Pray America repudiates Trump

There's a snippet of video doing the rounds that is simultaneously shocking and unsurprising. It shows a supporter of Donald Trump at a rally in Phoenix, as the crowd strikes up the familiar chant of "U-S-A! U-S-A!". Except he's chanting an amended version: "Jew-S-A! Jew-S-A!" He repeats it several times, all the while making a hand gesture which, we're told, mimics a symbol favoured by white supremacists. In case anyone fails to get the drift, he then explains to the dozens of reporters filming his little performance that "We are run by the Jews, OK?"

It's shocking because naked bigotry and hate is always shocking. And also because Jews have for so long thought of America as a safe space, the goldene medina that took in Jewish immigrants, allowing them to put down the deepest roots and flourish. This short, nasty little video is a reminder that the US was never free of nativist hatred of newcomers, that antisemitism found a home there too. And it clearly never went away.

But the incident was unsurprising in another way too. Anyone paying attention has seen for months that the Trump campaign has stirred up some of the ugliest forms of anti-Jewish hatred. Just look at the online abuse meted out to Jewish journalists who have dared to criticise the Republican nominee. When Julia Ioffe wrote an unflattering profile of Melania Trump, she was bombarded with abuse, including photoshopped images of herself in the uniform of an Auschwitz inmate. Tellingly, Mrs Trump blamed Ioffe for the abuse she had received, saying the reporter had "provoked" it.

More recently, Hadas Gold of Politico was depicted with a yellow star on her chest and a mocked-up bullet wound on her forehead. "Don't mess with our boy Trump or you will be first in line for the camp," was the accompanying message. "Aliyah or line up by the wall, your choice." The Anti-Defamation League, or ADL, estimates that two million such tweets, replete with antisemitic language, were sent in a one year period.

Of course the Trump campaign will say it deplores such abuse, just as it deplored the "Jew-S-A!" chant. But, interestingly, there has been no such explicit condemnation from the candidate himself. Which should shock no one, given that the cue for this anti-Jewish bile has come from the very top.

Recall Trump's address to Republican Jewish leaders, when he praised Jews as experts in the art of "renegotiation", a coded way of saying Jews do not keep their word. In July, Trump tweeted an image - lifted from a white supremacist website - of Hillary Clinton against a backdrop of cash, with a six-pointed star in the foreground, announcing her as the "Most corrupt candidate ever." What was a symbol uncomfortably like the Star of David doing there?

Others were struck by the speech last month in which Trump said that "Hillary Clinton meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of US sovereignty in order to enrich these global financial powers," a formulation so redolent of age-old antisemitic conspiracy theory that the ADL instantly condemned it.

They feared Trump was sending out a dog-whistle, instantly intelligible to every Jew-hater in the land. (Some suspect the same dog-whistling explains Trump's curious habit during the TV debates of lambasting relatively obscure figures united only in having unambiguously Jewish names: a Blumenthal, Gruber and Wasserman-Schultz were all name-checked before a mass audience who would have struggled to identify any of them.)

Elsewhere on these pages, US writer Daniel Trieman argues that Trump is surely no antisemite in part because Trump's daughter has married a Jew and converted to Judaism, with her husband a key figure in the campaign. But Trump's personal feelings about Jews are not the point. More important is the fact that his campaign has dredged up and reanimated dark loathings, against Muslims, women, the disabled and, yes, against Jews.

His message - that decent, honest Americans owe their misfortune to a shadowy, global, monied elite who have cheated them of their birthright - is a view of the world with a long, lethal history. The same is true of his call for a strongman who "alone can fix" the country's problems. We've seen this movie before; we know how it ends. We must hope, perhaps even pray, that on Tuesday the people of America repudiate this man, and everything he represents.

Shimon Peres is Israel incarnate

I'm guessing the year was 2000, maybe 2001. It was a morning editorial meeting at the Guardian and someone mentioned plans for coverage of a royal funeral. "When the Queen Mother dies…" he said. "No, no, no," I interrupted. "If the Queen Mother dies."

At that stage, she was 100 years old and seemed destined to go on forever. Some public figures are like that. They've been around so long, captured in photographs from decade after decade, that you come to assume they're part of the fixed landscape, like a geological feature.

In Britain, that role has long been played by the Queen. In Israel, her equivalent has, for years, been Shimon Peres.

Israelis cracked similar jokes about him, riffing on his longevity. On word of a new archaeological discovery, some smart-alec would say: "They found ancient Roman coins, a Maccabean spear - and Shimon Peres's barmitzvah suit."

The assumption was that Peres had been around for eternity and would stay that way. When he stepped down from the presidency, aged 91, Israeli commentators asked: "What will Peres do next?"

Still, and inevitably, when word came last week that Peres had suffered a serious stroke, it was his long past that came to mind.

Think of each Israeli decade and Peres had a prominent role in it: president in the noughties; Prime Minister and Oslo signatory in the '90s; PM and Finance Minister in the '80s; acting PM and Defence Minister in charge of the Entebbe rescue operation in the '70s; rising star minister in the '60s; key player in the Suez drama, and architect of Israel's secret nuclear programme, in the '50s; close aide to David Ben Gurion, in charge of arms procurement for the embryonic IDF, in the 1940s.

It's that last fact that is the most staggering. Only in his twenties, Peres was an influential figure in the 1948 War of Independence and an intimate of the founder of the state of Israel. It's as if in the United States of, say, 1844, there lived a politician who had begun his career advising George Washington. Peres was present at the creation. It makes him the last survivor of the founding generation, the last human link to Israel's birth. As as write, it seems that link will soon be severed.

