Rex Murphy: Boris Johnson gets it right on anti-Semitism. Why can’t other politicians?
The British prime minister used both the right words and right tone when delivering his Hanukkah message
I think, in a way, that the best response to the near-slaughter (five were injured — many more victims were intended) in Monsey, N.Y., came before the event and from across the water. I’m not being cute about so grim and grievous an event, but rather pointing to a public man, a prime minister, who addressing the return/rise of anti-Semitism in his beloved England, used both the right words and right tone when giving his Hanukkah message.
Boris Johnson is clear, direct and speaks like Boris Johnson. By the latter I mean he doesn’t “order out” for his speeches, doesn’t go to the fudge and cliché factories that are the resource of almost every politician — from mayors to prime ministers — who mutter their formal addresses with bland, dead and dull formulations, stuffed with kindergarten bromides, and affecting a slow-voiced, precious tone that are otherwise heard only from fake yogis, New Age aromatherapists and deliquescent hippies.
Boris Johnson doesn’t ‘order out’ for his speeches
“We must have more love. There is no room for hate. This is not who we are.” Cliché and platitude journeying to pure narcolepsy.
Not so, Mr. Boris. And so when it came time for him on Hanukkah to address British Jews, there was none of that — no preening, no halting, no sigh-voiced exhalation of dead words or thought. He spoke and — here’s the miracle of the day — in words he most likely wrote himself, and what is more, that he actually really meant.
He did not elide past the troubling stirrings of anti-Semitism in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, nor the rise of anti-Semitic incidents in his country. He tied past and present, and was both casual and formal as is his way: “It is a time to celebrate not just the miracle of the oil but also your unique identity. To pop the Hanukkah Menorah in the window and say to the world, just as Judah and his small band of poorly-equipped Maccabees said to Antiochus III and his mighty Greek army all those years ago: ‘I am Jewish and I am proud of it.” When referencing the anti-Semites, he spoke “the language such as men do speak.” There’s no newspeak false euphemism in this: “I know that recent years have not been easy ones for British Jews. In the media, on the streets and particularly online, anti-Semites have, in alarming numbers, been emboldened to crawl out from under their rocks and begin, once again, to spread their brand of noxious hatred far and wide.”
Clarity of condemnation and clarity of affirmation, simultaneously elegant and straight to the core, were the hallmarks of this quite brief but fully effective address: “But as you kindle the Hanukkah light tonight and in the nights to come, I want you to remember this. When the Maccabees drove the forces of darkness out of Jerusalem, they had to do so on their own. Today, as Britain’s Jews seek to drive back the darkness of resurgent anti-Semitism, you have every decent person in this country fighting by your side.
“Because Britain would not be Britain without its Jewish community. And we will stand with you and celebrate with you – at Hanukkah, and all year round.”
Just one final note on the message, coming as it did before the attempted massacre by machete in Monsey on Saturday. Watch it on YouTube, hear and see with what naturalness, what emphasis and urgency he delivered it, without a trace of that super-irritating and false “actorly” vibe most other leaders dip into, and which strips those leaders’ moral moments of all persuasiveness and force.
Britain would not be Britain without its Jewish community
Is anything of the like being heard in the bleak aftermath of the Monsey attack, itself following so shortly upon the attack on a kosher market by suspects linked to the Black Hebrew Israelites — a noxious (despite the name) anti-Semitic group — and also following a cascade of at least 13 anti-Semitic incidents in New York during the previous week or 10 days? That there could have been such a pileup of overt, crude and violent anti-Semitism in so short a period in a great liberal metropolis is stunning enough.
It is also more than a troubling indication of the far-too-easily-tolerated normalization of this most enduring and adamant of hatreds. And surely an indication that in New York courtrooms, assaults, violent or verbal, are seen as trivial and of no account. Take the case of one Tiffany Harris, charged with “punching and cursing three Orthodox women, ages 22, 26 and 31, in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.” Wonder woman Harris “was hauled in handcuffs before a Brooklyn judge on 21 menacing, harassment and attempted assault charges.”
Was she ashamed, repentant, downcast? For hitting and harassing Jews? Why the idea! In the courtroom itself, she purred with pride: “Yes, I slapped them. I cursed them out. I said ‘F-U, Jews.” She was released immediately after the stating of the charges, and but the very next day, and only one mile away, allegedly assaulted another woman (not clear yet if this lady was Jewish). What we have come to call a “hate crime” would never have been so expeditiously dismissed in any other combination of ethnic or racial characteristics. Anti-Semitism, well … it just is.
For anti-Semitic incidents there’s obviously a different rule. From the New York Post, the voice of this former state lawmaker says it clearly: “You have to beat the hell out of somebody — or murder them — for there to be any consequences. Otherwise, you are set free.”
To return to PM Johnson. Is it not clear that anti-Semites have “been emboldened to crawl out from under their rocks” and are once again, via the haze and mush of false and feeble pledges to “stand up against hate,” emboldened “to spread their brand of noxious hatred far and wide?”