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On death and the passage of time


The scapegoat mechanism
Frederic Raphael Writer
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So if Israel had not been founded [after] 1945 over the objections very deep of the British Foreign Office which have continued surreptitiously all the time, what would the role of the Jews have been in Europe in 1945? Well, they would presumably have – those who managed to survive – have gone home to where they came from. Oh yes, I seem to remember that quite a lot of Poles did that. I... that's to say, Polish Jews did that. And when they got home, their neighbours – their Christian neighbours – murdered them. But of course it was actually because of something else, wasn't it? I can't remember what it was but I'm sure that all of you know very well that it can't have been... if a Christian did something wrong, the Jews did something wrong. The British governor of... whatever he was in... military governor in Palestine said to Golda Meir at one point, close to the period when Israel was established, what did the Jews actually do in... in Europe that led the Germans, you know, to... to want to kill them? I mean, they must have done something? Vous croyez? as my neighbour would say. Yes, plenty of people believe it. Because, by a very careful distribution of vices, the Jews are lumbered with the vices which of course other people have but wish they didn't. A very common aspect of all kinds of scapegoatism. Hence my admiration for a somewhat marginalised French intellectual called René Girard who has written very well and very clearly about what he calls the scapegoat mechanism. People feel better if they gang up on people. And the Jews are the ganger-uppers-on of choice.

I thought when I was very pettily persecuted at Charterhouse that it must have been because of my rare qualities. I flattered myself. It was because of the insecurity of the Indian, the Welshman, the fat guy and various other folks who suddenly became supermen because Freddie was a Yid. And they still do it and luckily they don't touch me a lot. They do touch other people. The Jews are still the only people in this country, as far as I know, whom it is not in any way a very serious offence to write things about. Not, of course, in the newspapers, but on bus stops, for instance, in Birmingham where 'kill Jews' is a, sort of, licensed form of hobby... declaration of Islamic hobbies. Oh, are you anti-Islamic? You don't like Muslims? I don't give a shit about Muslims actually, one way or the other. I have met very nice Muslims and I don't really think that I notice whether people are Muslims or not unless they declare themselves, but I am a little bit hostile to schools where killing Jews is taught as a duty to students who are either funded by the British taxpayer or something very close to that.

Ah, but you have to remember those terrible things that they've done to people in Palestine. You like to call it Israel, don't you? I don't really care what I call it, as a matter of fact. Call it whatever you like, but let's talk about those things a bit as you really want to do that. I don't doubt that the Israelis have behaved abominably in many specific and general ways. Would you remind me how many Syrians have endured the anathemas which you are eager to wish upon the Israelis? Do you have any views about that? All of you people who think the Jews are the worst thing that happened? In fact, Shirley Williams, with whom I used to be friendly, honestly sent me a Christmas card in which she was good enough to enclose a statement that the only thing which was really destroying the possibility of, I think, what she thought of as universal peace was the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. The only thing? Well, I'm afraid that I never spoke to Shirley again, either. Because I don't doubt that there was some justice in her great wish that everyone should be really, really happy in Palestine, but nobody's really, really happy in the Middle East. They've never been really, really happy in the Middle East. Certainly not since Alexander the Great tried to turn the whole place into a Greek enclave. And he succeeded, almost. It's a complete – as my American grandfather would say – schweimerei. I think he might say that. I'm not sure actually, because my German doesn't really exist. It's all a mess.

But you seem to think, you bien pensants, the Guardian people, that only the Jews, they should have known how to behave after what happened in the Holocaust. Ah, that's interesting? So you actually think that if you kill a large number of people, then the people who are left over who might be in the same category will, and should, behave better than they did before. Is this a frequent experience of yours? How many people in history, having had half their population murdered, then learn their lesson? Well, they may learn the lesson of keeping quiet. They may learn the lesson of deviousness. They may learn all kinds of lessons. But the idea that somehow or other they should now set the moral example that you, Christendom, was completely unable to follow – that's a bit comic, isn't it? Oh yes, it is comic, but it's not the kind of comedy that draws laughs. If I were you, Freddy, I would actually, as my old tennis coach used to say, delete that one from your repertoire. But I can't.

Born in America in 1931, Frederic Raphael is a writer who moved to England as a boy. He was educated at Charterhouse School and was a Major Scholar in Classics at St John's College, Cambridge. His articles and book reviews appear in a number of newspapers and magazines, including the Los Angeles Times and The Sunday Times. He has published more than twenty novels, the best-known being the semi-autobiographical The Glittering Prizes (1976). In 1965 Raphael won an Oscar for the screenplay for the movie Darling, and two years later received an Oscar nomination for his screenplay for Two for the Road. In 1999, he published Eyes Wide Open, a memoir of his collaboration with the director Stanley Kubrick on the screenplay of Eyes Wide Shut, Kubrick's final movie. Raphael lives in France and England and became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1964.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Palestine, Israel, Holocaust, Jews

Duration: 5 minutes, 55 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2014

Date story went live: 10 September 2014