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ISRAEL, THE JEWS AND THE HOLOCAUST

You may remember the controversy over the War Crimes Bill back in the 1990s. I suspect the fervent desire that suspected Nazi war criminals resident in Britain be prosecuted arose partly out of a fear that since they were all now quite elderly, they might die before they could be brought to justice. Another reason for it, which may to some extent have been a cover for vengefulness but was not in itself entirely invalid, and could be made to seem far more acceptable, was that by bringing the whole issue of the Holocaust to the public mind it would ensure people did not forget it and would therefore, among other things, be more likely to act to prevent its being repeated. Whatever the exact motivation behind lobbying for the Bill its supporters were undoubtedly passionate and dedicated, and sufficiently dismayed by the House of Lords’ initial rejection of it for Greville (now Lord) Janner MP to described their decision as a “misjudgement”.
Despite its undemocratic nature, the Lords – which contains, as well as hereditary peers and political nominees, a significant number of people who have been elevated to it because of excellence in their chosen fields (in other words are experts, and from the point of view of intelligence and competence probably more qualified to run the country than our elected representatives) - has often been perceived as wiser than the Commons, and its power to delay legislation in order to allow time for a rethink as not necessarily a bad thing. The downside to it in the past was of course that it could be packed with “backwoods” peers by the Tories to ensure the passage of legislation they desired; but when such political factors were not operatingthey were free to act according to their judgement and conscience. The danger of the Bill, as they recognised, was twofold. Firstly, due to the time which had elapsed since the crime mistakes might occur, and an innocent person be wrongly convicted. In fact, I suspect this wasn’t that likely; if someone had mistreated me as Jews and other victims of the Nazis were mistreated in the concentration camps, I’d probably recognise them even 60 or 70 years later, provided I was still compos mentis. But maybe one can’t be entirely sure, and in any case it would not be a principle that could be recognised by the law, which must necessarily operate in an entirely different way. The other principal objection to the Bill is even more pertinent and possibly that which really motivated the Lords in throwing it out. To spend a lot of time hunting down, prosecuting and imprisoning men who may not be in jail for very long before illness demands their release on compassionate grounds, or they die of natural causes, somehow seems grotesque and farcical. The case of a suspect who died before he could be tried (he was very feeble, as a news clip of him being helped to a car showed) highlights this point. How do we know that (a) he wasn't innocent, unlikely as it may seem, and that (b) the stress of the matter didn't contribute to his death? The argument that prosecution of the accused was necessary because it reminded society of the crime which was being punished could be met with the objection that it was liable to have exactly the opposite effect to that intended; it reminded people in entirely the wrong way. It came over as vengeful and vindictive, and in some respects inhumane; making us seem to be the oppressors, rather than the Nazis. Apart from being questionable in itself it was as much likely to fuel anti-Semitism as to combat it. I fail to see how acting from sensible and humanitarian motives, as I believe the Lords did, can be called a “misjudgement”. Clearly it won’t do to be too heavy-handed; Greville Janner’s attitude was understandable, given that he lost half his family to the Nazis. But what we understand, we do not have to condone. We might well have felt and acted as he did, had we been in his position. Nonetheless, we must at least try to be objective. In the end, of course, the Lords did not get their way; the Commons passed the Bill. There were, so far as I am aware, no tragic miscarriages as a result of it, though that does not mean Greville Janner was right. I suspect the surviving Nazis who have not yet been tried are too old now to prosecute. If the measure ever was likely to be harmful in any way, I suspect that harm has already been done.
A lot of the pressure for punishment of those who perpetrated it, whatever the arguments against doing so, and to emphasise its horrific nature, has stemmed from a belief that somehow the Holocaust was uniquely awful, worse than any other atrocity committed by human beings during the long and bloody history of our species. Those who make this claim imply that it was worse in terms of (a) scale, (b) nature or (c) both. Let's look at each of these criteria in turn.
Scale. The argument falls flat here because Stalin is reckoned to have killed more people than Hitler (Genghis Khan is said to have run up an even more impressive death toll, some forty million Chinese peasants over a certain period, which speaks for itself). The exact figure cannot be known, because such things are always impossible to establish, but by the same token the figure of six million Jews killed by Hitler can only be an arbitrary one, David Irving notwithstanding. According to a sort of sliding scale, if one figure can be inaccurate then so can the other, and the former may still in proportion be greater. Even if the number of Jews (and that is leaving out those of his victims who were not Jews) Hitler slaughtered was greater than the number of people murdered by Stalin for whatever reason there are no grounds for supposing that other atrocities could not have wiped out even more, given the difficulty of arriving at accurate totals, along with the known tendency of some humans to carry out massacres on whatever scale opportunity allows. This is the crucial point; if it is possible to kill more people (of whatever kind and for whatever motive) than the Nazis did then the Holocaust cannot, in principle, be considered unique. We’d end up conducting the argument on the basis of chance – on whether or not the person intending to carry out the crime eventually managed to do so. It may be added that weapons of mass destruction, whether bacteriological, chemical or nuclear, now enable us to destroy far more of our fellow creatures than Hitler and Stalin combined.
In one sense, of course, scale does make one atrocity more serious than another. If lives have individual value then they will have cumulative value, and therefore a crime is obviously more terrible the more people die in it, whatever the exact numerical difference involved. But by this yardstick the Holocaust would have to be considered the lesser crime. We should be careful, in any case, of making scale the principal issue. It matters on both a practical and a moral level because the ethical thing to do is preserve as many lives as possible. But if, say, we choose saving six million Jews over saving five million Gentiles – or the converse - from some unspecified tragedy, whether natural or man-made, it must be because of the numbers involved rather than who the people are. When someone pointed out that the Nazis had murdered X (a greater) number of Jews as opposed to a lesser number of gypsies, the writer Christopher Isherwood replied “Oh, are you in real estate?”. It can seem like simply playing about with statistics when contrasted with the awful reality of mass murder, irrespective of who is being murdered. In one sense Isherwood was wrong to object, as I’ve made clear. But the speaker was implying that once it’s established that it exists the numerical difference, however great, is a serious matter because of the kind of people who are being killed. This is only permissible if we regard the murder of a Jew as more serious than that of a gypsy or a homosexual (and we can’t, even if we are among those who don’t agree that homosexuality is acceptable).
Nature. Another reason the Holocaust is considered unique is the character of the act itself. As with anything emotionally and morally repugnant the full horror of it is hard to describe in words, but one reason why it is thought particularly horrible is the chillingly efficient way it was carried out – the transformation of people into numbers, statistics, by Nazi bureaucrats, and the way that efficiency seemed to justify it in the minds of its perpetrators. Undoubtedly, this was horrible. But surely the abduction, rape and murder of young children (Milly Dowler, Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, and the victims of the Moors Murderers), in the latter case at least involving sexual torture, can’t be any less so. Serial killers, whether or not their motive is sexual, usually don’t manage to despatch thousands or millions of people unless they’re very lucky (it would help if they could get their hands on weapons of mass destruction), and some for whatever reason may only kill once (whether Ian Huntley would have gone on to commit other murders if not jailed for those of Holly and Jessica we don’t know). But the actions of these people show that it takes the same amount of evil to kill one person as it does to kill six million. It’s not the awfulness but rather the motive – the one does not make a difference to the extent of the other – that are different. The killing of the six million is usually political, in that it stems from a debased ideology, and it requires membership of some kind of an organisation which can become the government, as the Nazis did in Germany, and thus be in a better position to carry out genocide if it wants to. This is ruled out for many (perhaps not all) serial killers by their being dysfunctional loners, even if sometimes their crimes are an attempt to make a kind of statement, and may be racially motivated. The nature of their crimes is different, in many ways, from those of the Nazis but that doesn’t make them any less appalling. I suspect we all have our favourite atrocity, meaning that which we find affects us the most. Personally, the most distressing thing that comes to my mind where human evil and its effects are concerned, after watching a TV programme on the Moors Murders, is Lesley Ann Downey’s mother knowing that her daughter, being abused by Brady and Hindley, had been crying for her and that she had been unable to help. Which does one regard as the worst atrocity: the Moors Murders, the Holocaust because of the chillingly bureaucratic way it was carried out, 9/11 because it was the first and so far has been the only time aircraft carrying live passengers were used as bombs – always the most disturbing aspect of that particular business – or the 2004 Beslan school siege in Russia because of the way the terrorists specifically targeted children? Apart from the suggestion that one atrocity can be more atrocious than another seeming rather like my once describing Doctor Who’s TARDIS as semi-indestructible, or Eccles in the Goon Show trying to prove his immortality (“I’m living forever as fast as I can!”), attempting to distinguish between the two would be at best a minefield and at worst invidious. I don’t know – perhaps I can never know – what it must have been like for the trainloads of people who passed through the gas chambers, whether they guessed what was going to happen to them, although the gassing itself was not, I understand, a pleasant business. But imagine a panel of experts sitting down to decide, by quantifying the degree of mental and physical suffering involved (is that even possible?), whether it is worse for a little girl to be abducted, stripped naked, sexually abused and then murdered, or arrested, packed onto a train, stripped and then sent to a gas chamber because someone does not like her ethnicity, and you can see what I’m trying to get at. The only thing which might make the Moors Murders less serious than the Holocaust would be the number of people involved - obviously a lot less – but even then, most would balk at being forced to say which was worse. All we can say is that it would be permissible to let scale be the deciding factor, but forgiveable if we didn’t.
The Holocaust produces revulsion because of the clinical, mechanical fashion in which its victims were disposed of. It was an operation carried out with ruthless technical efficiency, which one might regard as typically Germanic. A comparison, always interesting, between Stalin and Hitler, the two great mass murderers of the twentieth century, reveals contrasts in the way they did things. If Hitler employed the bureaucratic skills of the German middle classes, their ability to organise, to execute his victims the way Stalin operated was characterised more by a coarse peasant brutality – his social origins were after all different. With him it was more a case of “Ah, throw another Cossack on the fire.” This is no less appalling (and no less excusable because life may have seemed cheap in a country with a vast population, hardened by a cold climate, and a history of treating them harshly). It’s more the way in which it’s appalling that differs. Stalin killed anyone he had a grudge against or who he sensed did not altogether agree with his policies, which is surely no more legitimate than doing it on grounds of race. He escaped, and still escapes, condemnation as severe as that meted out to Hitler because he was our ally, not our enemy, in the Second World War. Because the Cold War never escalated into a hot one in which his troops might have committed atrocities in occupied territories. Because although the inhabitants of the Eastern European nations were not well treated when absorbed against their will into the Soviet Bloc after 1945, most of Stalin’s victims during the whole period of his ascendancy, as opposed to Hitler’s in 1933-45, were domestic – as if that makes it any better (the treatment of German civilians by the Red Army is more likely to be excused on account of what the Germans themselves had done earlier on). And because Stalin had not at the time of his death begun to persecute the Jews – although the indications are that he was planning to. Above all else, it should not matter if someone is gassed according to a certain plan or crudely bludgeoned to death (the Nazis did that sort of thing too). The result is the same; a life which may be innocent has been wrongly taken. Morally, that need be the only thing which concerns us. Except from the academic point of view there is nothing to be gained by drawing a distinction between the Holocaust and the more unco-ordinated kind of killing which went on under Stalin, as Laurence Rees does on p211-212 of War of the Century (BBC 1999), his book on the Soviet-German conflict in World War Two. Certain facts may, on top of purely academic interest, be useful in predicting what sort of atrocities are likely to happen, how and where, and therefore in possibly preventing them. But it does not prove that one atrocity really is more atrocious than another. There is a danger we may simply end up debating the aesthetics of evil, if I may put it like that. Alan Bullock ends his Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives by concluding that the nature of the Holocaust demonstrates Hitler was, in fact, the more evil of the two men. On the back cover of my edition of the book a reviewer comments that its conclusions are “sane and balanced”; if this is meant to apply to an argument which is in fact not logically sustainable, and also discriminatory, I beg to differ with it, in so far as although Bullock was clearly not insane when he wrote the book it implies that asserting, out of humanity, that one unjust killing is as wrong as another is somehow a sign of extremism or of mental disturbance, while discrimination is eminently sensible and just. The European Union’s decision in 2007 to criminalise Holocaust denial if it was likely to incite violence or racial hatred (which it would be anyway), but not the atrocities of Stalin or the massacre of Armenians by Ottoman Turks during the First World War (The Week magazine 28 April 2007) was either simply unjust, or due to legalistic factors (the ruling excluded cases that had not been dealt with by the International Criminal Court at The Hague) in which case the law should be changed. Criminalising denial of atrocities is a policy which has its dangers, but if the principle is to be applied at all it should be applied evenly.
Finally we may add that if the technical means of bringing about the Holocaust, which enabled the death toll to be so huge, had been available to previous persecutors of the Jews (or anyone else wishing to commit genocide) they would have used them, and over as large an area as Hitler conquered had they succeeded in repeating his achievement. Often, the person who is able to kill a few million people is merely luckier than the person who has killed a few hundred or less.
Another telling point is this. We may say that the Holocaust was more serious than anything Stalin did. But in practice, I suspect that if Stalin had been brought to trial for the murders he authorised or at least deliberately permitted we would nonetheless have asked for the ultimate punishment: execution or at any rate life imprisonment. Even Jews would have said, if asked, that this was the correct course of action, whatever their views as to the relative seriousness of one atrocity compared to another. So what is the point in arguing that one atrocity can be worse than another when in practice we would not actually endorse that principle, going by the punishment we mete out for it (which must be the yardstick)? There is little point in adhering to a belief or principle unless we are prepared to put it into practice, and only capital punishment or life imprisonment for those who violate this particular principle can show we are serious about it.
National character is, inevitably, inseparable from the atrocities. The Holocaust was a very German affair, seen in its emphasis on bureaucratic efficiency when identifying those the regime wished to exterminate, separating them from the rest of the population and then speedily eliminating them. The atrocities of Stalin were very Russian in that they reflected, as the Putin regime does now in its treatment of its opponents, a brutal, less refined kind of contempt for human life in general; a sense, coming from having such a large population, that life is cheap. And Stalin’s evil was one which simply said, “shoot another hundred Cossacks/Kulaks if it makes a difference” and left it at that, rather than kill with middle-class decorum and by bureaucratic precision. But the crucial aspect of the matter is the act itself.
In an important sense the German people were victims of Hitler’s insane desire to sacrifice them to his will if necessary; they had to suffer the total devastation of their country in the war as well as stigmatisation for their leaders’ actions by those who won it. But in terms of numbers Stalin picked on his own people, Hitler mostly foreigners and people he did not consider to be Aryan; Stalin can therefore be made to seem superficially more acceptable. Opponents of the relativist case might point out that Stalin was not generally vilified by Russians; however this was because the German invasion of 1941 made him seem the lesser evil, as the Russian people rallied round him as the focus of opposition to their greatest enemies – Hitler and the Nazis. Had the invasion never taken place things might have been different. And if Stalin was not, initially at any rate, regarded in an unfavourable light by the Western powers, it was because he had been their ally against Hitler. And of course the Allies had won, even if Germany did not have a just excuse for starting the war.
The identity of the victims. A third reason why the Holocaust is presented as a uniquely serious matter is the extent of the suffering inflicted on the Jews, who were numerically its principal victims; coming as it did on top of thousands of years of pogroms etc. Obviously both the Holocaust itself and the anti-Semitism which preceded it add up to something which is shameful to say the least, and at worst thoroughly appalling. But if you go too far down that particular line of argument you would seem to be arguing that Jewish suffering is a more serious business than other people's, which could be viewed as racially discriminatory. It is a line that places too much stress on races as opposed to individuals. In the last resort it is as the latter that we suffer, even if our race was the specific reason why someone wanted to kill or otherwise mistreat us. Suppose you were a Jew in the modern (but pre-1945) era who because they lived in a country like Britain or the US most likely never experienced persecution on the scale or in the same way meted out to fellow Jews whose ancestors happen to have settled in Germany or Russia instead? Your lot would have been better than that of Gentiles living in countries like Iraq, Iran, Cambodia, the old Soviet Union or South Africa in the apartheid period who suffered directly from the policies of Saddam Hussein, Ayatollah Khomeini, Stalin or Pol Pot.
