In my book Don't Tread on Me: Anti-Americanism Abroad, I relate a story about an elegant Englishman in a pinstriped suit approaching a stall run by Zionist activists outside the Marks & Spencer store on London's Oxford Street. He challenges them — infuriated that Jews have come to stage a counterdemonstration against a noisy contingent of "Free Palestine" supporters who congregate every Thursday to protest the "Zionist origins" of "M & S."
As the "Free Palestine" contingent chants slogans about the ruthless Zionist Marks family, he tells me that he is sorry "not enough Jews" are killed when suicide bombs explode in Israel. He wishes "more would die" with each attack. I confront him, but his anger boils over and he stomps off into the night.
I have never ceased to be astounded by the level of blatancy that attaches to British anti-Semitism. Back in 2003, Tam Dalyell MP complained in Vanity Fair about the "cabal of Jews" surrounding Tony Blair and George Bush. Journalist Richard Ingrams said he never opened letters with Jewish-sounding names on the envelopes.
By the same token, for decades I was told by shy Anglo-Jews that I "provoked" or "imagined" hate-speak. That changed when the distinguished scholar and Britain's Chief Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Sacks said Britain was "in the grips of a tsunami of anti-Semitism."
Let me tell you what happened to me on the day I sat down to write this piece for the Jewish Exponent. I had been invited to a friend's flat for tea. As a neighbor got up to leave, my hostess suggested he join her weekly book club group. He said, "You mean the one that meets at that synagogue?" (He spat out the word "synagogue.") As my head spun, he embarked on a discourse that could have been devised in medieval England, traducing thieving, cheating, greedy "Yids." Was I a coward to let him depart unchallenged? Perhaps. The battle seems unwinnable.
The incidents seem endless. One evening this past summer, on the "First Night of the Proms," a major London cultural event, I was having a lovely time at a post-prom garden party when a young man in a baseball hat sauntered over to me. He proceeded to spend what seemed an eternity arrogantly defaming Americans, Jews, Zionism and Israel. This man could have been a Nazi.
"It's always me, me, me — the Jews, the Jews," he shouted. It was impossible for me to get away from him because every seat was taken, and I was hemmed in. Meanwhile, his little girl sat down on his lap and glowered at me as he ranted in an endless stream of anti-Semitic invective.
And what does this man do for a living? He is creative director of one of the main British television networks! The abuse I nobly tolerated was astonishing in the context that he is in charge of output for a main channel watched by millions. It was astounding to me that a man with such high responsibility could harbor such rabid sentiments.
I had dinner the following Friday night with an elderly English friend who suddenly popped out with a stern question that everyone seems to ask me at the moment: "Carol, you aren't a Zionist, are you?" He asked this with such horror as if to say I might be a member of a neo-fascist party. I gave him a quick history lesson about Theodor Herzl, the Dreyfus Affair and émile Zola's "J'Accuse." He was unimpressed, muttering: "My dear, the Jews stole the Arabs' land, and you mustn't associate yourself with these ghastly Zionists."
Enough said. An uncontainable tsunami? I fear so.
Carol Gould, a London-based BBC broadcaster, is a native of Philadelphia and the author of Don't Tread on Me: Anti-Americanism Abroad and Spitfire Girls.