That is bound to have an effect on the country. I remember Israeli commentators saying something similar a decade ago when Ariel Sharon, then Prime Minister, suffered the stroke that incapacitated him. Now, they wrote, the giants were gone. From now on, only lesser mortals would govern Israel - perhaps bringing an end to the grandiose visions of the past and heralding a future more like a normal country.

I'm not sure. But Israel will certainly feel different when none of the 1948 generation is around, when living memory slips into history. Think of how individuals are once they no longer have a living parent: there's a sense that now it's up to them, that ultimate responsibility falls on them and them alone.

There's something else, too. When the time comes for obituaries, it'll be tempting to laud Peres the way he styled himself, as the "man of peace." After all, Peres won a Nobel prize for his involvement in Oslo, was tenacious in his pursuit of dialogue with Arab and Palestinian partners and was a constant target of the Israeli right for his advocacy of territorial compromise. They mocked him as hopelessly naive, an ingénu even in his nineties.

But that was not the whole picture. Peres was also the godfather of Israel's atom bomb; as a minister, he repeatedly indulged the spread of West Bank settlements and, most notoriously, sat in the prime minister's chair in 1996 when Israel shelled a UN compound in Qana, Lebanon, a horrific, and still contested, episode that took the lives of more than 100 Lebanese civilians, all of them seeking safety.

In other words, Peres can be written up as both a dove and a hawk. The legendary writer Amos Oz, a friend of Peres, likes to point out that it was the pacific figure of Levi Eshkol who ended up building "the largest Jewish empire since King David" while it was the nationalist Menachem Begin who gave away more territory than any Israeli leader before or since.

Oz's point is that people change, surprising both themselves and us. But it is also true that no one is ever just one thing. Peres lived a life in full, notching up a history marked by both pride and shame. Just like Israel itself, the country he shaped from the very start.

Chakrabarti’s ultimate problem

The first thing to say about Shami Chakrabarti's nomination for a peerage is that by any standards, and especially in comparison with many others who've received the honour, she merits it. I've long argued that Britain's second chamber should be elected, not appointed but, as the system stands, Chakrabarti is worthy of a place in the Lords. Her long service at Liberty and her expertise on human rights make her eminently qualified.

Sadly, that is not the prime way her nomination - as the sole name put forward by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, breaking his earlier promise to appoint no peers - has been judged. Inevitably, because it came only five weeks after she had delivered her report into antisemitism and other forms of racism within the Labour party, the two have been linked, with the assumption that both are compromised. The allegation is that she delivered a whitewash in return for those ermine robes. Or, as the Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, tweeted, "the credibility of her report lies in tatters."

The truth is, her report's credibility was not looking too healthy even before we learned of her imminent elevation. That's not because of what's in it: as far as it goes, it's a sensitive, carefully written document. (Full disclosure: I was one of many people Chakrabarti spoke to as part of her work.) Its flaws lie in how it was framed, how it was launched and what it left out.

The framing is not wholly her fault. Perhaps she can't be blamed for those who skipped over her references to the "hateful or ignorant attitudes" and "occasionally toxic atmosphere" she'd found within Labour, preferring to seize instead on the report's first sentence - "The Labour Party is not overrun by antisemitism, Islamophobia or other forms of racism" - as if it were a total exoneration, as if "not overrun by" meant "has no problem at all with". But that opening line was curious. The accusation was never that every last person in the Labour party was an antisemite, but rather that there was a problem on part of the left that needed tackling.

More troubling was how she launched the report. Her inquiry was meant to be independent, yet she presented it with Corbyn at her side. When Sir John Chilcot delivered his conclusions on the Iraq war, he did not do a joint press conference with Tony Blair. Yet there stood Chakrabarti and Corbyn, examiner and examined, standing shoulder to shoulder.

The report's author then did a round of media interviews in which she acted not as Labour's invigilator but its defender. More troubling, she sat behind Corbyn as he faced the Home Affairs select committee, handing him helpful notes as he testified, like a lawyer advising her client.

So Chakrabarti didn't need to get a peerage for us to suspect she had crossed the line from judge to advocate. Indeed, one legal blogger makes a good case that she may well have agreed to become a Labour peer months before the issue of an antisemitism inquiry arose. That would mean she was compromised, but in a different way –- already beholden to Corbyn before she started.

Which points towards the ultimate problem. One way or another, Chakrabarti felt she had to write a report that would be embraced, rather than rejected, by the Labour leader - if only because she did not want her work to be in vain. That inhibited her from probing deeper into the strain of left thinking that the leader himself personifies and which so often collides with Jewish sensitivities.

So it was Corbyn who did nothing when, at the very launch of the Chakrabarti report, an activist abused Jewish MP Ruth Smeeth, alleging that she was part of a media conspiracy, prompting Smeeth to flee in tears. (Afterwards, Corbyn chatted warmly with the activist.) It was Corbyn whose statement at that launch included a sentence carefully worded to do just enough to liken Israel to Isis while allowing him to deny he meant any such thing. (You don't usually speak of "self-styled Islamic states" if you want to refer to Iran or Pakistan.) And Corbyn, whose record suggests a willingness to look past nakedly antisemitic statements so long as they are uttered by those he deems sound on Israel/Palestine. (Think of his defence of Rev Stephen Sizer, suspended for circulating the claim that 9/11 was an Israeli plot.)

Chakrabarti's report went nowhere near any of this stuff. She preferred to believe Labour's current leadership is part of the solution. She did not confront the grimmer possibility that it is part of the problem.

