BY SIR HAROLD EVANS
I came late to an awareness of antisemitism. I grew up during wartime in a nonreligious but Protestant, working-class family in Manchester, Britain. We were a little uneasy about neighbors who were Catholic. We were barely aware of Jews. They were concentrated across town in Cheetham Hill. I played in a table tennis league for Manchester YMCA against Jewish youth clubs, but in the tensest matches I never heard the derogatory terms of yid and kike. I certainly never came across hatred of Jews from anyone in my family or the wider, evolving circle of friends and workmates. I suppose what emotional reservoirs of hate we had were exhausted by thinking about the German bombers overhead.
I first heard of antisemitism only later, when my father told me how Oswald Mosley had fomented riots in the thirties by marching his paramilitary Fascist thugs called “Blackshirts” through Jewish districts in London’s East End. It disgusted him. Mosley’s line was that it was only “big Jews” he hated, not the “little Jews.” The “big Jews” were conspiring to get Britain into war with Germany, whereas the “little Jews” were harmless. But Mosley did nothing to stop his thugs from hurling bricks through the windows of humble houses displaying lighted Sabbath candles. My first personal experience of what antisemitism could do was in 1946–47. Britain came into conflict with radical Zionists because in the exercise of its mandate it tried to limit immigration to Palestine. The Irgun hanged two British soldiers and bombed the King David Hotel. A natural patriotism inspired antisemitic riots in my native Manchester and a number of other cities.
My first encounters with the stereotype of the Jew were literary—the villainous Fagin in Oliver Twist, and then the subtler Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. Thanks to A Convenient Hatred, I have a better appreciation of why Jews so often attracted odium as usurious creditors. I learned there was not much else they were allowed to do. In much of Europe, Jews were denied ownership of land and property, denied entry to craft guilds and the like, and actually encouraged to take up money lending, which scripture
prohibited for Christians.
If Shylock and Fagin imprinted a cartoon on my subconscious, it was obliterated when I plunged into reading histories of the 1930s and World War II, of Germany’s descent from grotesque caricatures of Jews to genocide. I became interested in stereotypes. Reporting from the American Deep South in the 1950s for what was then the Manchester Guardian, I saw how the stereotypical “cunning Jews” were portrayed as responsible for black protests, i.e., for stirring up blacks to seek the rights guaranteed by
the U.S. Constitution. Blacks, too, were stereotyped as ignorant by the very people who denied them fair and equal education. They were stereotyped, as subversive communists undermining freedom by those denying them the right to vote, and as lawless by the lynch mobs who went home for supper scot-free.
By the time I returned to the United Kingdom to become a newspaper editor in Britain, the new state of Israel was widely admired for making the desert flower. There is no doubt I paid too little thought to the Palestinians who’d been displaced, but I certainly tried to be fair to all when I edited The Sunday Times and The Times (1967–82). I resolved that the newspapers must treat Israel as we would any other country, neither more harshly nor less. Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s government was angry with me in 1977 for publishing in The Sunday Times the critical results of a five-month investigation of the ill-treatment of Palestinian prisoners
(which the State Department subsequently confi rmed). The Israeli government could not have been angrier than I was at the Israeli army’s facilitating role in the Christian Phalangists 1982 massacre of hundreds in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps during the Lebanese civil war. The subsequent outcry from the people of Israel and the investigation by the Israeli government did something to redeem the reputation of the state—a reputation that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) had damaged badly by betraying the state’s founding ideals.
At the same time, I did not hesitate to condemn the British media’s hysterical treatment of Israel when it retaliated for unprovoked rocket assaults from Jenin, the Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank. In April 2002, the IDF sealed off the town, which the Palestinians had booby-trapped with hundreds of explosives. Since the press could not immediately get in, they listened to stories of atrocities from Palestinian Authority spokesmen. There was a frenzy of indictments of Israel. The IDF was portrayed as murdering
3,000 defenseless Palestinians and then burying the victims in secret mass graves.
My old newspaper, The Guardian, was moved to write the editorial opinion that Israel’s attack was “every bit as repellent” as Osama Bin Laden’s on New York on September 11, 2001.1 Come again? In fact, a gullible press published a cataract of lies. Tom Gross of Mideast Media Analysis produced a scalding review and was vindicated when both a United Nations investigation and Human Rights Watch later concluded that there had been no massacre, no secret mass graves. It was a military engagement in which the death toll was 54, of whom half were Palestinian combatants, about the same number as Israeli fatalities.
