Playwright and film-maker David Mamet has claimed that there is a “profound and ineradicable taint of anti-Semitism” in the British. Speaking to the Financial Times, Mamet said that he loves the British but that the stock Jew remains a key part of our literary culture.
Mamet goes on to suggest that this anti-Semitism is in some way linked to Britain’s attitude to the Middle East, and figures such as T.E. Lawrence. Oil, he argues, is part of the story. But his apparent insistence that anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel have to be linked seems, at best, short-sighted.
Anti-Semitism has certainly been a key part of the literary tradition in Britain and elsewhere for many centuries. Is it fair to single out Britain in this regard? Perhaps partly, since we have given the world some of the most famous caricatures of Jewishness, ever since Shakespeare’s Shylock. But in the interview with the Financial Times (see link above), Mamet seems to draw a far too simplistic line between this and our political attitude to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
That conflict would probably have been ended long ago if the matter were really as easy to explain as Mamet seems to believe. The problem is that both the Israelis and the Palestinians have compelling arguments for mutually exclusive states of being. That being said, it’s clear that compromise is the only realistic solution to the current problem. Anti-Semitism remains a major part of the world today, and it is damaging and degrading. But it does not remotely explain what is happening in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.