For some time now the Labour party has been confronting (or perhaps doing its best to avoid confronting) a rumbling crisis about anti-Semitism in its ranks. It is worrying and amazing that anti-Semitism is still with us today; one would have thought that after 1945 we would all have learned our lesson. After all, we are not some benighted backwater, are we? We’re supposed to be “progressive”. It is sobering to think that Britain is closer to Iran in this matter than it would like to be.
Iran is a good place to start when one wants to look at anti-Semitism not just as government policy, but a national malaise. Traditionally, the government of Iran has been fiercely anti-Israeli, as well as anti-British and anti-American. America and Britain are the Great Satan and the Little Satan respectively.
So, they do not like us: but their hatred for Israel is in quite a different league to their hatred of Britain and America. Their hatred of Israel is racist in a way that their hatred of Britain and America is not.
As one commentator puts it: “What is so striking about the many forms that Iranian anti-Semitism takes – Holocaust denial, claims of Jewish control of the world and in its institutions, cartoon contests on denying the Holocaust, obsessions about Israeli power and ways to deal with it – is the irrational quality to all of it. It is an extreme form of anti-Semitism full of paranoid conspiracy theories and delusional thinking.”
The key point to anti-Semitism (as opposed to legitimate criticism of Israel) is its irrational nature. Anti-Semitism is a psychosis. Hence the paranoid conspiracy theories and delusional thinking: the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, that notorious forgery, is still on sale in Iran (and elsewhere). Anti-Semitism is not about argument or debate, or holding views on Israel, views that can be discussed: it is about a hatred of the other, and a denial of the right of the other to exist.
The only historically Christian country where this psychotic anti-Semitism has establishment currency is Greece, where a neo-Nazi member of Parliament has quoted the Protocols, and where a senior bishop of the national Church has claimed that Hitler was an instrument of world Zionism and that the 2008 economic crisis was caused by Jewish bankers. These two exponents of anti-Semitism must be hugely embarrassing to most Greeks, though neither of them has been forced to resign.
But Catholics too must acknowledge their history in this regard. Back in 2003, Daniel Jonah Goldhagen wrote a book entitled “A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and Its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair”. It was a very bad book, containing no original research and using faulty methodology. Its author, in the words of one reviewer, “sees a deep vein of Jew-hatred ingrained within Catholic tradition; and he does not think that there was any difference of kind, between that old religious Jew-hatred and the murderous racial anti-Semitism of the 20th century”. This is not just crude, it’s unsustainable.
There was a huge gulf in understanding between Catholic anti-Semites and Nazi ones, both in degree and in kind. But it cannot be denied that there were, and continue to be, Catholic anti-Semites. Of the modern day Catholic anti-Semites, let us remember that many of them are in canonically dubious positions, something not often appreciated by the media. Moreover, it seems a point beyond contradiction that contemporary anti-Semites who identify as Catholic are not supported by the bishops of the Church or the Vatican. (Witness the controversies surrounding Radio Maryja in Poland.)
We must be on our guard against the virus of anti-Semitism (for that way madness lies) and we must combat it wherever we find it. If we don’t, not only will it be a huge injustice to Jewish people everywhere, as well as being an incitement to hatred and violence against the innocent, which is wrong in itself, it will also represent a severe defeat to our endeavours to promote a reasoned national conversation.
This is one reason, among many, why the current situation in the Labour party is so serious: Labour MPs are saying things that ought to embarrass moderately sophisticated sixth formers.
Again, if anti-Semitism is allowed to spread unchecked in the Church, the result will be a deformation of the Church’s Magisterium, as well as the decline of her voice into something that will only be heard in the enclosed echo chamber of the deluded.
If anti-Semitism were to get a hold, no one would take the Church’s proclamation of God’s love to all seriously. Indeed, when one looks at anti-Semitic churches (that phrase itself seems oxymoronic) one sees no genuine witness to the world, but rather a retreat into isolationism and obscurantism.
There is a parallel in the current Labour party fracas. If they want to be taken seriously as a party that is fair to all, that is reasoned and reasonable, if they want to be seen as a potential government, they have to expel anti-Semites. Politics cannot have anything to do with the psychosis of conspiracy theories. Reason must always be sovereign.