Jonathan Freedland is a columnist for the Guardian

People will look for a scapegoat

So British Jews take their place alongside Londoners, Scots and the Northern Irish as people who bucked the trend and voted solidly - by 58 per cent to 32 per cent according to today's JC poll - to remain in the European Union.

I'm not surprised. Back in March I wrote on these pages that I expected most of our community to back Remain. Everything I saw over the following months confirmed that hunch.

I chaired a few communal events and the consensus in the room was overwhelming each time: most Jews felt safer and more comfortable with staying in.

Of course, Jews had myriad, individual reasons for their decision, just like anyone else. But a couple of what were inescapably Jewish motives kept coming up.

The first was the argument that formed the emotional core of the Remain case, though it was put all too rarely: Europe is a continent blooded by war, especially in the 20th century but for a thousand years before that.

The European project was consciously born of the desire to end that millennium of bloodshed and sorrow. Rather than fighting each other, the peoples of Europe would settle their differences around a negotiating table.

For Britain to leave would be to pull out one of the three guy ropes - the other two being Germany and France - that had kept the European tent upright. And if the EU were to unravel, the risk was real that Europe could revert to type, and return to war once more. That would be a calamity for all Europe's peoples. But Jews have a particular and intimate knowledge of what conflict in Europe can bring.

Second, Jews took a good look at who stood ready to welcome a Brexit. Outside the UK, the list was not encouraging: Vladimir Putin, Marine Le Pen, Donald Trump and every far right racist and populist in continental Europe. In the UK, the advocates were, admittedly, less disturbing. Boris Johnson and Michael Gove have many Jewish admirers - and I heard the smoked salmon entrepreneur Lance Forman make a spirited case for Brexit, recalling the fact that he was the child of Holocaust survivors, at a Vote Leave rally in Billingsgate four days before referendum day. Even so, I suspect many Jews struggled to be reassured by the presence of Nigel Farage and George Galloway in the Leave camp.

More substantively, Jews could not help but notice the centrality of immigration to the Leavers' case. Of course, Jews are not immune to misgivings about migration. But I suspect that those with long memories shudder when they see a poster like the notorious one unveiled by Farage during the campaign: a snaking queue of dark-skinned refugees under the slogan, "Breaking Point." We didn't need it pointed out to us that just such an image had been a staple of Nazi propaganda.

Now that the verdict is in, it seems that Jewish angst about Brexit is deepening: the JC poll found that 37 per cent of us feel less safe. No wonder. First, Jews have seen the upsurge in racist attacks - hate crimes up by 57 per cent in the immediate aftermath of Brexit – and will have felt that old certainty that people who hate the dark or the different rarely make an exception for Jews.

Second, they will have seen the likelihood that the Brexit vote will lead the Scots to seize the independence they spurned in 2014, and will perhaps prompt Northern Ireland's exit from the UK too. That will leave a shrunken United Kingdom, which should be a source of regret for Jews.

The union of four different nations has been a comfortable home for us, a place hospitable to hyphenated identities. Because you could be Scottish and British or Welsh and British, it has long felt very easy to be Jewish and British. In a little England and Wales? We'll see.

But it's the economic instability that will have plenty of Jews worried. Not chiefly because of their own, narrow interests, but because of the nagging memory of what happens when factories close, jobs are cut and currencies plunge: people look for a scapegoat.

For years, Britons have had the EU and those meddling Brussels bureaucrats to blame. Once we're out, there'll need to be someone else, some other sinister force, some other conspiracy, that can be held responsible. We Jews have seen that movie before: we know how it ends.

Don’t play the Nazi card

If there's one good thing to have come out of the debate over Labour and antisemitism, it might be the emerging consensus that, when discussing the Middle East, it's best to leave Hitler out of it. And not just the Middle East. Boris Johnson was widely mocked for likening the EU to Hitler's ambitions for Europe, leaving open the possibility that Sadiq Khan might become the first ever London mayor not to make crass references to the Führer.

Still, the casual Hitler comparison is especially toxic when discussing Jews and Israel. It's not just that the charge cannot be sustained - no matter how badly you feel Israel is behaving, it is not guilty of the crimes of the Third Reich - it's also designed to hurt Jews in their most sensitive spot. This is why the near-universal condemnation of Ken Livingstone's declaration that Hitler was a supporter of Zionism is heartening: it suggests people understand how cruel it is to put Jews on the same moral plane as their most murderous persecutors, whether by accusing them of committing an equal horror or suggesting, as Livingstone did, that they colluded with their killers as ideological comrades.

I wish I could say I was blameless on this score, but I can't. Sixteen years ago, I was appalled by a short book called The Holocaust Industry by Norman Finkelstein. I wrote that it echoed arguments made by David Irving, who had just lost his notorious libel action and had been branded by the High Court as nothing more than a "pro-Nazi polemicist". Finkelstein's book praised Irving as having made an "indispensable" contribution to our understanding of the last war. In the final line of the piece I wrote that Finkelstein's outlook took "him closer to the people who created the Holocaust than to those who suffered in it."

I now regret writing that sentence. Finkelstein is a child of Holocaust survivors but even if he were not, I should not have written those words. If I could withdraw them, I would. Implicitly, I had made the comparison - of Jews and Nazis - that I believe should be off-limits.

And yet, drawing that boundary is not as easy or absolute as we might like. Not long after Livingstone's outburst, Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Israeli military, told a Yom Hashoah ceremony he saw troubling signs in Israel of the "horrific processes" - of "intolerance, violence and… moral degradation" - that had unfolded in Germany in the 1930s. Last Friday, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak declared that Israel had been "infected by the seeds of fascism".