In any case, if we are inclined to see the significance of the Holocaust largely in terms of the Jewish death toll, it is because
Hitler didn't get around to slaughtering the Slavs, and perhaps all other remaining non-Aryan races, on the same scale (as there is every reason to suppose, given his view of them, he would have done). Fortunately it so happened that he was defeated before he could do such a thing. Had events turned out differently, our attitudes to the Holocaust might also in some ways be different. If, therefore, any of us do see its importance as lying purely in its Jewish dimension it is not because such a view is moral and justified but because of chance – the same as with scale being supposedly the crucial issue. There are those who out of hatred or revenge for past injustice would have killed all the black people in the world, or all the white people, or any ethnic group other than their own that you care to mention, if they had had the chance and we cannot say whether they will attempt to do so in the future, or what degree of success they will have.
It is quite permissible to say that a particular atrocity has a particular significance in some respects. It might be possible to argue that the importance of the Holocaust in history is that it demonstrates the evils anti-Semitism if unchecked can lead to. It is when people say it is worse in an absolute sense that I have to disagree with them. You could go further and say that it doesn’t even have a relative significance, except in terms of scale, because Jews had been persecuted before, to the extent of being burnt alive in riots in York and Nuremberg in the Middle Ages (to give one example). (It does of course have a historical significance because of its political consequences, which included the creation of the state of Israel, and the effect on the world of the often subjective but extremely powerful feelings it gives rise to). But no difference is made to what it was – an infinitely horrible event – by saying that other things were/are infinitely horrible too, and so no offence need be taken (though it probably will) if we seek to relativise it (I use the term as an alternative to “normalise” because I would prefer to think that mass murder, or indeed unlawful killing in any form, doesn’t happen everywhere every day, though where some parts of the world are concerned this might I am afraid be overoptimistic). Though there cannot, in kind, be anything worse than the Holocaust there may be things as bad. But logically, to compare is not necessarily to diminish, as Brian Sewell (whatever his faults) once pointed out. It isn’t anti-Semitic or generally unacceptable to suggest that the Holocaust was not more serious than the crimes of Stalin – or, strange as this may seem, than to have a genuine dislike of blondes or redheads (say), whether or not you went so far as to kill them, if any wicked thought is an incalculable evil. But it would surely be a sign of irrationality to suggest it was less serious than either. In fact, relativising the Holocaust, if that is what I am doing, can provide a useful counter to those who seek to pretend it never happened. It is precisely because so much else has happened, before and after it in human history, that has been brutal and horrifying that we can believe the Holocaust did. This is where those who seek to stress its supposed uniqueness in order to emphasise the need not to let it recur shoot themselves in the foot.
I say again that if the Holocaust was awful in terms of the nature of the crime perpetrated then the rape and murder of young children can’t be any less so. Their families would certainly take that view and would be very upset if you implied they shouldn’t. If you did I suspect that the response of some of them, assuming they did not actually physically attack you, would probably be two short words, of which the first ought not to be used in a respectable journal while the second would most likely be "off". Those Gentiles who out of sympathy for the Jews share the view many of the latter hold that the Holocaust was unique among atrocities would not stick to it if they or their loved ones became victims of unlawful killing. The idea that the Holocaust was and remains unique may be rooted in social and psychological factors as much as moral outrage. It seemed a defining moment because it was the first time anything quite like it had been perpetrated in modern history, or so people thought. It was naively believed Man had advanced so far that he was above such things (once again it is the nature of the act and not its scale which distinguishes civilisation from barbarism). This view has subsequently been disproved by the actions of some of the dictators I mentioned above, along with Slobodan Milosevic and Radovan Karavic among others. However, even in 1945 there ought to have been enough evidence to contradict it; for example, the massacre of Armenians by Turks in 1915 and the behaviour of Japan in China only a few years before the Second World War broke out. The idea seems to have been that such things were only to be expected from non-Western peoples, but in a Western nation itself was unforgiveable since we were supposed to be above all that. Insistence on the Holocaust being unique, at the time such a belief first appeared in the Western world, can therefore to some extent be viewed as racist in character. It probably also stemmed from a dislike of the Germans on account of their having started two World Wars (at least it was the popular perception that they started the first), during which many citizens of other Western countries were killed. The Holocaust provided an ideal stick to beat them with.
Another contributory factor was sympathy for the Jews, because the Holocaust was seen as the culmination of thousands of years of anti-Semitism, even if people had not been so solicitous towards them before the death camps finally pricked their consciences. As for the Jews themselves, what happened to them – even if they only heard about the atrocities and were not directly affected by them - was so traumatic, so horrible a shock that they needed to go into overkill in stressing its awfulness, and in trying to make sure it didn’t happen again, for fear that otherwise people might not give sufficient attention to the matter. Not all of them in fact take the view that it was uniquely awful. But there are many for whom even to relativise the business runs the risk of trivialising and thus forgetting it. They cannot cope with it otherwise.
Their feelings are understandable, but dangerous. They are making it more likely it will be forgotten. As time goes by and the events of the Hitler era recede further into the past, fading from living memory, and more and more evidence emerges, from either historical research or philosophical reflection on the matter, for the general wickedness of certain kinds of people it will become less and less possible to take the view that the Holocaust was unique, unless perhaps a further such atrocity occurs which of course we don't want. Persistently trying to remind people of it, because of that supposed uniqueness, both provokes a hostile reaction from those who correctly perceive this as unjust and also results in a certain fatigue on the part of society, which becomes either desensitised towards anti-Semitism (with which issue the Holocaust is of course inextricably connected) or may even become guilty of it because of anger at the Jews seemingly arguing that their sufferings have been worse than anyone else’s.

None of this excuses anti-Semitism itself, one aspect of which is the belief that the Holocaust didn’t happen. There are those who attempt to present it as a myth; their claims are of course total rubbish. If it did not happen, then six million plus people just vanished into thin air - abducted by aliens perhaps? Besides which, it is unlikely that so much obvious grief and horror, which among other things led to the establishment of the state of Israel and thus to a major upheaval in international affairs, could have happened without some cause. The figures could be out by two million, I suppose. But how significant is that, really? We know the Holocaust took place because of the trace it has left, just as scientists can show the Big Bang occurred because of the background radiation from it. And even if the exact figures - always a matter for dispute – were out by a million or two we would still be talking about an infinitely awful tragedy.
But are we not sometimes overprotective, and do we not sometimes draw attention to, punish, or try to avoid anti-Semitic prejudice by entirely the wrong means? It seems inappropriate that we should be seeking to educate our children about the evils of the Holocaust, and instilling in them the need for a non-racist society and for preventing any repetition of past atrocities, laudable as those aims are, whilst our regard for the principle that all wrongs should be punished regardless of motive is in question and there remains the suspicion that if they (our children) were themselves to be the victims of atrocities carried out in revenge for or as an indirect consequence of the Holocaust, they would not secure justice.
It is possible of course to be ennobled by suffering, and with some Jews that does seem to be what is happened, although of course they may well have been noble before. Although I still disagree with him about a number of things Simon Wiesenthal was an example, as his insistence on bringing war criminals to justice through legal means, of limiting vengeance to Nazis themselves rather than their relatives, his acknowledgment that other groups besides Jews were victimised and/or exterminated and on presenting the Holocaust as a debasement of Mankind in general, which in some ways it was, rather than as just a quarrel, however nasty, between Nazis and Jews, all demonstrated. But not everyone, sadly, has been affected by the matter in the same way.
What is chilling, disturbing and to my mind morally unacceptable is that some people openly and unrepentantly assert that taking an eye for an eye, even where it is innocents who suffer or die, are not as serious as the original crime. Commenting on the affair of Solomon Morel, a Polish Jew who lost members of his family to Hitler and when employed as a prison guard by the Soviets after the war took the opportunity to work off his anger by mistreating innocent Polish civilians who had been locked up by them, with the result that some died, Efraim Zaroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal centre in Jerusalem, criticised those who tried to make out that there was a symmetry, one he regarded as “false”, between such events and the Holocaust. I think there is enough of one for Mr Zaroff’s approach to be inappropriate. It is not an exact symmetry; in a complex world, symmetries rarely are exact. One could say Morel was provoked, whereas the Nazis were not; a justified grievance over the way Germany was treated after the First World War is one thing, a lunatic desire to commit genocide quite another. It all depends on how far we believe one wrong excuses another. We are committed to upholding that it doesn’t purely because of the dangerous trend which would be set otherwise; all kinds of people would be carrying out murder or other crimes and defending themselves on grounds of the mental and/or physical suffering the victim had caused them (unless we take the view that is fair for Jews to have the best vendettas). Even if the motive for punishing Morel would here be sociopolitical convenience rather than ethics it would still be justified, even if only on practical grounds. Unless perhaps it can be shown that the killer was so crazed by grief and rage that he was not responsible for his actions - an excuse only valid if the act was committed within a fairly short time of the atrocity it was designed to avenge – and/or was only killing those who were undeniably guilty, when he had a better excuse – he must be regarded as criminally culpable, because what he did was still wrong, sufficiently so to justify execution or a life sentence. Neither of the right conditions are met in the Morel case. At least indirectly he killed the innocent as well as the guilty, and without any conscience. As for the "diminished responsibility" argument, it only holds if the mental damage can be proved to be permanent. When tackled on the matter by a survivor of the camp – without any particular Nazi connections - who said, "I know you had a hard life, but you murdered people. Why? If you do as the Fascists do, you're as bad as the Fascists", Morel snapped back, "No, you are the Fascist. It's people like you who killed my mother and father." This is not a case of understandable rage and grief leading to terrible things which someone would not do in later years when the wounds had healed to some extent. Over fifty years after the event, he was still warped by hatred, was still blaming innocent people for what had happened and deeming it appropriate to have mistreated them. However horrendous the trauma that damaged him in this way, it appears to be what he preferred to think, rather than what mental illness made him think – unless he was mad and the mental damage was permanent, in which case one ought to give him some quarter. This is something a trial could have established. But if Morel was not mad and his actions are not punished then the sanctity of human life - the same principle that was so obviously violated in the Holocaust - of all human life, unless we are to discriminate between Jew and Gentile, is not endorsed, because if taking a life is not considered to merit the maximum penalty then its preservation could not have been very important.
What should incense the fair-minded is that the request from the Poles to extradite Morel from Israel is regarded there as some sort of sick joke, which implies that the deaths of his victims, though presumably regrettable nonetheless, are not morally a very serious matter at all. To the director of the international department of Israel's Ministry of Justice it came as a surprise, particularly when Israel had never tried to extradite many of the Poles who had been responsible for murders of Jews. There is no reason why the latter should not be punished, although since the murders were committed in Poland they should also be punished there (extraditing the guilty to Israel would contravene a vital legal principle, as well as imply, by it being seen as essential that the perpetrators of the crime face trial in the country which was set up as a result of it and to guard against its repetition, that the original creation of Israel, as opposed to the toleration of her existence today, was just – for laws should reflect morality – which I do not believe it was). But whatever happens, justice should not be one-sided. As Israel did not concede that the charges against Morel amounted to genocide (though that is not what the Poles allege), he was protected by their statute of limitations. Since just one murder, whether the victim is killed outright or dies as an effective result of ill-treatment, is bad enough, one can see no valid reason for the limitations on extradition. But Morel, who died in 2007, got away with it; just as Israel has killed innocent people in order to protect its interests while still expecting the West to support it, and has never properly been brought to account for that.
There appear to have been other cases where the avengers effectively got their wish; to exact retribution and ensure that they were not punished for it. In Fat Man In Argentina, (Michael Joseph 1990), journalist and writer Tom Vernon's account of his travels in that country, the following incident is reported: "In one town, far from Villa General Belgrano and the village often associated with it, La Cumbre-Cita, there had been a tragic fire not long before in which a whole family had died, including the children. Local people had known that the head of that family had been an SS man and a war criminal; they had also noticed - for it was a small town - that a small squad of strangers arrived just before the incident and departed immediately afterwards." We are dealing here with a relatively recent incident. It is quite likely the children inherited or absorbed the prejudices of their parents, but that may not necessarily have been so, and no-one ought in any case regard that as a good reason for killing them. And they, like those killed in the Holocaust, would have had wives/husbands, boyfriends/girlfriends, brothers and sisters. Yet there is no indication that the perpetrators of the murders were ever brought to justice.
On the other hand, enormous fuss is made over the punishment of octogenarian and nonagenarian Nazi war criminals, despite the dangers involved, with the necessary legislation being pushed through the House Of Lords in a manner which I at any rate did not care for, the peers' ruling when they initially threw it out being
desribed as a "misjudgement". There's got to be something wrong there somewhere.
In 1981 Michael Elkins, at one time a BBC correspondent in Jerusalem, wrote a book called Forged In Fury, about the Jewish brigade formed within the British army during the Second World War
and, in addition to their officially recognised wartime service, the murders they carried out of Nazis and the attempted murder of millions of Germans through poisoning water supplies. Nowhere in the book is there any condemnation of the killings they committed or planned, or even a statement to the effect that they were not right but could be forgiven, which would have been more acceptable. Alarmingly, Elkins took the view that it had not been his brief to write a balanced account. Nor did his publisher question this approach. Yet normally, if one wrote a book that was one-sided and intemperate in this way one would be pilloried for it. And in a matter like the Holocaust, which obviously arouses strong emotions on all sides, an even-handed approach is particularly important.
The genocide attempted in Germany did not succeed; nor is it easy
to say what the reaction would have been if it had. But reason should have told those who planned it, as it should have told Solomon Morel, that an entire people could not be depraved criminals who deserved the maximum penalty, and also that the world is hardly made a better place after something like the Holocaust by destroying millions more innocent people. On the contrary, the plotters knew they would be killing people who had opposed Hitler (would those people have felt like doing the same again if, say, their loved ones had been among those who died?) but did not let that deter them. Perhaps they were so crazed by their experiences that the balance of their minds was disturbed; it would not be humane to discount that possibility even if it might be too easily used as a convenient blanket excuse. If you are going to excuse something like revenge genocide – though hopefully you would try to prevent it, whatever happened – let it be for the right reasons.
We should also mention the rule, adopted for example in Switzerland, that denying the Holocaust is an offence. Perhaps politically it is inevitable in countries which have a dubious past where Nazism, or compliance with its wishes, is concerned and which in some cases are also facing a rise in right-wing extremism; they need to demonstrate their anti-racist credentials and reassure the world that there is not going to be a repetition of what happened under Hitler. But it is political; the moral reasons for it are a little suspect. If denying the Holocaust is a crime because it is morally offensive, one would have to make the denial of any such atrocity an offence, yet it seems it is not. In fact it doesn’t stop there; where would one draw the line? To me, suggesting the Holocaust was worse than other incidences of mass murder – or indeed any incidence of unlawful killing – is offensive. Should not people who do therefore be locked up? There are all kinds of remarks uttered every day, on all sorts of matters, which are ill-considered and unjust. The trouble with imprisoning Holocaust deniers, whatever the principle behind it, is that it risks simply making them into martyrs.

It is worth looking at some examples of how the question of punishing the Holocaust is treated in fiction. The heavy-handed approach can be seen in Ian Rankin’s 1998 John Rebus novel The Hanging Garden. On page 98 Inspector Rebus is told by Holocaust investigator David Levy that British Intelligence are protecting a number of big name Nazi war criminals, “maybe their children.” Rebus tells Levy to make sure he and his colleagues “keep digging.” That is the end of the conversation. The wording is unfortunate, and is not excused by the need for dialogue in a work of fiction to be punchy. Why are the children as much of a concern as their parents, as they seem to be here? They are obviously not to blame in the same way, unless we believe in the concept of hereditary guilt, and although it may be wrong for them to hide the truth (assuming they know it) from the authorities it is also understandable, not just for reasons of family loyalty; since people are not always fair-minded and reasonable, they may be afraid of acquiring a stigma they do not deserve. To some extent we should expect heavy-handedness from a character like Rebus, who, though as a Scot his feelings are maybe understandable, is for example unreasonably prejudiced against the English partly to cover up his own dysfunctionality (as I think we are meant to infer). That doesn’t make it any less distasteful.
