Status anxiety

Yes, I compared Theresa May to an Israeli tank commander. Why is everyone so upset?

Well, I know Islamophobia is a nonsense charge. But I thought people knew I loved Israel...

14 June 2014

8:00 AM

14 June 2014

8:00 AM

I expect all of us have said something we regret at one time or another, but not everyone does so in front of 1.5 million people. That was my misfortune when I was caught off guard by an interviewer for ITN on my way out of a television studio in Westminster on Sunday.

I’d just done a review of the morning’s papers on Murnaghan and was feeling rather chipper on account of the exchange I’d just had with Diane Abbott about Labour’s electoral chances. Live on air, I offered to bet her £100 that Ed Miliband wouldn’t win the election and, to my delight, she refused to take it. ‘I never bet,’ she said. Not exactly a vote of confidence from someone who, until recently, was a key member of Miliband’s leadership team.

Anyway, I was feeling quite relaxed when the woman from ITN asked if I could give her a few words about the recent bust-up between Michael Gove and Theresa May. Wasn’t this another example of the Tory party snatching defeat from the jaws of victory?

The whole thing is the Home Secretary’s fault, I said. Michael Gove made some off-the-cuff remark about a minor Home Office official over lunch with some journalists and as soon as Theresa May heard about it she went ballistic. She reacted like some Israeli tank commander on being confronted by a stone-throwing Palestinian. I thought it was quite an amusing analogy, not least because Gove is fanatically pro-Israel. But judging from the reaction I got on Twitter, the humour was lost on most viewers.

‘Bewildered by your inappropriate, lazy, crass analogy just now, Toby,’ tweeted someone calling himself the Prince of Salerno. ‘Insensitive at best, v. offensive at worst.’

‘Disgusting comparison,’ tweeted Amanda Jacobson. ‘No reason for it. Bordering on anti-Semitic!’

I was a bit put out by this for a couple of reasons.

The first is that I’d already been roundly condemned on Twitter that day for being ‘Islamophobic’ on account of a piece I’d written for the Mail on Sunday about the ‘Trojan Horse’ plot. The fact that I’d singled out that word for criticism in the article, pointing out that it’s used by Muslim extremists to silence any criticism of their religious beliefs, however abhorrent, made not a jot of difference. In fact, it probably made people even more inclined to use it against me. To be branded an ‘Islamophobe’ and an ‘anti-Semite’ on the same day wasn’t much fun. I was beginning to feel like Jeremy Clarkson.

But the second reason is that I’m even more of a swivel-eyed, frothing-at-the-mouth Zionist than Michael Gove. Quite apart from all the sensible reasons for being pro-Israel — it’s an outpost of Western civilisation surrounded by medieval, theocratic states, etc, etc — I’ve had a lifelong romantic attachment to the place ever since spending three months as a kibbutznick at the age of 17. To this day, I only have to close my eyes and I can still see the female Israeli soldier I was in love with saying to me, ‘Oh Tuvia. All you’re interested in is sex and politics.’

It’s quite lonely being one of only about half a dozen defenders of Israel among the commentariat. I wrote about this in the Jewish Chronicle last year, recounting how I’d appeared on a current affairs programme to complain about ‘anti-Israel’ bias in the British media and all my evidence — the endless comparisons of Israel with Nazi Germany by the liberal left, the BBC’s suppression of its own £250,000 report into its coverage of Israel — was left on the cutting-room floor.

I’m such a dyed-in-the-wood philo-Semite, I married a Jewish girl. Well, Caroline’s dad is Jewish, which would have been enough to see our children carted off to the death camps if they’d been born in Germany in the 1930s.

After this lifelong devotion to the cause, I was expecting to receive the Israeli equivalent of the Legion d’Honneur. Maybe I wasn’t expecting that, but you’d think I’d be allowed to get away with one risqué joke about the Israeli Defence Force. Haven’t the Prince of Salerno and Amanda Jacobson noticed that I’ve been on their side for 30 years? Apparently not. Or maybe they have, but I’ve squandered all my credit in a single, ill-judged remark.

The final word should go to a tweeter called Yiftah Curiel: ‘It’s these kinds of unfortunate comparisons that make one “Lose Friends and Alienate People”. Is that the right phrase?’

Yup, I think it is.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator.

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Show comments
  • Blindsideflanker

    Semites are a race, which includes the Arabs.

    • Read some history

      Arabs won’t thank you for bracketing them with Jews.

      • Blindsideflanker

        Tough, Arabs and Jews are a Semitic people separated by a religion.