Naturally, some of Livingstone's initial defenders seized on those remarks to suggest their man was in the clear: if these Israelis could say that, why couldn't he say what he liked?

But the sentiments were completely different. Neither Golan nor Barak were twisting the historical record to suggest Nazis and Zionists were partners in a shared enterprise, as Livingstone had done. They were sounding the alarm - the ultimate alarm - about what's happening in their country today.

And that's the key difference: intention. Golan and Barak were not engaged in scoring points. They were not trying to inflict hurt on Jews, by poking into their deepest wound. They were not taking gleeful pleasure in Jewish anguish. On the contrary, they invoked the precedent of the 1930s because they wanted to warn the country they love - and which they have served - off the dangerous path they fear it is taking. It's not a parallel I would want to invoke. But if it's ever to have a legitimate use, then used this way, by these people, is probably it.

Jonathan Freedland is a columnist for The Guardian

Let a Muslim run London

Predictions are a mug's game in today's volatile politics, but I stand by the one I made on these pages back in September: if Labour goes into the next general election led by Jeremy Corbyn, the party will receive the lowest Jewish vote in its history.

If anything, that wager is looking even firmer now, thanks to the serial revelations of assorted antisemitic cranks admitted and readmitted into the party, even holding elected office. Nothing I've seen suggests that Jewish voters will be in a mood to overlook that when it comes to choosing a new government in 2020.

But an earlier test is coming. Next month, Londoners will elect a new mayor and it's easy to imagine Jews channeling that anti-Corbyn sentiment into a vote against Labour's candidate Sadiq Khan. After all, they'll be reluctant to hand the new leadership anything that looks like a vote of confidence. What's more, Khan was one of those MPs who nominated Corbyn last summer, thereby ensuring the Islington MP a place on the ballot. Surely all that should add up to a Jewish thumbs-down for Khan on May 5.

Not so fast. For one thing, there were quite a few Labour MPs - "morons," one Labourite called them - who nominated Corbyn not because they agreed with him but to "widen the debate." Most of them, Khan included, did not vote to make Corbyn leader. Cretinous the logic may have been, but it does not make Khan a Corbynite.

That much has been proven since. Witness the leaked assessment by Team Corbyn that Khan was among those Labour MPs deemed "hostile". Nowhere has that antagonism been more visible than on Labour's antisemitism problem. Khan has led the charge, regularly faulting Corbyn for failing to act more swiftly and decisively.

At last week's JW3 hustings, Khan said he wore "a badge of shame" over the issue, that antisemitism in Labour made him "embarrassed and sorrowful." He suggested Labour's ruling national executive submit to training to better understand anti-Jewish racism and once again criticised the party leadership for not taking a "tougher stance."

Some will roll their eyes at these efforts to reassure the Jewish community. It's just a politician chasing votes at election time, they'll say. But this has come at a price for Khan. He's taken heat in some quarters for coming out against BDS - boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel - and for promising not to use his mayoral platform "to offer commentary on foreign policy" (a coded pledge to be no Ken Livingstone). If this were pure electoral calculation, Khan would surely have decided that there are more Muslim votes than Jewish ones in London and it was smarter to say nothing.

The less cynical view is that Khan is making an admirable effort to mend fences whose damage long predates Corbyn. Most impressively, he has drawn on his own life experience as a Muslim to empathise with London's Jews, stressing that he will support security at Jewish schools and synagogues as well as protecting, in his words, "religious freedom regarding shechita and brit milah." As one Jewish community bigwig put it to me: "He speaks our language."

This surely is the prize here, bigger than the satisfaction to be gained by poking Corbyn in the eye: the chance for the world's greatest city to be led by a Muslim mayor who has, for example, made a point of breaking his Ramadan fast in a series of synagogues. What a message that could send, to Britain and the wider world. I hope that Jewish Londoners, whatever doubts they harbour over the party leadership, give Sadiq Khan a chance. He's earned it.

Vote in our mortal interest

It may sound like a healthy, bran-based breakfast cereal but Brexit is going to be dominating the national conversation between now and June 23. A moment that's been coming for at least two decades, and maybe much longer, is finally here: Britain will decide its place in the European Union, in or out.

There'll be no Jewish vote to speak of: Jews will divide on the same lines as everyone else, some persuaded by the economic issues, some by security, some by fear of the unknown. There'll be Jews for Out, like the former Conservative party leader Michael Howard, and Jews for In like the Conservative MP and minister, Robert Halfon.

And yet I was not surprised to see that of the JC's panel of six rabbis last week, four were for Remain and not one was for Leave (two were undecided). I suspect that, among those Jews who follow a Jewish gut instinct on this question, their gut will be telling them to stay. And, in this, the legacy of the Second World War will be inescapable.

True, plenty of Outers build their case on the last war. Nigel Farage frequently invokes the 1940 notion of a free Britain standing valiantly against the totalitarian tendencies of the continent. I can see how the supposed threat of a European superstate sends a shiver down Jewish spines especially. Recall the 1990 declaration by Margaret Thatcher's cabinet colleague, Nicholas Ridley, that, "This is all a German racket designed to take over the whole of Europe." Plenty of Jews would have heard that and been ready to vote Out there and then.

But the Brexiteers do not have the monopoly on wartime memories. You can be equally mindful of history and draw the opposite conclusion. You can note the tendency of the peoples of Europe to murder each other in the bloodiest kinds of war over several centuries - the Hundred Years War, the Thirty Years War, the Franco-Prussian War, two world wars in the last century - and conclude that this is what, unchecked, Europe's nations do to each other.