One of the best-known novels with Holocaust vengeance as its theme is P D James’ Original Sin (1994; television adaptation broadcast 1997). Here Gabriel Dauntsey, whose Jewish wife and children were betrayed to the Nazis in Occupied France by resistance leader Jean-Philippe Etienne, takes his revenge by killing Etienne's own children, Gerard and Claudia, in the same way that the Nazis did his. Gerard is trapped in a room into which lethal gas is pumped, Claudia garotted and then (on TV) exposed to carbon monoxide fumes from a car engine. The fact that they are, as everyone later learns, only his adopted children obviously does not make the crime any less serious (it was as a direct result of Dauntsey’s blind pursuit of revenge that they died). Nor does the fact that none of the people Dauntsey kills in the story (one of whose themes, I think, is the way the general nastiness of society reinforces the conviction of individual wrongdoers that their actions are justified) are particularly nice. Dauntsey is eventually found out and arrested, but one of DCI Adam Dalgliesh's team, Daniel Aaron, is a Jew who feels some sympathy with the prisoner because of what he lost in the war and allows him (reluctantly, it should be noted) to escape so that he can commit suicide.
One reviewer commented that the featuring of the Holocaust, or its legacy, in the story “drew praise in some quarters but unbalances the book and gives it a worthiness which it cannot carry.” If the implication is that the subject matter is so awful it requires greater literary skills (in excess even of those a writer like P D James possesses) to portray than any other atrocity – and thus that with atrocities there is somehow a scale of dreadfulness – then you can guess what I think of it. But essentially my gripe is rather this. Original Sin has been called “admirable” for the way it dares to tackle the Holocaust as its subject. Baroness James is a very moral writer and no injustice was ever intended by her; nonetheless, one wonders if the novel is the sort of thing a Jew should be grateful for. With its victimisation of the innocent, about which there is nothing worthy, it does not portray those affected by the Holocaust or seeking to avenge it in a good light. (It is in fact never explicitly stated that Dauntsey is Jewish - we are left to decide whether the fact that his wife and children were means that he must be too - but, significantly perhaps, it is not explicitly stated that he isn't, either. And he seems to be in the TV version). Moreover, what looks like Jewish solidarity has allowed the crime to go unpunished. And the case of Solomon Morel at least raises the possibility that if Daniel had not let Dauntsey go it would still have gone unpunished. Original Sin, though wonderfully terrifying, is also unpleasantly disturbing – perhaps a misguided project. Disagreeable connections could easily be made with the slaying of the firstborn of Egypt. If something like its plot were to happen in real life, the consequence might well be an increase in anti-Semitism. Though I have to say that my adverse reaction to it produces a certain guilt feeling, a fear of being too critical of it on account of the Jews’ past sufferings; altogether it’s an emotional roller coaster I’d rather avoid. Original Sin is all the more distressing if there really have been incidents in real life where the philosophy of "an eye for an eye" was successfully implemented. It’s all compounded, if anything, by doubts as to whether the plot is in any case plausible. It has been commented on elsewhere that P D James’ murderers seem to wait an inordinately long time before punishing the wrongdoings which give them their motives. In the first case it takes Dauntsey some fifty years to find out why his loved ones ended up in the gas chambers. Despite the incident at La Cumbre-Cita – if what happened was what it is implied happened – and the scars the Holocaust can inflict, which we know run very deep, it does somehow seem far-fetched to suggest that Jews would be determined upon killing the child of a war criminal, rather than the war criminal themselves, some fifty years after the event. There may be no need for the emotional roller coaster in the first place. Though it is no less terrible, of course, if they would have done it.
Equally disturbing, though written as was Original Sin by an author who does not approve of his chief villain’s actions, is Robert Wilson’s A Small Death in Lisbon. Here, a girl (admittedly dissolute) is murdered as a result of a chain of events deliberately set in motion by someone who is, among other things, trying to reclaim money stolen during the Second World War from the Jewish community in neutral Portugal. His scheme involves getting someone to sodomise and then shoot the girl, to whom he is actually related. The linking of the Holocaust with such a crime is unfortunate at best. The book was published in 1999, five years after Original Sin, along with which it creates a soul-crushing impression of the twentieth century ending with the punishing of one injustice by another, a sign that Man has learned nothing. Even the blurb on the back of the book refers to the “wheel of vengeance rolling on to the century’s end.” There is of course no such thing as a “small” death. Any life is of value, potentially at any rate, and its loss therefore an incalculable tragedy. Merely because we are ourselves and not anyone else, and our thoughts, including the very awareness of being alive, our own and not another’s even where they are of the same things, it is true to say as one Muslim scholar did that if you kill one person it is as if you have killed the whole universe.


*

This article must inevitably encompass the question of Israel because the country was born out of the Holocaust, in that it was seen as a means of protecting Jews from further such horrors. Hence, whether one agrees with its existence, and with what is regarded as necessary to defend that existence, is seen as a test of whether or not one is anti-Semitic. Agree with that or no, the issue is a cause of attitudes which must be exposed as unjust.
Following the atrocities of the Nazis, which surpassed any persecution they had previously experienced both in scale and awfulness, there was an understandable desire on the part of European Jews; and where the creation of the new state was supported by Western powers revulsion against the atrocities led to widespread sympathy towards the Jews and a desire that they should be protected. These feelings led to them and their supporters completely disregarding the wishes of the Arabs, at that time a majority in Palestine. The consequences of this have been terrorism, both in the region itself and internationally, and on occasions war in the region (which in 1973 is believed to have come close to nuclear conflict between the superpowers, potentially threatening a much larger number of people than makes up the population of Israel), to preserve or to overturn the status quo created in 1948. The West, and especially the United States, has tended to support Israel against her Arab enemies, partly as compensation for the way it persecuted Jews in the past and partly as a result of pressure from Jewish groups. Meanwhile no lasting peaceful solution to the conflict has been achieved and thousands of people have died and are dying as a result.
Stephen Brook in Winner Takes All: A Season In Israel (Hamish Hamilton 1990) attacks those who believe the establishment of Israel was wrong, saying that such arguments come from the same sort of people who persecuted Jews under Hitler. It is the only sour note in a book whose tone is otherwise reasonable. Although he might not see it that way he is being, without perhaps meaning to be, rather offensive to quite a few. An anti-Semite would of course be the most likely person to object to Israel. But given that there were sensible reasons as well as racist ones for opposing her creation, the labelling of all those who do so as Nazis is extremely unfair. It is wrong, for reasons I will go into later, to say that Israel should be dismantled now, but to object to her establishment in the sense that if, at the time it was being planned, one ought to have prevented it if possible, and to try to avoid similar cases in the future, is not quite the same thing. What Brook meant was that the creation of the Israeli state was right in absolute terms and should not have been prevented, with the implication that we should do or at least allow the same again. There is more than one reason why we should disagree with him.
In 1946-8 an Arab majority in Palestine was transformed into a Jewish majority not by natural increase of the Jewish population (which would have caused problems enough) but by the importation of Jews from outside the region. The worrying implications of this are that a majority can be created artificially, against the wishes of the existing one and out of people who have lived outside the area in question for thousands of years, whatever their ancestral connection with it. Anyone could say they had the right to do such a thing because of a situation which existed millennia before. The principle is established across time as well as space, and therefore appears to be given greater legitimacy. Unless we take the racist view that Jewish sensibilities are of more importance than other people's, then if the normal conditions which should govern these matters can be waived for their benefit it can be waived for others’ too (it is conceivable that other similar cases could arise, since Jews are not the only people who suffer). It becomes a destabilising factor because majorities could all too easily be displaced, anywhere. The whole principles of democracy and also of sovereignty (because the people who were going to constitute the new majority would not at the time be citizens of the region, and would be coming into it from outside; they would effectively be foreigners) would both be undermined at the same time.
It is important to appreciate that Jews and Arabs were coexisting quite happily in Palestine until large-scale Jewish immigration began after the First World War and started to change the character of the region in ways that were not acceptable to the majority. The consequences for the world in general of the creation of Israel may be said to have been negative, in that it has led to tension and conflict. The West by coming down on Israel's side has incurred the wrath of Arab states, manifested in acts of terrorism towards its citizens and armed forces, against itself. Israel has been of major help in the West's fight against that terrorism, using the expertise she has gained from being in the frontline, but this may be countered by the point that a lot of it would not be happening if she did not exist. She may have saved many Western lives; but it could be argued that had she not been established in the first place, and subsequently defended so consistently by the West (and Jewish communities there), she would not have needed to, or to have lost those Westerners who have been killed as a direct or indirect result of the conflict. (It is not only the West who gets caught in the crossfire or is targeted as guilty by association. I would like to mention here the anguished cry of a (Kenyan) girl injured in an attack on Israeli tourists in Kenya that she had never even heard of Israel before the tragedy happened).
Apart from the violence within Palestine itself, and the atrocities committed against Jewish or Western interests outside it there is the dangerous exacerbation of the conflict between the superpowers in 1973, already mentioned. On the subject of nuclear weapons, if Israel is ever sufficiently vulnerable in her estimation to use hers, which everyone knows she has even though she has never been particularly open about their existence – and if she is not prepared to do so in the last resort there is no point in her having them – she will have inflicted the ultimate disaster upon the world. Her creation introduced a new factor into the global political equation, one which made that equation more complicated, and the world a more dangerous place for you and I to live in.
In attempting to protect itself from its enemies Israel has in the past been quite prepared to risk the lives of citizens of those countries who support, or are expected to support, her. In Beirut in January 1979 a bomb detonated by a Mossad (Israeli secret service) agent killed PLO activist Ali Hassan Salameh. It also killed a number of innocent passers-by including a British secretary, Susan Wareham. As Israel did not admit liability for the incident at the time, and there was no evidence which could be upheld in an international court of law, the chances of compensation were virtually nil. A private protest at the death of an innocent British citizen was made to the Israeli government, but no proper reply was ever received. Salameh was thought - wrongly, some believe - to have been involved in the killing of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games. The other motive for his killing was that he was a liaison man between PLO chairman Yasser Arafat and the US Embassy in Beirut, and represented the PLO's viewpoint to the Americans. In other words he constituted a political threat to the survival of Israel, but not a direct one, and thus there was insufficient justification for risking innocent lives. On the one hand Israel was seeking America's support; on the other, it was effectively trying to dictate to it what it should and should not listen to (by killing those who espoused the pro-Arab line).
The fact that most of world Jewry - some 60% of it, at least - does not live within its borders makes the damage done, the lives sacrificed, in the cause of Israel’s preservation a lot harder to accept.
It seems to me that objecting to all these things is not the same as being anti-Semitic. It may also be questioned whether the events of 1948 were a good thing from the Jewish point of view either. The establishment of Israel could be viewed as a miscalculation, a wrong reaction to something, because in the long run it has only made the Jews more unpopular and by its various consequences increased the likelihood of anti-Semitism, while not always benefiting the rest of the world either. Had those in the West who encouraged the establishment of the new state known what it would lead to, is it a foregone conclusion they would still have acted as they did? A motion in the United Nations equating Zionism with racism was defeated. This was done out of pragmatism as much as anything else, since to have accepted it would have effectively have undermined the whole policy, whether motivated by principle or political expediency, of preserving the state of Israel – something the world has no real option but to do, as I will argue below. Nonetheless, there are important lessons to be learned from the whole business.
After 1945 it would have been better to have capitalised on the widespread sympathy which existed for Jews following the Holocaust to ensure better treatment for them in the nations of Europe. You would perhaps have had political correctness forty years before you in fact did, and with a different people as its object, but the overall consequences may well have been less damaging for the world. Instead, there took place the creation of what in some ways could be called a racist state – for the same reasons why it was created, you were and are infinitely more likely to become a citizen of it if Jewish. Which in order to survive in an environment where its foundation had (understandably) aroused the hostility of its neighbours it needed to elect leaders, some of them former terrorists, who were racialist in that they were virtually indifferent to the sufferings of non-Jews, whether Arabs or Westerners who died because of their countries’ support for Israel - Begin, Shamir, Sharon, Netanyahu – because that kind of person (ruthless and bloody-minded) is often, unfortunately, the one most effective at defending the nation from its enemies. And which introduced a dangerous new factor into world affairs. The refugees from Hitler might perhaps have gone to Britain instead; there was undoubtedly anti-Semitism there, but this wasn’t helped by the activities of Jewish terrorists fighting for the creation of Israel (such as hanging British soldiers and then booby-trapping the bodies). There was a strong element of hypocrisy involved in the foundation of Israel and her subsequent attitudes towards the world community from whom she wanted financial, military, and economic aid where necessary, protesting indignantly if she didn’t get it. What she was effectively saying was, we don’t want to be part of you because you’re potentially racist and might persecute us but we do, by the way, expect you to help us, OK? There is something deeply insulting about it.
It has been said that the Palestinians have no-one to blame but themselves for the situation they now find themselves in because they should have accepted the partition of Palestine when it was proposed. This however is not a reasonable line to take. Just ask British people, for example, how they would feel if what was effectively a foreign people (in the Palestinian case they were diaspora Jews, albeit in alliance with native-born Israelis) decided to annexe half of Britain, and when they naturally objected to this the result was a war leading to them losing the whole of the country, and when they protested about that they were told they should have given up the half when they had the chance. They would not have been happy, which is why those of them who criticise perceived Arab intransigence in 1946-8 are hypocritical. Land also has a position of crucial importance in Arab thinking, in accordance with the logic of having changed from being a nomadic people to being a settled one, and the Arabs, any more than Jews or Anglo-Saxons or blacks, cannot help being a distinct people with their own particular way of looking at the world.
It is claimed by some that there is a religious justification for the creation of the modern state of Israel - the return of the Jewish people to their national home - and thus also for keeping it in being, because it is foretold in the Bible and therefore is in line with God’s purposes. But of course the Bible, some of the time at least, is open to more than one interpretation – especially when it conflicts with common sense – and I suspect that although there must be those who honestly believe the passages in question to have the meaning they ascribe to them, they are nonetheless used by those who are not really religious or follow a debased and extremist form of Christianity to lend justification to the political aim of preserving Israel.
The fact that most of world Jewry doesn’t live in Israel rather knocks the argument on the head. Moreover, as all Christians appreciate, God’s purpose in Biblical times was to work initially through a particular people (who therefore, logically, had to be protected from aggression and so permitted something akin to nationhood if it helped them to defend themselves), in a particular part of the world for the ultimate moral and spiritual redemption, through Jesus Christ, who as an extension of God’s previous modus operandi was in his earthly form a Jew, of all people. The focus shifted from that particular race when Christian missionaries – at first Jews by birth, but then anyone who responded to the call – began carrying the Gospel all over the world. There is therefore no reason why God should now be more concerned with the survival of the political entity of Israel than he should that of the Federated States of Micronesia, or Guatemala, or Poland, or Great Britain, unless the idea is that the wishes of Jews are more important, at any time in history, than those of other people; the latter would essentially be a racist belief, which I don’t think God is guilty of somehow. Israel has already achieved its special purpose in history, from the Christian point of view, by being that out of which Christian-ity, which has now spread to the ends of the Earth, grew. Whether those who currently refuse to take it up continue to do so can only be their business, however serious the matter will be spiritually if they don't. But politics isn’t really God’s business. Even the Roman occupation of Jewry, which many people at the time, probably justly, resented was nowhere near as important to him as the spiritual redemption of humanity, as Jesus’ exhortation “Render to Caesar…” makes plain. Obviously injustices can be committed in the area of politics, as elsewhere, and I’m not aware of God saying anywhere that people, Christians included, should not take political sides if their moral principles constrained them to do so. It just had to be a matter of individual conscience. Politics matters, but it matters to other people besides Jews. Its importance only serves to make the discrimination a more serious business. And since other things are as vital in the earthly context as politics – economic wellbeing, and protection from natural disaster or disease – discrimination would have to be extended to those areas too, even if it would only take the form of what God sought to do (the cause of free will preventing him from making life perfect for anyone). It would then become even more unacceptable. Except in the sense that a larger number of people would be affected in one way or another, because her population is bigger, the preservation of Israel is no more, or less, important than that of Andorra, and it is no insult to either country to say so. Neither morals nor reason suggests a need to restore, and hereafter to protect, Israel among states, especially given (a) that this perceived need was an integral part of a US foreign policy which proved very dangerous under the second President Bush, and (b) the disastrous consequences, which we have seen only too clearly, in many walks of life of displacing populations because of what may have been the case thousands of years ago. As in other matters, where the Bible appears to conflict with common sense we must conclude that we have read it wrongly.