        The Arabs might take more kindly to being called a Semtic people if they knew that they first come into the history books in about 2000AD when the Semitic Akkadians invaded Sumer. Later had their buts kicked out by the Caucasian Gutians. And there you have the dividing line that is evident to this day in Iraq, a Semitic people, and Iran who see themselves as Caucasians. And don’t think that these are dead civilisations for we regularly use a Sumerian word Alcohol.

        All too often we have allowed definitions to be corrupted for political reasons and in doing so end up in an incomprehensible maze.

    • tastemylogos

      semites are not a race, they are part of the semitic linguistic family. (For somebody so knowledgeable you don’t know much). But then, it was coined to denote ‘negative sentiment towards the jew’ in the 19th century (when Arabs were hard to come by in Germany)… so get over it you pedantic child.

  • Damaris Tighe

    I think, Toby, part of the problem is that it was an inaccurate analogy. Israeli tanks don’t confront Palestinian stone-throwers, individual soldiers under strict rules of engagement do (which doesn’t mean to say things don’t go badly wrong sometimes).

    It matters because Israel is the subject of multiple libels. Remember Jenin? Saying things like that just fuels them & has real-life consequences, eg, the boycott, disinvestment movement.

    Which doesn’t mean to say that Israel can’t be criticised. Just remember that in this context hyperbole can cost lives.

    • Roger Hudson

      Jenin? I see today the Israelis are in Hebron ,not the police but a large army force.

      • tastemylogos

        You see do you? Where from? Your ivory tower, because you certainly aint been there. Googling much are we?

      • Damaris Tighe

        several Israeli teenagers have been kidnapped in/near Hebron by a group related to ISIS!

  • MikeF

    ‘Islamophobia’ is not a nonsense charge – it is a nonsense term.

    • yousirarearacist

      It might sound like nonsense if you’d burried your head in the sand for a few years. Here’s a quick reminder:

      • MikeF

        The word is mock-analytical gibberish that parodies the sound and appearance of proper scientific terminology to lend a spurious air of objectivity to sectarian rhetoric. It represents a debased use of language that purports to explain motivation while in reality seeking to suppress discussion.

        • yousirarearacist

          Why didn’t you say the same for anti-semitism? And are you rejecting the news snippets on that link? Are you discounting the feeling of a large proportion of western muslims who feel a bit more insecure in their homes and countries than they were a few decades ago because of these attacks and people like you?

          • MikeF

            I attack nobody either verbally physically because of who or what they are – I am not a socialist. I don’t say the same for anti-semitism because the term makes no pretence to pseudo-scientific objectivity.

    • It’s a term that has been entirely concocted by the liberal left and their Islamist allies for the purpose of weakening any stand against Islamofascism. This isn’t because the left have a particular regard for radical Islam, it’s just that they hate traditional Western culture and it’s bulwarks, Christianity, the family etc. They are using terms like ‘Islamophobia’ to chip away at it. Thus Islamists not only use ‘hate speech’ against ‘infidels’ and each other, they act on it in the most brutal fashion, yet the chief villains of modern society are those who actually try to point out what’s going on. It’s beyond insane

      • MikeF

        It is irrationalism deployed with purpose to achieve a specific objective which you correctly identify. Orwell would have recognised it for what it is right away.

      • Paul S HK

        Islamofascism is a much more silly term, as there is so little overlap between the core beliefs of the Nazis and Fascists and those of the Islamist extremists that so worry our nervous fellow citizens.

        • It’s not silly at all. The similarities between the two bunches of homicidal maniacs are more than sufficient to make it a good descriptive term. Just as there are many similarities between the ‘peace pledge union’ types in the 30s and Islamist deniers/apologists like you

    • Paul S HK

      Don’t be so silly.
      It is a clear term with a clear meaning, well set out in the OED.
      How it might apply to those who fear Islam depends on how they explain their fear.
      If rational, then it may be accurate but not prejudicial description… Someone who is in fear of Boko Harem as they live just next door…
      However, if someone, like Tony Blair, compares what is happening in England to the actions of Boko Harem, then he is an irrational Islamophobe.

      • MikeF

        As I’ve explained the term is ideologically motivated and – as with all the other ‘phobias’ invented by the left – seeks to represent analysis and criticism as inevitably the products of irrational hostility. As such it attempts to suppress debate by delegitimising all opinion that does not conform to an approved set of parameters. It degrades public discourse and must be banished from it.

