I’m catching up on my Macleans, and find Mr Optimist outside a Jewish cemetery in Tangiers, full of talk of sanctity from the Moroccan government and the groundskeeper’s laundry…
By 2005, there were fewer than 150 Jews in Tangiers, almost all of them very old. By 2015, it is estimated that there will be precisely none. Whenever I mention such statistics to people, the reaction is a shrug: why would Jews live in Morocco anyway? But in 1945 there were some 300,000 in this country. Today some 3,000 Jews remain—i.e., about one per cent of what was once a large and significant population. That would be an unusual demographic reconfiguration in most countries: imagine if Canada’s francophone population or Inuit population were today one per cent of what it was in 1945. But it’s not unusual for Jews. There are cemeteries like that on the rue du Portugal all over the world, places where once were Jews and now are none. I mentioned only last week that in the twenties, Baghdad was 40 per cent Jewish. But you could just as easily cite Czernowitz in the Bukovina, now part of Ukraine. “There is not a shop that has not a Jewish name painted above its windows,” wrote Sir Sacheverell Sitwell, visiting the city in 1937. Not today. As in Tangiers, the “community” resides in the cemetery.
You can sense the same process already under way in, say, London, the 13th-biggest Jewish city in the world, but one with an aging population; and in Malmö, Sweden, where a surge in anti-Semitism from, ahem, certain quarters has led Jewish residents to abandon the city for Stockholm and beyond; and in Odense, Denmark, where last year superintendent Olav Nielsen announced he would no longer admit Jewish children to the local school. The Jewish presence almost anywhere on the map is as precarious as, to coin a phrase, a fiddler on the roof. And Israel’s enemies are determined that the biggest Jewish community of all should be just as precarious and prove just as impermanent.
In 1936, during the Cable Street riots, the British Union of Fascists jeered at London Jews, “Go back to Palestine!”, “Palestine” being in those days the designation for the Jewish homeland. Last week, Helen Thomas, the doyenne of the White House press corps, jeered at today’s Jews, “Get the hell out of Palestine,” “Palestine” being now the designation for the land illegally occupied by the Jewish apartheid state. “Go home,” advised Miss Thomas, “to Poland and Germany.” Wherever a Jew is, whatever a Jew is, he should be something else somewhere else. And then he can be hated for that, too.
I recommend listening to the Amélie soundtrack while you read this. It really sets a mood, especially the sad bits in the middle.
North Korea sinks a South Korean ship; hundreds of thousands of people die in the Sudan; millions die in the Congo. But 10 men die at the hands of Israeli commandos and it dominates the news day in, day out for weeks, with UN resolutions, international investigations, calls for boycotts, and every Western prime minister and foreign minister expected to rise in parliament and express the outrage of the international community.
Odd. But why?
Because Israel is supposed to be up for grabs in a way that the Congo, Sudan or even North Korea aren’t. Only the Jewish state attracts an intellectually respectable movement querying its very existence, and insisting that, after 62 years of independence, that issue is still not resolved. Let’s take a nation that came into existence at precisely the same time as the Zionist Entity, and involved far bloodier population displacements. I happen to think the creation of Pakistan was the greatest failure of postwar British imperial policy. But the fact is that Pakistan exists, and if I were to launch a movement of anti-Pakism it would get pretty short shrift, and in Canada a “human rights” complaint or three.
Oh nice, now I have Fréhel singing “Si tu n’étais pas là”.
I have a Jewish cookbook, I think I’ve mentioned it before, that says in passing that the closest thing spoken to Latin in the modern age was an Italian dialect spoken in the Jewish ghettos in Rome before WWII. Ahem. Anyway it’s all very depressing.