Also the Jews, or most of them, are currently falling down – along with countless Gentiles, it should be noted - on a count which has to be more important to Christians than any political consideration. They are failing to embrace Christianity, unless of course we think they will automatically be forgiven for it on the Last Day, which means that either everyone else will automatically be forgiven too, thus making a mockery of the whole system; or they will be forgiven while all other unbelievers are damned, a rather nasty form of discrimination when those who don't benefit from it are condemned to eternal suffering. More on this later. What really matters to God on the Last Day is that Christianity should be as widely disseminated throughout the world as possible, not that a particular political unit most of whose citizens don’t worship it – they are either religious Jews or secularists, and the struggle to preserve the state often a primarily political one – remains intact.
Finally, since the principal cause of Israel's establishment was the Nazi Holocaust, to take the religious fundamentalist view of the matter we would have to regard Hitler's atrocities as divinely ordained, which apart from implying a very strange or very cruel kind of God would suggest that Hitler was merely carrying out His will and could not be blamed for his actions - something Jews and indeed any person with moral sensibilities would never accept!
We should not oppose the existence of Israel, but we should make sure we support her for the right reasons. She must be defended because we have to allow the majority within a certain territory, once it is the majority (even if we do not like the means by which that situation was brought about), to determine its political status (as well as from pragmatism – in the last resort Israel would fight, causing all manner of devastation and suffering in the process). For both moral and practical reasons she must be regarded as a fait accompli. We must not support her because we think she is the product of divine will, or that her original (1948) creation was justified for any other reason, and we should learn from recent history and try to ensure no similar situation is allowed to occur with any other people or region. The events of 1948 set what is potentially a bad precedent; giving a particular people the right to settle wherever they like, regardless of anyone else's wishes and the possible geopolitical consequences, is both unjust and dangerous. The problem is that to emphasise this point one would have to cite the example of Israel - which would be letting off a political firework. It is a frustrating position to be in; we will just have to be very, very careful. It would of course set an equally bad precedent to dissolve Israel, because it could overturn the principle of democracy; even if the argument that the latter doesn’t count where the majority is of relatively recent creation was valid, at what point, what number of years ago, would you draw the line? Certainly, most of Israel’s population was probably born after 1948, and knows no other home, no other nationhood. The angry remark by an Israeli woman during one heated discussion on the matter that to deny her country’s right to exist would mean asking her to apologise for being born was not far wrong, because to seek to reverse the demographic status quo within the region of Palestine would be effectively to do that. I think many people in the West who are hostile to Israel simply fail to comprehend that point, as a result of not having thought the matter through properly, rather than harbour a nasty mentality.
One might choose to particularly stress the Palestinians’ being now the minority within the region, even if they became so because of something some at least consider unjust. That is why an attitude that has more sympathy for the Palestinians than for the Israelis, and would force a major change in Israeli policy on their account, tends to seem particularly illegitimate and dubious to the Israelis of today and their supporters. I believe this is a major contributory factor to the characteristic bitterness of the issue. It raises the whole question of democracy and how far concern for the feelings of a minority should be allowed to influence events. The problem of course is that the Palestinians are in number a fairly large minority and thus cannot realistically, politically, be ignored, because of international concern over the issue and its capacity to cause trouble if the Palestinians are sufficiently oppressed and disadvantaged. The international dimension exists among other reasons because of the way the issue fuels Islamic terrorism. Practically, if the whole world - a far greater number of people than the total Arab and Jewish population of Israel - is threatened, albeit indirectly, by it then it is right to force changes on the Jewish majority in Israel for the sake of solving that problem, because that would actually be a case of putting the majority before the minority!
We certainly cannot begrudge the Palestinians their resentment at their status. They have lost political control over their own lives, to a greater or lesser extent, enjoy a far poorer standard of living than do most Israelis, and suffer grievously as a result of actions by the Israeli Defence Force. When a Palestinian woman was interviewed by a BBC reporter about the whole situation and reminded of the things done to the Jews under Hitler, in an attempt to present the Israeli point of view to her, her response was not so much that the Holocaust didn’t happen or was not a particularly awful thing as that she didn’t see why she should have to suffer for it. The reason why the film Schindler's List isn't shown in Lebanon (at least that was the case not long ago, I don’t know if it still is) is not an insistence on denying the historical reality of the events it portrays, or their awfulness, but rather fear that by focusing on what led to the Holocaust it will distract attention from the sufferings of the Palestinians or appear to justify what has caused them.
There is undoubtedly a lot of nonsense talked about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as always when controversial issues raise the blood pressure. I have referred both to the need to accept the existence of Israel and the need to do so for the proper reasons. On both sides the situation is made worse by extremism and unnecessary brutality. There is no doubt that Israelis have in the past acted callously towards both Palestinians and the Western peace activists who defend them. When I brought up the subject of the murder - as I saw it - of peace activist Rachel Corrie in Israel with one British MP he said she was in a foreign country and should have obeyed the rules. This is rubbish, because if the Israelis had found her activities a nuisance there were other ways they could have dealt with the problem. They could have arrested or deported her. They did not have to run a bulldozer over her, and the world knows that. Maybe her behaviour was foolish, but morally speaking it is better to be foolish than to commit what must be regarded as at least manslaughter. In a civilised country, you don't punish wrongdoers by driving bulldozers over them.
The Palestinians are wrong in blaming the West for the basic policy of supporting Israel even where that support is not expressed in the skewed thinking and crass behaviour of a George Bush or a Tony Blair. Had the West chosen not to recognise Israel once she was created it might have established the principle that the sovereignty of the majority can be disregarded, if it became the majority in a given state only recently, and this as I have pointed out could have had a domino effect. Jews might also, if the West had somehow prevented her establishment, have carried out acts of terrorism in both Palestine and the West until their wishes were granted. In the long run, had the West chosen to recognise Israel it would have had - precisely the effect that it has had. Had it chosen not to support her it might have caused just as many problems if not more, and set what could have been a dangerous precedent. A decision had to be made and the West should not be criticised for turning one way rather than the other. By logic, once Israel’s existence was accepted she then had to be supported, with economic and other aid, in line with that policy. The Arabs have been hot-headed and unreasonable in refusing to understand these things. Their spiteful action in 1973 in cutting off the West’s oil because of their support for Israel in the Yom Kippur War – though it is another demonstration of how much trouble her creation has caused – was not only spiteful but unwarranted. They also fail to appreciate that the West’s rallying behind Israel is probably due as much to a pragmatic fear of what she might do if she felt her back was really to the wall as to a guilt complex over past anti-Semitism or even the considerable electoral influence of the Jewish community in the USA. Remember, Israel has nuclear weapons and if denied support in terms of conventional military equipment there is no telling what she might do if she felt herself to be vulnerable enough. America's reasons for supporting her - the electoral factors and the fear of Israel's nuclear capability – are understandable but cannot be admitted to because to do so would cause just as much trouble as not admitting to them. It is politically impossible. It would be a public acknowledgement that the US is afraid or in hock to a certain lobby and not its own master (that this is widely perceived in any case to be the truth makes no difference; it is the psychological effect of stating it openly which does). This would diminish its authority and prestige and make it difficult to deal effectively with other states in other matters. It often happens in life, and not just in politics, that policies and actions which cause offence and create serious discontent cannot be explained because to do so would have consequences that would be just as bad if not worse. This is another thing the Arabs fail to appreciate.
We need to make clear what we mean by “Zionism”, something much vilified by Israel’s enemies or those who are simply unhappy about her behaviour. I for my own part would take it to mean a policy of supporting Israel right or wrong, rather than that of merely upholding the right of the state to exist. There are of course various other reasons for the conflict between the West and the Islamic/Arab world, which resolution of the Arab-Israeli dispute wouldn't necessarily make any difference to. It would be unfair to blame the problem entirely on Israel. But her conduct, and the West’s tacit or otherwise tolerance of same, is a reason for it. I am not suggesting we should change our policies simply out of fear of terrorism; I just resent the West being targeted because of a policy which is unjust anyway. It would be tempting, though sad of course, if the West could turn its back on the issue, to disengage from it; we would at least be reducing the total death toll from the conflict by removing the threat to ourselves. But this policy is rejected by Israel and its supporters because they desire the West to be the former's protector. If they demand that the West remain involved in that capacity, while preventing a resolution of the conflict by not putting pressure on Israel to soften her attitudes, they are effectively insisting that we trap ourselves in a situation which is dangerous to our population - civilian and military, public and politicians. They attempt to justify this through a distortion of the truth, as do many people who are unwilling to abandon a certain policy whatever the moral and political objections to it. They present the situation as being one where Israelis and Westerners stand bravely side by side in dealing with a problem which is entirely of a third party's perverse making. In fact it is Israel's attitude to the Palestinians which perpetuates the problem in the first place. It seems we are all supposed to gallantly sacrifice, or at least risk, our lives and those of our loved ones for the sake of Israel and that it is somehow indecent for us to object to that!
Israel and those in the Jewish diaspora who champion support her need the help of the powerful West in defending her interests. Any attempt to suggest that the favour shown her by the West is damaging to the latter and its citizens because they help to attract al-Qaeda terrorism is roundly attacked by Zionists because if such a view became accepted it would make the West's support less likely to be forthcoming, and for them this would be an unwelcome prospect. Their protectiveness towards fellow Jews, understandable in the light of historical events, and crystallised in a love of the state of Israel, leads them by a process of logic to criticise any attempt by the West to protest at the risks which accompany Zionism.
So what is to be done to resolve matters? Whatever the difficulties in the way of a two-state solution, it is the only way ahead, and to reject is to give the Palestinians nothing. In a vox pop interview for British television on the peace process some years ago, an Israeli (though with a Home Counties English accent) woman expressed some scepticism as to whether the Palestinians would keep their side of the bargain, asking “What have they ever given us”? An odd choice of words because the Palestinians are not in a position to “give” Israel anything. They simply have not the wealth or the power. I gave up on the Daily Mail, which generally seemed to be taking a strikingly and excessively Zionist viewpoint, when it described the two-state policy as “lunatic.” Well they’d better apply for me to be dragged off to the funny farm, because I like most sensible and well-intentioned people actually support it.
Realistically the Palestinians must give up the right of return as part of the package. Practically, there is simply no way Israel will accept what would result in the swamping of the Jewish population, its ceasing to be a Jewish state. We must be brutally concerned with what is right, with what is the best way to achieve a lasting settlement, not with how easy it is. That remains true whether the person asking for the sacrifice to be made has it easy themselves or not (a Palestinian might well retort if I asked them to make concessions on this score that it was all right for me because I lived in a country whose political status was not in question). I say to Muslims who cannot accept this: the creation of Israel and the displacement or subjugation of the Palestinians was to them unjust, but at the risk of seeming blasé about it the world is a very unjust place. If they have faith in God, in Allah, they will surely believe that ultimately He will triumph (His purposes may take a long time to work themselves out, but he has infinite patience). In the next life, which is more important than this one, all injustices will be swept away. You will have your free Palestine, or maybe something will happen which will do away with the need for nations altogether while still meeting everyone’s requirement for an identity and for security from aggression. If it is necessary for the Israelis to be punished for anything they have done, then punished they will be. In the meantime it isn’t worth messing up this life over the matter by killing or otherwise harming people, whether they be Israelis, Diaspora Jews, other Arabs/Muslims or innocent Westerners and Africans who have been, as I described it earlier, caught in the crossfire. If it is simply pragmatism to give up the right of return, God/Allah will not blame us for doing so.
We must continue to groping our way towards the two-state solution. Meanwhile an end to all new Jewish settlement, in return for guarantees of Israel’s security and renunciation of the right to return, seems a reasonable quid pro quo, a fair price to pay for an end to the conflict. It is the constant backtracking on the issue of settlement which does more than anything else to sabotage the peace process and invite the justified anger of the world towards the Israeli state. The Palestinians lost enough of their land in 1948 and are now losing even more of it. I suspect it is the far right orthodox religious parties in Israel, who hold the balance of power and believe in something approaching Greater Israel, who are responsible for this and that the more extreme statements and actions of some Israeli prime ministers may, to be fair, be designed to appease them. But, if so, it is those orthodox parties on whom the world needs to bring pressure to bear to force a change in the situation.
In all this we must recognise that Jews and Israel are not necessarily the same thing; many of the former are disgusted by Israel’s behaviour and feel it is giving the Jewish people a bad name. After all, there are Jews and Jews, and always have been.


*

Israel or no Israel there is, as I have said before, no justification for what is purely anti-Semitism. Jews are not to be demonised. Amongst some of them at least a certain offhandedness, a lack of concern or interest in the affairs and needs of non-Jews, has been detected in the past. But someone can't be disinterested in someone else's affairs and actively bothered about dominating or mistreating them at the same time, which is why the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (a Tsarist forgery) and the propaganda of the Nazis, which would have us believe the Jews want to take over the world and oppress all the other peoples who inhabit it, are so much nonsense. There are no doubt many reasons why Jews have been persecuted, but none of them are valid. It could be people simply didn’t like the way they looked, and their tight-knit exclusiveness, which one might have more reason to object to, was used as a cover for less understandable legitimate motives. All I can say to this is that if someone for example saves your life, you aren’t going to be bothered by what they look like, or you shouldn’t. If we are opposing a Jew to someone who is fair-haired, blue-eyed and what we would call Aryan in appearance we should recognise that because of intermarriage with Gentiles in Germany, Britain, Scandinavia and elsewhere, or some other reason, there are in fact quite a few blond, Aryan-looking Jews, more in fact than there are in the Arab world (so my so often taking the side of the Palestinians is in no way due to any physical preference).
We need to understand that in past centuries, the distancing by Jews of themselves from mainstream society was to some extent due to persecution or fear of it, though of course it made matters worse by making them seem even more remote and alien, and rendering it easier for absurd myths and fancies to grow up about them (confining themselves to commerce, as Christian nonconformists in a not dissimilar situation did until the nineteenth century, of course helped to establish the idea that they were obsessed with wealth and its acquisition). Perhaps in the end no-one was entirely to blame for the situation. That Jews arguably band together so tightly in their own interest, something which Gentiles have often complained about, is likewise the result of persecution. It may merely add to anti-Semitism, but cause and effect are so hopelessly intermeshed here that either both sides, or neither, are responsible for the problem. I think these days Jews are much less exclusive, perhaps because of greater intermarriage with Gentiles (though that went on in the past a lot more than we assume).