        • Paul S HK

          So what term would you suggest we use to describe people who display a deep fear of a religion that they perceive as monolithic and threatening even when the facts don’t seem to support the fear as a matter of rationality?
          After all an agoraphobic May fear space because o a terrible experience climbing, or may simply fear space…
          The word has a use and a meaning.
          If islamophobia doesn’t work, what do we use?
          Arachnophobia is no good…

          • MikeF

            ‘Phobia’ is a technical medical term describing a fear of something that is intrinsically unthreatening – like the average spider. It has no role in political discourse because when used in words like ‘Islamophobia’ it seeks to discredit an opinion without reference to how far that opinion may be justifiable. Frankly it starts you down the road to locking people up in psychiatric hospitals for their political beliefs.

            As for what word would be better well perhaps no word at all would be better. Then people might have to justify what they think and say through argument rather than simply spouting labels that assume the role of neo-voodooistic cursewords intended to intimidate their targets into silence. The problem with arguments, though, as Oscar Wilde pointed out is that they can not only be vulgar but also convincing.

  • Read some history

    Salerno and Jacobson are obviously unfamiliar with your supportive and much-appreciated writing. Hence they misinterpreted that line as an attempt to pander to the image of a ‘poor palestinian with a stone’ battling an ‘all-powerful Israeli with a tank’. This is the mainstay of palestinian propaganda — exploited so successfully to turn public opinion against Israel at the start of the intifada.

    The reality is rather different, both on the ground in Israel, and most crucially, beyond Israel’s shores: 56 Islamic states, with a population exceeding 1 billion, are battling the world’s sole Jewish state, with a population of 8 million Jews and Arabs.

    • Blindsideflanker

      Its not Jews and Arabs, its Jews and Muslims.

      • yousirarearacist

        I didn’t realise muslims in other countries had a legitimate say on what went on between israel and palestine, seeing as NOT ALL MUSLIMS ARE ARABS. And if you mean this to say the other way round, not all arabs who disagree with Israel’s foreign policy are muslims, it is a diverse area. Racist.

    • TimeandtheRani

      I don’t really agree with this post or Young’s feelings on Israel, but the reaction is symptomatic of twitter. Just knee-jerk reactionaries, doing no research, getting angry and offended about stuff they know nothing about. Just a minute of googling would have shown what Young’s opinions really were, and yet they were too busy calling for his head to bother. Truly an awful place, that twitter.

      • Gwangi

        Yes, so can people now be arrested for flinging about at Young, and JK Rowling, for that matter (or any of the men abused by feminist nutties).
        Or is it only egomaniac victimhood-craving TV historians who are allowed to get anyone who is rude to them online arrested by the stat-chasing pc ploddy poldkins.

    • victor67

      I didn’t think Israel was at war with 56 Islamic States.. Israel has the uneqivocal backing of the only super power and has since its inception used massive overwhelming violence against whom they disposed and took their land. That’s the root of antipathy towards Israel and not some trumped up anti-Semitism.

      • Shorne

        The wellspring of Israel’s sovereignty and legitimacy in international law derives from the San Remo Resolution of 25 April 1920 (recognising the Balfour Declaration), as does that of Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, following the WW1 settlement. It was supplemented by the Mandate for Palestine of July 1922, and the Franco British Boundary Convention of December 1920, all binding to the present day.

        Israel behind the Green Line sits on just 8,000 square miles, 17 percent originally allotted to it, while the 21 countries of the Arab League occupy more than five million square miles, almost double that of the USA.

        The mantra of “illegal settlements” is a dishonest device to prevent Jews from living in land designated for Jewish sovereignty, defying Article Six of the Mandate for Palestine, the provisions of which are still binding.

      • Read some history

        “I didn’t think Israel was at war with 56 Islamic States.”
        Never heard of the 56-member automatic voting bloc at the UN which has bullied non-OIC members to vote their way against Israel?

        How many of Israel’s neighbours, and those further afield, have participated in border wars against Israel?

        How many have sustained the war against Israel by funding one terrorist group after another?

    • Roger Hudson

      Writing or talking about states being defined as religious states shows the whole problem. Israel wants to define itself as the Jewish state, this should show a political error is being made.

      • Read some history

        “a political error is being made”
        Israel does not have the luxury of dwelling on such considerations. The necessity of defining herself as a Jewish state is proved by the adamant refusal of her neighbours to recognise a non-Muslim nation in their midst.

