I was struck with a mysterious sense of déjà vu when, having spent much of the afternoon researching the life and times of Theodor Herzl, inspiration for the Jewish nation, I heard on the news that a red-hot political row had broken out over anti-Semitism.
I had just been witnessing movie scenes of the shocking racist incidents that probably drove Herzl into an early grave as he vowed to do something about it.
Yet now, some 120 years after his campaign to establish a Jewish national home got off the ground, anti-Semitism is still rife in Europe’s corridors of power.
The Labour Party, Britain’s official opposition which has traditionally had the support of most Jews, is reeling from the shockwaves of anti-Jewish feeling expressed by some of its leading figures.
First we heard of the resignation of an Oxford University Labour group leader sickened by anti-Semitism in its ranks, then we learnt of a young Labour councillor forced to resign after it emerged she had tweeted that Hitler was “the greatest man in history”.
And now former London Mayor Ken Livingstone takes to the airwaves to defend a Labour MP suspended on similar grounds.
After claiming Hitler was a Zionist who, in 1932, believed Jews should be moved to Israel, Mr Livingstone invoked a tirade of invective not only from opponents, but from many within his own party including a Nottinghamshire MP, John Mann, who confronted him in the street and called him a “disgusting, lying racist” and “Nazi apologist”.
Around 30 Labour MPs, including several Shadow Cabinet members, demanded Mr Livingstone be expelled from the party (he has been suspended) and there was outrage over the decision by Labour leader MP Jeremy Corbyn to issue a public telling off to Mr Mann. Party chief whip Rosie Winterton (my own MP, as it happens) is said to have refused to suspend Mr Mann.
Labour peer Lord Dubs – who escaped the Nazis as a child through Britain’s Kindertransport scheme – is “enormously troubled” by the row. “What we need is firm leadership; the leadership has been a bit slow in responding (to anti-Semitism),” he told a British TV news programme.
And Jewish Labour donor David Abrahams, who has given £650,000 to the party, called for Mr Corbyn to resign, saying a new leader was needed to cut out the ‘cancer’ of anti-Semitism.
As for Mr Livingstone’s claim, historian Andrew Roberts says it’s a “grotesque mangling of the historical record”, adding: “The idea that Hitler ever wanted a fully-functioning successful Jewish state in Palestine…is ludicrous.”
Mr Corbyn, for his part, who has referred to terror groups Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends”, denies the party is in crisis.
The chilling aspect of all this is that it is not something taking place in a dark corner. It’s in the public square, at the very centre of British politics. And I have a hunch what lies behind it.
The root cause, I believe, is the growing godlessness in the nation, and especially in the Labour Party. What a travesty for a political movement launched by devout Christians like Keir Hardie determined to let their faith make a difference to society by campaigning for a fairer share of wealth, for example. But what motivates them now?
People who are godless hit out at those who are special to God. That’s what happened in Hitler’s case; it led to mass murder and mayhem, but ended in disaster and defeat for the dictator and his people.
Steven Jaffe, a member of the UK’s Jewish Board of Deputies, made this point earlier in the year when he said that the Holocaust had been spawned by godlessness and the rejection of faith.
He said the exodus from Egypt was immediately followed by the battle with Amalek, who had no reason to attack Israel. There was no territorial dispute or history of conflict, for example. And they attacked the sick and the elderly – those who were most vulnerable. (Deuteronomy 25.17-18)
“The conflict with Amalek is not over,” he said. Amalek denied God and his power in the same way the Nazis did, and the latter mirrored their lack of mercy.
The poisonous view that God does not exist naturally leads to godless behaviour and thought. Pledges of never letting another Holocaust occur are not enough, in my opinion; without a recovery of faith in the God of Israel, there can be no guarantee that it won’t happen again.
The only safe place to be – in the long term – is in God’s hands, doing his work. I challenge the Labour Party to return to its Judeo-Christian roots.
Charles Gardner is author of Israel the Chosen, available from Amazon, and Peace in Jerusalem, available from olivepresspublisher.com