Perhaps Jews are disliked because of their intelligence. But if they are just naturally clever, then one simply has to accept that. If, as some have said (though it somehow seems insulting to suggest this), their cleverness is the result of the persecution they have suffered rather than any natural factor, hardship producing original thought, then it is their oppressors and not they who are to blame for what is being resented. At any rate, persecuting them for it merely looks like sour grapes. The Nazis were jealous of the Jews, and disliked their having any kind of high profile in Germany because if they did their extra-national sense of identity would compromise the sense of nationhood they (the Nazis) thought a people should have. When this was combined with the Jews’ undoubted success in the arts and sciences, they may have felt that German identity was being hijacked by something different from itself, Jewishness being in the past something very distinct from other ethnic and national identities. At the time Hitler came to power only 0.76% of the German population was Jewish, and that for the most part assimilated, but the Nazis may have felt that as Jewish genes were further distributed throughout the general population people would be even more likely to say that the German achievement was in part at least actually a Jewish one. This is understandable, but they should have stopped to think that putting people in gas chambers is not a very good way of demonstrating your moral and cultural equality/superiority over someone. The damage to the self-respect and dignity of the Aryan race – if you believe there is such a thing (the Aryan race), which in itself need not be a problem – outweighed any benefits from dealing with the supposed threat to its identity, apart from its being wrong in the first place, although it had the degrading effect on its perpetrators because it was wrong. The Jews never really, on the whole, did much harm in the West. Anti-Semitism was always more trouble than it was worth. Apart from generally screwing up the world, in ways that will become apparent, it gave Jews the ability to take the moral high ground when they were not necessarily entitled to do so. Because of their sufferings the idea has developed that they are beyond criticism, which is not a good thing. But historically, where they have involved themselves in the affairs of the wider world the effect – their cultural, scientific and financial contribution to Western society - has on the whole been benign, in fact enormously valuable. Its only harmful aspects, even if they are potentially very harmful indeed, are oversensitivity regarding the Holocaust and the pro-Israeli lobby. There is not the slightest evidence that Jews have, for example, plotted to kidnap and murder Gentile children in obscene blood rituals. Jews in that sense are not a malicious people. As a race, rather than as individuals, where inflicting suffering wilfully and without provocation is concerned they have a very poor record. If there is anything approaching a Jewish conspiracy it exists primarily not to make life difficult for Gentiles, but rather to protect Jews from anything which might threaten their lives or wellbeing. And if the Jews find it hard to be objective, one should be sensitive when criticising them for that, in view of their past sufferings, even if two wrongs don’t make a right. Our anger should be tempered by understanding. In the matter of Israel, we ought to recognise that that state would probably not exist, and the elements which support it not be a problem, were it not for anti-Semitism. It was a reaction to an infinitely horrendous atrocity, the culmination of thousands of years of persecution, which convinced many European Jews they would not be safe unless they had their own state. What many Gentiles complain about, an excessive and often harmful influence of Jews in geopolitical matters, only became a reality because of what their own misconception that it was one when it wasn’t led to.
But when on those matters Jews do band together in what they perceive to be their own interest, there’s no doubt those of Gentiles can suffer; and it appears to give credence to the racist allegations of a Jewish conspiracy. It’s debatable whether there can be said, racism apart, to be one; people are often attacked for appearing to suggesting that there is, even if they don’t use the words. There is undoubtedly a Jewish (for the most part) lobby which is influential, in a way that’s disturbing and often damaging, in certain quarters in the West, particularly and most dangerously in the United States (though under George Bush’s Presidency, the problem there was just as much due to neocon right-wing WASP Christians).
The criticism that Jews are not objective, in the sense that they do not put the good of the world community as a whole before that of their own kind has tended in the past to be met by accusations of anti-Semitism. But, with the reservation that such criticisms are inevitably always generalisations, there is an uncomfortable degree of truth in them (it may also be an attempt to be understanding, where the causes of that lack of objectivity, which lie in past persecution, are recognised and so doesn't deserve to be labelled racist). That there are so many Jews in important, and thus influential, positions in Western society is a tribute to the hard work and intelligence of their race. But it is one thing to seek to understand the reasons for that influence and quite another to condone its being exercised in questionable ways.
There is undoubtedly an element in society and politics which sees a particular importance in Jewish issues and is keen to promote them in ways others would not. In 1993 the Hendon South Conservative Association submitted to the Party Conference the motion that "This Conference urges Her Majesty's Government to end
its one-sided embargo on arms exports to Israel." Relatively speaking, this is a specialised issue and its being raised here in this way is striking. There is no reason for it that one can see other than the high Jewish population of the part of North London in question, reflected proportionately in the composition of its Conservative Association. The matter is, I feel, highly illustrative. Equally controversial and possibly far more serious was the suspension of former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone over a supposedly anti-Semitic remark made to reporter Oliver Feingold. Feingold was being too demanding in attempting to secure an interview with Livingstone, who was on his way home from a party. Neither side acquitted themselves very well: Livingstone called Feingold a “scumbag”, which is not the kind of language someone occupying public office should be using. But when he accused him of acting like a Nazi concentration camp guard Feingold took offence, and said that he objected to the comment precisely because he was Jewish. This is to imply that Jews cannot act in a rude and bullying fashion (as you will see later on, my experience suggests some can) or are somehow exonerated from blame for it, because of their past sufferings, when they do. To say that someone is acting “like a little Hitler”, for example, is a figure of speech and there is no reason why it cannot be used in respect of Jews as of anyone else, since we cannot regard one branch of the human family as being necessarily more saintly than the others. The most troubling aspect of the matter was that the remark caused Livingstone to be suspended from his post for a time by the London Assembly while it debated the affair. Because of the sensibilities, or what were thought to be the sensibilities, of a minority of the population a democratically elected leader, a leader elected by the majority, was prevented from exercising his responsibilities. Even if this was only done for the sake of form, the signals it sent out are disturbing. It makes it look as if Nazis are right and Jews have an inordinate influence over the rest of the nation. The one thing you don’t do is give Nazi propaganda a disturbing element of truth (in this respect, if certainly not in others). I say that for the sake of the Jews as well as that of general fairness and justice. (From the point of view of manners, it should be stressed that Feingold continued to demand answers to his questions from Livingstone after effectively accusing him of anti-Semitism, which would still have been rude (though more forgiveable) if the accusation had been just and was particularly rude because it wasn’t).
There is undoubtedly a lobby which on Jewish issues the establishment and to some extent the public feels should be appeased, whether or not they share its opinions and sentiments; though sometimes the establishment at least may be imagining its existence, or that it would take offence over something which has been or is intended to be said/done, in the paranoid and overcompensatory manner of political correctness (despite the kind of people out of whom political correctness arose being, on the issue of Israel, more inclined to take the side of the Palestinians). I have sensed the lobby’s existence whenever an article or short story I have written which is critical of Israel has been rejected for being “too political.” It made itself felt when a Liberal Democrat MP was sacked from her post as a party spokesperson (and therefore suffering a setback to her for career) saying it was understandable the Palestinians committed acts of terrorism against Israel considering the conditions in which they had to live – a statement which showed humanity, and was not the same thing as condoning violence for its own sake - by LibDem leader Charles Kennedy. We should emphasise here that this overindulgence towards the lobby’s wishes is a fault of Gentiles as much as of Jews.
The lobby can promote the view that the Holocaust was a more serious business than other atrocities, though in terms of what is actually done politicians don’t here discriminate that much; when it comes to matters of arrest, trial and punishment they deal with Radovan Karadzic as they would Hitler if they could. More important in a geopolitical sense, the lobby can block measures designed to put pressure on Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians.
You will have gathered that I am using the term “lobby” instead of “conspiracy” because the former is the less controversial and inflammatory term. You might approve, or you might think me too lily-livered. Why don’t I come out and say what I really think, whether or not my motives are racist? Well, it’s true that I don’t want to raise the temperature of things any more than is necessary, and it should be sufficient for the purpose of argument just to call it a lobby and say why you criticise its actions. That is despite there being good reasons, mere hatred apart, for using the dreaded c-word. If our “lobby” knows what it’s about, is at all serious concerning what it does – and given the effect of those thousands of years of persecution, I believe it is – it will meet to plan what it needs to do to achieve its aims and concert action among its members and sympathisers, and for reasons I have already given we cannot be sure it will be objective in its approach or rule out the use of underhand methods, practised away from the eyes of the general public in case they don’t like it. It is, after all, affiliated to people whose attitude is “Israel first, last and always.”
In general terms are we not, whatever our own ethnic origins, overprotective towards Jews, going rather too far in trying to highlight the evils of anti-Semitism? It can lead to a kind of attitude which seems worryingly dismissive of others. Going back in time somewhat, George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda concerns equally the upheavals of Gwendolen Harleth’s love life and the conflict between the title character’s Jewish ancestry, something he has only recently discovered, and the pull of the Gentile environment in which he has been raised, with any link between the two seeming to lie in Gwendolen’s not being entirely unattracted by the thought of life with Daniel. Criticism of the Jewish scenes, especially those made in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, has been regarded as anti-Semitic. How much truth there is in the charge I don’t know, but it does seem to me – and I am arguing here from a purely literary point of view – that the two strands of the story never quite merge and ultimately seem inconsequential to one another. It would have made more sense if Gwendolen and Daniel had married in the end – their different cultural inheritances could in some way be allowed to enrich their relationship, whether or not either of them would have had to change their religion - but they do not. However, what I object to most is that one commentator on the novel, discussing the two plot strands and the relationship between them, made the rather chilling, in my view, remark that Gwendolen’s affairs are insignificant compared to the question of the destiny, the hopes and fears of an entire people (the Jews). Though from the purely democratic point of view it is impeccably just, there seems something ruthless and disturbing about this, the adding up of lives to outnumber the interests of one. It is an unnecessarily harsh way to put things. It has its origins in revulsion at past anti-Semitism and lauding of the Jews because of their cultural achievement and role in the history of religion. It is strangely and uncomfortably reminiscent of the statement in the Balfour Declaration that the wishes of the Palestinians are of little importance compared to the aspirations and historical destiny of an ancient people (the Jews). I cannot help linking it with the desire to present the Holocaust as uniquely awful, along with that to grant the state of Israel’s wishes in all matters despite the way such a policy affects the rest of the world; because all three things have a common origin, a desire to compensate for the past and present troubles of the Jewish people by putting their interests before others’.
Another manifestation of overcompensation for the past – though I really don’t like to have to bring it up in this way – is the case of Leon Klinghoffer, an American passenger on the liner Achille Lauro who was thrown overboard to drown when the vessel was hijacked by pro-Palestinian terrorists in 1985. The murder of an elderly man in a wheelchair, simply because he was a Jew, is undoubtedly an appallingly wicked act – the kind with which the Palestinians shoot themselves in the foot, as they so often do – and one made worse, according to David Yallop, by a particularly offensive remark from a Palestinian militant who the journalist was interviewing about the incident that maybe Klinghoffer did not drown but went for a swim and his wheelchair weighed him down (Yallop walked out, and I’d probably have done the same). All the same, to write and perform a whole opera about him seems somewhat excessive, even grotesquely absurd; you might as well do one about anyone who has been unjustly and brutally murdered, whoever they were and whatever the circumstances, unless a man’s murder is grievous because he is a Jew and not simply because he has been murdered, which is not the way we should be looking at it. A memorial service, a TV film which among other things emphasises the hideousness of the terrorists’ actions - yes. But an opera…going to such lengths is a bad thing because I then need out of fairness to complain about it which tarnishes the memory of the deceased, something I have no wish to do.
On page 49 of Praying The Psalms (Cascade Books 2007, second edition), Walter Brueggemann writes: “When we have prayed for Jews, by turning to Jewish shapes of reality, then in our use of the Psalms we may perchance pray with the Jews. Our prayer life is always sorely tempted to individualism or at least to parochialism. We are urged by God’s spirit to pray alongside and so to be genuinely ecumenical. As we use the Psalms it is appropriate to ask which Jews have used these same Psalms with passion and at risk. And a parade of victims comes to our imagination. Or, with more immediacy, which Jews now pray these Psalms, from the frightened victims of anti-Semitism to the fated soldiers in the Israeli army, to the Jews in our culture who are forever displaced and always at the brink of rejection and despisement.” A few years ago the writer of an article in a leading British newsletter on the rise of anti-Semitism in the West commented, ”It’s hard being a Jew in the world today.” Something about this makes me seethe. There is no way the global situation of Jews in 2012 compares with that before 1945. Jews may be killed or otherwise suffer in Israel because of Palestinian terrorism, the reasons for which we are well acquainted with, or terrorist or anti-Semitic acts elsewhere in the world, as individuals or in groups. But the situation of the Palestinians is far more grievous than that of the Jewish people worldwide. Most people in the West would see it that way – would quite rightly feel more sympathy for the Palestinians than for the Israelis, even if they still saw the latter’s point of view. We cannot constantly talk as if it is only the Israelis who are the innocent little victims. It should be remembered that although they can suffer as individuals, when they are blown up by suicide bombers etc, the Palestinians suffer more as a people because their standard of living is generally poorer and their national aspirations also remain unsatisfied, whereas Israel’s do not, in that she is a state even if under threat to a greater or lesser extent from her neighbours.
Whether or not because of the existence of the safe haven of Israel, nowhere are Jews persecuted in the institutionalised, and sometimes systematic and state-sponsored, way they used to be. There is still the fear, not invalid, of a revival of anti-Semitism, which prompted the above-mentioned article in the first place, but what anti-Semitism is encountered in the world today is often due to real injustices against non-Jews (the treatment of the Palestinians plus certain views concerning the Holocaust). The Israeli soldiers Walter Brueggemann mentions may have been traumatised because of what they have been expected to do to Palestinian civilians, as some have been (though to be fair to him, this may have been what he was alluding to). (At this point it seems apposite to mention those who to their credit have actually refused to serve on the West Bank).
There is a tendency to excuse wrongs by Jews, or at any rate to deny society the opportunity to punish them, on account of the things which led to their being committed. The idea, advanced by some, that they have been purified by their suffering is dangerous, even morally offensive. It presumably means they should be immune from criticism, because the hardships and horrors they have experienced somehow make them right where others are not, or at least that they are exonerated from censure since censure would be indecent after everything they have gone through (but what about Jews who as individuals have not experienced the Holocaust or any other kind of persecution?).
The notion can be used to excuse in the wrong fashion actions by Jews in the Bible which seem unacceptable, and in particular the massacre of the indigenous peoples of Canaan, man woman and child, by the Israelites so they could settle the land. This whole uncomfortable business has caused theologians and Semitophiles all kinds of problems. There is sometimes a tendency, more psychological than intellectual, when puzzled or distressed by such things and unable to explain or defend them convincingly, to try to solve the problem by an aggressive, “in-your-face” response – the actions were justified, and the victims in some way had only themselves to blame for their fate. This leads one American commentator on the Old Testament to excuse the Israelites’ actions by arguing that the massacred peoples were morally inferior to the Jews, and therefore deserved to be exterminated. Apart from the fact that even given the nastier practices some of them had it is difficult to see how whole peoples, without exception, can be morally bad (and the Jews themselves are not always portrayed in a favourable light in the Old Testament) the writer sounds as if he is legitimising genocide by the same argument that Hitler used – that there are superior races who are justified in destroying their inferiors. The Canaanite children, the writer argues, had to be massacred too, partly because if they weren’t they would grow up into Canaanite adults who would be immoral and anti-Semitic. Ah, yes; just as Jewish children had to be gassed to death along with their elders because if not they would have become Jewish adults with all the characteristics that Hitler didn’t like about Jews. We need to remember here, of course, that what happened may not have been the Jews’ fault anyway; it was God who told them to give the Canaanites no quarter and slaughter them indiscriminately. This isn’t the place to dwell on what such things say about His morality; the point is that although the Jews themselves weren’t really responsible for what happened, events are being explained and justified in a way that causes offence to general fairness and ethics and will, by association, probably lead to anti-Semitism. Since not all the people in each of the societies whom God ordered the Israelites to put to the sword, men, women and children alike could possibly have been wicked we need some other approach to the matter, and to ask if we have not perhaps misunderstood the language the Bible uses.
