Many years ago, sometime in the last century (how worldly I feel writing that!) I was at the launch party for the dear dead Modern Review mark II and feeling mildly appalled by the whole flimsy thing when a young man introduced himself to me as Nick Cohen and told me he’d be writing for us.
‘O, a Cohen!’ I exclaimed happily, all innocence. ‘Just what this magazine needs – a clever Jew!’
Did I ever get a mouthful!
‘I’m not a Jew – my family rejected Judaism decades ago…never been so insulted…’
‘But your name is the name of Moses’ brother – Aaron!’ I pointed out. ‘How can you not be a Jew? That’s like being called Taffy Jones-Thomas and not being Welsh!’
Fast forward twenty years and imagine my delight when this very spring that same clever Mr Cohen put his name to a brilliant newspaper essay entitled Why I’m becoming a Jew and why you should, too. Of course, as one who has always been keen to be a Jew (I pretended to be one as a teenage hack at the New Musical Express, and attempted to convert a few years back – both of which I write about at entertaining length in my latest book, Unchosen), I’ve always been absolutely incredulous at those people who are born Jews and seem not to want the blessing. So I was glad that Mr Cohen had seen the light and found it to be a menorah.
It’s hard to keep up with the minute-by-minute blowhard-by-blowhard descent of the Labour Party into appearing to be a snakepit of half-witted anti-Semitism. As I write, four Labour councillors have been suspended in the past day or so. It’s become rather like a West End farce – lots of running about, denying stuff and hiding in toilets. We’ve even got the essential sex element in Ken ‘Mr Lover-Lover’ Livingstone, helpfully pointing out that he can’t be an anti-Semite because he’s slept with Jewish women – which is a bit like saying you can’t be a sexist if you sleep with females.
Whatever, you’d think that any Jews in the vicinity of the British left would have taken the road that Mr Cohen so helpfully signposted by now. But a hardcore – in my book, quickly defined as those who oppose the existence of the tiny, democratic state of Israel while being perfectly ok with the existence of the state of Pakistan – still seem to support Labour.
There are of course the Mad: the bonkers Neturei Karta, the Flat Earthers of Orthodox Judaism who reject Zionism. There are the Bad: the Jewish Holocaust deniers who know exactly what they’re doing, and in my opinion derive a great thrill, partly sexual, from doing so. And then there are the simply Sad – your common or garden Jumping Jews. I think of them as this because when anti-Semites down the ages say ‘Jump!’ the JJs ask meekly ‘How high?’ All of these groups will always find a way to blame Zionism.
It’s always weird meeting a dumb Jew – like meeting a gay man who can’t dance. But there are a few out there, and quite a good number of the JJs are in the media, which even I as a lifelong proud hack have to admit is not so much a broad church as a wonderful mix of personality disorders.
The most charitable view of these clowns is that they suffer from ‘rationalist naiveté’ – the liberal error of assigning our own motives to the all comers (self-interest, reason, logic) and believing that we are all rational actors. Whereas in fact – as with the Nazis – there are on this earth non-rational actors who cannot be reasoned with and whose ideas must be fought to the death. It’s amusing in a tragic way to see the gently-raised JJs get unknowingly into bed – just for a cuddle! – with the worst sort of person and then be forced to flee hatless into the night when the beast makes his intentions clear.
The more probable explanation is that, despite all their penny-ante posturing, they’re rotten cowards. As Nick Cohen said in his essay ‘Whenever I hear Jews announce their hatred of Israel’s very existence, I suspect that underneath their loud bombast lies a quiet plea to the Islamists and neo-Nazis who might harm them: “I’m not like the others. Don’t pick on me.”’