The death-dealing culture of lies
Published in: Jewish Chronicle
We were in Israel listening to an address by an Israeli Arab, a man who happens to run a project promoting reconciliation between Arabs and Jews. We were therefore expecting to hear about the dilemmas on both sides, certainly, but expressed with the objectivity and generosity that are surely necessary to any true reconciliation in such incendiary territory.
Such naivety was rapidly exposed. What we got instead was a 20-minute rant fuelled by grievance and resentment, a one-sided and distorted presentation of the Israeli past and present which wholly omitted any reference to the Arab wars of extermination against Israel or the systematic murder of Israeli civilians, and instead presented the Jews as motivated by an otherwise incomprehensible animosity and prejudice against the Arabs and a desire to do them down.
The real trouble was that among the audience were some Brits who were all too ready to believe such a portrait. The Israelis present waved away such concerns. The British participants, they insisted, were - with the exception of one or two who could hardly become any more hostile - all very sympathetic, open-minded, lovely people.
On our way out I was intercepted by one of these very sympathetic, open-minded, lovely Brits, a senior cleric in the Church of England. He had noticed my pain, he said, during the presentation and wanted to understand it. Oh dear. Such incomprehension did not exactly augur an imminent meeting of minds.
So I said my 'pain' was simply caused by the fact that we had heard a series of distortions and lies that would deepen misunderstanding and foment yet more hatred of Israel and the Jews, particularly among those whose ignorance of the truth made them fertile ground for such propaganda.
The cleric assumed an expression appropriate for dealing with a moral imbecile. 'There is no one truth', he intoned. 'We all have to respect each other's truths'. And the Arab we had just listened to was, in his view, a 'hero'.
So to this Christian cleric there was no such thing as a lie? And if the 'truth' we were respecting was actually a lie, wouldn't this ultimately lead to siding with terrorists rather than their victims, whose self-defence would thus be condemned - exactly as the Church of England now condemns Israel?
Well, he said, it was absolutely wrong for the Israelis to kill Hamas leaders as they were once again doing. (Naturally, he did not even mention the thirty-plus rockets that Hamas had just fired at the Israeli town of Sderot which had provoked this reaction). Instead, the Israelis should be talking to them.
Uh-huh. And what, pray, would they talk about given that Hamas wants to wipe Israel off the map? Would he perhaps have advocated talking to the Nazis, in, say, 1936?
Interesting you should raise that, he said; I've been wondering the same thing recently. But look, he went on, this business of self-defence is overdone. Look at our government's claim to have invaded Iraq in self-defence, which has now been proved to be a lie.
Oh? A lie, eh? Leaving aside little details like proof and historical evidence here, weren't we supposed to 'respect' the government's truth? Or are the only truths that the church 'respects' the ones that confirm its own prejudices?
I was thinking about this episode when I read the Chief Rabbi's warning of a new kind of anti-Jewish feeling that has erupted in Britain - new because it now focuses on the Jews not as a race but as a nation, and through the demonisation of Israel is promoting fresh versions of the oldest hatred from the blood libel to the world Jewish conspiracy.
The point about this firestorm of anti-Jewish prejudice is that it is based on a big lie, a misrepresentation of past and present that turns Jewish victimhood into oppression and Arab aggression into victimhood.
At the heart of the new antisemitism is a wholesale denial of the truth about the Middle East tragedy. This in turn is part of a denial of the very concept of truth itself, a philosophical travesty that is more generally wrecking moral and social order in Britain.
The fact that Sir Jonathan Sacks has now - and not before time, some would say - publicly stated that Israel has become a global scapegoat is an important development because the British establishment now stands challenged at last by one of its own that it has a case to answer.
Similarly, the recent formation of the website 'Anglicans for Israel' is also significant - not just because it shows there are decent Anglicans who do understand the difference between truth and lies, but that there is now a public challenge to the church's moral decay from its own flock.
It is only if people publicly uphold the truth like this that there is any chance of reversing our current death-dealing culture of prejudice and lies.