In June 2002, I was invited to speak at the 50th anniversary celebrations of Index on Censorship. Since 1972 when it fi rst campaigned for writers suppressed in the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries, Index has been Britain’s leading organization promoting freedom of expression. As a newspaper editor who’d been a defendant in a fair share of secrecy prosecutions, I got the opportunity from the Index editors to compare my editing experiences in London with those over 20 years in the United States, and
especially to gauge the advances in regressions on British press freedom in the 28 years since I’d given a lecture entitled “The Half Free Press.” The invitation came months after Jenin and nine months after Arab hijackers flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
But instead of reexamining the freedoms of the press, I found my mind obsessed by the paradox that a new freedom had brought with it new corruptions. The Internet has connected the world as never before, but much of what travels at the speed of light now is half-truth masquerading as knowingness, and vast amounts of disinformation and misinformation. I was intrigued, in particular, by a report that went viral on the Internet immediately after 9/11: 4,000 Jews with jobs at the World Trade Center stayed away that morning because they had been tipped off by Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency. It was all a brilliant Jewish plot to vilify Muslims and pave the way for a joint Israeli-U.S. military operation not just against Osama bin Laden but also against militants in Palestine. Sheikh Muhammed Gemeaha at the Cairo Centre of Islamic Learning at al-Azhar University explained it for dummies: “only the Jews” were capable of toppling the World Trade Center. If the conspiracy became known to the American people, “they would have done to the Jews what Hitler did.”3
Of course, Jews and Israelis (400 of them) and Muslims and Catholics and Buddhists and Presbyterians who had jobs at the World Trade Center did what everybody employed there did on 9/11: they showed up for work and died for good timekeeping. There were among the 2,752 victims 77 nationalities of all religions (with some 60 Muslims) who earned their living as clerks, busboys, bond traders, cooks, accountants, managers, secretaries, and technicians. The attempt to shuffl e off the guilt of the outrage seemed to have had effect. Gallup sampled opinion in nine predominantly Islamic countries—Pakistan, Iran, Indonesia, Turkey, Lebanon, Morocco, Kuwait, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. It reported that some two-thirds of those polled found the 9/11 attack morally unjustifi ed. Only in Turkey, by 46 to 43 percent, did they believe that groups of Arabs had carried out the attacks. In Pakistan, only 4 percent accepted that the hijackers were Arabs.
Who could be crazy enough or malign enough to invent and disseminate
as truth the odious fi ction of a Jewish plot? And how did it convince so
many people so fast? Following a lead by the investigative journalist Bryan
Curtis, then at Slate, I tracked down the original disseminator of the conspiracy,
Syed Adeeb, a Pakistani living in Alexandria, Virginia, who edits a
website called Information Times (now Information Press). I asked him for
his evidence and how he’d verifi ed his story. He told me he had a reliable
source. It was Al-Manar Television in Lebanon. He was not at all fazed when
I pointed out that Al-Manar proclaims that it exists to “stage an effective
psychological warfare with the Zionist enemy.”
Once upon a time, Adeeb and his like would be sending out smudged
cyclostyled sheets to a handful of people. But Al-Manar’s story of a Mossad
conspiracy and variations of it, endlessly recycled, had a big play in the
Islamic world through the Web and word of mouth and made it into print.
The newspaper Ad-Dustour in Jordan reported that the Twin Towers attack
was “the act of the great Jewish Zionist mastermind that controls the world’s
economy, media, and politics.”
The respected journalist Syed Talat Hussain was frank about the proliferation
of the story in Pakistan: “In a country where there is a void of information,
newspapers resort to rumors. In addition, there is an abiding tradition
in the Pakistani print media deliberately to prove that whatever goes wrong
is the work of Jews and the Hindus.” Tom Friedman, the New York Times
columnist, reported an interview with an Indonesian from Jakarta who was
worried that hostility toward Christians and Jews was being fed by what he
called an insidious digital divide. The article said, “Internet users are only 5
percent of the population—but these 5 percent spread rumors to everyone
else. They say, ‘He got it from the Internet.’ They think it’s the Bible.”4
The technical accomplishment of the Internet, its speed, its reach, its
infi nite space, may indeed confer a spurious authenticity on nuttiness. It
also, however, affords us an unprecedented degree of knowledge about what
is being retailed, what people are being told, and what they may believe,
especially when imprisoned by illiteracy. One thinks of Socrates’s allegory of
a people who live all their lives chained to the blank wall of a cave. All they ever see in the darkness are the play of shadows. Only Socrates’s philosopher,
released into a bright day, can see that the shadows do not represent
In doing the research for the Index lecture, I caught sight of many
moving shadows on the wall that were alarming when seen in the light. I was
looking at nothing less than the globalization of hate. There were thousands
of antisemitic stories expressed with a vehemence as astounding as the
contempt for history and scholarship, to the effect that the Holocaust was
a Zionist invention, a “hoax,” a “lie,” a Jewish “marketing operation” (Hiri
Manzour, in the offi cial Palestinian Authority newspaper al-Hayat al Jadida),
and a “huge Israeli plot aimed at extorting the German government … if
only you [Hitler] had done it, brother, if only it had really happened, so that
the world could sigh in relief without their evil and sin” (a columnist in
Al-Akhbar, an Egyptian government daily).