And yet for the past 60 or so years, the major nations of Europe have not fought each other. Those within what is now the European Union have instead traded together, in peace and prosperity. Some might say that's a coincidence, that even without the EU, Germany and France would not possibly have taken up arms against each other. But surely the more rational view is that the existence of the EU can claim some credit for this outbreak of relative tranquillity. Disputes that would once have been settled by lethal combat have instead been resolved through all-night meetings in Brussels. I know which I'd prefer.

Jews have a mortal interest in all this. War in Europe brings desperate suffering to everyone, of course, but it has inflicted a very particular pain on Jews. For all its huge flaws – and the EU is a clunky, often dysfunctional entity currently tested to its very limits by migration and the strains of a single currency - the notion of cohering Europe's nations into a single market rather than having them fighting each other to the death has been a good thing. Maybe even a life-saver.

With a dangerous, toxic populism on the rise on both sides of the Atlantic, and with an anti-immigration, anti-outsider mood spreading, Jews would surely want to strengthen, not weaken, an organisation that demands democracy and respect for the human rights of its members - one that prefers tedious jaw-jaw to murderous war-war. For that reason, I hope - and, actually, I expect - that, come June 23, most British Jews will vote to stay in.

Jonathan Freedland is a columnist for the Guardian

Just the latest big US bigot

To the long list of communities and groups Donald Trump has insulted - Mexicans, Muslims, women, the disabled - we can now add Jews. Addressing the Republican Jewish Coalition last month, Trump quipped that "I'm a negotiator, like you folks." Later, in case anyone hadn't quite got his drift, he went on: "Some of us renegotiate deals… is there anybody that doesn't renegotiate deals in this room? Perhaps more than any room I've ever spoken to."

Several present felt their jaws drop. It seemed a presidential candidate had trotted out one of the most aged antisemitic stereotypes - of the Jew as the chiselling money-grabber, bound to go back on his word if it'll make him richer - and to a Jewish audience. In the same speech, he predicted Republican Jews wouldn't endorse him because "I don't want your money" - implying they'd only back a candidate who'd owe them. Well, at least he said it to their face.

It's tempting to write that episode off with the shrugging declaration that "That's Trump," breaking every rule in the political book and getting away with it. But there's more to it than that - and at least two reasons for taking it seriously.

First, it's easy to assume that a US politician attacking Jews represents a wild departure from the American norm. In the Jewish imagination, the US has all but acquired the status of an alternative Zion. It is the Goldene Medina, the place that embraced Jews when the rest of the world was spurning them. Today, as the European air seems to chill for Jews, America looks like a perennially safe harbour.

But that requires a very selective view of America's past. Consider two of Trump's forebears as larger-than-life US figures seriously talked of as contenders for the White House. Ahead of the 1924 election, the presidential buzz hovered around automobile tycoon Henry Ford. Central to his political identity was the series of articles that ran in the newspaper he owned, the Dearborn Independent, and later collected in four volumes: The International Jew. Week after week, Ford would expose what he called the "Jewish menace": "Jewish degradation of American Baseball" was a typical headline. None of that stopped him becoming nationally admired. Sixteen years later, it was aviation hero Charles Lindbergh who was tipped for the Oval Office. His platform was opposition to US involvement in the war against Hitler. Three groups, he warned, were trying to drag America into a second world war just as they'd pulled America into the first: the Roosevelt administration, the British and "the Jewish."

Nor is this just in the pre-war past. Among Richard Nixon's many flaws was a tendency to, often foul-mouthed, antisemitism. The notorious Nixon tapes reveal him saying, "The Jews are just a very aggressive and abrasive and obnoxious personality." When discussing appointments, he told an aide: "No Jews."

So, in his readiness to insult a Jewish audience, Trump is hardly a novelty even if he seems like one. But Jews are not the main religious minority on his mind. That place belongs to Muslims, whom Trump wishes to ban from entering the country. Which brings us to the second reason why it's worth paying attention. Imagine a US presidential candidate, ahead in the polls for his party's nomination, seeking to exclude all Jews. We would be quaking with anxiety. When we contemplate Trump's ongoing campaign against Muslims, we should remember the history, remember our place in it - and feel not only empathy, but outrage.

‘Shoah’, the film that changed Israel for ever

Outside, it was burningly hot, the skies clear blue. But, inside, there was only darkness. For the next nine-and-a-half hours, in the Jerusalem Cinematheque, they would sit, rapt and in silence, through Shoah, the film made by the French director Claude Lanzmann, which was already being garlanded by critics around the world as the greatest single film about the Holocaust and one of the very greatest documentaries in the history of cinema.

It was June 1986, eight months after the film's release. Hushed audiences had sat spellbound at screenings in Paris and New York, but this June day was different. It was the first official showing of Lanzmann's masterpiece in Israel, its première marked as all but a state occasion. Taking their seats at the Cinematheque, a newly opened art-house cinema facing the walls of the Old City, were Israel's prime minister, Shimon Peres, along with the country's president, chief rabbi and chief of staff of the military. A surging pack of press and cameras had greeted their arrival.

Less noticed as they made their way through the heaving crowd were the rest of the invited audience. Among them were several of those who appeared in the film: the survivors of the Nazi death camps, the resistance fighters, those who had witnessed the slaughter up close. They were in the room. Many had their children at their side.

Lanzmann himself - a fighter in the French resistance, a former lover of Simone de Beauvoir and confrère of Jean-Paul Sartre - was agitated. Earlier that morning, Alan Reich, then an intern at the Cinematheque and now a documentary maker, had brought the director breakfast in his hotel room. "He was completely stressed out: he was sitting there, writing notes, getting up and pacing the room, popping pills to calm himself down. He was really quite anxious."