        Abbas Zaki, a member of the Fatah Central Committee, was interviewed by Al-Jazeera in 2011. He explained precisely why
        palestinians will never accept Israel as a Jewish state, and his views have been expressed numerous times by numerous palestinian, Arab and other Islamic leaders. They have a ‘greater goal’ in mind, of conquering the country once she is weakened by the indefensible 1967 borders:
        “The settlement should be based upon the borders of June 4, 1967. When we say that the settlement should be based upon these borders, President [Abbas] understands, we understand, and everybody knows that the greater goal cannot be accomplished in one go. If Israel withdraws from Jerusalem, evacuates the 650,000 settlers, and dismantles the wall – what will become of Israel? It will come to an end. […]
        If one says that one wants to wipe Israel out… C’mon, it’s too difficult. It’s not [acceptable] policy to say so. Don’t say these things to the world. Keep it to yourself.”

  • CraigStrachan

    What odds did you offer Diane Abbott?

  • Laguna Beach Fogey

    I’m reminded of the late Joe Sobran’s definition of ‘anti-Semite’: someone who is hated by Jews.

    • Kennybhoy

      Back. Under. Yer. Rock. Pondlife.

  • GraveDave

    Under the spreading chestnut tree
    I sold you and you sold me
    There lie they, and here lie we
    Under the spreading chestnut tree…

  • Abuse well earned as usual.

    • pedestrianblogger

      Moronic, cretinous, masturbatory comment. As usual.

  • victor67

    For Christ sake the Israel lobby are so sensitive. Perhaps they no their cause is indefensible.

    • tastemylogos

      They are not a lobby, you idiot. Just people too bored to get a life and not be offended by anything and everything. Lobby? Lizards too, right?

  • Roger Hudson

    I visited Israel (kibbutz’s and towns) enough to know that the whole feel of the country changed when the Jabotinsky right gained ascendancy over the old labour left, they had two terrorist PMs for goodness sake. The current PMs father Nathan was Jabotinsky’s chief follower, the country is being turned into something nastier daily.

    • Kennybhoy

      “I visited Israel (kibbutz’s and towns) enough to know that the whole feel of the country changed when the Jabotinsky right gained ascendancy over the old labour left, they had two terrorist PMs for goodness sake. The current PMs father Nathan was Jabotinsky’s chief follower…”

      Fair comment. With the proviso that when the old Mapai/Histadrut hegemony fell it’s rather self-entitled supporters went into a sort of internal exile. A sulk…

      “…the country is being turned into something nastier daily.”

      Yes and no. Israeli society has declined in the same way that the rest of the western society. And like every liberal-democracy the dark side was always there.

      • gur nischt

        A very good comment.

    • Read some history

      “The current PMs father Nathan”

      Something wrong with your ‘facts’ as well as your general observations. The current PM’s father was not named Nathan. The country has been threatened by its neighbours since independence in 1948, via border wars and terrorist wars. In comparison to that factor, the impact of all else pales into insignificance.

  • tastemylogos

    aaaaaaaw toby! Your analogy was absurd, unfortunate (only ‘cos everybody else does it) and naughty, but an anti-semite you are clearly not.What an idiot she is!!!! Naaah you are a good bloke, a good friend of the Jews and it’s much appreciated! (generally). Anyway, there is something UK and Israel share.. freedom of speech. Don;t be hassled into these kinds of articles because some over-sensitive bored housewives get offended.

  • Ken

    There is a swathe of the left whose mission it so seek out offense. Facts and truth are a minor inconvenience to them.

  • Marcus


    Cf ‘like a South African policeman reaponding to township kids throwing rocks’.

    You may have 2 or 3 comments about that one.

  • Newcombe

    But think of all the new friends you’ve just made! Next stop the BBC/Guardian, NYT, CNN, who knows, the world is your oyster, now that you’ve “come out”.

  • Toby, the reason it was ill-advised to say what you said is that it sounded very like you believe Israeli tank commanders use disproportionate force against Palestinians. This supports the anti-Israel lobby. Also I’m damned if I can find anything funny in this analogy and I don’t mean that in a po-faced way. It is neither funny nor unfunny; just humorously neutral.

    Although such a throw-away remark shouldn’t negate a lifetime of pro-Israeli sentiment, you shouldn’t be surprised if some people conclude from a pro-Israel person stating that the IDF uses disproportionate force that this is therefore a fact which can be asserted with the same certainty that one asserts the Earth to be round.

  • GenJackRipper

    This is pretty common; goyim (non-jews) try to prove that they are super pro-israeli; the jews/israelis nod after a while. The goy tell an innocent joke, and it’s back to square one.

    I realized this when I was pretty young; why bother to butter up to a people/land that 1. don’t appreciate your support (unless you’re the US and give tansk and jets for free), 2. always treat you with suspicion and don’t care about your years of “service”; but still throw the “anti-semite!”-slur on you when you tell a joke?