Thanks to the wonders of globalization, I’m writing this in a fairly decrepit salon de thé off the rue de la Liberté in Tangiers, enjoying a coffee and a stale croissant grilled and flattened into a panini. What could be more authentically Moroccan? For some reason, the napkins are emblazoned with “Gracias por su visita.”
Through a blizzard of flies, I can just about make out the plasma TV up in the corner on which Jimmy Carter, dubbed into Arabic, is denouncing Israel. Al Jazeera doesn’t so much cover the Zionist Entity as feast on it, hour after hour, without end. So here, at the western frontier of the Muslim world (if you don’t include Yorkshire), the only news that matters is from a tiny strip of land barely wider at its narrowest point than a rural Canadian township way down the other end of the Mediterranean.
Notwithstanding saturation coverage of the “Massacre In The Med” (as the front page headline in Britain’s Daily Mirror put it), there are other Jewish stories in the news. This one caught my eye in Canada’s Shalom Life: “No danger to the Jewish cemeteries in Tangiers.” Apparently, the old Jewish hospital in this ancient port city was torn down a couple of months back, and the Moroccan Jewish diaspora back in Toronto worried that their graveyards might be next on the list. Not to worry, Abraham Azancot assured Shalom Life readers. The Jewish cemetery on the rue du Portugal is perfectly safe. “Its sanctity has consistently been respected by the local government that is actually providing the community with resources to assist in its current grooming.”
Sounds great. Being in the neighbourhood, I thought I’d swing by and check out the “current grooming.” It’s kind of hard to spot unless you’re consciously looking for it: two solid black metal gates off a steep, narrow street where the rue du Portugal crosses the rue Salah Dine, and only the smallest of signs to indicate what lies behind. On pushing open the gate and squeezing through, I was greeted by a pair of long underwear, flapping in the breeze. In Haiti, this would be some voodoo ritual, alerting one to go no further. But in Tangiers it was merely wash day, and laundry lines dangled over the nearest graves. If you happen to be Ysaac Benzaquen (died 1921) or Samuel Maman (died 1925), it is your lot to spend eternity with the groundskeeper’s long johns. Pace Mr. Azancot, there is no sense of “sanctity” or “community”: as the underwear advertises, this is no longer a public place, merely a backyard that happens to have a ton of gravestones in it. I use the term “groundskeeper” but keeping the grounds doesn’t seem to be a priority: another row of graves was propping up piles of logs he was busy chopping out of hefty tree trunks. Beyond that, chickens roamed amidst burial plots strewn with garbage bags, dozens of old shoes, and hundreds of broken bottles.
It’s prime real estate, with a magnificent view of the Mediterranean, if you don’t mind the trash and the stench and the chickenshit, and you tiptoe cautiously around the broken glass. I wandered past the graves: Jacob Cohen, Samuel J. Cohen, Samuel M. Cohen . . . Lot of Cohens here over the years. Not anymore. In one isolated corner, six young men—des musulmans, naturellement—watched a seventh lightly scrub a tombstone, as part of a make-work project “providing the community with resources to assist in its current grooming.”
What “community”? By 2005, there were fewer than 150 Jews in Tangiers, almost all of them very old. By 2015, it is estimated that there will be precisely none. Whenever I mention such statistics to people, the reaction is a shrug: why would Jews live in Morocco anyway? But in 1945 there were some 300,000 in this country. Today some 3,000 Jews remain—i.e., about one per cent of what was once a large and significant population. That would be an unusual demographic reconfiguration in most countries: imagine if Canada’s francophone population or Inuit population were today one per cent of what it was in 1945. But it’s not unusual for Jews. There are cemeteries like that on the rue du Portugal all over the world, places where once were Jews and now are none. I mentioned only last week that in the twenties, Baghdad was 40 per cent Jewish. But you could just as easily cite Czernowitz in the Bukovina, now part of Ukraine. “There is not a shop that has not a Jewish name painted above its windows,” wrote Sir Sacheverell Sitwell, visiting the city in 1937. Not today. As in Tangiers, the “community” resides in the cemetery.