The film had been lauded everywhere, but the judgment of Israel mattered to Lanzmann especially. He was presenting his account of one of the defining events of Jewish history to the world's only Jewish country - a country whose leading officials had chosen him for the task, entrusting him with this work of memory. He was adamant that the Jerusalem audience not miss even a moment of the story he had to tell. Just before the screening, he had clashed with the Cinematheque's founder, Lia van Leer. "He said, 'there's one thing you have to know: when the film starts, you lock the door, nobody leaves,'" Van Leer recalled when I spoke to her in Jerusalem earlier this year. "I said, 'Are you crazy? If somebody has to go the lavatory, what do they do? Should they pee in their pants?'" Only when Van Leer declared that she would not forbid Israel's prime minister from visiting the bathroom, did Lanzmann relent.

At last, everyone was seated. A hush descended. The director rose to introduce Shoah - the Hebrew word for destruction, and the preferred Israeli term for the Holocaust. He said how glad he was that so many had come to see his film, a film he had made with all his heart. He headed for his own seat, but he could not stay in it. Instead, and for the duration of the screening, he was in and out of his chair, patrolling the auditorium, unable to sit still. He wanted to see the 380 faces that made up his audience.

For some, seeing the story of the Shoah played out on screen for 566 slow minutes proved too much. At one point, a member of the audience, a survivor, suffered a heart attack. He had to be stretchered away. Another fainted.

It was as if, for one extraordinary June day, Israel itself grappled with the event that preceded its birth by a handful of years, and has haunted it ever since. It did so in an unprecedentedly concentrated way: the leaders of the Israeli state were all present, together, in one room and in the dark. What the audience experienced during those hours was a reminder that Israel's relationship with the Holocaust has been impossibly tangled, stirring emotions that linger still: grief and pain, of course, but also guilt, fear and even shame. The story of the day Shoah was screened in Jerusalem is also the story of how the Shoah has reverberated, and continues to reverberate, through Israeli life.

In the politics of the country, in the way it relates to the rest of the world, the shadow of the Holocaust is never far away. It is there in the most basic argument offered for Israel's right to exist: that, after the murder of six million, Jews need a safe haven that they can call their own. It is there, too, when Israeli leaders insist that they have not only the right but the duty to crush any and every threat to the security of their citizens, because "never again" will Jews be left defenceless.

All of this hung heavily in the air at the main auditorium of the Cinematheque that day nearly 30 years ago, as Lanzmann paced among the rows, watching the faces in the dark. Staring out most keenly of all were the survivors, those who had been present at the conflagration and who had built new lives and new families in a new home - a home that had never quite known how to embrace them.

The youngest face to appear in Shoah belongs to Hanna Zaidel. She is a grandmother now, in her 60s, but on screen she is in her 20s, beautiful, taking long moody drags on a cigarette. Speaking first in Hebrew, then through a French interpreter - one of the reasons why the film is so long is that Lanzmann eschewed subtitles, insisting on consecutive translation - Zaidel tells how she learned the remarkable story of her father, Motke, in scraps, extracting one fact at a time. "I had to tear the details out of him," she says. "He was a silent man, he didn't talk to me." Addressing the camera, she adds that only "when Mr Lanzmann came" did she hear the whole story, told in one go.

When the Nazis liquidated the Vilna ghetto, in today's Lithuanian capital of Vilnius, they did it by leading an estimated 90,000 Jews eight miles to the Ponari forests and shooting them dead, en masse, letting their bodies fall into vast pits originally dug by the region's previous Russian occupiers for use as petrol reservoirs.

When the killing was over, as many as 25,000 corpses were left in each pit. Next, the Nazis sent in chain gangs made up of some 84 Jews - 80 men and four women - shackled above their calves day and night, to dig the bodies out and burn them.

One group was charged with removing gold teeth from the dead. Motke Zaidel was one of those 84, forced on pain of death to burn the corpses of his own friends, neighbours and even relatives. In Shoah, Motke Zaidel tells this story with the Israeli forest of Ben Shemen as a backdrop. In the distance, there is a bonfire, sending wreaths of smoke into the air.

When I met Hanna Zaidel this year in her home in Tel Aviv, her hair shorter and grey now, and with a picture of her late father on the sideboard, she offered an unexpected memory of him. "The main thing is that he was washing hands all the time. He was washing his hands, he was washing our hands. All the time. He was cleaning up all the time. And he kept on doing it, to my sons, to his grandchildren. So whenever they saw him, they used to hide their hands like this." She pulled her hands into her sleeves. "Until I told him, 'Daddy, their hands are clean. They don't need to clean Ponari from their hands. Please stop it.' And he did."

The Holocaust survivors - and their children - who gathered in the audience at the Jerusalem Cinematheque that day would have recognised that account and especially Motke Zaidel's reluctance to speak of his experience. It fitted well with what was then an established narrative of Israel's complex relationship with the Holocaust. The accepted view held that those who had survived were, initially at least, all but silent about the hell they had endured. Perhaps it was because they were simply too traumatised, rendered mute with pain. Perhaps they were simply determined to start afresh, to put the torments of Europe behind them and begin anew, never looking back.

The final speaker in Shoah is Simcha Rotem, one of the last surviving heroes of the Warsaw ghetto uprising. He describes how, after the liquidation, he emerged from the sewers to find himself alone in the place, now reduced to a ruin. He walked for hours in the ghetto but nothing and nobody was left: "I didn't meet a living soul. At one point I recall feeling a kind of peace, of serenity. I said to myself: 'I'm the last Jew. I'll wait for morning, and for the Germans.'" Those are the last words of the film.

