In May of 1940, the Nazi war machine moved westward. On May 19, Charles Lindbergh, the popular aviator, gave a U.S. radio address in which he said Americans had nothing to fear. “The only reason that we are in danger of becoming involved in this war is because there are powerful elements in America who desire us to take part. They represent a small minority of the American people, but they control much of the machinery of influence and propaganda.”
Everyone knew he meant the Jews – and not everyone thought he was wrong. Two days later, President Franklin Roosevelt was chatting with Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau when he said, “I am absolutely convinced that Lindbergh is a Nazi. If I should die tomorrow, I want you to know this.”
It was a typically theatrical flourish for FDR. Yet it is also what we think of with regret when we look at what is going on across the Atlantic now.
On Thursday, there will be British elections again, for the third time in nearly five years. They were called by Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who in a short time seems to be trying and failing to lead his nation across the Brexit shoals, possibly because putting Brexit to a vote was a bad idea from inception but also because Johnson seems like anything but a sure hand.
You might expect him to be thrown out, but what Johnson expects, apparently, and polling bears him out, is that his insurance policy is the head of the rival Labour, Jeremy Corbyn, who has led his party leftward.
But if Corbyn has been hurt by being a socialist, the wound is probably no greater than the growing sense that when it comes to Jews, he and his followers, who proclaim themselves anti-racist, are racists of another stripe.
There have been many credible charges of patent anti-Semitism brought against Labour in the last several years. Corbyn and other party leaders have dismissed them, saying they are proudly anti-Zionist and anti-Israel, and only Jews have a problem with that – which tends to confirm the accusations.
Last year, a 2013 recording of Corbyn was discovered in which he addressed a Palestinian Return Centre conference in the U.K. and said the Jews of Britain “clearly have two problems. One is that they don’t want to study history, and secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, don’t understand English irony either.”
When you lead one of two national parties in what is nearly a two-party system, and vie for the nation’s highest office and control of its government, and you can speak of just this one minority in your country as being wholly this or that in its sentiments, and simultaneously cast it as not just ignorant but also foreign, one must wonder if it is not time to play the FDR card. Knowing when is the trick, but there have been ample signs.
Last week, writing in the British Independent to defend Corbyn, Slavoj Žižek, the esteemed Slovenian philosopher, said, “The trouble with Jews today...” Does it matter what came next? A day later, The Independent corrected it to read, “The trouble with the settlement project today,” explaining that Žižek’s view “did not meet our own editorial standards.”
On Sunday, The Times of London published leaked Labour files, showing “that many Labour members” with anti-Semitic views, “several of whom had called for the extermination of all Jews, remained in the party for months and even over a year and were given a lenient punishment or none at all.”
“Has denying the reality of anti-Semitism become a left-wing loyalty test?” The Atlantic online asked of Labour Tuesday.
For a change this week, we can only pity another nation’s voters, for the choices they have and the ones they have made.