The Battle of Hastings, part two

by Tom Doran (@portraitinflesh)

Twitter can be a very useful thing. Like many of you, I’ve met all sorts of people I never would have otherwise, and among them is James Vaughan, a fellow Welshman and a historian specializing in the Britain-Israel relationship. He regularly posts fascinating snippets from the archives as his work unearths them, but today, he’s surpassed himself. Found among the private papers of forgotten Labour legend – and passionate Zionist – Peter Shore MP was this clipping of a Max Hastings column, originally published in the Evening Standard on August 6th, 1980. Click the link or image below for the full-sized version, which is quite legible despite its age.

Meet the old Hastings, same as the new Hastings.

Those of you who read my last post should find all this very familiar. So much so, in fact, that my rebuttal to Hastings’ 2014 Israel-bashing applies almost in its entirety to the 1980 version, so I shan’t repeat myself. Suffice it to say that this discovery… complicates Hastings’ claim to be a stalwart ally of the Jewish state, only driven to harsh words by events. In fact, the Hastings of 1980 minces his words much less than his older self. I’d like, in particular, to draw your attention to two phrases that occur in the above clipping.

In the second paragraph, Menachem Begin is already being accused of “play[ing] the Holocaust card”. The problem here, I should stress, is not that Begin’s frequently-made analogies to Nazism, and those of the Israeli right in general, should be unchallenged. Here is Amos Oz eloquently responding to Begin on this point, and here is Leon Wieselter doing the same to his successors, twenty years later. This is all very much within the bounds of permissible debate.

What is not, and never can be, is the phrase “playing the Holocaust card”. Rather than being a critique of any specific invocation of the Nazi era, this instead sweepingly categorizes all such analogies as illegitimate and cheap. Look at those Jews, bringing up the Holocaust again, so typical… But why, on a moment’s reflection, should Israeli statesmen never mention the Shoah? Israel is one nation for which “existential threat” is not an abstract cliche, but simply a memory. It is never far from the minds of Israeli leaders, and with good reason.

This reality leads many observers of Israel to another well-meant but wrongheaded conclusion: that the behaviour they deplore in Israelis is somehow the result of collective Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. In this narrative, whose seductive simplicity is warning enough, the battered, beleaguered survivors of genocide find their promised land in 1948, but are so damaged by their experiences that they almost immediately start taking it out on the poor Arabs. “Those to whom evil is done/Do evil in return”, as Auden put it, just as wrongly.

Not only is this pop-psychological approach insulting and analytically lazy, it misunderstands Zionism and its history on the most fundamental level. For one thing, the Zionist presence in the Holy Land predates the rise of Hitler by the better part of a century. Rather than spurring the creation of Israel, the Holocaust instead proved all its founders’ worst fears correct in the most horrific way imaginable. The true relevance of the Shoah to the Zionist project is best embodied, I think, by this short video:

Still images of the jets over Auschwitz adorn the office walls of many an Israeli general or politician, I am reliably informed, and the reason has nothing to do with bitterness or revenge. Put simply, Zionism is founded not, as its critics claim, on the embrace of victimhood, but its rejection. Hounded from country to country, expropriated, beaten, humiliated and killed in their thousands and millions, the Jewish people finally said, in as many words, “OK, we get it. You don’t want us, and you won’t protect us. In that case, we’ll simply have to do it ourselves”.

And so they did, and will never be forgiven for it. These are the graves you are skipping on when you throw around pat phrases like “playing the Holocaust card”. Thinking deeply and carefully before engaging in debates about Zionism and the Holocaust is the very least we owe the six million, but to Hastings and too many like him, this engagement is limited to “there they go again”. The Shoah will recede from political debate as soon as Jewish survival is no longer in question, so I shouldn’t hold my breath.

The second, much more shocking phrase occurs in the second paragraph from the end. Here we learn that the American government is “too hypnotised by its own Jewish vote” to act decisively against Israel. Yes, “hypnotised”. Anyone with the faintest knowledge of antisemitism – which apparently doesn’t include Max Hastings – should instinctively recoil from the choice of verb alone. Hypnosis, in one form or another, is precisely what Jews have long been accused of inflicting on the majority, the central indictment of Jew-hatred.

Antisemites, you see, are faced with an obvious problem in making their case: how can it be that “the Jews” so dominate human civilization when they very much appear to be a tiny and despised minority? It’s a tricky one, but resolved easily enough. Jews must somehow possess special powers of deception by which they trick Gentiles into doing their bidding. This is not always put in terms of “hypnosis”, but often has been, the most notorious example being George du Maurier’s 1894 novel Trilby (from which we derive the term “svengali”, not incidentally). My late colleague George Orwell has more on this, if you’re interested.

But the calamitous – at best – wording is only the start. Jews comprise, depending on how you count, between 1 and 3% of the population of the United States. This isn’t to say they never count in elections – just try throwing a brick in Florida without hitting an aspiring presidential candidate with an Israeli-flag pin in their lapel and a hopeful, hungry grin on their face – but this is ordinary, all-American ethnic politics. Not content with accusing the “Jewish vote” – as if that were one, monolithic thing – of hypnosis, Hastings backs it up with the ancient and familiar implication that Jews, once allowed the benefits of citizenship, will always use them to exert an excessive and unsavoury influence.

Once again, it is entirely possible Hastings intends none of this, and is simply woefully ignorant of what his words convey. But he has no excuse to be, not least as a prolific historian in his own right. This was true in 1980 and even more so today. The debate over Israel and its future is one that non-Jews can and should engage in, but not before doing our homework. Tread softly, for you tread on their ashes.

