And this is what he then said. "It's not surprising is it? I mean, they're notoriously tight-fisted." Eh? What was that? "They"? He might as well have produced a platypus from his trousers. So, astonished and hoping I might have misinterpreted him but fearing that I had not, I checked. "Who is tight-fisted?" And he replied, in a mildly baffled voice, "Jews. They're known to be stingy and miserly with money." If my face registered my feelings it must have been quite a sight. "Are you serious?" I asked. "It's what everyone says," he protested. "It's well known." Not trusting myself to any further conversation and needing to calm down I sent him away. Later he returned to apologise. He had not meant, he told me, to be in any way offensive. He was very sorry if he had been. And I could tell he had almost no idea of why I had reacted as I did. For him the sentiment that Jews were money-grubbing misers was not just commonplace, it appeared that he had never even heard it contradicted. Perhaps in his part of the country (rural East Anglia, I discovered) it was what everyone thought. But you might have expected a three year degree course at a new university to produce at least one challenge to this medieval stereotype.This is striking, and striking on a couple of levels. One can be shocked that the stereotype was blurted so openly (and to someone named "Aaronovitch", no less). But I'm more amazed at the bafflement. I take Aaronovitch at his word when he says his interlocutor seemed genuinely confused that this would be seen as offensive. It seems from his description that the young man is not wedded to a hateful view of Jews. He just accepted this stereotype as part of the world, not as something particularly malicious (though obviously not favorable), but simply the way things were.
This, in some sense, is more worrisome. The young man in question does not seem to be unreachable, or even particularly malign. He holds anti-Semitic views simply because he had never before encountered a situation where they would be challenged. Three years of university experience, and nothing. That's a problem. It's one thing to accept that some people are simply going to be attracted to hateful ideologies. It's another thing when regular people maintain such ideologies simply because no countervailing narrative was ever presented. That speaks to a gap; one that probably can't be cured but by exposure to actual Jews who are in a position to take control of their own narrative. Hopeful in circumstances a little less shocking than that which Mr. Aaronovitch found himself.