The journalist Peter Oborne is a brave man. The inevitable accusations of anti-Semitism are already flying around after his Channel 4 programme on Britain’s pro-Israel lobby. Given 20th-century history, anti-Semitism is just about the most damaging epithet that can be used against anybody, far more so than Islamophobia, and Israel’s defenders rarely hesitate to use it, even against critics who are Jewish.
But one point is usually ignored. Anti-Semites may actually support the state of Israel, on the grounds that it keeps lots of Jews away from everybody else and if strengthened could attract many more. This position is common in eastern Europe and you can trace it back as far as the 1917 Balfour Declaration, which committed the British government to support a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Its most fervent opponent was Edwin Montagu, the secretary of state for India and an anti-Zionist Jew. He explained his objections in a memorandum entitled “On the Anti-Semitism of the Present Government”.