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It's More Important Than Ever To Confront The Growing, Insidious Scourge Of Antisemitism

17/10/2017 14:27 BST | Updated 17/10/2017 14:28 BST
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This blog is a transcript of a speech given by Andrew Neil at the Holocaust Educational Trust Annual Appeal Dinner in London on Monday 16 October, and has been edited for clarity

It is interesting as we are here tonight, that you might think the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust would have become less important, that we have never been more aware of the dangers of racism and discrimination, of the need for people to be treated properly and yet I will argue with you tonight, that it is now more important than ever, that it is actually needed more than it has been before, because the scourge of antisemitism, which is always with us, is changing. We need to meet it now on a broader front and it is growing not just more dangerous but more insidious. And if you accept that, you will accept that the Trust's work is far from done.

When I was growing up, the obvious antisemites were the knuckle draggers in the National Front in this country, what was left of the KKK in America, the Holocaust denier like Jean-Marie Le Pen. Now these people and their kind are still around but they are more marginal than they have been and they are less significant than they have been. They have not gone away, they are still there, but they do not matter as much. What has surprised me, for I think it was entirely unpredictable, was that the new development in this area is the rise of antisemitism on the far left. And that is more dangerous, than the knuckle-dragging right.

I don't say for a moment that the far right is no longer a problem. We have seen the neo-Nazi nutters in Charlottesville in America and it is clearly a problem when the President of the United States, the president of the greatest democracy in the world, cannot bring himself, unequivocally to condemn these neo-Nazi nutters in Charlottesville. That shames the United States, a country I love.

And yet it is remarkable that's what has happened. Now I know that reading history is not Mr Trump's strong point, indeed I am not sure that reading is his strong point, but you do think that somebody in the White House would have told him what the bad guys were called in the Second World War.

I don't say that the antisemitism of the left is entirely new. Those of you who know your history of Soviet Russia will know that it is not new, that there is a strain of antisemitism that has always run through parts of the British intellectual left. But I believe that it is more prevalent, that it is on the rise, and that it is given far too easy a pass. It gets away with it in the way that the antisemitism of the far right is not allowed to get away with it.

Now serious academic studies illustrate what I mean or provide the evidence. The study by the University of Oslo concluded that in Europe, the main rise of antisemitism was now from Islamisists as you would expect but also from the left. But it is not just academic studies; it is also obvious from casual observation.

At the Labour Conference, in a fringe meeting, but official enough to be on the official programme of the Labour Party Conference, one person - a chair of the fringe meeting - asked "We demand the right to debate 'Holocaust: Yes or No'". What did he mean, 'Holocaust: Yes or No?': 'Yes or No, it happened?'; 'Yes or No, it's a good or bad thing?'; 'Yes or No, we should have another go at it?' Why ask 'Yes or No?' at a mainstream political party on the Holocaust? And yet he did. And the people involved are still members of the Labour Party.

We have the former Labour mayor of this city, intentionally linking Zionism in Germany in the 1930s with the Nazis based on the ramblings of an obscure Trotskyite historian. We know what he was doing; there can be no bigger insult to link Zionism with Nazi Germany or the Jews with Nazi Germany. We know what he was doing, it is clear as night follows day. But he is still regarded as a respectable politician in this country.

So why is this happening? I think there are a number of reasons why this is taking place. The far left and the far right live and breathe conspiracy theories and if you deal in conspiracy theories, sooner or later the Jews come into the frame. That is how it works. And conspiracy theories have been given a fresh life and a fresh reach in the world of fake news in the social media. It was Mark Twain who said that "the truth has barely got its boots on before a lie is halfway round the world" and that is what is happening today.

Now it's not obviously just antisemitism, but this is the very climate, the atmosphere in which antisemitism survives and indeed prospers. It means that never before has there been a greater importance of robust independent well-financed journalism to deal with these conspiracy theories and the fake news that so quickly take root.

And I think another reason why we are in this strange world of the far left and antisemitism growing is that there is a reluctance on the left to criticise radical Islam. I don't mean Islam, I mean Islamism. There is a reluctance and therefore if you are not prepared to criticise what is the main source of antisemitism in the world today, then you may have trouble realising just how serious it is.

And then of course on the left, as there is on the hard right, a dislike of Israel. Not just a dislike of Israel, a hatred of Israel, and when the hatred, when it turns into hatred beyond normal criticism of foreign policy at a state's conduct, which we are all free to do and which every country must be subject to, when it turns to hatred, you and I know that when hatred is in the vanguard, antisemitism flourishes.

And related to that, it has become a cover because since the Holocaust, obviously antisemitism is no longer respectable. It was in the 1930s, it was in the 1920s, the Holocaust obviously changed that. But anti-Zionism on the left is respectable and quite often that is used as a cover.

And finally, and I think in a way, most dangerous of all because it encompasses many countries and many parts of the world, and it includes the far left and the far right, is the rise of authoritarianism, from the Kremlin to Caracas, across the Maghreb, into the Levant and beyond to the Gulf, there is a rise of authoritarianism. In Europe there is a rise of authoritarian parties, mainstream parties struggle to maintain their position. And when authoritarianism is on the rise, intolerance is on the rise. The failure of the Arab Spring, one of the great failures of modern times, resulted in probably a greater authoritarianism than before. That brings its own dangers from the far left and the far right.

I do not argue with you tonight that democracy on its own is enough to repel antisemitism, look at France today or even the growth in attacks on our synagogues in this country. But democracy is a necessary first condition if we are to deal with it. Where democracy is in retreat, antisemitism will generally be on the rise. The antiseptic, the daylight of democracy keeps it in check, it puts it on the defensive, it makes it accountable, it makes it possible to deal with. Whereas in authoritarian societies that is not the case, indeed it may well be encouraged by the authorities.

So there is a confluence of forces at work that make the work of the Trust needed more than ever. Because the job of the Trust is to remind us, by reminding us of the Holocaust where antisemitism ends up. It ends up in the concentration camps of eastern Europe. Now I know it's not the only genocide in world history, all of them are a stain on mankind. But other genocides, they did have some kind of rational grotesqueness too them. It was about territory, invasion, resources, revenge, or often just the mindless barbaric fury of people. That was not the case with the Holocaust which I think, not just in scale, but in operation and even in motivation, makes it unique.

You know it wasn't mindless barbaric fury, the Nazis discovered that there was still one Jewish couple living in the north of Norway. They sent a whole group of SS people to get that one family, to bring that family. They did not even kill that family when they got to Norway; they brought the family back, this Jewish family from Norway so that it could experience the full horrors of the Holocaust. That is not mindless barbaric fury, that is something else, it is absurd, it is illogical but it also happened in what was the best educated nation on earth that then put its education and its resources to the industrialisation of mass murder. It had never happened before.

So this Trust, that we are here to honour and help finance tonight, reminds us of where antisemitism leads, how it happens and the more we know about it, the more we will make sure, it will never happen again. We have an obligation to make sure that future generations know what happened in the Holocaust because it is my view and I have still enough faith in mankind that if future generations know, they will say in every land, at every continent of every race and every creed, we will say with one voice: "Never ever again, never ever again".

The Holocaust Educational Trust educates people around the UK about the Holocaust and its relevance today. You can donate to the Trust here