Editor’s Notes: A confused nation and its numbskull prince

By David Horovitz January 21, 2005

Given its tendency to indulge slights – and worse – that the American Jewish establishment would regard as unacceptable, it seems ironic and bizarre that Anglo Jewry has chosen to protest so emphatically, davka, at the ignorant antics of hapless Prince Harry

Generally, British Jewish leaders will insist that the spitting is rain – that there’s really no incidence of anti-Semitism in the UK or, okay then, just a very little.

By way of personal anecdote, it was regarded by the Jewish establishment as an unremarkable fact of life, rather than evidence of a warped social climate, that the charming youngsters who attended the school down the road from mine in north London when I was a teenager, routinely screamed ‘dirty f**king Jews’ when passing us blue-blazered innocents.

Or that even before the Israel-bashing fad of the past four years, the London community was forced to invest in synagogue security and frequently urge congregants to wear hats rather than kippot en route to services to avoid the unwelcome attentions of young thugs. That elite schools long maintained quotas on the Jewish intake. That the handful of Jewish ministers who served in Margaret Thatcher’s various cabinets strove to keep their faith a near-secret for fear of electoral damage. That Michael Howard’s ascent last year to the leadership of the opposition Conservative Party attracted raised eyebrows in certain classes because of his Jewish heritage. That some British politicians have lately been failing to mention Jews in their parliamentary motions relating to the tragedy of the Holocaust. That The Jerusalem Post reported this week, almost routinely, on a cemetery desecration (in Aldershot), and more uncommonly, on a series of attacks on haredi Jews in London’s Stamford Hill.

A significant portion of the Anglo-Jewish leadership opposed the 1917 Balfour Declaration, fearing that the Jews would be forcibly shipped off to Palestine. And, overall, they’ve tried to avoid calling attention to themselves ever since, appreciating the country’s tolerance but preferring not to test it too rigorously.

Given its tendency to indulge slights – and worse – that the American Jewish establishment, by contrast, would regard as unacceptable, it strikes me as ironic and bizarre that Anglo Jewry has chosen to protest so emphatically, davka, at the ignorant antics of hapless Prince Harry, the 20-year-old numbskull who happens to be third in line to the throne.

Leading the clamor, Tony Blair’s Middle East adviser, Lord Levy, accused Harry of letting the country down by donning Nazi uniform to a fancy-dress party last week, called him ‘clueless,’ said his behavior was ‘appalling,’ and demanded that the prince meet survivors and take a course of Holocaust study.

The former head of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Lord Janner, said that ‘what Harry did was both stupid and evil.’ Even Israel’s ambassador to the Court of St. James’s, Zvi Hefetz, waded into the errant prince, reportedly declaring that while ‘I don’t much care who this person is, he’s no friend of ours.’

And against that uncharacteristic collective howl of Jewish outrage, it is still more ironic, though characteristic of Britain’s Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, that some of the most tolerant comments I heard on the Harry horror came from Sacks and those around him.

Sacks was away on holiday for most of this week, returning to his office only on Thursday, when I spoke to him. While he was abroad, another individual, who asked to be identified as ‘someone who is close to the chief rabbi,’ told me she thought the prince was being ‘pilloried’ outrageously – that both the media and the Jewish community was going ‘over the top… Every Jew of every kind has made a comment,’ she said.

‘Yes, what he did was in bad taste and it was a bad mistake,’ she stressed, especially because of the symbolic value of everything the Royal Family does, ‘but he said ‘sorry” and now he should be left ‘to sort this out with his family.’

Warming to her theme, she asked: ‘What do our kids wear’ when they dress up for Purim? ‘They dress up as Yasser Arafat. This boy has had no mother, and his father is doing his own thing and looking after his lady… People are saying that Harry can’t go to [the] Sandhurst [military academy], that he’s worthless, that he must go on TV to apologize.

‘I’ve followed the royal family for years,’ she went on. ‘You see him pictured – it’s with a cigarette in one hand and a drink in the other. The poor boy is doomed. So he put on this costume and put on a swastika. He was as thick as two planks to do it. [But] why didn’t his brother [William, age 22] stop him? The future king of England was with his brother at the party. He went with him to hire the costume.’

She then tried to offer some context, some sense of why on earth Harry might have been moved to choose this particularly insensitive mode of party attire.

