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Sunday, January 04, 2004

Bravo, Melanie Phillips (.com)

I read David Aaronovitch’s JC column last week with more than usual interest. His gist was that right-wing Jews were a kind of ethnic aberration, and that it was more natural and comfortable for Jews to be on the left than on the right.

Nowadays, I’m always being called not just ‘right-wing’ but ‘extreme right’ or even ‘ultra-right’. Certainly, this makes me feel uncomfortable. In fact, it makes me chew the carpet.

Like David, I too came from a background where Conservatives were regarded as the class enemy. Like him, I think Jews should identify with the poor and oppressed. And concern for people at the bottom of the heap is still what drives me.

But unlike him, some years ago I started to change my view about the left, who confusingly often call themselves liberals. I began to realise they were not liberal at all, but profoundly illiberal. And I began to grasp that far from acting -- as they trumpeted at every opportunity -- in the interests of the poor and oppressed, just about everything they did trapped them in that condition.

On every issue where there were true victims – education failure, family breakdown, drug abuse -- they denied the truth and substituted instead lies, ideology and propaganda. They were against western culture, external moral rules and self-discipline. They were for nihilism, the worship of the self and gross personal irresponsibility.

And any deviation from this they labelled ‘right-wing’. Emptied of meaning, this has become a catch-all smear – code for ‘cruel and heartless’, deployed to intimidate and to shut down any challenge to the left. So saying that family disintegration is generally a disaster for children is ‘right-wing’. Saying that children are betrayed by schools that fail to teach them to read is ‘right-wing’. Saying it was right to go to war in Iraq (as David himself has discovered) is ‘right-wing’. And saying that Israel is more sinned against than sinning is so ‘right-wing’ it’s off the graph.

But if anyone is being ‘cruel and heartless’ on these issues, it is the left. And wreathed in sanctimony, they ostracise and punish anyone with an opposing view who they present as swivel-eyed lunatics. BBC producers regularly tell me I am referred to within that most objective of corporations as ‘mad’. Jews on the left are just as bad. One Jewish publisher reacted to a book proposal from me by declaring, ‘I’d rather take ricin than publish her’.

The left are simply obsessed by ‘the right’. Their position is often conceived principally in opposition to it. Proclaiming that they alone are moral – because they are not ‘cruel and heartless’ – they thus demonise and dehumanise the opposing point of view, to which their minds are terrifyingly closed. It is a pathology which has got far worse since the collapse of communism. These are ideologues without an ideology; and old habits die hard.

In truth, these labels are now meaningless. The Tories are as likely to espouse lower-class populism as represent the men in fur-collared coats. Labour has embraced the market. The economic argument which defined my parents’ and grandparents’ view of politics is dead. Instead, today’s political battles are cultural, and the divisions are even more bitter and profound.

So what am I? Well, I resist labels. But if I’m pushed into a corner, I suppose I think of myself as a liberal moralist. People use the term liberal wrongly, which accounts for much confusion. It is used to describe approval for personal autonomy, which has been taken to mean rejection of all codes of behaviour which might constrain freedom of action. In my book, that’s not liberal at all but libertinism, and a formula for radical self-centredness and a lengthening trail of victims.

Real liberalism, by contrast, relied on external rules to guarantee personal liberty. It was always a moral project which believed in making judgments between right and wrong behaviour. But if there’s a cardinal value of today’s left, it is non-judgmentalism. As a result, they have embraced lies, wrongdoing and injustice. They have made morality into a dirty word.

This should be fought tooth and nail, and it is surely the duty of Jews to fight it. This is not ‘right-wing’. It is instead a defence of civilised values; it is a defence, above all, of Jewish values.

I believe Jews should always be on the side of truth, justice and real (rather than sentimental) compassion. I think there is no nobler cause than tikkun olam, or repair of the world. The left are taking an axe to that world. Those Jews who cling to history to justify their attachment to this creed are wrapping themselves in a mantle of self-delusion and intellectual muddle.

This is not right-wing. It is simply right.