Instructive antisemitic comparison
By Stephen Pollard
January 29, 2013
Oh dear. I really didn't want to have to write about antisemitism again. Believe me it's not something I ever want to have to discuss. But this past week there have been two instructive episodes.
At the end of last week, a LibDem MP no one had ever heard of called David Ward decided to share his thoughts for Holocaust Memorial Day. In a spectacularly appalling piece of timing, he posted the following on his blog immediately after signing the Holocaust Memorial Trust's book of remembrance:
"Having visited Auschwitz twice– once with my family and once with local schools ... I am saddened that the Jews, who suffered
unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust, could within a few years of liberation from the death camps be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new state of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza."
Leave aside the grotesque comparison between 'persecution' of the Jews during the Holocaust and the 'atrocities' inflicted on Palestinians – I have yet to see the evidence which Mr Ward presumably has of death camps on the West Bank, and Israeli guards herding Palestinians into gas chambers to be murdered.
Leave that aside, as I say.
If I had a pound for every time I'm told that Jews use the Holocaust to justify Israeli policy then I'd be a very wealthy Jew. (I hope you see where I'm going with this.)
What's especially interesting about the otherwise deeply uninteresting Mr Ward is the way he turns that around. It's not the Israelis who inflict atrocities on Palestinians. It's me. It's 'the Jews' - at it again.
We Jews of all people – those in Golders Green, in New York and, I imagine, even in Ethiopia – are each of us, individually, responsible for what is going on. Presumably that's because we conspire the whole time.
Just in case there was any doubt, he went on Sky News to elaborate: "I'm accusing the Jews who did it so if you're a Jew and you did not do it, I'm not accusing you. I'm saying that those Jews who did that and continue to do it have not learned those lessons. If you are a Jew and you do not do those things and have never done those things then I am not criticising you."
I see. Good Jews are ok. It's bad Jews that are the problem.
Putting the most charitable gloss on it – rather than believing that Ward simply adopts casual antisemitism as his modus operandi – let's say he thinks that Jews, of all people, should know better.
Howard Jacobson has shown how this leaves Jews doubly damned: to the Holocaust itself and for ever more to elevated moral scrutiny as a result of it. Thus "the Holocaust becomes an educational experience from which Jews were ethically obliged to graduate summa cum laude, Israel being the proof that they didn't."
Worse, that argument means that it is Jews, not antisemites, who need to learn the lessons of the Shoah, and Jews who need to get their act together.
Ward has acted like a chided child ever since his post. A mealy mouthed 'explanation' and then a churlish response to the LibDem chief whip's demand that he never again refer in such fashion to 'the Jews'.
In truth, Ward is of no consequence to anyone and will slink back into deserved obscurity now. But his reaction to being found out speaks volumes for a certain mindset.
There's a useful contrast with the latest imbroglio, over the Sunday Times' Scarfe cartoon of Netanyahu appearing to glory in the blood of his Palestinian victims. As it happens, for me that does slip over the edge
into antisemitism, because it invokes the blood libel. It's a fair point to say that the previous week Scarfe depicted Assad in a similar way, and he's entitled to his view of Netanyahu, just as the Sunday Times are entitled to print it.
But there's never been an anti-Alawite blood libel, and the context matters. The blood libel is central to the history of antisemitism.
I don't think Scarfe is an idiot – far from it. So I find it impossible to believe he was unaware of the resonances of his cartoon.
(Incidentally, I am close to being absolute on the issue of free speech. I think every newspaper should be free to print pretty much anything. I disagree in principle with criminalizing Holocaust denial and I certainly don't think that just because something gives offence it shouldn't be published. But having the right to publish something doesn't mean it is always right to publish something. And with that right goes responsibility.)
In the end what I think is irrelevant, because here's the big difference between these two cases. Ward has dug himself further into his hole and clearly refuses to even consider that he might have made a mistake.
Martin Ivens, the Sunday Times' editor, has done the opposite (as has Rupert Murdoch). He's seen the reaction, thought about it, and held his hands up.
We all make mistakes – editors, of all people. Goodness me there are stories I regret running! But what matters is admitting it and saying sorry. The Guardian, which regularly publishes vile images and pieces dripping with hate for Jews, has never, as far as I am aware, once admitted getting anything wrong.
The Sunday Times has done just that, and deserves credit for it.
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