You can sense the same process already under way in, say, London, the 13th-biggest Jewish city in the world, but one with an aging population; and in Malmö, Sweden, where a surge in anti-Semitism from, ahem, certain quarters has led Jewish residents to abandon the city for Stockholm and beyond; and in Odense, Denmark, where last year superintendent Olav Nielsen announced he would no longer admit Jewish children to the local school. The Jewish presence almost anywhere on the map is as precarious as, to coin a phrase, a fiddler on the roof. And Israel’s enemies are determined that the biggest Jewish community of all should be just as precarious and prove just as impermanent.
In 1936, during the Cable Street riots, the British Union of Fascists jeered at London Jews, “Go back to Palestine!”, “Palestine” being in those days the designation for the Jewish homeland. Last week, Helen Thomas, the doyenne of the White House press corps, jeered at today’s Jews, “Get the hell out of Palestine,” “Palestine” being now the designation for the land illegally occupied by the Jewish apartheid state. “Go home,” advised Miss Thomas, “to Poland and Germany.” Wherever a Jew is, whatever a Jew is, he should be something else somewhere else. And then he can be hated for that, too.
North Korea sinks a South Korean ship; hundreds of thousands of people die in the Sudan; millions die in the Congo. But 10 men die at the hands of Israeli commandos and it dominates the news day in, day out for weeks, with UN resolutions, international investigations, calls for boycotts, and every Western prime minister and foreign minister expected to rise in parliament and express the outrage of the international community.
Odd. But why?
Because Israel is supposed to be up for grabs in a way that the Congo, Sudan or even North Korea aren’t. Only the Jewish state attracts an intellectually respectable movement querying its very existence, and insisting that, after 62 years of independence, that issue is still not resolved. Let’s take a nation that came into existence at precisely the same time as the Zionist Entity, and involved far bloodier population displacements. I happen to think the creation of Pakistan was the greatest failure of postwar British imperial policy. But the fact is that Pakistan exists, and if I were to launch a movement of anti-Pakism it would get pretty short shrift, and in Canada a “human rights” complaint or three.
The “Palestinian question” is a land dispute, but not in the sense of a boundary-line argument between two Ontario farmers. Rather, it represents the coming together of two psychoses. Islam is a one-way street. Once you’re in the Dar al-Islam, that’s it; there’s no checkout desk. They take land, they hold it, forever.
That’s why, in his first post-9/11 message to the troops, Osama droned on about the fall of Andalusia: it’s been half a millennium, but he still hasn’t gotten over it, and so, a couple of years ago, when I was at the Pentagon being shown some of the maps found in al-Qaeda safe houses, “the new caliphate” had Spain and India being re-incorporated within the Muslim world. If that’s how you think, no wonder a tiny little sliver of a Jewish state smack dab in the heart of the Dar al-Islam drives you nuts: to accept Israel’s “right to exist” would be as unthinkable as accepting a re-Christianized Constantinople.
To this fierce Islamic imperialism, the new Europeans, post-Christian, post-nationalist and postmodern as they are, nevertheless bring one of their oldest prejudices—that in the modern world as much as in medieval Christendom Jews can never be accorded full property rights. On a patch of the Holy Land, they are certainly the current leaseholders, but they will never have recognized legal title. To be sure, there are a lot of them there right now. But then there were a lot of them in Tangiers and Baghdad and the Bukovina and Germany and Poland, for a while. Why shouldn’t Tel Aviv one day be just another city with some crumbling cemeteries and a few elderly Jews?
That’s the reason the “Palestinian question” is never settled. Because, as long as it’s unresolved, then Israel’s legitimacy is unsettled, too.
Still, the impatience of the new globalized Judenhass is now palpable. I used to think that, when Iran got the bomb, it wouldn’t use it. I wouldn’t take that bet now. The new anti-Semitism is a Euro-Islamic fusion so universal, so irrational and so fevered that it’s foolish to assume any limits.