Yesterday morning my mother in law was telling me, with ill concealed glee, about a TV program she had seen the night before. It was about the bombing of the USS Liberty by Israeli forces during the 6 Day War, and how they tried to make it look as if Egypt had done it. According to her, it had all been a Jewish conspiracy to try and get the USA into the war against the Arabs.

I was a little bemused. You can readily imagine that story is not something that's told in Israeli schools, so I've never heard it before. Also, I know that she knows that I know that our politics and views on pretty much anything in life are so violently divergent, that her whole reason for telling me this little story was highly suspect; what was I supposed to do, hang my head in shame for the perfidy of my compatriots?

She went on to explain that the action was not an all-Israeli initiative, but that "some Jews" had conspired with McNamara in order to manipulate the administration into going to war in the Middle East. There had been a cabal of CIA men, McNamara's men and "some Jews". I pointed out that in that case, surely the faction in the administration who wanted to go to war is at least as responsible for the attack as those Jews. This did not cut any ice - according to my mother in law, everyone knows that the US administration does whatever is in the interest of the Jews. What about '39, then? It would have been very much in the interest of the Jews in Europe to have WWII end earlier...

This got no intelligible response, so I tried a different tack. What about those CIA men the program spoke of, then? If they were involved, wouldn't it be just as correct to call this a CIA conspiracy as a Jewish one? She laughed. There are enough CIA conspiracies, she said, "you" can't get out of all of them.

It's not news to me that my mother in law will say things that will hurt or upset me. But what this little exchange did was provide me with a glimpse into the kind of mind I had conditioned myself to believe no longer existed. To her way of thinking, two things were inalienable truths: that anythigns that can be construed to be in line with Jewish interests is the result of a shadowy influence exerted by unscrupulous Jews to the detriment of their gullible betters; and that somewhere, there has to be a Jewish conspiracy - it's in the blood, in the very nature of the race, ingrained like skin colour or nose shape.

What is scary is not that my mother in law is a bit of a bigot. What's scary is that if she thinks this way, unselfconciously, without even being aware of the fact that her thinking is bigoted, how many more people do? I hate how suspicious these thoughts make me. I hate the way that my mother in law can undermine my confidence in my entire social circle when all she wanted to do was just nettle me, pettily. But I can't help it. It scares me.

There has recently been a Panorama program on the BBC about The Project for the New American Century and some other neo-conservative think tanks and institutions in the US. There was some heavy emphasis on the fact that many of the people involved in these projects were Jewish, which at the time I thought was beside the point. But it only occured to me yesterday that at no point did the program make it clear how many people were not Jewish. There was no roll call of all members. When a representative of the ideological movement who was not Jewish was interviewed, no mention was made of the fact. Nor was it pointed out that some of the staunchest opponents of this movement were also Jewish - Noam Chomsky being the most resounding name on that list. And in this country, if the Beeb says so, it's true. So that makes the war in Iraq a Jewish conspiracy, too.