In an interview with Haaretz in November 2010, British novelist Martin Amis said the following about discussions of Israel in his motherland:
I live in a mildly anti-Semitic country, and Europe is mildly anti-Semitic, and they hold Israel to a higher moral standard than its neighbors. If you bring up Israel in a public meeting in England, the whole atmosphere changes. The standard left-wing person never feels more comfortable than when attacking Israel. Because they are the only foreigners you can attack. Everyone else is protected by having dark skin, or colonial history, or something. But you can attack Israel. And the atmosphere becomes very unpleasant. It is traditional, snobbish, British anti-Semitism combined with present-day circumstances.
After participating last week in a debate in London about Israeli communities beyond the 1949 armistice lines organized by the self-consciously pretentious Intelligence Squared debating society, I can now say from personal experience that Amis is correct. The public atmosphere in England regarding Israel is ugly and violent.
The resolution we debated read: “Israel is destroying itself with its settlement policy. If settlement expansion continues Israel will have no future.”
My debating partner was Danny Dayan, the outgoing head of the Yesha Council.
We debated Daniel Levy, one of the founders of J-Street and the drafter of the Geneva Initiative, and the son of Lord Michael Levy, one of Tony Blair’s biggest fundraisers; and William Sieghart, a British philanthropist who runs a non-profit that among other things, champions Hamas. Levy has publicly stated that Israel’s creation was immoral. And Sieghart has a past record of saying that Israel’s delegitimization would be a salutary proces and calling for a complete cultural boycott of Israel while lauding Hamas.
We lost overwhelmingly. I think the final vote tally was something like 500 for the resolution and 100 against it.
A couple of impressions I took away from the experience: First, I can say without hesitation that I hope never to return to Britain. I actually don’t see any point. Jews are targeted by massive anti-Semitism of both the social and physical varieties. Why would anyone Jewish want to live there?
As to visiting as an Israeli, again, I just don’t see the point. The discourse is owned by anti-Israel voices. They don’t make arguments to spur thought, but to end it, by appealing to people’s passions.
For instance, in one particularly ugly segment, Levy made the scurrilous accusation that Israel systematically steals land from the Palestinians. Both Dayan and I demanded that he provide just one example of his charge. And the audience raged against us for our temerity at insisting that he provide substantiation for his baseless allegation. In the event, he failed to substantiate his allegation.
At another point, I was asked how I defend the Nazi state of Israel. When I responded by among other things giving the Nazi pedigree of the Palestinian nationalist movement founded by Nazi agent Haj Amin el Husseini and currently led by Holocaust denier Mahmoud Abbas, the crowd angrily shouted me down.
I want to note that the audience was made up of upper crust, wealthy British people, not unwashed rabble rousers. And yet they behaved in many respects like a mob when presented with pro-Israel positions.
I honestly don’t know whether there are policy implications that arise from my experience in London last week. I have for a long time been of the opinion that Israel shouldn’t bother to try to win over Europe because the Europeans have multiple reasons for always being anti-Israel and none of them have anything to do with anything that Israel does. As I discuss in my book, these reasons include anti-Semitism, anti-Americanism, addiction to Arab oil, and growing Muslim populations in Europe.
I was prepared to conduct a civilized debate based on facts and reasoned argumentation. I expected it to be a difficult experience. I was not expecting to be greeted by a well-dressed mob. My pessimism about Europeans’ capacity to avail themselves to reasoned, fact-based argumentation about Israel has only deepened from the experience.
One positive note, I had a breakfast discussion last Wednesday morning with activists from the Zionist Federation of Britain. The people I met are committed, warm, hardworking Zionists. I wish them all the best, and mainly that means, that I hope that these wonderful people and their families make aliyah.
While their work is worthwhile, there is no future for Jews in England.
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