But generally the idea seems to be that those who are oppressed cannot be oppressors themselves. This is nonsense and would be nonsense whether we were talking about Jews or any other ethnic group. It is a sad but well-known fact that suffering does not always ennoble humanity. This is proven in the case of the Jews by the affair of Solomon Morel and, all too clearly, the behaviour of Israel towards the Palestinians. Those who have suffered are arguably more likely to commit wrongs than others because their minds have been poisoned by their sufferings and they have lost their objectivity. That counts as despoliation rather than purification. If Jews are regarded as having been purified by the Holocaust, as some have suggested, they will have a licence to do wrong and no-one could object (the same may will apply to any other group which is being treated with sufficient indulgence out of sympathy for its tribulations). The danger of not being criticised by anyone except oneself is that being naturally biased, one will too often acquit oneself. One may not be the most objective judge. Dangerous attitudes will go unchecked. Connected with this is the idea that it is only acceptable to tell a joke about a Jew or Jews if you are a Jew (though I am not sure how far the principle is insisted on in practice). It too is dangerous, because provided it is not malicious, making something the subject of humour is a way of liking it. Bringing what is different from oneself down to size makes it less likely you will hate and fear it. I have always suspected that all those jokes about Jews being obsessed with making money disguise a certain affection, along with a sneaking admiration for their business skills (the idea that they are stingy, which isn’t necessarily the same thing, may not be entirely malicious either but has less justification, many Jewish businesspeople having in fact been excessively generous with their favours in the past).
Holocaust or no holocaust, Jews ought not to think – though nor ought anyone else – that you should be allowed to get away with your moral defects, whether personal or racial. hen inviting the young Duke of Portland to Hughenden to thank him for his father’s patronage during the statesman’s earlier career, Disraeli told him “I belong to a race that never forgives an insult and never forgets a favour” (recounted in “The Last Edwardian at Number Ten: An Impression of Harold Macmillan”, by George Hutchinson 1979, p12-13). Disraeli’s gratitude is admirable, but acknowledging a favour does not excuse refusal to forgive an insult. How would Disraeli have treated a presumably blameless Portland if his father had been an enemy? He was generalising in any case, since it is doubtful whether all Jews are so unreasonable, but not only is it generally deplorable to have a diehard policy of not forgiving an insult (presumably, it is abandoned where the insult is repented) but Disraeli though Jewish by ancestry was a member of the Church of England, a Christian denomination, and thus of a religion where forgiveness is paramount. He was talking as if the refusal to forgive could be a fundamental – meaning there isn’t much point in trying to change it – and even excusable part of a person’s thinking. This is not a very Christian principle; that faith rather appears to take the view that if you do not forgive you will not yourself be forgiven. Conversion to Christianity is intended to purge sin or at least keep it in abeyance, whether it is the sin of an individual or of a people. Disraeli’s is here left looking a bit of a sham, whether or not it was.
Norman Solomon, in an introductory book on Judaism I once read, tells his readers that if they find anything about Judaism strange or unjust they (he uses the second person, which only makes him seem more accusatory and judgemental) are only being impeded by the baggage, as he calls it, they have inherited from Christianity. Apart from the generally sanctimonious and high-handed tone in which he addresses Gentile Christian readers (at whom the book seems at this point to be aimed), his choice of language is deeply offensive to their beliefs. I do not consider my faith to be “baggage”; it is a comfort and a strength beyond the power of words to express. If Solomon was simply pointing out that Christians have in the past been guilty of anti-Semitic prejudice in one form or another, he should have been more careful to draw a distinction between this and Christianity per se, as well as to recognise that the Christian church these days is not what it was in the past. He compounds the offence by appearing to claim elsewhere in the book that Jews although of course they can still have their faults are morally superior, on average, to other people. Oh, of course we’re not perfect but we’re still better than you OK?
Were a Christian to be so disparaging about Judaism, it is doubtful they could escape censure in the way Solomon, as far as I know, did. Those Jews who are at fault in any way in their attitudes to race, religion or politics can too easily insulate themselves from criticism, and not just because of the Holocaust etcetera. One reason why Jews might (in some cases) be excessively vengeful is that they are still theologically in the Old Testament, where God seems rather vindictive and authorises the taking of “an eye for an eye”. To suggest this has itself been attacked as racist, which when the suggestion may sometimes be valid is unhelpful. Some years ago I saw a television documentary on the Israeli-Palestinian issue in which an Israeli Jew who did not forgive killings of Israelis by Palestinians and wanted to hit the latter hard in revenge justified his view by saying that forgiveness was “a Christian, not a Jewish principle”. Ironically, we are dealing with a relatively small minority of extremists who are in fact distorting the actual spirit of the Bible, practising that vengeful Old Testament morality when Scripture may not actually subscribe to it; analysis of language and textual criticism indicates, to Jewish and non-Jewish readers, that it is very easy to understand the meaning of certain passages.
Having been bullied mercilessly at school, surely I should sympathise with a people who have themselves suffered so acutely from persecution? Well I do, but I don't find that my experiences evoke in me any particular feeling of solidarity with the Jews. Perhaps it was because one of my tormentors - the worst of them, in fact – was a Jew. I was bullied by a Jew and shown kindness, in that situation, by an Arab…I could easily have become biased with regard to certain matters, but chose not to be. For one thing it would be an insult to the Jewish people as a whole to blame, and become prejudiced towards, them because of just one particularly disagreeable (though he may have had a behavioural problem) individual. For another, whatever the trauma it does somehow seem cheap, because of its irrationality - one is not making the effort to be, despite everything, objective – and because it is predictable given human nature. And of course people would say, “you are only saying all these things because you were wronged by a Jew”. They are probably thinking this anyway and I have no wish to appear to confirm them in their judgemental prejudices. I have no desire either to be guilty of anti-Semitism or to encourage people to think I am.
Awareness that Jews also could be oppressors left me less impressed with the attitude that they were always the victims of history and should be accorded special consideration, and that others were therefore not qualified to criticise them. To those people who feel that my experiences are the principal reason for the harsher criticisms which I make of the Jews in this article, I would point out that some people would go a lot further than I have, although we would be unlikely to publicise their views. All I am saying is that Jews are not especially saintly, not that they are worse sinners than anyone else.
Then there is the tendency of both Jews – or some of them anyway - and their Gentile defenders (the latter attempting to assuage guilt feelings about the past by belittling themselves in comparison to them) to trumpet Semitic virtues and talents. A Jewish entrepreneur and patron of the turf once said of a famous horse race that it was the only race greater than the Jews. This of course implies that the Jews are greater than all other human races. Oh, thanks! If this remark were made by a white Anglo-Saxon about his own lot, you can imagine the outrage which would follow.
The suggestion, made in a letter to the Metro newspaper not so long ago, that most of the people who have contributed to Germany's cultural and technological success were Jewish is not only deeply offensive to Gentile Germans (who form the majority of Germans), but is liable to give them and others just the kind of racial inferiority complex which led to Hitler and the Holocaust. It will result in jealousy and bad feeling towards the Jews, which will increase anti-Semitism rather than neutralise it. Two wrongs do not a right maketh, of course, but out of pragmatism if nothing else we should not wish to encourage either. Ironically, this potentially dangerous belittling of Gentile Germans in comparison with Jewish ones arises from sour grapes (on the part of either Gentiles or Jews) at the Holocaust itself. When faced with bigotry towards a particular person or kind of person it is a common response to point out some way in which the objects of the bigotry are actually more worthy than its perpetrators, because it highlights how ridiculous and unjustified the persecution is. Don't we always say, when one human being subjects another to verbal or physical nastiness, something like "You're just jealous, that's all", "You haven't exactly got a lot to shout about yourself"; or make some remark prefaced by the words "just because you..." It may not be unreasonable to do this; when we are dealing with entire races, however, it acquires a rather distasteful political aspect. I have no wish to unduly bash Benjamin Disraeli; he was a colourful and witty table companion, he maintained a healthy interest on the part of the electorate in the emerging democratic parliamentary system by his rivalry with Gladstone, and where he was undoubtedly on the receiving end of anti-Semitism we should obviously sympathise with him. But he could be cutting in ways which were not nice. Responding in the House of Commons to what he considered to be an anti-Semitic remark, he declared: "Yes, I am a Jew, and when the ancestors of the Right Honourable Gentleman were savages in an unknown land mine were priests in the temple of Solomon." This begs a discussion of what constitutes a civilisation; at worst that discussion risks becoming a silly point-scoring squabble, which speaks for itself, and at best it proves that the distinction between a civilisation and what is merely a society is invalid. We may be more inclined to call a society a civilisation if it has libraries, great public buildings, central heating and sewers. But those things merely fit the image better, just as a “gentleman” has traditionally been supposed to be a member of the middle or upper classes, with a refined accent and fastidious habits, whereas it is quite possible for a “working-class” person to be charming and courteous (and thus be in essence what “gentleman” really means in modern language). All societies go through periods of moral decline, but generally they are governed by laws and codes of conduct which prevent someone from seeking to acquire money or women or status simply by force. That is what constitutes civilised conduct. In the ancient world it was possible to find barbarians who were virtuous, if perhaps in a rough and ready sort of way, and Romans who were corrupt and sexually perverted. Nor should technology be the defining mark of “civilisation”; it has after all been used, by Romans and by later peoples, in a most barbaric fashion to slaughter millions of innocent human beings. The word “savage” implies an uncontrolled, unthinking violence more suggestive perhaps of animals than people; of something barely above the level of a brute. No human person, provided they are sane, is really like that, certainly not all the time. Even if Disraeli’s remark had been justified, to point it out as if it were a mark of superiority is no less racist than the original insult. It certainly would be racist by the standards of political correctness, assuming that philosophy were being applied fairly. One can imagine the (justified) reaction of the PC lobby if someone were to gloat publicly about the fact of the West's having been at a pinnacle of cultural and technological achievement when the inhabitants of Africa were primitive tribes living in mud huts. The kind of people who are staunch PC liberals are probably not quite so defensive towards Jews, since they evolved from the Left of the 1980s who on Middle Eastern affairs were usually pro-Palestinian, but it need not be them at whom the criticism is directed.
One might also look at the novels of George Eliot. What clearly annoys her is that Victorian England idealised fair-haired Aryan-looking people, as is evident from a lot of its artwork, yet while setting so much store on the Christian religion (which as an atheist, she didn’t have much time for anyway) forgot that it owed so much to the Jews, a people the Victorians despised because they were in the main pale, dark-haired and (some of them at any rate, and probably all in the popular imagination) hook-nosed, and in particular to one Jew – its founder, Christ Himself. As a reaction against this, she sticks up for the Jews in her books, particularly Daniel Deronda, while making all the blond(e) people, those who in physical terms most exemplify the ideal of Aryan perfection, stupid or untrustworthy (consciously or otherwise making use of the fact that they often seem that way to others). She seems to praise the Jew and mock the blond(e), more Aryan type of Gentile, in what seems almost a sort of reverse discrimination and perhaps is. Read her, if you think my accusation is ludicrous. One sees her point, but in getting her own back for what she doesn’t like she comes across herself as unkind, superior and smug, and rather puts a dent in her claim that by renouncing religion she was not compromising any sense of justice and decency, just as she does when, in Deronda, she describes what goes on in church as ”religious howlings”. In the latter case the juxtaposition of the words is as offensive as “blonde bitch” or “black bastard”, since it implies that’s what religious people do – howl, rather than sing properly. You shouldn’t have to be a Christian yourself to find it unjust. Her being in effect rather disparaging towards blondes may seem to be a small matter compared with putting people in gas chambers, but I’ve heard it said that the smallest sin is an incalculable evil. In one of her books a character stresses that if it was the blonde girl who was the victim of injustice they would seek to highlight that, which is either an admission that she (Eliot) has gone too far or a way of teasing people who object to her approach, the way she liked to bait Christians, because she never does redress the balance in any of her novels - although to be honest I forget which one the passage occurs in and thus what stage in her writing career we are talking about.
Niall Ferguson in the course of his book Civilisation makes several comments which amount to something enormously offensive and ill-considered. He both suggests that Jews have a genetic advantage over other races in the intelligence stakes, because of the number of them who have achieved distinction in all walks of life – it almost seems to be arguing for some sort of inherent racial superiority - and that the atrocities committed by the Japanese in World War Two, whether the victims were Europeans or Asians, “pale into insignificance” besides the Holocaust. The latter argument we have already roundly sent packing. But taken together it all seems like a massive slap in the face.
It is very doubtful whether every single work of art, every achievement in science, the arts, politics or economics has been due to the Jews. They couldn’t have done all that, or even most of it, on their own, one reason for this being that there simply aren’t enough of them and wouldn’t be regardless of pogroms and Holocausts and the like. One could point to any number of intelligent and influential people in history who were not Jewish. Let’s take science. Of what we might call the “big four” who were responsible for the most important developments – the psychologist Freud, the physicists Einstein and Newton, and the biologist Darwin, two (Einstein and Freud) were Jewish, the other two were not. (When all these men are considered as makers of the modern world some would add Marx (a Jew) to their number, but they are either Communists and therefore biased or are simply stating that Marx’s beliefs had a major influence on the course of historical events, not that they necessarily achieved anything beneficial). Einstein’s work built to a great extent on the research of people like James Clerk Maxwell. Nor did he supersede, rather than add to, Newton whose laws still remain basically valid besides having the advantage of being easier to understand (for the latter reason they were used successfully in planning the Apollo missions, where one would have thought the consequences of going wrong would be disastrous). None of this is to belittle Einstein who, though I disagree with his politics, was apart from anything else a far more likeable man than the vindictive Newton who, winning the battle with Liebnitz over which of the two of them should be given the credit for inventing calculus, remarked that he took great satisfaction in breaking the latter’s heart.
Besides, our worth as human beings does not depend on how clever we are. What counts most as is virtue. By that standard either a Jew or a Gentile could both fall or be vindicated. We must not be tempted to take sides in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute just because the Jews/Israelis so often seem cleverer. And being smart in one sense does not necessarily mean being smart in the other, does not preclude foolish attitudes; it could be argued that those Jews who argue the uniqueness of the Holocaust when it is dangerous to do so are not being very smart at all.
We ought to be aware that a feeling of inferiority in comparison with the splendid culture and achievements of Greece and Rome, and of the Jews in being so important in the founding of Christianity as well as producing so many clever and talented individuals, was one of the factors contributing to the belief system of the Nazis and their theory of Aryan “superiority.” Those with an inferiority complex often tend to act aggressively, and in the case of the Nazis we all know what that tendency led to. It is quite obvious from their writings that they did suffer from an inferiority complex, and a massive one at that. How far all this is having a damaging effect today is not clear; what I’m saying, I suppose, is that I don’t know whether the Nazis ever read George Eliot. But the dangers are there. It is no service to either Jews or Gentiles to suggest that the former are somehow superlative. Recent research by my mother into our family history suggests that one of my descendants on her side might have been Jewish. Should I feel proud of that; or, like Charlie Chaplin, say that I'm not a Jew but wish I was, out of solidarity with and admiration for a skilled and industrious, yet in the past much maligned, people? I have resisted any temptation to do either. To wish that one should be a member of a particular race as opposed to others inevitably belittles the latter, since its corollary must be that they are less prestigious or exciting to belong to.
