First published in The Evening Standard
Nicolas Anelka’s controversial goal salute should alert us that prejudice against Jews is spreading worldwide.
What do a major Palestinian political organisation, a French comedian of partly African descent, large sections of the Iranian elite and a rightwing Hungarian leader have in common? They all believe that the world is run by an international Jewish conspiracy.
Hamas, which currently runs the Gaza Strip, put an approving reference to the paranoid anti-Semitic forgery, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, in its founding charter. Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, whose comic shows are particularly popular among young and disadvantaged Frenchmen from immigrant backgrounds, invented the now notorious “quenelle”, a disguised Hitler salute. It hit the mainstream news when West Bromwich Albion striker Nicolas Anelka gave the quenelle after scoring against West Ham in December of last year. The Iranian leadership and press routinely refer to the dominance of Jewish and Zionist forces — the two terms are used more or less interchangeably — in the world.
Gabor Vona, chairman of the racist Jobbik (“better”) movement in Hungary, now the third largest group in parliament, is more careful than some of his comrades. That did not stop him, however, from telling a rally in Budapest against the World Jewish Congress that, “These Israeli conquerors [Jews], these investors, should look for another country in the world for themselves, because Hungary is not for sale”, accusing Hungarian “Jews” (pure and simple) of being “anti-Hungarian”. Vona’s arrival in Britain caused outrage among Jewish groups, and provoked demands from MPs, councillors and assembly members for his exclusion.
Traditional Jew-hatred is thousands of years old, but paranoid political anti-Semitism only goes back to the late 19th century. Central to modern anti-Semitism was anti-capitalism. Jews were seen as the vanguard of the department store, which impoverished small shopkeepers, of industrialisation, which enriched the few and exploited the many, and of the world financial system, which enslaved economies through the market and its servant, parliamentary democracy.
Adolf Hitler, for example, came to anti-Semitism via anti-capitalism, particularly of the “international” Anglo-American variety, which he accused of reducing post-First World War Germany to the status of a “colony”. Senior figures on the Left saw the connection to anti-capitalism: the German Social Democrat leader August Bebel referred to anti-Semitism as a form of socialism, albeit “a socialism of fools”.
Today, anti-Semitism unites a diverse but increasingly coherent coalition across classes, races and continents. Though partly feeding off hostility to Israel, its main strand is anti-capitalism and nationalist anti-globalisation. Thus Jobbik’s member of parliament Marton Gyongyos claims that Hungary is “subjugated to Zionism [ie the Jews]” and a “target of colonisation”. For this reason, he called on the government to establish “how many people of Jewish [not Israeli] descent there are here, and especially in the Hungarian parliament and the Hungarian government who represent a certain national security risk”.
Similar sentiments are routinely expressed in Iranian, Islamist and “anti-imperialist” discourse across the world. Likewise, Nicolas Anelka is being sincere when he claims that the quenelle is an “anti-Establishment” gesture, but only if one realises that in giving it, he believes that the Establishment is run by Jews.
Recently, anti-Semites in Hungary and Iran (and elsewhere) have begun to reach out to one another. For example, the Jobbik mayor of the small town of Tiszavasvari in eastern Hungary has inaugurated a twinning arrangement with the Iranian city of Ardabil. The erstwhile anti-racism campaigner M’bala M’bala is now allied with the anti-immigrant but fellow anti-Semite Jean-Marie Le Pen; the former National Front leader is godfather to one of his children.
Global anti-Semites also combine to deny or trivialise the Holocaust; M’bala M’bala refers to it as “Shoannas”, conflating the murder of six million Jews with a pineapple. In short, anti-Semites are now beginning to unite: in their eyes they have nothing to lose but the fetters of global Jewish or “Zionist” capital.
The authorities, both nationally and internationally, tend to treat anti-Semitism as routine “hate crime”. This is a mistake. Other groups — such as gypsies — suffer worse discrimination on a daily basis. Nobody, however, thinks that the Roma run the world.
What is distinctive about paranoid political anti-Semitism of the stripe of Hamas, Vona and M’bala M’bala is that it is not just another prejudice but a world view. This makes it dangerous not just to Jews but to those seen as their allies, most of the Western capitalist democracies, or plutocracies, as anti-Semites (but not only they) often call them.
This fact was nowhere better illustrated than by the attack on the Twin Towers at the heart of the financial district in New York, places as remote from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem or an Israeli kibbutz as it is possible to be but intimately linked to both in the minds of the perpetrators and of the many millions who cheered them on. Likewise, the real target of Jobbik is not Israel but the agents of its “enslavement”, the United States and the EU. For radical anti-Semites, the West is politically “Jewish” whether it is aware of it or not, and whether it likes it or not.
The authorities have largely kicked racism off the pitch in Europe. Now they need to banish anti-Semitism altogether. The French, who have banned further appearances by M’bala M’bala, are on the right track. So are the MPs who wanted to prevent Vona from addressing political meetings here. So too is the FA, which has called upon Anelka to explain himself. Such measures, of course, will be interpreted by anti-Semites simply as more evidence of “Jewish” subversion. That is a risk which we have to take. As writer CP Snow once said, the only way to deal with a paranoid man is to give him something to be paranoid about.