As a first time visitor to England many decades ago, the thing that impressed me most was how incredibly polite everybody was. By the time an Englishman approached within ten feet, he was already calling out, "Excuse me."
Civility is not the first thing a visitor to England would be likely to note today. Indeed if there is one thing in which the English, particularly the educated classes, seem to excel today it is vituperation.
All the old taboos against expressions of hatred have fallen. On the verbal level at least, the manners of soccer hooligans have been adopted by the chattering classes. Two days after 9/11, Philip Lader, former United States ambassador to the Court of St. James, was reduced to tears on the BBC's Question Time as the studio audience chanted anti-American slogans, while the BBC moderator sat there impassively.
Carol Gould, an ex-patriate American living in England for many years, describes a scene on a London bus, in which a tweedy Englishwoman, accompanied by a son in his public school uniform, set upon a hapless, elderly American tourist, telling her, "I rejoice every time I hear of another American soldier dying! You people all deserve to die in another 9/11." When the elderly American began to cry, her assailant grabbed her and started shaking her.
When the taboos start to fall, the weakest and shortest-lived taboo - that against open expressions of Jew-hatred - will be the first to go. Penelope Wyatt reported in the Spectator a few years back, a liberal lord's relief that, "Thank G-d, we can once say what we want about the Jews." The afore-mentioned Carol Gould describes bringing a video cassette to a copying shop she has used for years in London, and being asked angrily by the proprietor, "Is this another one of your Jewish-Holocaust things?" He proceeded to launch into an attack that he told her he had been saving for years. It begins, "You people should look in the mirror and wonder why every so often there is a Holocaust or massacre or pogrom. You bring it on yourselves," and ends, "The Jews have no right to a country. What makes you people think you have a right to a country?"
The implicit equation of Jews and Nazis are now employed by everyone from the Mayor of London on down. To mark the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the Spectator printed a piece by one Anthony Lippman, the son of a woman who survived Auschwitz, who wondered, "But for a turn of fate, could I have been a Nazi too?" His point is that Jews today have morphed into Nazis.
The question raised by Auschwitz for Lippman is: "What am I doing for those being persecuted today - among them the Palestinians, who are suffering at the hands of Jews?" When he stares at the tattoo number on his mother's arm, the ever sensitive Lippman informs his readers, he will be thinking not only of the crematoria and cattle cars, but of Jenin and Fallujah.
About the more than 130 Jews killed by suicide bombers in the month leading up to Jenin, Lippman, needless to say, has nothing to say. Anyone who leaves out those Jewish dead when speaking of Jenin is not remembering Auschwitz but to seeking its reprise.
Nothing captures the insidious drip-drip of Jew hatred provided by the British media so clearly as the continued ritual invocation of the "Jenin massacre" two years after it was conclusively established that no such thing ever occurred. In the annals of shoddy, propaganda journalism, the reportage of the battle in Jenin by the British media, including the BBC, deserves a full chapter.
The British press did not just distort and credulously accept at face value the most fantastic stories woven for them by Palestinians, they lied outright. Phillip Reeves of the Independent, informed his readers that Israel's cover up of a "monstrous war crime . . . has finally been exposed. . . . The sweet and ghastly reed of rotting human bodies is everywhere, evidence that this is a human tomb." Yet we now know that neither Reeves nor U.N. Middle East envoy Terje Larsen, who spoke of an overwhelming stench of death permeating the camp, could have smelled any such thing for the simple reason that there were too few bodies. After initially reporting 5,000 Palestinian dead - an estimate dutifully reported by much of the British media - even the Palestinians themselves admitted in the end that the total number of Palestinians killed did not exceed 56, and that most of those were armed fighters.
Daily Telegraph reporter David Blair described cold-blooded killings of Palestinian civilians, with a single shot to the head. None occurred. Veteran war correspondents, like the Evening Standard's Sam Kiley and the Times' Janine Giovanni, termed the scope of the destruction in Jenin the worst that they had seen in decades of covering wars around the world.
Giovanni compared the destruction in Jenin to that in the Chechen capital of Grozny, after Russian artillery leveled the city of 300,000. Blair reported that two-thirds of the Jenin camp was destroyed. Again these purported eye-witness reports were demonstrably lies. The total area of destruction in the camps was a few hundred square meters.
Kiley wrote of Israel's "staggering brutality and callous murder." Yet the 13 Israeli reservists blown up as they went house to house in the heavily booby-trapped camp to minimize Palestinian civilian casualties proved Israel's greater concern for civilian life than that shown by any other army in the world. In Kosovo, and more recently in Fallujah, allied forces relied on aerial bombardment, despite the inevitable killing of hundreds of civilians. Had Israeli artillery destroyed the few booby-trapped buildings in which the Palestinian terrorists were holed up, the number of Israeli casualties would have been less than half.
In the recent documentary, Jenin: Massacring the Truth, the Times Di Giovanni revealed her true colors. Leaning back on plush pillows, she did not squirm under questioning by producer Martin Himel. She refused to talk as long as Yonatan Van Caspel, an IDF reserve officer who lost 13 comrades in Jenin, remained in the room. A bit later, she asks Himel, "Are you Jewish?" Called upon to justify her comparison of Jenin to scenes of mass death in Grozny, she offers only, "Israel always seems to get away with it, doesn't it."
Nothing can explain away these false eyewitness reports as inevitable journalistic error in the heat of battle. American reporters made no similar errors, and continually played down the casualty figures provided by Palestinian sources and treated atrocity stories with the skepticism that they deserved. Long habituated to view Israelis as brutal aggressors, Palestinian accusations of civilian executions and mass graves were creditable to English reporters in ways that they were not to American journalists.
Hatred of Israel and Jews explains much of the British reporting, but not all. Interviewed by Martin Himel in Massacring the Truth, Tim Benson, director of the British Cartoon Society, explains the award for the best political cartoon of 2003 to Dave Brown for his portrayal of a grossly fat Sharon dropping Palestinian babies into his mouth. Benson calls the cartoon a great one because of its emotional power.
What about the emotional power of Jewish children blown to bits by suicide bombers? Himel asks. "Jews don't issue fatwas against journalists," Benson replies.
That craven attitude helps explain why it is permissible today in English society to utter any possible lie about Jews and Israel, but speaking truthfully about the deformities of modern Islam will earn one a tirade about Islamophobia. Thus the Mayor of London, who demonstratively boycotted a reception for President Bush, warmly embraces an Islamic cleric who praises suicide bombers and endorses wife-beating.
Given what the English public is exposed to on a regular basis, is it any wonder that Britain now boasts the fastest rising rate of anti-Semitic incidents in Europe, and that frum Jews do not feel safe walking the streets in Stamford Hill? As a spokeswoman for Natan Sharansky Israel's Minister for Diaspora Affairs put it recently, "You can't brainwash people for four years that Israel is an illegitimate country and that Israelis are like Nazis . . . and expect that nothing will happen to Jews."