By Jenni Frazer
March 7, 2011
Last night was the last night of Jewish Book Week, billed as "The Last Word," a discussion between Jonathan Freedland and Howard Jacobson.
Jonathan decided to take issue with my previous blog about his G2 analysis of antisemitism. He made two points: 1. that I had complained about his highlighting the case of the New Statesman kosher conspiracy cover story; and 2. that I had suggested that the level of comments on the Guardian website were 'barely moderated.'
On point 1, Jonathan maintained that he had had a conversation with the then editor of the Statesman and a civilised exchange about what did and did not cause offence. On point 2, Jonathan was affronted, because, he said, he had a number of meetings throughout the year with Guardian Unlimited moderators, and they were assiduous in making sure offensive material was not on the site.
I am afraid on both counts that Jonathan has missed the point. I mentioned the New Statesman story "as the most he could come up with," in order to make the larger point — made, in fact, by Howard Jacobson last night — that it is exactly papers such as the Guardian and the Independent which have hosted and been profoundably hospitable to, a climate of opinion in which antisemitism flourishes. Jonathan's three-page article on antisemitism, written in the wake of the Galliano/Sheen/Assange tsunami of unpleasantness directed at Jews, did not mention the Guardian at all. I cannot count the number of complaints we have had from readers who do not understand the Guardian's obsession with Jews and Israel, the poisonous letters or op-eds it publishes. Jonathan told the Book Week audience that the Guardian was not a single issue newspaper, but instead was "a cacophony of opinions." I get that, Jonathan, I really do, not least because I work on a newspaper, but at the end of the day someone - usually the editor - has the final say on what goes out in the paper's name. And the Guardian's approach to Jews and Israel - I'm sorry, but you guys in King's Place have to take some responsibility for what you publish.
On the moderators' issue: crumbs. They have meetings? And what appears on Comment is Free is as a result of the meetings? Heaven help us if they didn't.
Jonathan sought to defuse some of this debate by citing the remark made by the departing Sir Howard Davies, head of LSE, seeking to justify the school's acceptance of Libyan money. Yes, said Davies, LSE had taken Libyan money, but it had also taken money from George Soros, "a Hungarian Jew." Thus, claimed Davies, a sort of balance had been struck, a claim which Jonathan rightly pilloried.
But the Guardian and the Indie do exactly the same thing. As though to make up for being nasty about Jews, every so often one will find in the Guardian a heartwarming story - usually around Holocaust Memorial Day - of survivors reuniting, or Shoah heroism. The Indie, whose columnist Christina Patterson (whose Twitter feed is Queen Christina, for heaven's sake) apparently loathes Israel, last week ran a huge, largely admirable, piece on the Jews of Stamford Hill. So balance is achieved.
Not good enough. Until the day when I read the Guardian's Harriet Sherwood, of her own volition, writing something positive about Israel for no other reason than that it is a good story, rather than the endless dripfeed of antagonism we do get, I will continue to wonder about the paper's motivation. I will not join the chorus which says "the Guardian is an antisemitic paper." It is not. But it should not give houseroom to antisemites or pretend that it is innocent in the war of words about Jews and Israel.