ARE Jews responsible for antisemitism? Christianity held all Jews responsible for the death of Jesus, and for many centuries this blame served as a cornerstone of Christian thinking, formulated most cogently by Saint Augustine of Hippo.
It was Augustine who condemned the Jews as Christ killers. He and other Christian fathers did not, however, seek the physical destruction of the Jewish people.
Rather, they argued, the Jews should be left to wander the world as wretched outcasts — their unending misery being a proof (so to speak) of their damnable status.
In 1965, the Second Vatican Council magnanimously exonerated the Jews.
“True,” declared the council, “the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ.
“Still,what happened cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today.
“The Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures.”
This high-minded gesture naturally deprived antisemites of what had been a most powerful justification for their racism.
But just as it did so, anti-Zionism offered an alternative validation of their prejudices.
The attractions of anti-Zionism were that it did not focus on all Jews, it could be justified in terms of the “colonial” displacement of Palestinian Arabs, and anti-Zionists were to be found even among Jews.
So it was that antisemitism, clothed now as anti-Zionism, was able to buy for itself a spurious new-found respectability. What’s more, this respectability acquired a fresh lease of life through a re-examination of the Holocaust.
The reality of the Shoah was no longer dismissed out of hand. Rather, the Jews were blamed for the fate that befell six million of them.
When, last April 30, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas told the Palestinian National Council that the Holocaust was not the result of antisemitism — of primeval racism — but was triggered rather by Jewish “social behaviour, [charging] interest and financial matters”, he was repeating a trope that was much older.
It was uttered, incidentally, by a number of leading British Jews 80-90 years ago. Notoriously, it formed the favourite subject matter of numerous public speeches made by Neville Laski when president of the Board of Deputies in 1933-39.
Laski bought into the argument that Jews caused antisemitism by their economic and social behaviour, rack-renting, strike breaking, the flouting of laws governing Sunday trading and sharp (though, he admitted, perfectly legal) business practices.
That some Jews did indeed charge oppressive rents for slum properties was never in doubt. That some Jewish shopkeepers attracted custom by offering “loss leaders” (then thought of as un-Christian) was never denied.
But why blame the Jews, as a people, for these individual acts of commission and omission?
I was reminded of this unpleasant debate when reading the summary of some research findings recently published by Dr Daniel Allington, who teaches at the University of Leicester.
In an article in the journal Discourse Context Media, Dr Allington analyses the reactions — on Facebook — to the findings of a survey of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel attitudes published by Jewish Policy Research last September.
His concern is not with the survey itself but rather with the arguments employed in rejecting its findings by the users of certain Facebook pages associated with the British left.
His conclusions are startling. He draws our attention to three “repertoires” employed by these rejectionists.
First, there are bald accusations of flawed methodology — the survey simply got things wrong.
Second, there is what Dr David Hirsh, of Goldsmiths University of London, has labelled the “Livingstone Formulation” (i.e. the argument that complaints of antisemitism are made in bad faith to protect Israel and/or attack the Left).
But it is the third repertoire that is most worrying.
It uses the argument that, because certain classically antisemitic beliefs refer merely to a supposed Jewish or “Zionist” elite and not to Jews in general, they are not antisemitic.
In one case, the Facebook user actually argued that Hitler’s hatred of Jewish people stemmed “from Jews involvement in the global banking industry... Hitler had a valid argument against some Jews, and it was the fact that he extrapolated it to all Jews which led to the horrific parts of history that came next”.
The person who wrote these words was/is a member of something called the Labour Party Forum, the largest unofficial Labour Party group on Facebook.
Is it any wonder that, in relation to Jewish voters, the Corbyn-led Labour Party is in such bad odour?