply the double standard. Israel is the only state where we don’t locate our embassy in the nation’s capital and the only ally the Foreign Office has refused to let the Queen visit. So let’s celebrate the centenary of the Balfour Declaration by moving our embassy to Jerusalem next year and inviting Her Majesty to open it. What are we afraid of? Earning the enmity of those who hate Israel? To my mind, there could be no greater compliment.
by Michael Gove