Much of the sewage had obviously seeped out from the Protocols of the
Elders of Zion, the forgery concocted by the tsar’s secret police in 1903 that
contrives to represent every disaster as a Jewish plot. The ignorant credulity
of the peasants in Russia might be excused for believing their troubles were
the result of a plot by Jewish elders, overheard by two Christians hiding in
a Jewish cemetery at midnight. But how are we to understand educated
Egyptians making a multimillion dollar thirty-part dramatic series based
on this fraud? Or how do we equate our joy at seeing the thousands of
Egyptians speaking up for freedom in the square in Cairo in 2011 with the
fact that every corner bookstore in Cairo sells as “history” copies of this
fraud in Arabic, French, and English?
I looked forward to the Index event as an escape from the effl uent to the
affl uent. An address to educated, middle-class audiences normally found at
the Hay-on-Wye literary festival sponsored by The Guardian was an opportunity
to assess my anxieties and discuss what might be done. I called the
talk “The View from Ground Zero” and made it clear I was as critical of
Islamophobia as I was of antisemitism.
In the green hospitality room, the night before I was to speak, I was
cheered to meet three friends of intellectual distinction, two women and a
man I’d known since my days in London—let’s say a literary critic, a cultural
innovator, and a novelist. “What are you going to talk about tomorrow?”
asked the critic. I told them.
“You’re not going to criticize suicide bombers, are you?”
I thought the question was satirical. It wasn’t. When I owned up that I really thought so, and strongly, they were aghast. I appealed to their
reverence for the English language. I argued that a Guardian headline I’d
seen referring to suicide bombers as “martyrs” was surely a stunning corruption
of the word. Was not a martyr someone who gives up his life to save
others, not to randomly kill babes in arms, old men in wheelchairs, mothers
and fathers going about their innocuous ways (19 were victims at a Passover
seder)? To describe murderers as martyrs was to be emotionally complicit
in what Islam itself regards as a double transgression, suicide and murder.
I only infl amed their emotions. Critic and cultural innovator joined
in a duet of denunciation. Suicide bombs were all the poor Palestinians
could do to protest the cruelties of the Israelis. What had happened to my
I demurred. I did sympathize with refugees. I began to say the suicide
bombings were just pure evil, like the beheading of Daniel Pearl of the Wall
Street Journal (that February) just for being a Jew. Another mistake. I was
not in some academic seminar. I was swept away in a tide of emotion about
“You should be ashamed of yourself, Harry. You’ve lived too long in
America! You should get back to America!”
I looked to the novelist to stem the fl ow. He kept silent throughout.
Later the same evening, I mentioned the outburst to James (Jamie) Rubin,
the former U.S. assistant secretary of state for public affairs, who was then
living in London. “You’d better be ready for more of the same when you
speak,” he said.
I guess there were 500 people in the tent the next day. I spoke for my
allotted hour without interruption, and then there was silence. And silence.
To my anxious state, it seemed to last forever. It was probably no more than
seven or eight seconds. Then people stood, and they applauded, and they
all kept on applauding. I was relieved and gratifi ed, but I have no doubt
the reaction was a deeply felt expression of empathy for the victims (67 of
them were British) and a disgust at the political exploitation of the tragedy
I’d described. Tolerance is a deep vein in British culture, so the intellectuals’
vote for suicide bombers troubled me. My assailants never uttered
the word “Jew,” only “Israelis.” Were they antisemitic? Perhaps not, but a
British Parliamentary inquiry reported in 2006 that antisemitism was no
longer confi ned to the Far Right but was manifest in a variety of ways on the
Left—in the media, on the Internet, among fringe and extremist Islamists
(small in number yet radical), and on campuses where a few academics and students defame Israel as an apartheid state.5 Marie Brenner reported a
similar trend in France.6
Antisemitism is a very peculiar pathology that recognizes no national
borders. It is a mental condition conducive to paranoia and impervious to
truth. Its lexicon has no word for individuality. It is fi xated on group identity.