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9 thoughts on “The Battle of Hastings, part two

  1. I remember reading a piece by Max Hastings years ago in which he strained to present himself as a philo-semite. He recounted a dinner party at which he defended the Jews against the accusations of other guests and the host, accusations to the effect that Jews were the source of all the problems in the world. He, and only he, spoke up to defend the Jews.

    I just kind of knew that there would be a “but” or “however” coming along. And that’s what happened. Once he had established his anti-anti-Semitic bona fides, he launched into a no-holds-barred attack on Israel and on the Jews of Britain. He still tried to show himself as essentially a friend and admirer of the Jews, calling them the “most intelligent people in the world” (or something like that). But even that was in the context of “How can the most intelligent people in the world…[do something so awful]..”.

    I suspect that this may be a common ploy. There was another article, I’m pretty sure by another author, that started off with how deeply the author felt about the Holocaust, how he had visited Auschwitz….TWICE. And he was, of course, so touched by the visits. Then the inevitable boom lowered. Anti-Israel venom followed next.

    Now, whenever I see an article starting out with how much the author feels for the Jews, loves the Jews, admires the Jews, read Anne Frank, is deeply moved by the Holocaust, has Jews among his best-ever friends, or is even married to a Jew, etc., I say to myself, “uh oh,” here it comes. It’s like seeing lightening and waiting with bated breath for the thunder to follow.

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  2. I wonder to what degree Hastings’ problem with Israel and Jews derives from his experiences writing Yonatan Netanyahu’s biography.

    According to his own memoirs (‘Going to the Wars’) Hastings was originally commissioned by Benzion Netanyahu to write about his son. Hastings was originally keen to do this – particularly in the aftermath of the Entebbe rescue – but the project ran into trouble. According to Hastings, this was because his initial script was insufficiently hagiographic about Yoni Netanyahu, and he was bullied by the family into producing a hack account.

    Of course, that’s his side of things, but I wonder if his subsequent behaviour was shaped by it? He is by all accounts a rather thin-skinned and not particularly likeable soul, so I wouldn’t put it past him to take out his feud with the Netanyahus against an entire country and ethnic group.

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  3. Part I is a must read. One has to wonder if the reason Israel has become the “standard bearer for civilization” is the corollary to the Palestinians as the #1 brand of Righteous Oppressed and therefore absolved of any agency, right down to the intentional use of human shields and deliberate diversion of “humanitarian aid” to building terror tunnels, etc.

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  4. I exchanged letters with him once when he said that the Palestinian suicide bombers were courageous and I thought that was inappropriate. I was a little unrestrained in my thoughts and perhaps the letter needs censoring? He did at least reply and asked me for a donation to a charity.
    This is what I said:

    The one thing such men don’t have is courage, for that demands the conquest of fear and through its mastery the ability to act virtuously despite the risks to oneself. Courage is morally neutral and looses even its Platonic virtue when used to describe atrocious behaviour. The basest of human beings, those who slit the throats of women and children before an immolation that condemns thousands of innocents to death and them to an expected welcome in Paradise by a Satanic God, are never courageous but morally destitute individuals who deserve contempt and universal condemnation. As for the Palestinians and their need for self respect the problem is that a society so debased may invite nothing but its own destruction having so distanced itself from ideas of common humanity that its enemies may despair of finding common ground other than apocalyptic battle with one side the conclusive victor. The Palestinians should be grateful that their enemy, though far from morally untarnished, behaves towards them with a reticence that would be impossible were the roles reversed. They should pray to their cruel and vengeful Deity that the Israelis retain enough moral probity in the face of unspeakable provocation to avoid responding to barbarism with barbarism. Israel’s wall is the final step before what many of us see as a catastrophic end to the long history of Judaism ‘s hope of a sanctuary. The Palestinians will fester on their side but their nature will soon reassert itself with outrages against the hated people on the other. Eventually there will be a response, and it may be ferocious. Many Jews now wish they had behaved with greater brutality towards the despised Arabs, driving them out from the lands west of the Jordan and may, if the chance ever arose, drive them from Israel itself.
    With an implacable enemy devoid of shared moral values to the extent that infanticide is encouraged, and self-preservation unimportant, the only effective remedy is killing .We reached such a point with the Germans and the Japanese. The Israelis fail because they don’t kill enough of the vile men that see nobility in slaughtering their captives on video for the salacious entertainment of their young. These are a people so distanced from an idea of goodness that they eviscerate their children to visit carnage on the children of enemies, bomb infant schools and teenage discos with an impunity that suggests addiction, push cripples from their wheelchairs into the sea and bathe in the blood of captured soldiers. The idea that such men could acquire any form of self-respect that didn’t mock the virtue it presupposes is preposterous.
    .

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  5. Pingback: The Battle of Hastings, part two | Tom Doran | Independent Eagle Eye Blogs

  6. This is really excellent, Tom. It’s very heartening to see the anti-Semitism in Britain, that I’m looking at from Canada, being critiqued, and so well. Thank you.

    Particularly interesting was your point to that Zionism came not from embrace of victimhood but from its rejection. I’m gobsmacked to say I never thought of it that way before. I knew the victimhood thing was just so much bigoted eyewash. But putting it that way nope, never did.

    Lastly, hypnosis?! I definitely never heard that one. I thought we Jews were said to control the world using a Magic Octopus. If I’m capable of controlling the government through hypnosis, why am I not doing that right this moment!? And it wouldn’t be about Israel, believe you me! The bigots get me all worked up about having magic powers and then it turns out to be not true. 😦

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