Pertinent to this whole discussion is the question of religion, because it can be another occasion for being discriminatory or superior. The fact that Christianity arose out of Judaism, that the Jewish people played such a vital part in the working out of God’s purposes, leads some people (though not atheists, I suppose) to think they should be specially favoured. We need to ask, could it only have been done through Jews? If to establish oneself in the proper relationship with God is the ultimate aim for Mankind, the most important thing it could possibly do and the embodiment of all that gives it dignity, and only Jews had the ability to bring this about, it would imply they were superior to other people, occupying a higher level of Creation – a racist belief we cannot of course entertain. We must assume, therefore, that the opening of a channel between himself and humanity in order to redeem the world was something God could have done through another people, and that the reason he didn’t was probably to do with the Middle East being because of its geographical position a conduit between civilisations, along which ideas could more easily be transmitted. In any case, he had to start the process somewhere. Nor is it any insult to the Jews to say so. The received wisdom often seems to be that if, for example, the Virgin Mary had not agreed to play her part in the scheme of things and become the mother of Christ, God’s plan would have been wrecked and all Mankind spiritually doomed. What I am about to suggest may seem blasphemous, and also anti-Semitic, to some, though it is not. It seems to me unlikely that in the whole wide world God could not have found someone other than Mary to do the job. He was at that time operating within a relatively limited geographical and ethnic context and it seems improbable that only the Jews, unless we believe them to be morally better than other races, could have produced someone with the necessary courage and humility. So I find I cannot accept that it all depended on just one person of a particular ethnic group living in a particular part of the world. However, the fact is that Mary did decide to go along with it and that is what should concern us. That other people – we cannot say how many of them, or who they would have been – might have made the same decision in no way diminishes the credit that is due to her, any more than it’s diminished in other cases where someone freely chooses what is right but may not have been unique in having the ability to do so. It was still her decision, and her goodness which produced it. Each person is valued individually by God – and for their moral worth, actual or potential, among other things. For Mary to be so highly esteemed by Christians even if it would have been quite possible for someone else to act as she did is somehow very moving, as much as it would be if her sacrifice (for in many ways it was that) would always have been unique and the salvation of the entire human species depended on the wishes of this young woman.
Through it all God must have known what he was doing; it makes no sense to say, as some in Christian history have done, that He was at fault in limiting his activities, for a time at least, to one ethnic context. As I said, he had to start somewhere. Nonetheless we must be careful not to excessively laud the Jews for having been in Biblical times God's Chosen People (they are not now, and in one sense never were, any more Chosen than anyone else who does His will) as it runs the risk of making the rest of Mankind seem less important and less worthy. We need to understand, of course, that if they were the Chosen People it was for everyone else’s sake as much as their own (it is so understood by most Christians). Nor is it good for the Jews themselves, for it leads to a feeling of hurt and betrayal when things like the Holocaust happen. It is one (unfortunate, perhaps) consequence of their never having accepted the New Testament; another difference between the Old and the New is that in the former God has a special interest in the Jews, whom he favours and protects more than he does other races, whilst in the latter they are, though no less valued in themselves, but one people among many, the best proof of this being the passages where Jesus, lamenting Jewish lack of faith in him, warns that "many will come from the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven: but the sons of the Kingdom shall be cast into the outer darkness." (Matthew Ch 8 v11-12). In other words, if it comes to the worst a Heaven full of Gentiles and a Hell full of Jews can quite easily be created (though we trust things will not turn out that way and in fact I consider it unlikely). Jews cannot claim to be morally superior or more devout. In fact they often come off very badly in the Bible, being constantly rebuked for turning away from God, for their immoral ways – or, especially in Christ’s time, their preoccupation with the letter and not the spirit of religion - and for being seduced by the native religions of Canaan. To highlight these things is not to demonise them – the record of Gentile societies is far from blameless, as anti-Semitism itself, along with a whole host of other things, shows. And if devotion to God through Christ is a criteria then the current view of most people in western Europe towards Christianity, which ranges from the apathetic to the viscerally hostile, shows that on this account they fall well short. The purpose of highlighting Jewish faults is to defend non-Jews against charges of moral inferiority; it is to stand up for one side rather than attack the other. It may even act as a guard against anti-Semitism, for if we cannot regard the Jews as being better than ourselves we need not resent them. There is no point in being poisoned against them by envy. It is worth noting, by the way, that Christ was only half Jewish, if God was his father, because God is not of any human ethnic group; and that as his genealogy reveals some of his ancestors on one side or the other were Gentiles. God is in fact not so exclusive as he sometimes appears to be, and it makes it easier for all people to feel, as I believe they are meant to, that they “own” Jesus, just as he in a sense owns us.
I am sure that most Christians and Jews understand that no-one is claiming the latter are in fact superior, or ought to. But in certain respects some people have, and still do, sought to give the Jews special consideration on account of their role in the unfolding of God’s purpose. On the eve of the Second World War the Reverend James Parkes, a noted campaigner against anti-Semitism and authority on Christian-Jewish relations, wrote: "What I can see for the immediate future is that there must be no surrender whatever either by Jew or Christian of the fullness of their inheritance. God still needs the Jews as Jews. This is the fundamental truth on the basis of which must approach the problem of anti-semitism" (extract from University of Southampton Annual Report 2000 regarding the foundation at the University of the AHRB (Arts and Humanities Research Board) and the Parkes Centre for the study of relations between Jewish and non-Jewish people). Parkes believed it was every Christian's duty to respect the religious integrity of Judaism and to abandon all attempts to proselytise. This "placed his work several generations ahead of his time". I should like to say why I react to this with horror and dismay. It is inappropriate to call it an advance if, as I believe, it is logically flawed.
It reminds me of a conversation I once had with a Christian student at university (Southampton as a matter of fact, though that is not significant). We were discussing repentance, and he said that Hitler could have expiated his sins by becoming a Jew. I thought the point of Christianity was to make people into Christians. The idea seemed to be that because the Jews were so much a part of the working out of God's purpose, they were exempt from the normal obligations binding on the rest of the world. But Christianity is bound up so much with Christ that we cannot accept
this. It is discrimination, and it is discrimination of a particularly nasty kind when what is suffered by those on the receiving end of it, the nonbelievers, is eternal damnation (as with the question of whether those who through no fault of their own did not have the Mosaic Law – in other words, everyone except the Jews – were damned). A Jew could get to Heaven but I, my family and friends, and all my fellow Gentiles could not if they did not believe in Jesus.
I don’t think this is what Parkes and those who share his view were saying. But if it wasn’t, and they are not merely confused, the logical implication is that salvation is not actually dependent on belief in Christ after all. Yet if one can get to Heaven without it, Christianity cannot in the last resort be that important if no unpleasant consequences result from not taking it up – which in the end must be the yardstick. Although there are undoubtedly similarities between many religions, the requirements for salvation – what you do and don’t have to do – are different in each case. They cannot all be right. It cannot be true both that you need Jesus for salvation and that you don’t, as that is like saying something is both a cat and also a dog when it can only be one thing or the other. Christianity when the Parkes standard is applied would have no more validity than atheism. Nor in fact would Judaism. Both faiths would be devalued, contrary to what Parkes seemed to think. All faiths would be devalued, because if Jews are let off then so must Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and atheists be. Unless you’re going to discriminate. The Parkes view commits one either to that discrimination or, because it seems grotesquely unjust and one would not want to be guilty or thought guilty of it, to a woolly syncretism which destroys the point of all religion.
Jesus said that whoever refused to believe in his divinity risked eternal damnation. And he was preaching in what was a primarily Jewish environment. If I may argue here purely from the point of view of a Christian evangelist, for the sake of both Jews and everyone else the view that the former can be saved simply by holding to their own cherished traditional beliefs and don’t have to become Christians has to be discouraged. It is not spiritually helpful; nor does it make intellectual sense. God wants the best for all Mankind equally; and again, if salvation is by a particular route then you cannot say that another route will do just as well, for that is contradictory. Some Jews do in fact believe that any form of genuinely virtuous morality is sufficient; a great Jewish scholar once expressed the view that it was surely unlikely whoever led men to virtue in this life would be damned in the next.” If this is the case then the Jewish religion is simply a cultural form, however important to those who practise it, rather than something necessary for salvation. So what are Jews doing to meet their eschatological needs?
The argument that a Jew’s Judaism as essential for his/her own redemption but a Christian’s Christianity is essential for theirs, despite the fundamental differences between the two faiths is logically flawed if at the same time we are saying that either faith is unique, in that it is essential for all people’s salvation. It is implausible in another way, too. If God loves all, he will save all by the same means – it makes more sense than does going to the bother of devising different means for different people; from the point of view of economy, and also because to not save all by the same method entails that special provision is being made for some, implying a separateness between them and everybody else. This separateness seems very aloof, and therefore wrong. It’s also pointless - in a way which comes over as grotesque – if, once they get to Heaven, assuming religious differences are no barrier to salvation, peoples of different faiths and cultures can happily mix freely, as Jews along with everyone else would no doubt desire.
The Jews’ position is logically untenable. It would actually make more sense, and in many ways be more admirable, if they did hold the view that anyone who didn’t convert to Judaism was risking eternal damnation. Either you must be a Jew to be saved or religion does not matter, either because it simply doesn’t matter or because one faith is as good as another (thereby compromising the value of all). By the same token it is wrong for some Jews to say that Christians should be grateful to them because they made possible the emergence of Christianity while refusing to convert to it themselves, as if Jesus’ injunction to accept him as Lord does not apply to them.
None of this excuses past Christian anti-Semitism, a reaction to which probably accounts for the insistence of Parkes and Co that Jews should be accepted as they are and not proselytised – they are trying to compensate for it. The fact that in his earthly form Christ was a Jew does not mean that Jews can claim superiority but at the same time it hardly proves they are inferior. As we have already said, most of them eventually turned their back on Christ – something Gentiles perversely used as an excuse to persecuting them - but so too do most non-Jews in the West today; the combination of apathy and downright hostility towards the church means that daily, they crucify Him a hundred times over). Jesus did not despise those who rejected Him – in fact he said “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” - so it would make no sense for his would-be followers not to do the same.
However the belief that Christianity is anti-Semitic, which has acted as a barrier to conversion to it, holds less water nowadays as the Christian church no longer really exhibits that prejudice. There is still controversy over the “for fear of the Jews” passages in the Bible, but these are not so offensive as they seem. The passages in the Gospels where Jesus and his disciples have to be wary and to lock the doors of places where they meet, because of “the Jews” have in the past caused some offence and concern to the latter. The term is in fact being used to refer to the religious authorities, not necessarily the Jewish people as a whole. One might well ask why, if these passages are potentially so offensive (and perhaps likely to encourage anti-Semitism), they are not changed whenever the Bible comes up for one of its regular revisions. I suggest the reason is as follows. In the average discerning person’s mind there would be a clear difference between an entire people and just one part of it which was discharging a particular function. This very perception is the reason why the passages (which I must admit I am far from comfortable about myself) cause such controversy; but it means that if they were changed it would seem that the fundamental meaning of parts of the Bible could safely be altered. If you could do that with one part you could do it with any other. This would devalue the whole and make it just a human construct rather than the essential truth on which we are all dependent for our spiritual needs. It would be sending people the wrong message. Leave it therefore to Bible commentaries (which people ought to read) to explain the passages properly, and if the commentaries don’t do that then they are failing in their task.
Because Christianity arose out of Judaism, was a different stage in the same process (was taking God’s plan a step further, towards its final fulfillment), Jews of all people should find it easiest to keep their existing customs, rites and beliefs when converting to Christianity, however essential it might be to do the latter whatever else one does. At a recent course our church held on the Jewish religion we learned of a vicar, Jewish by ancestry, who still attended Passover celebrations, etc., and did not feel that do so compromised his Christian faith, or vice versa. It should be possible to retain the Torah, the Talmud, the yarmalke, the menorah etc, and add Jesus to them (though not in the glib and trivialised sense of splicing one thing on to another as in a cheap DIY job). The essentials of Christian faith can be adhered to with or without them, which is why it is not beholden upon Gentiles to adopt them, but they may be among those things which are deeply rooted in another people’s history and essential to their cultural identity. (It is an interesting question whether it is therefore harder for Muslims, say, to become Christians without having to undergo a painful wrench, and if it is, does that not seem rather unfair? The only answer I can give is that the discrimination, if it is that, is an unavoidable one given the natures of Judaism and Christianity and the origins of the latter, and perhaps simply has to be accepted. But no-one’s conversion would be advocated if they could not ultimately be happy with the result).
I think I know why most Jews still refuse to embrace Christianity. In the Old Testament period they had a very close and personal relationship with God which was so important to them they feel it would be spoiled if they shared it with anyone. But if Christians’ faith means anything to them they cannot abandon either the principle or the practice of trying, by persuasion and example rather than intimidation, to bring Jews back into what they would call the fold, no matter how difficult and painful the process might be for the converts.
The historical experience of the Jews has been such that they are a people defined and bound together by suffering; those people from races who have not suffered so much, at least not in quite the same way, are therefore not members of that club. (And don’t forget the Jews were persecuted because they were Jews, which served to reinforce this separation). This is the reason why in the past orthodox Jews, at any rate, have not been too encouraging of those wishing to convert to Judaism from other faiths or none. One can only say that all people face at least the possibility of suffering in some form, and that it has not been unknown for a Gentile to suffer more than a Jew, whatever the cause of their problems. Also that our value as people does not consist entirely in our ethnic identity.
I have heard it said (perhaps jokingly) that Jews have a problem with accepting the divinity of another Jew. What this means I confess I’m not sure exactly, but if it is an obstacle to their conversion to Christianity it need not be. It is overcome if we accept that Jesus’ Jewishness was not part of his divinity; because it could not be. If it were the implication would be that Jews were superior to the rest of Mankind. This would be as grotesque as claiming, if Christ had been (unlikely as it seems) a blond-haired, blue-eyed Aryan type or was believed to have been one, that his Aryanness was what made him divine. The very horrendousness of such a notion if it was subscribed to means that if rejected it can spiritually be very beneficial.

That more or less concludes our analysis. There is no need for us to hate the Jews or to see them as a threat; like a lot of races nowadays, they are if anything probably going through an identity crisis because of cultural and demographic change. 50% of Diaspora Jews now marry non-Jews, which as commented above makes them much less exclusive. Nonetheless anti-Semitism is still a problem. We need to look at what, in the modern world, are its causes and deal with them. The trouble is, this means confronting some uncomfortable home truths. The causes are two-fold; the behaviour of the state of Israel and the insistence that the Holocaust should be seen as worse than other atrocities. They have their origin in things which were thought to be necessary to protect Jews, but in fact are having the opposite effect. The Holocaust is seen as such a terrible thing that to prevent there being a recurrence of it it is necessary to go into overkill. Israel’s existence is seen as a symbol of resistance to anti-Semitism and therefore she must be defended, right or wrong. Somehow or other, we must retreat from these positions without going back to the other end of the scale.
Several months ago there was outrage on the part of Jewish and anti-Fascist groups over a T-shirt advertising “Hitler’s European Tour”, as if the Nazis between 1933 and 1945 had been a rock band. I well remember the offending item from my student days in the 1980s; in other words it’s been around a long time, so why are we getting so uptight about it now? I think it was intended as much as anything else as a satire on Hitler’s lunacy in invading so many countries against their wishes, and how it ultimately led to his downfall (his last stop was “The Berlin Bunker, 1945”). I might also mention, though it now seems embarrassing to do so, my performance as Hitler in an informal House photograph at school, in 1981. I wore a pair of shorts and an ordinary shirt. I attached a pair of crudely made Nazi armbands with swastikas to my wrists, and drew a toothbrush moustache under my nose in black felt tip. I wasn’t a member of the royal family (I have in mind, of course, a certain incident involving Prince Harry), nor would my costume have been seen for more than a few minutes (as opposed to a few hours), diminishing any harmful effect it might have. There was no intention to be offensive, it was simply larking about. Of the two Jewish boys in the House, one was away on vacation at the time, the other didn’t bat an eyelid. But if I were to do that kind of thing now, whatever the circumstances, something tells me I wouldn’t get away with it quite so easily.
We seem if anything to be getting more sensitive about the Holocaust, etcetera, as time goes on, which is not necessarily a good thing. I remember one Jewish writer to a leading national newspaper say he feared a rise in anti-Semitism because Gentiles were so afraid to say anything which might offend Jews. I know what he means; the very fact of being expected to be oversolicitous towards Jews means people will be anti-Semitic in order to rebel against that. It will be the same with other ethnic groups who in the past have been discriminated against in one way or another and who were are now expected to go to sometimes excessive lengths not to upset. The purpose of this essay was to highlight the respects in which our reaction to the ways we have treated Jews in the past may be questionable from both a moral and an intellectual point of view, though it defends them (the Jews) where necessary. It was also to sound a warning.

