Easter was dominated by two news stories. One was the question of what the Holy Father did or did not say to Eugenio Scalfari on the question of Hell; the other was whether Jeremy Corbyn was or was not an anti-Semite. The first story is too tedious to comment on: we have been here before, several times, and there is nothing new to say. The second is really rather important, and has generated a great deal of comment, some of it extremely penetrating, some of it less so.
Why should we care about anti-Semitism re-emerging in modern Britain?
It is perfectly true that if we ignore prejudice against Jews then we will find it very hard to fight prejudice against other minorities. But this “canary in the mineshaft” argument is not the best. We should scorn anti-Semitism because it is wrong of itself, not just because it may have bad consequences.
Anti-Semitism must be fought because it flies in the face of truth and truth is the most important thing of all, and must be defended at all costs. There can be no compromises when it comes to truth, ever. So, when we hear someone saying that “Hitler was a Zionist”, not only do we cringe at the thought of this dangerous manipulation of historical truth, we must be offended by the way the lie assaults the truth, as well as worried by the way such lies, if left unchallenged, can poison all political and social discourse.
Hitler and Goebbels were the masters of propaganda and lies, and their most successful lie was one of the simplest – “Die Juden sind unser Unglück”: “The Jews are our misfortune”, in other words, everything that has gone wrong is not our fault, but theirs. That provided a grand unifying theory that explained Germany’s disastrous predicament after 1929. Exactly the same approach is used in some Arab and Muslim countries today: the root of all misfortune is the “Zionist entity”, or the “Tel Aviv regime”, a favoured phrase of Press TV, the Iranian broadcaster that has in the past employed Jeremy Corbyn.
Actually, this is not true. Life in many Arab and Muslim countries is not as good as it should or could be for a variety of reasons, none of which have anything to do with sinister Jewish manipulations of the weather or other such sleights of hand. These sort of conspiracy theories point to a diseased group consciousness.
Conspiracy theories, of which the anti-Semitic variety seems to be the most popular at present, particularly among people of certain backgrounds, whether Stalinist or Muslim, are not just an offence against truth but also an offence against God. It is really important to remember some of the foundation stones of Catholic doctrine, among which are the belief that truth is knowable by the human mind, and if something is true, then there will be supporting evidence for that truth. Truth is rational, and that which is untrue is also irrational and is to be rejected. The irrational deforms the human mind and character, and to hold conspiracy theories is to adopt a position that is not in keeping with human dignity.
It follows from this that anyone who tolerates the virus of anti-Semitism or makes excuses for it is not an admirable person; and a political party that is host to anti-Semites is not fit to hold office. But it goes further: the sort of society in which anti-Semitic ideas are allowed to go unchallenged (and there are several such, unfortunately) is quite simply a bad society: unfair to Jews, of course, but also a bad place for anyone to be, in that the mindset is not rational and not focussed on the common good. Why is Iran a bad place to be? The reason must lie in its economic and social policies which are underpinned by a very strange vision of life of which its anti-Semitism is an integral and illuminating part.
It is vitally important that we all fight anti-Semitism. If we do not, the consequences will be terrible, not just for Jews, but for everyone. At stake is the sovereignty of reason; and without that religion and religious freedom will be in peril.
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