Silly comment’s consequences
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Thanks to Lord Ahmed, over the past week we have seen antisemitism subjected to the ridicule that it so richly deserves. Within hours of reports of his alleged comments in Pakistan emerging, there was even a website where you filled in the blank space next to a mocking graphic of Lord Ahmed's face and the punch-line: "blame the Jews!" My submission, "too many people coming for Seder night? - blame the Jews," was quite well-received, but this latest antisemitism controversy is actually no laughing matter.
To quickly recap: last week The Times reported that Lord Ahmed had given an interview in Urdu, broadcast on Pakistani television, in which he apparently blamed his imprisonment (for dangerous driving, before a fatal car crash) upon pressure from "Jewish" media owners who had "opposed" his visiting Gaza. He added further nonsense by alleging that the judge's appointment to the High Court had followed his involvement in a case about a mutual "Jewish colleague" of both Lord Ahmed and Tony Blair.
If readers are upset by Lord Ahmed's remarks, they might at least take some comfort in the extensive rubbishing of them. The Labour Party's suspension of him was immediate. The Times was at its thunderous best, denouncing his Lordship for echoing The Protocols and reminding readers that the paper had made the first proper exposure of their falseness way back in 1921. British Muslim anti-radical groups have seized the opportunity to plainly condemn such Jew-hatred from a man who will forever be Britain's first male Muslim peer.
Far less comforting is to consider what would have happened if Lord Ahmed had spoken not of a specific Jewish conspiracy against him alone, but of a more general Zionist or pro-Israeli drive to run Britain, America, and indeed everywhere. It has become depressingly commonplace to hear claims that the highest echelons of the UK media are in thrall to some Zionist or pro-Israeli agenda.
So, how does saying ‘Zionists’ differ from saying ‘Jews’?
Similarly, the idea that Mr Blair was (and remains) somehow utterly ensnared within all of this is accepted wisdom within many left-wing activist circles, including much of the anti-Iraq War movement and practically all of the contemporary anti-Israel scene. These prejudicial narratives have been seamlessly transferred on to current government circles, with Messrs Cameron, Hague et al being wrapped up in the charge.
So imagine if, rather than crass self-pitying nonsense about Jews being out to get him because he visited Gaza, Lord Ahmed had merely stuck to the usual script as heard in Westminster and elsewhere, telling Pakistan that Zionist money and influence pretty much controls our media and politics, in order to defend Israel.
Would anybody, other than Jewish news outlets, have even bothered to report this? And what of the ensuing controversy? Would Labour have kicked a peer out, especially when the front cover of last week's JC showed how its spin doctors appear to treat the word Zionism as if it were radioactive?
This sorry tale sums up the razor's edge nature of contemporary antisemitism. A peer is reported to have said "Jew" in an asinine manner and ends up in the public stocks, but if CST or other Jewish defence bodies criticise the more seductive, and more dangerous 21st-century "anti-Zionist" variant of this logic, we are accused of trying to shut down public debate on Israel.
So, how does saying "Zionists" really differ from saying "Jews"? How does what passes for legitimate comment on "Zionists" both reflect and mentally reinforce older antisemitic ways of thinking? If Lord Ahmed helps us to understand better this question - and its answers - then this latest sordid little antisemitic spat might actually have been worth it.
Mark Gardner is director of communications at the CST