It is necessarily dehumanizing when people become abstractions. Once an
emotional stereotype has been created—of the Jews, of blacks, of Catholics,
of Muslims—it is readily absorbed in the bones like strontium 90, an
enduring poison that distorts the perceptions of the victims. All minority
groups have suffered, but none have been stereotyped more heinously and
more durably than Jews.
One of the reasons A Convenient Hatred is such an important and timely
publication is that we can see how the poison proliferates in receptive minds,
where it congeals into an unyielding conviction. As the eighteenth- century
author Jonathan Swift wrote, you cannot reason someone out of something
he has not been reasoned into. Shock succeeds shock on so many levels in
this book. I came to think of reading each chapter from the year 586 bce
to our times as akin to entering a complex of caves and receding chambers,
each harboring its own Minotaur demanding human sacrifi ces. We cannot
summon the Theseus of myth to rid us altogether of a Minotaur that in
one form or another has survived for centuries, this monster of antisemitism
gorging on regular infusions of hate. But we can discern the dark and
dangerous twists and turns of the labyrinth of men’s minds that mutate from
fear of a difference—difference of faith, of economic status, of custom, of
language, of ritual, of culture—to an atrophy of ethical sense and the abyss
of unreasoning hate.
Even the summaries of a cascade of cruelties that Phyllis Goldstein
documents over centuries make one’s blood run cold. Jew or non-Jew, what
sentient being could not but be appalled by just a few of the crimes against
the innocent Jews? Eight hundred put to the sword in the Rhineland town
of Worms (1096), some mothers and fathers choosing suicide for themselves
and their children rather than face the butchery. Over thirty men and
women burned alive in Blois (1171). Hundreds murdered in their homes in
Seville, buried alive in Toledo, and drowned in the Tagus (1391– 1420). Two
hundred thousand people expelled from their homes in Spain (1492), tens
of thousands dying on the way out. Babies torn to pieces by frenzied mobs
in Kishinev in what is now Moldavia (1903), 600,000 uprooted by the tsar’s
army in 1915. Old men, women, children, and infants in arms massacred at Proskurov (1919). A group of 33,771 men, women, and children shot and
buried in the ravine known as Babi Yar near Kiev (September 29–30, 1941).
And on into the nightmare years of the other Nazi programs of mass annihilation
and to Auschwitz and beyond.
In addition to these better-known atrocities, one of the greatest shocks,
for me, was the active antisemitism of the Christian church, both Catholic
and Protestant, including Martin Luther. I feel shame that I was so little
aware of it, never thought of how the stories and values I’d absorbed in
the Episcopal church had to be reconciled with a barbarous history. As a
schoolboy, I’d exulted in the adventures of the armored knights, banners
fl ying with the cross of St. George, riding to free Jerusalem from the Turks. I
didn’t know—how many people do?—that the crusaders, as they rode south
through Europe to Jerusalem, were as keen to hunt down and kill as many
Jews as they could fi nd.
Oppression is a commonplace fate of minorities. The Jews are hardly
unique in this regard: the majority has often had good cause to fear insurgency.
Indeed, Jews, being not visibly different from the rest of the population,
are generally exposed to less prejudice than members of more distinctive
minorities. What I had not appreciated, however, until I read A Convenient
Hatred, is how long Jews have uniquely been the subject of campaigns of
intimidation and discrimination—since long before the creation of Israel,
long before the Holocaust, long before the Spanish Inquisition, even before
the Romans crucifi ed Jesus. As striking as the persistence of the pathology
is how Jews have maintained their identity, and many of them their faith,
in the face of unparalleled defamation and assault. There are heroes in the
story as well; more of their stories should be known.
Harold Evans is editor-at-large of Thomson Reuters, the world’s largest
international multimedia news provider. He is also the author of two critically
acclaimed best-selling histories of America: The American Century and They
Made America. His most recent book is his memoir, My Paper Chase, which
covers his early life and his years as editor of The Sunday Times and The
Times of London. On the 50th anniversary of the founding of the International
Press Institute, Evans was honored as one of 50 World Press Heroes.
1 “The Battle for Truth: What Really Happened in Jenin Camp?” The Guardian, April 17, 2002.
2 Tom Gross, “Jeningrad,” in Those Who Forget the Past: The Question of Anti-Semitism, ed. Ron Rosenbaum
(New York: Random House, 2004), 135–144.
3 Jonathan Rosen, “The Uncomfortable Question of Antisemitism,” The New York Times, November 4, 2001.
4 Thomas L. Friedman, “Global Village Idiocy,” The New York Times, May 12, 2002.
5 “Report of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism,” (London: The Stationery Offi ce, 2006), 63.
6 Marie Brenner, “France’s Scarlet Letter,” in Those Who Forget the Past: