Bad language... Good, bad, silent

The Jewish Chronicle leader column, November 9 2018

November 08, 2018 14:51

Words matter.

The specific words used by antisemites matter — as do the words used by those who fight antisemitism.

At a time when hatred of Jews is once again on the rise, and when one of our main parties is refusing to do anything more than mouth platitudes about antisemitism within its own ranks, it is all the more vital that we are precise, specific and careful with language.

Which is why it is so worrying that Marie van der Zyl, President of the Board of Deputies, appears to have such a tin ear for the language she uses. On Sunday, on a panel discussing antisemitism, Ms van der Zyl responded to a question about Labour by suggesting that, “We have seen the warning signs of genocide before.”

This newspaper has led the coverage of Labour antisemitism. We are in no doubt about the severity of a situation in which the probable next Prime Minister is a man who can credibly be described as an antisemite.

Not for nothing did we join with the UK’s two other main Jewish papers to warn of an existential threat. But it is one thing holding the party to account; it is quite another to argue that we are witnessing the early signs of genocide.

This is not merely hyperbole — it is a grotesque warping of history, as our coverage this week of the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht shows. Ms van der Zyl’s remarks were later “clarified” (the word used by spin doctors to pretend that someone did not say something that they did say) by an aide.

But no clarification is needed to understand what was meant. Unfortunately, a pattern is emerging. As recently as last month, Ms van der Zyl told the Board of Deputies’ plenary meeting that, “we would lose all our power” if the Board stopped engaging with Labour.

It is astonishing that any communal leader could be so unthinking as to link the word “power” with the representative body of the Jewish community, employing one of the most oft-repeated antisemitic memes. There are other such instances of what one might call, in an understatement, injudicious language.

This is one of the most challenging times for our community. We face many threats. Perhaps the most serious is that the Labour Party leadership is, at the very least, unwilling to act with any serious purpose against antisemites in its ranks. It is essential that our communal leaders are equal to the task.

Part of that means using language that is not an embarrassment.

Good, bad, silent

There is an unfamiliar byline in this week’s JC: Jeremy Corbyn. The Labour Leader is clearly sincere in his regard for Max Levitas, who died last week. As the saying goes, some of his best friends are Jews.

But it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that, for Mr Corbyn, there are good and bad Jews, and while the former Communist councillor Max Levitas was a Good Jew, those in his own party who refuse to keep quiet about antisemitism are Bad Jews.

When the Labour leadership was informed of a threat of a violent assault against Luciana Berger, it did nothing. It did not even tell her there had been a threat.

Mr Corbyn has said not a word to her since the police announced their investigation. Silence, as always, speaks volumes. 

November 08, 2018 14:51

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