The Old in the New Anti-Semitism

Why do so many Holocaust survivors sense emerging anti-Jewish threats before seeing them? Because they know how supposedly "innocent" insinuations grow into accusations and that accusations can become discrimination and soon after legislation. It is then that hysteria is set loose. Survivors sound the alarm because they know what is at stake. By doing so they strengthen our democracies in ways that no other people can. We listen to the survivors so that we survive.

That we have cause to listen is clear, as the results of the first round of the French presidential elections demonstrate. But not only demagogues like Jean-Marie Le-Pen and Europe's other lumpen extreme rightists incite trouble.

Throughout the 20 th century people who regarded themselves as "intellectuals" often became fellow travelers of fascism or communism without joining political parties based on those ideologies. In the 21 st century - in the "chattering classes" linked to the mass media, to politics, government and universities - we encounter people who condemn Israel in language that reminds us of the fellow travelers of those fallen anti-democratic movements. These are not majority voices in the Western world - not yet, thankfully - but are powerful and influential minority ones.

Take the case of the French Ambassador to Britain. At a dinner party in London not long ago he described Israel as "that shitty little country." His vulgar comments are not particularly frightful. What is worrying is the response. He was not recalled by his government; Tony Blair's government did not request his recall; popular opinion treated the matter as merely another scandal. Indeed, the French press thought the ambassador a victim of Britain's tabloid press, not of his contemptible sentiments.