Suzanne Fields

Then, on Sept. 27, the Daily Mail, regarded as the most powerful newspaper in Britain, published a long essay about the late father of the leader of the Labor Party, titled "The Man Who Hated Britain." The father, Ralph Miliband, who was a Marxist professor at the London School of Economics, certainly had his doubts about the country he adopted as a 17-year-old immigrant from Poland in 1940. He, like his father -- the grandfather of the leader of Labor -- was a committed, and precocious socialist. He wrote in his teenage diary that "the Englishman is a rabid nationalist. They are perhaps the most nationalist people in the world . . . you sometimes want them to lose [the war] to show them how things are . . . " He grew up to be a fierce skeptic. He rallied opposition to the Vietnam War, mocked the British recovery of the Falklands in 1982, and railed at capitalism. The Mail called him "Red Ed," and noted that he is buried "12 yards from Karl Marx" in London's Highgate Cemetery. Others pointed out that he was a Jew.

Thus, the storm. The son and his friends accused the Daily Mail of anti-Semitism, and recalled that Lord Rothermere, the wartime president and publisher, was prominent among English aristocrats who admired Hitler and the Nazis through the '30s. Nearly every London paper joined in the din. Even the New York Times published an anguished op-ed about it.

The story is not a simple one. The Mail essay was written by Geoffrey Levy, a Jew, and defended most stoutly by Jon Steafel, the deputy editor of the Mail and a Jew. Many senior journalists at the Mail are Jewish, and the Mail wears its affection and support for Israel on its sleeve, in big, bold print. The Mail refuses to apologize -- the culture of apology is not as advanced here as in America -- though an executive at the Mail says he wishes his editors had written a better headline.

Anti-Semitism in England is alive and well here, but it's old news. The classics of English literature reflect it, from Chaucer and Shakespeare through Thackeray, Chesterton, H.G. Wells, Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene and Virginia Wolfe. But the frenzy over the Mail piece is likely to subside now. The threat against freedom of the press will sober up every newsroom in town


Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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