Rotem was in the audience, watching himself on the screen that day in Jerusalem. Today aged 90, his eyes still sparkling with almost boyish energy, he described the significance of Lanzmann's film and why it meant so much to Israel. "Testimony was important," he said. "Telling my story, the experience in and around the ghetto first-hand, was hugely important. I think it helped people first to see at first hand that it was true, that these things really did happen, but also to think more deeply what had happened."

He left the cinema full of admiration. "Lanzmann made an extraordinary film, a film that's incomparable with anything that's been made since." Even now, Rotem is best known by his nom de guerre from the Jewish underground: Kazik. Despite his impeccable resistance credentials, in the early days of Israeli statehood, even the legendary Kazik was wary of talking too much about his past. "People had a problem understanding and digesting the story. Really hearing the story. And I felt there was sometimes a question about what we did and how we got through it. People would ask, 'How did you survive?' And what they really meant was, 'What did you do to survive?'" Tired of being viewed as a suspected collaborator, he developed a coping strategy. "When people asked where I was from, I said I was from Petach Tikva" - a town close to Tel Aviv.

A shift came in 1961, with the trial in Jerusalem of Adolf Eichmann, one of the prime architects of the Nazis' "final solution". "The Eichmann trial was a real turning-point, because it engaged the young generation, the Israeli-born generation," said the historian, Yehuda Bauer. For hour after hour, survivors were on the witness stand, describing in painstaking and painful detail what they had endured and what they were up against. But, by the early 1970s, Israeli officials, particularly those around Yad Vashem, Israel's state Holocaust memorial and museum, worried that the impact of the Eichmann trial was beginning to fade. They wanted to find a new way to communicate this formative event in Jewish history to the next generation, this time harnessing the power of cinema. The call went out to Lanzmann, a luminary of the French intellectual left.

The director was summoned to Jerusalem, where he delivered a presentation for the top brass at Yad Vashem, confining himself to "generalities", according to Bauer: "He didn't want these people to have a say in what he was doing." Nevertheless, he had done enough to impress. As Bauer put it: "You don't try to stop a genius." The director left with a promise of funding. The timing of Lanzmann's commission would prove crucial.

Ten months later, Israel would face a near-death experience, believing itself to have come close to defeat in the Yom Kippur war. The muscular "new Jews" of 1948, the conquerors of 1967, suddenly saw themselves as vulnerable.

For the Israeli journalist and historian Tom Segev, the 1973 war shifted the country's understanding of the Nazi period once again: "What it basically says is, if we [the Israelis] could hardly survive the Egyptian and Syrian armies, what do I expect of some elderly woman in Warsaw facing the Nazis?" Segev told me. "And it is at this point that the concept of heroism in Israel begins to change. It is no longer [just] someone who throws a grenade at the Nazis. It is also someone who manages to get some bread for her children, who manages to retain their human dignity. Because that's what the Nazis wanted to take away."

This was the context in which Lanzmann set to work on a project that would dominate the next 12 years of his life - and help reshape Israel's, and the world's, understanding of the Holocaust.

The length of Shoah, the demands it imposes on the audience, make it less like seeing a movie than taking part in a ritual, a sacred rite of remembrance. I went to see it with a friend, at the Curzon cinema in London, in September 1986, just a few months after the première in Jerusalem. My friend made the mistake of bringing popcorn - but he did not get very far with it. He had barely begun chomping when a woman from a nearby row leaned over and slapped him, hard, on the thigh. In an accent thick with the sound and memories of prewar Europe, she said: "Have you no respect?"

The film's pace is unsettling. There are slow, lingering shots of the (usually Polish) countryside, without commentary or music. Shoah includes no archive material at all, none of those now-stock images of skeletal inmates or corpses piled into small mountains. There are no interviews with politicians or government ministers. Instead, it focuses on the ordinary people who were caught up in a period of collective human wickedness, in which cruelty became a system and day became night. The film listens as they describe it, detail by murderous detail.

The effect is mesmerising. Zaidel recalled the extraordinary hush inside the Cinematheque: "It was very strong, people sitting for so many hours… Even the flies didn't want to fly there. You didn't hear anything."

There was little of the usual shifting in seats, despite the marathon length of the film. People stayed still, riveted. Nevertheless, and despite Lanzmann's edict, some did have to take a break. One woman went to the bathroom just to wash the tears off her face. Another went outside and found herself dazzled by the sunlight: it was a shock after the darkness and the crematoria and the death. But when they went back inside the auditorium, Shoah was still going on. Because that is how it was: for at least four years, the killing did not stop. Between 1941 and 1945, no matter what else was going on in the world, the wheels of death were still turning. Somehow the very form of Shoah conveyed something important about the reality of the event itself.

For many in that audience it was overwhelming. Shimon Peres, the prime minister at the time, had to leave before the film was over. But it was more than diary commitments that took him away. "I couldn't stay," he told me from his office, which overlooks the Jaffa coast. "I felt like a broken man." Now in his 90s, the film took him to his childhood in prewar Poland. "These were the people with whom I lived. There was nothing imaginary about it. It was very hard. [Afterwards] we didn't know what to say to each other. All of a sudden, words lose their meaning. They look so pale."

