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Peres Sparks Diplomatic Incident

Charged English anti-Semitism in Tablet Magazine; now denies it

Marc Tracy
August 02, 2010
Israeli President Shimon Peres yesterday.(Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images)
Israeli President Shimon Peres yesterday.(Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images)

Shimon Peres (who turns 87 today) provoked “fury” in Great Britain for saying in a magazine interview last week that Britain has a Jew problem: “In England there has always been something deeply pro-Arab, of course, not among all Englishmen, and anti-Israeli, in the establishment,” the 87-year-old Israeli president said. He added: “There is also anti-Semitism. There is in England a saying that an anti-Semite is someone who hates the Jews more than is necessary.” Finally, he implied that some British lawmakers have turned to anti-Israel politics to appease Muslim constituents.

Do Peres’s comments sound familiar? That is because you first read them in Tablet Magazine. (Peres is also a soon-to-be Nextbook Press author.) Israeli historian Benny Morris conducted the interview; we ran it last Monday.

Last night, Peres’s office issued a statement backtracking from his comments: “President Peres never accused the British people of anti-Semitism,” it read. “The president does not believe that British governments are motivated by anti-Semitism, nor were they in the past.” UPDATE: Benny Morris stands by every word quoted in the piece, though he does not agree with the contextualization of the passages quoted in some British newspapers. Peres nowhere said to Morris, as implied by some of the British publications, that the British were an anti-Semitic people or Britain an anti-Semitic country.

Coincidentally, we published Peres’s remarks on the same day that British Prime Minister David Cameron told a group of Turkish businessmen that Gaza was “a prison camp,” though the actual interview took place earlier. Peres “got it wrong,” according to one Conservative lawmaker, and that appeared to be the general official sentiment (though there was also assent from other quarters).

As for that interview: Maybe it demands a fresh read now, hmm? While you are on the topic, you can check out Adam Kirsch’s review of Anthony Julius’s recent book on, yes, English anti-Semitism.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.

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