Instead the hit piece, labelling a Jewish refugee who fought for Britain in World War II “The Man Who Hated Britain”, was roundly condemned, including by the Prime Minister. It brought back up the history that the owner of the Mail before the war supported Hitler.
The sharks are now circulating for the frothingly right-wing Editor. Politicians in particular seem to have lost their fear of him, much as the scandal surrounding Rupert Murdoch’s British papers caused them to lose their fear of him.
Jonathan Freedland looked at how the attack on Ralph Miliband resurrected familiar anti-semitic tropes.
So much as mention antisemitism and someone will pop up to tell you that Arabs are semites too so why do Jews insist on hogging, as it were, all the antisemitism for themselves. But the word was not a Jewish invention. It was popularised by a 19th-century German Jew-hater called Wilhelm Marr, keen to put his loathing on a pseudo-scientific basis: he used “semites” to mean Jews and, partly because “anti-Jewish racism” is a mouthful, the word has stuck.
Despite the name, it is not a phenomenon safely buried in the past. Just because hatred of Jews reached a murderous climax in the 1940s does not mean it ended with the war in 1945. It is alive and well even in 2013. Whether it’s on Twitter or in the cartoons that routinely appear in much of today’s Middle Eastern press, crude slurs and hideous caricatures of Jews - hook-nosed and money-grabbing - endure.
Move away from the gutter, however, and antisemitism is rarely so obvious. It is communicated through nods and winks, hinted at rather than spoken. In Britain especially, prejudice against Jews has long been of the latent, rather than overt, variety. Even the words Jew or Jewish are often avoided: spotting the euphemisms - “flamboyant North London businessman” - is a pastime in its own right. So those ready to acquit the Mail because there was no bald, outright statement of antisemitism were probably using the wrong measure.
Instead, there are familiar tunes, some centuries old, which are played again and again. An especially hoary trope is the notion of divided allegiances or plain disloyalty, as if, whatever their outward pretence, Jews really serve another master besides their country. Under Stalin, Jews, especially Jewish intellectuals, were condemned as “rootless cosmopolitans” (another euphemism) lacking in sufficient patriotism. The Mail’s insistence that Miliband Sr was not only disloyal but actively hated his country fits comfortably in that tradition.
In the antisemitic imagination, Jews are constantly working for some other, hidden goal.