THE WARS AND THE HOLOCAUST – THE QUESTION OF GERMAN GUILT
It would seem fitting in all this to discuss the way in which blame for the Holocaust tends to be apportioned. The tendency to criticise ordinary Germans, and with particular harshness, on account of Hitler is one manifestation of it. It is certainly unfortunate that it should have happened in their country; although we may be misunderstanding it there is a streak in the German character which sometimes makes it seem insensitive, and thus uncaring about such incidents. But although it is understandable that the part of the body at which an infection enters it should receive particular attention from those trying to cure the illness or prevent a recurrence of it, that is not to suggest it could not have happened in some other part. If the circumstances are right, it could happen anywhere. All it takes is for economic conditions to be so poor, national pride so dented, moral decay so advanced, and the existing government so ineffectual, that a small group of extremists, if they seem the only people with sufficient drive and ability to get things back on their feet, will be able to lever themselves into power and afterwards keep hold of it. As in the First World War, the Germans are being made a scapegoat for the sins, real or potential, of humanity in general. But were they nonetheless culpable, and would anyone else have been in their situation?
When something involving terrible loss of life occurs, whether it
is a terrorist bombing or the systematic extermination of millions of people over a period of years, one tends to shout "Why didn't someone do something to stop it? Why didn't someone speak out?" That is only natural, especially if we belong to the group which has been victimised and/or has relatives among the dead. But those who complain about the refusal of German soldiers, bureaucrats and civilians to do more to stop Nazi atrocities never ask themselves what they would have done in the same position. Are they honestly saying that if they had been, they would have refused without hesitation to comply, regardless of the consequences? Can any of us claim they would have had such courage? As Brian Sewell wrote in the Evening Standard not long ago, "The consequence would, of course, have been death - and who among us now, with the choice of living with a troubled conscience or immediately dying with one clear, would refuse to obey a dishonourable order, knowing that one's own death would not, in any case, save the life of another man or woman, Jew, gipsy, Slav or homosexual; that one's own corpse would tumble with a hundred others into the fresh-dug pit or end as just one more smudge of grease on the oven floor? The man with his hand on the instrument of death had no bargaining power with the man who gave the orders." This is of course quite right; if it is not moral to demand that someone makes such a sacrifice, when we might not do it ourselves, it is even less so if the sacrifice would achieve nothing other than make a further contribution to the whole human tragedy of the matter.
Jewish revenge squads active in Germany in the aftermath of the Holocaust who made it a principle to kill only those directly involved in the murder of Jews, if by this they meant the man who pulled the trigger, may actually have been killing those who least deserved to die, though to be fair they honestly believed they were attempting to be just. The UN took the view that punishment for Nazi war crimes should be restricted to those who initiated atrocities by giving the order for them, rather than those who were simply obeying those orders. I think this was the correct approach. It is entirely possible, given the sort of people the Nazis were, that those who refused to carry them out might themselves have come to a sticky end. Much would depend, in any trial, upon how far a person could be said to be aware of the dangers of refusal. It may not be easy to distinguish, either, between those who killed because they were ordered to, but may not have relished the task, and those who enjoyed doing so (and thus would probably have carried out the atrocity of their own accord if possible), supposing that to be the incriminating factor where the guilt of subordinates was concerned. Altogether, we would be venturing into a moral and legal minefield and thus complicating the process of securing justice. The disadvantage would be that we might be letting people who deserved, if the sin or otherwise of something lies in its spirit, to be executed or imprisoned for life go free, but it would be compensated for by the sparing of many who arguably did not.
A linked question to this is that of the collective guilt of the German people. Reason suggests that it is simply not possible for one race or nation to be significantly worse, in moral terms, than any other. How then do we explain what was permitted to happen in Germany between 1933 and 1945? Why did more people not actively resist the Nazi regime? Undoubtedly racial and national temperament – the tendency of the German to be obedient to authority – had a certain amount to do with it; in a more individualistic and rebellious culture, Hitler might not have got away with quite so much. But that was only one of the factors involved. You have to look at how the psychology of the totalitarian state operates. If you actively resist it, there is the possibility that you and/or your family might be killed/imprisoned (and you/they don't matter any less than the people in the concentration camps). There is no doubt that all the apparatus of the terror state was in place in Nazi Germany – as Alan Bullock among others makes clear - and constantly looking out for those whose behaviour did not show sufficient dedication to the regime. There were spies in the crowd watching for those who seemed unenthusiastic about giving the Hitler salute, fanatical Nazis serving as informers in the Wehrmacht (the ordinary German army), and ordinary people who would be quite happy to betray neighbours, work colleagues, even family members in order to curry favour with their leaders. I once came across in my local museum a (British) newspaper from 1939 which contained an item reporting how a man had found himself under arrest for showing compassion to a Polish prisoner-of-war. One might object that if everyone pulled together and opposed the regime, it would be brought down at relatively little cost and all the above prevented. But unless you can be absolutely sure what everyone else is going to do - in other words, be telepathic - you can't be sure of having that safety that lies in numbers and so you won't take the risk. And secondly, it is likely there would be some loss of life (for one thing, a soldier faced with a crowd of people converging on a government building he is guarding may panic and start shooting, particularly if he is trigger-happy or just young and inexperienced). And you might be among the people killed. The Nazis knew all this and turned it to their advantage, like all autocrats. How do you think the tiny island of Great Britain was able to hold down the whole of the Indian subcontinent, in fact rule altogether a third of the Earth's surface? The method used was the same in both cases, even though it would be base to compare the Raj with the Reich in every respect. With someone like Hitler, to resist the evil would be saintly; not to resist it, forgiveable. And again, in totalitarian regimes the families of dissidents or potential dissidents are often threatened. It may be noble of me to risk my own life if I choose, but is it not morally wrong – a bit like playing God – to insist that a third party be involved in the sacrifice, is expendable in a dispute between two others, certainly not without its consent, which may not be forthcoming? Well actually it isn’t, because you should not put your own family before the common good. But it is still distasteful, and the kind of sacrifice which it would be indecent to expect either the person making the sacrifice, or the victim, to contemplate lightly. It is notable that Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer sent his family out of the country before he embarked on his campaign of resistance against the Nazis. Those who did not have the opportunity of taking this precaution might not have made the sacrifice either. No doubt these excuses are often used to cover failure to protest at or prevent atrocities, but they are valid nonetheless.
The German people, then, have no more reason to be condemned for allowing the Nazis to kill the Jews than have the Iraqi people for Saddam Hussein's atrocities against the Kurds. It makes the plot by the Jewish revenge squad to poison their water supply all the more disturbing, even if we cannot lightly condemn those whose minds have been twisted by appalling loss and suffering. Where Germans on trial for war crimes too often went wrong was in not citing this understandable human weakness as the cause of their inaction; it might have gone down a lot better. Instead, by saying "I was only obeying orders" they gave the impression they did not care either way.
I have heard people say that because the Holocaust was a particularly distressing event, any merciful distinction between the giver and the executor of orders should be suspended. But we have examined the idea that it was worse than other atrocities and found such arguments wanting. How exactly do we distinguish between those killings which merit such a severe penalty and those which do not? At which point does one draw the line, and does it depend on the number of those killed, or how they were killed? From an ethical point of view all such distinctions are unfair, since the unlawful death of just one person should be distressing enough. Reject these principles and we become discriminatory in a way which is unfair or, at best, become involved in a highly invidious argument over whose sufferings were the worst.
It is worth mentioning here that there were some Germans who although unable to prevent atrocities being committed at least tried to make sure, out of personal honour, that it was not they who literally or metaphorically pulled the trigger. One concentration camp guard applied for a transfer to a different job because he knew he was being debased by having to join in the laughter as Jews in the camps were beaten up or humiliated in one way or another. It is important to recognise that as with the war crimes of the Japanese, had he not done so it would have indicated disapproval of what was going on, and thus jeapordised his own safety; also that this probably only increased the emotional pressure upon him. His request was refused, but it had been made nonetheless. What difference there would have been to the general course of the Holocaust if it had been granted is hard to say; probably very little. But he had at least tried to do the right thing, in the only way he could, and it would be unduly cynical of us not to regard this as morally commendable.
There is little doubt that with the exception of diehard Nazis, the experience of 1933-45 was traumatic for ordinary Germans, in the way that being forced to help in someone else’s murder undoubtedly is. Though parallels between the two situations are not exact, in the same way that South Africa under apartheid was a democracy in so far as the whites (though not the majority of the population as they were in Germany) were concerned, the Nazis never intended to persecute the mass of ordinary Germans in the same way that many other totalitarian states have persecuted their citizens; Hitler after all loved the Aryan race, and most Germans were in his view Aryan. But in one sense they were oppressed, by being forced to participate or at least permit, on pain of torture, imprisonment or death, in atrocities which they must have inwardly found distressing, feeling guilty about, and which earned them the hostility, often enmity, enmity of the international community and of Jewish groups with terrible or potentially terrible consequences. What was nightmarish and morally brutalising for them they obviously abandoned with alacrity (though never showing their emotions as much as others might, which is a very German thing) once they no longer had to do it; it was as understandable that they should do so as it was that they had co-operated with the regime beforehand. The eagerness of German civilians to help the controlling Allied authorities in their task after the war was therefore not a sign that they were two-faced and craven, that Germans were either at your throat or, once defeated, your feet.
So we cannot be justified in regarding the Germans as any worse than other peoples because of Hitler. If they were, then there would have to be a reason for that. It would be a bit strange, a bit arbitrary, if this particular nastiness was confined to the Germans and not found anywhere else. It would be something that had to be explained. Logically an action, or the failure to commit it, can only be either the result of conscious choice or of something that cannot be helped. Since the initial tendency towards a particular kind of behaviour must be genetic, because in the first instance we do not choose the desires, the impulses, that we find ourselves getting the explanation for it must be something to do with the nature of the universe and of human beings. It is something fundamental, even if it may sometimes be harmful, and we cannot blame Germans in particular for it. If on the other hand the translation of a desire into an action, which may be harmful and therefore a more serious matter than the desire itself, is a matter of choice it is a bit odd, despite the world wars and the Holocaust, that Germans should have consistently opted to do harm while others did not. Such a dichotomy between German behaviour and that of the rest of Mankind would have to be explained. It is either the result of chance, to a degree which is improbable, or something which the Germans for some reason could not help and therefore not a conscious choice for which they could be blamed. But either the Germans did choose to do wrong, consistently or otherwise, in which case they are also capable of choosing to do good and it is better to encouraged them to do so rather than vilifying, ostracising or even exterminating them; or they were incapable of acting otherwise, in which case we can’t blame them for what they did even though we should still have tried to stop them.
When the Israeli ambassador to Britain visited Stuttgart in 1992 for the trial of Nazi war criminal Josef Schwammberger, "{He} took the opportunity to remind the German people of their collective responsibility for the past. He told the German press that one could not separate the cultural heritage of Goethe, Schiller, Bach and Beethoven from the terror of the Nazi regime." (Ian Buruma, "Wages of Guilt", Jonathan Cape 1994, p137). In response to this one is minded to respond:

(a) What about Germans born since 1945, or who were still children when the war ended?
(b) This is like saying Shakespeare was a member of the BNP, or would be if he was alive today, and that the British people should collectively feel shame on that account. Being a playwright, composer or a poet evidently gives someone racist tendencies, so we’d better all avoid such activities from now on.
(c) The rise of Hitler was a product of a complex combination of different factors of which the character of German society and culture was only one. Had they not all happened to come together, the Third Reich might never have occurred and we would never have regarded the Germans with such hostility. They were to some extent the fault of the Allies, as we will see below.

This example shows that it is possible, in spite of what some people have argued, to victimise Germany over the Holocaust (though this has not, mostly, taken place in the same way that the Nazis victimised the Jews). If someone is excessively blamed for a wrong or – and here, this is the real crux of the matter - the question of how far they could have done something about it is not properly addressed, with insufficient distinction drawn between the rulers and the ruled, then that could be called victimisation. The Germans are, of course, particularly guilty in some people’s eyes because as well as the Holocaust they were responsible for two World Wars. What started the First World War was their invasion of Belgium. I am not going to condone that particular act, and certainly by modern standards it was wrong. However there’s something we need to bear in mind. Undoubtedly all nations at that time in European history were being imperialistic in one way or another; it may be unfair to put the blame for the consequences of that on Germany alone or apportion her the largest share of it. It is perhaps a controversial, and sensitive, issue. But Germany was only doing in Belgium what other western countries had been doing in what we now call the Third World – that is, annexing territory and drawing it into its political and economic orbit. She was perhaps making up in Europe for what she had not been able to do elsewhere; her colonial possessions in Africa and the Pacific were much fewer than those of Britain and France, since she had joined the imperialist free-for-all much later than they. Is colonialism supposed to be worse when the colonised are a Western people than when they are non-Western one? To suggest it is quite rightly invites accusations of racism.

Asking why the Holocaust was allowed to happen is to some extent the same thing as asking why the Second World War was allowed to happen, because the former would probably not have happened, at least on the scale it did, without the latter. The war created a "no-holds-barred" situation, especially given Hitler's fatalistic view of things; the Nazis felt they had passed the point of no return and therefore that it didn’t matter much what they did.
It is probably not possible to identify a single point at which something could have been done to stop the war because we drifted into it by degrees. We would also have to assume that everyone was pulling together and this was not the case. France was which was in a bad way in the 1930s, demoralised by a succession of political and financial scandals and conflict between Left and Right; she often proved an unreliable ally to Britain, over Abyssinia for example, and it wasn't practical for the British to act on her own. Also appeasement had to some extent a humanitarian basis - an understandable desire not to repeat the horrors of World War One, which traumatised the generation who lived through it. Public opinion in the western democracies was often in favour of appeasement and Britain's political leaders during the 1920s and 30s - Ramsay MacDonald, Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain - had to take note of this to some extent. It is also understandable that to some people in the thirties, and not just dubious Nazi sympathisers, it would have been hard to decide whether the greater threat to liberty came from Hitler or Stalin.
All these factors, conflicting considerations which all had to be taken into account but could only be juggled with difficulty, meant that Britain and France stumbled into war. Chamberlain knew Britain was not ready to fight Hitler in 1938; he and Baldwin were realists, even if the situation they found themselves in was (to some extent) the product of their own earlier complacency. Hitler later said that if he had declared war at that time (1938) he would have won (and if he had, that wouldn't have helped the Jews in Europe). Baldwin knew war was probably inevitable, and also that he was not the man to lead the nation in it – that was Churchill, whose chance would come sooner or later (see "Baldwin" by John Barnes and Keith Middlemass for this).
Nonetheless, the cut-off point for doing something about the Holocaust was long before the existence of the death camps was first established beyond doubt. Had the liberation of the camps been accorded a priority, even at the cost of compromising other vital war aims and of risking the lives of Allied soldiers who might otherwise not have been in any more jeopardy than one usually is in battle, it would have seemed to give credence to Nazi propaganda claims that the Allies were fighting primarily a Jewish war. Western leaders must bear a certain degree of blame for what happened to the Jews, undoubtedly. But one could argue that the cut-off point, after which not much could have been done to avert the tragedy, came some time earlier, in the mid-1930s at the latest. It is probably impossible to identify it with a particular date. But had the Allies not treated Germany unduly harshly after the First World War, creating resentment which was exploited by Hitler and partly explains his rise, and then when under him she became too aggressive being too soft on her, instead of rearming earlier than they did, the Nazis would not have been allowed to get away with so much. The Jews of Germany would still have suffered, or had to leave the country, but the vast majority of Hitler’s Jewish victims were of course from the occupied territories.

December 2012