‘You live in Israel. You’re outside the box, as it were,’ she said. ‘But it’s a fad here at the moment to buy army outfits in the markets and put German insignia on them. And you know there’s a TV sitcom here called ‘Allo, Allo’ which basically raises two fingers at the Nazis. And the best play in London is [Mel Brooks's Nazi-lampooning] The Producers.

‘At the same time, there’s this Auschwitz series on TV here now [Auschwitz: The Nazis and the Final Solution], and a BBC poll commissioned to coincide with it showed that 45 percent [of Britons surveyed] don’t know what the concentration camps were all about.’ (The BBC’s was a postal survey of 4,000 adults, 45% of whom had not heard of Auschwitz. Among women and people under 35, the figure was 60%.)

‘I know that Harry at Eton must have learned something about the Holocaust. People have an inkling about what went on. But there’s a whole confusion here. You’re making fun of the Germans but at the same time, yes, the Germans did terrible things to us.’

Maybe, I ventured, the most bitter reactions have come from those who feel Harry was to some extent identifying with or glorifying the Nazis, while the more tolerant take is that he was ridiculing them.

‘Make no mistake,’ she responded. ‘It was in poor taste. I’m not saying we should have turned a blind eye.’ But while she couldn’t get into Harry’s psyche, she said, she was sure it was ‘a bit of fun, rather than identifying [with the Nazis].’

And, she concluded, ‘Some people have said, ‘Well if he wasn’t an anti-Semite before, he will be after the way we went over the top on this, the way we in the Jewish community have pandered to the press.”

SACKS HIMSELF, when we spoke on Thursday, was considerably more circumspect, unsurprisingly.

What I heard most in his voice was distress – distress that the son of Prince Charles, ‘who has shown an interest in things Jewish that is exemplary,’ was at the center of this furor.

Indeed, Prince Charles has built an impeccable relationship with the Jews, in Britain and beyond. He has strongly identified with the Krakow community, raising funds for its cemetery and a community center and giving his own money, too. He has opened British synagogues and care centers, attended the 300th anniversary event at London’s Bevis Marks synagogue in December 2001, himself initiated his presence at the St. John’s Wood synagogue for services on the 50th anniversary of Israel, and flew to Israel for Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral.

‘I think Prince Charles has gone out of his way to demonstrate respect for the Jewish community,’ Sacks said, ‘and I don’t doubt that he will bring his sons up to do likewise. I hope this will be a learning experience.’

The British media has been full of reports claiming that Harry is planning on issuing an apology in person to the chief rabbi, and/or that the prince may sooner or later visit Auschwitz. If there is to be an Auschwitz trip, it seems certain that it will not be anytime soon – and certainly not to coincide with next week’s ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the camp, when his presence would spark a media circus.

Similar concerns may determine whether Harry attends any of the British Holocaust memorial day events next Thursday, during which the Queen will, first, host a reception for 600 survivors and their families at St. James’s Palace and, later, light a candle at a memorial gathering where Sacks will speak.

I have been given to understand that Prince Charles is looking to Sacks, with whom he has a strong relationship, to build similar ties with both Harry and William and that the chief rabbi, who has not met either of the two young men, will do so soon.

But Sacks won’t comment on any of this. Nor will he say much about the vehemence of some of the Jewish reactions to Harry’s garb. ‘The Jewish community expressed real distress,’ he said, and left it at that. ‘What’s most important is not how the community has responded to the royal family, but how the royal family has responded to the Jewish community.’

Sacks did talk, though, about the climate that had produced the Harry affair, asserting that ‘we suffer in the west from Alzheimer’s disease, a failure of memory…’

That 60% Auschwitz poll, he said, ‘shows we have a great deal of work to do, and it’s crucial that this work be done in a 21st century which has so far proved to be a century of ethnic hate and religious conflict. Unless we can remember where hatred can lead, we are in great danger.’

He was adamant that Britain is not an anti-Semitic society or culture, however, and cited a survey from last year which showed less anti-Semitism in the UK than in the US.

‘In the early Middle Ages,’ the chief rabbi noted, ‘Britain was a world leader in anti-Jewish behavior – the first blood libel, the first expulsion. Since the mid-17th century it has been a world leader in tolerance.

‘Under stress, nations, like individuals, can go through regressive reactions, and that is where the underlying essence of a culture is tested,’ he added. ‘And there is no doubt, in my opinion, that the default option in Britain is tolerance.’

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