My name is Nick Cohen, and I think I’m turning into a Jew. Despite being called “Cohen”, I’ve never been Jewish before. It’s not simply that I am an atheist. My Jewish friends tell me that it is hard to find an educated London Jew who is not an atheist, but that I have no connection with Jewish culture.
The Jewish side of my family is my father’s (which is not a help, I gather). My great grandparents fled from the Tsarist Empire at the time of the pogroms, but their son, my grandfather, revolted. He became a Communist and married outside the faith. My father was brought up with no connection to Judaism and, inevitably, so was I.
My sole interest in Jewish concerns came from being a left-wing opponent of the far Right, and the blood-soaked antisemitic superstitions which turned Europe into a graveyard. When I was young, such attitudes seemed unproblematic. You did not have to be a Jew to oppose fascism; everyone I knew did that regardless of colour or creed.
Today the old certainties have gone because there are two far-right movements: the white neo-Nazi parties that the Left still opposes; and the clerical fascists of radical Islam which, extraordinarily, the modern Left succours and indulges. I am not only talking about Ken Livingstone, George Galloway and their gruesome accomplices in the intelligentsia. Wider liberal society is almost as complicit. It does not applaud the Islamist far Right, but it will not condemn it either. From the broadcasters, through the liberal press, the Civil Service, the Metropolitan Police, the bench of bishops and the judiciary, antisemitism is no longer an unthinkable mental deformation. As long as the conspiracy theories of the counter-enlightenment come from ideologues with dark rather than white skins, nominally liberal men and women will not speak out.
Fight back and you become a Jew, whether you are or not. Mark Lawson recently described an argument at the BBC over the corporation’s decision not to screen the charity appeal for Gaza. His furious colleague declared that the only reason Lawson supported the ban was because he was Jewish. Lawson had to tell him that he was, in fact, raised a Catholic.
A furious Labour MP was no different when he told a colleague of mine that I had gone off the rails when I married a “hard-right” Jewish woman from North London. My friend replied that this would be news to my wife, a liberal Catholic from Stoke-on-Trent.
It was kind of him to point that out, but I would no longer protest that I wasn’t Jewish, and I don’t think Lawson should either. It is cowardly to stammer that you are not a Jew because you concede the racist’s main point — that there is something suspect about being Jewish — as you do it.
In any case, my experience of left-wing antisemitism has changed the way I think and made me, if you like, more Jewish.
Although I want to see every Israeli settlement on the West Bank dismantled, it was clear to me that when Hamas fired thousands of rockets into Israel it had declared war and had to accept the consequences. I would not have thought that five years ago.
You do not need me to add that mine is a minority point of view among liberals, and that British Jews are living through a very dangerous period. They are the only ethnic minority whose slaughter official society will excuse. If a mass murderer bombed a mosque or black Pentecostal church, no respectable person would say that the “root cause” of the crime was an understandable repulsion at the deeds of al-Qaeda or a legitimate opposition to mass immigration. Rightly, they would blame the criminal for the crime.
If a synagogue is attacked, I guarantee that within minutes the airwaves will be filled with insinuating voices insisting that the “root cause” of the crime was a rational anger at the behaviour of Israel or the Jewish diaspora.
Put like this, the position of British Jewry sounds grim. Remember, however, that the first aim of radical Islam is to subjugate Muslims. When brave feminists, gays, democrats and liberals in the Muslim world and in Britain’s Muslim communities make a stand, they, too, are accused of being the tools of Zionists.
As the struggle between theocracy and liberalism intensifies, I can see some being pushed into taking the same journey I have taken and finding their views towards Judaism and Israel softening as they realise that antisemitism helps drive the fascistic ideologies of the 21st century just as it drove the Nazism of the 20th.
I will tell them that the opponents of totalitarianism must never be frightened. If their enemies say they are Jews, they should shrug and say: “All right, I am.” As long as readers of the Jewish Chronicle don’t object, of course.
Nick Cohen is a columnist for The Observer. His latest collection of essays, ‘Waiting for the Etonians: Reports from the Sickbed of Liberal England’, is published this week