Context is all, and the context was a Labour Conversation in Leamington about anti-semitism. “What it is – and what it is not.” The latter is, of course, particularly relevant in the Labour Party currently, as the furore over Chris Williamson’s reinstatement and re-suspension dominates the BBC.
Our speaker was Richard Kuper, founding member of Jewish Voice for Labour and Jews for Justice for Palestine. He showed us a selection of cartoons which have been accused of being anti-semitic. In groups, we discussed each one, including the example from the New York Times, which prompted the newspaper to cease publishing cartoons and also this one, by the acerbic Gerald Scarfe, for which the proprietor of the Sunday Times, Rupert Murdoch, apologised, calling it “offensive”.
But many people think it is. Because many people conflate legitimate criticism of Zionism and the policies of the Israeli government with anti-semitism, even though more than 20% of Israeli citizens are not Jewish; many Jews are not Zionist; and the majority of Zionists are not Jewish at all but Christian fundamentalists. (You may believe, as I do, that there is an agenda to this wilful misapprehension, but that is a separate issue.)
Equally, when we were faced with a number of statements by various politicians, we found similar confusion, often arrived at by a considerable stretch of definitions.
For example: Alexandra Ocasio-Ortiz characterized Trump’s immigration policy as “fascist”, because it was building “concentration camps on our southern border”. This caused offence to the “Jewish community” on the basis that this was belittling the Jewish experience of concentration camps.
Of course, concentration camps were a British invention. Of course, there is a distinction between concentration camps and extermination camps. And of course, there is no such thing as a Jewish community. There are many Jewish communities, which differ one from another in class, in culture, in politics, in religion.
Anti-semitism exists and must be eradicated inside and outside the party. But it must be allowable to argue against the policies of the Israeli government. It must be legitimate to take exception to the Zionist ideology. And it must be permissible to disagree with someone who happens to be Jewish. I do frequently, not least because some of my best friends etcetera etcetera …
How do we reconcile all this? How do we distinguish anti-semitism from criticism of Israel?
It’s actually simple. To quote from the declaration of anti-semitic misconduct published by Jewish Voice for Labour and Free Speech on Israel:
To be clear: conduct is anti-Semitic only if it manifests ‘prejudice, hostility or hatred against Jews as Jews’.
Today from the everysmith vaults: The Fairports were in town and we forgot, so I've been making recompense by playing Unhalfbricking. Over and over.