For some critics, it was excessive. Tom Segev faulted the film for adding drama to an event that needed no added drama. He disliked the way Lanzmann staged certain scenes, demanding for example, that a man who, as a boy, had been forced by the Nazis to sing a particular folk song, sing the song again, for the cameras. Others resented the director's probing, relentless style. For one sequence, involving Abraham Bomba, a former inmate of Treblinka and a trained barber, Lanzmann recreated a barbershop, in Tel Aviv - and interviewed Bomba as he cut the hair of an unidentified customer. In English, in a voice at first oddly matter-of-fact, Bomba combs and clips as he explains that he and his fellow barbers were forced to cut the hair of women as they entered the gas chambers. The women did not know what was about to happen to them. They believed they were "getting a nice haircut". (Their hair was, in fact, collected and sent to Germany for commercial use.)

Bomba then recalls how, one day, a transport arrived from his hometown of Czestochowa. "I knew a lot of them. I lived with them and some of them were my close friends. And when they saw me, they started asking me… 'What's going to happen to us?' What could you tell them? What could you tell them?" He goes on to say that a fellow barber suddenly saw his own wife and sister enter the gas chamber." At that point, Bomba, previously so controlled, so fluent, halts.

"I can't," he says. "It's too horrible. Please." He pauses for about 90 seconds. Lanzmann's camera remains on Bomba's face. We watch as the armour a man has built to protect himself over the intervening four decades crumbles before our eyes. Bomba seems to be breaking. "I won't be able to do it," he pleads.

"You have to," Lanzmann says.

"Don't make me go on. Please."

It is one of the most painful sequences in the film. There can be few more affecting scenes in cinema. But for the audience watching on that scorching day in Israel, it would have carried an extra power. The room was packed with survivors who knew Bomba's anguish, even if their experience had not been as extreme or as morally devastating as his. And what they saw on the screen was not black-and-white footage from faraway Europe. They saw a man in contemporary Tel Aviv, tanned and wearing a summer shirt. Yet, slowly, that exterior - the carapace of the confident, brash Israeli - was peeled away, to reveal a Jew trembling with grief and pain.

This gets close to the heart of what was singular about Lanzmann's film. If it had a message, it was that the Holocaust was not in the past: it still existed in the present. It did not exist only in archival monochrome, but in colour, in the here and now. The places where it happened were not in some distant galaxy. They happened in this world: in this forest, in this field, in this village. And its pain lives on in this world, too, in the places where the victims are remembered and the places where the survivors fled. The Holocaust runs deep in the soil of Poland and Germany and Lithuania and Belarus and every place Jews were killed, of course. But the Bomba sequence, like the shots of Motke Zaidel in the Ben Shemen forest, told that Israeli audience watching in Jerusalem that the Shoah was alive in their country, too. They could not escape it. Too many people, and too many of their children, had been shaped - or broken - by it.

Jonathan Freedland's radio programme 'Shoah In Jerusalem' can be accessed via the BBC iPlayer. The above is an abridged version of an article that first appeared in the Guardian

We can’t get past the past

The second Donald Trump opened his mouth, you knew what would happen. No sooner had the billionaire blowhard and Republican front-runner proposed his ban on Muslims entering the US, than headline writers and cartoonists were reaching for the obvious comparison.

"The New Furor" declared the New York Daily News, alongside a photograph of Donald appearing to make a Hitler salute. You can debate the accuracy of the analogy but it's a reminder Nazism and the Holocaust remains the yardstick by which moral issues are measured. Last week, the Nazi precedent was pressed into service as Britain debated air-strikes on Isis in Syria - with Hilary Benn powerfully invoking the historic obligation to defeat fascism. In the global conversation, Hitler and the Holocaust serve as a moral terminus, a destination whose evil cannot be exceeded and which serves as a constant warning of where things can lead. And yet, inevitably, Jews and especially Israelis have a different relationship with the Holocaust. It's one I've been wrestling with in recent days as I've worked on a radio programme telling the remarkable story of the day Claude Lanzmann's landmark documentary, Shoah, was first shown in Jerusalem nearly 30 years ago. It was an extraordinary event. The cinema was packed with dignitaries - Israel's prime minister, president, chief rabbi and chief of staff were all there - as well as Holocaust survivors and their children. For some, the intensity of seeing the nine-and-a-half hour film became overwhelming. During the screening, one survivor suffered a heart attack. Another fainted. One interviewee described Lanzmann himself as being so anxious before the première that he was "completely stressed out… popping pills to calm himself down."

Among the many powerful themes of Lanzmann's film was the notion that the Holocaust lived on in the present - its impact still reverberating through today's world. That was especially so, he showed, in Israel.

He interviewed Israeli survivors, including those who had apparently rebuilt their lives, eventually exposing the fractured, wounded people below the surface. He showed that the survivors' children, those who were never there, also lived with the Shoah, even into the present day. That remains as true of Israel now as when the film was released. Just look at the country's politics. Benjamin Netanyahu cannot speak of the Iranian nuclear threat without invoking the Holocaust. Recently, and to the derision of historians, he recast the Mufti of Jerusalem as the true inventor of the final solution - as if the Palestinians were merely, as Amos Oz once brilliantly put it, "Nazis in disguise."

But it goes deeper than that. The Holocaust continues to colour the Israeli mind-set. While the rest of the world looks at Israel and sees a military giant, many Israelis gaze in the mirror and still see an emaciated Jew, wearing the striped uniform of Auschwitz.

The Holocaust is still so present, that - for all Israel's might - they cannot help but view themselves as frail and vulnerable. This is yet another gap between Israel and the rest of the world. While Israelis draw a particular conclusion from the Holocaust - that Jews must never again be defenceless - most now see the Holocaust as a kind of timeless, universal moral parable. Neither view is wrong, but both are incomplete. There are particular and universal lessons to learn from the horrors of the Shoah -and we need both.