The problem is real but also exaggerated

May 05, 2016 12:26

Who are we to believe: the JC editorial that, on April 6, decreed that "a cancer [of antisemitism] exists in the Labour Party", or the 82 Jewish members and supporters of the party who, in a letter to the Guardian on April 29, repudiated the charge that "antisemitism is 'rife' in the Labour Party"?

At the very least, these and other testimonies challenge the JC's strangely wild and uncorroborated claim, and prompt the question of whether there might be an ulterior motive behind it.

While antisemitism is monstrous - and, like all forms of racism, should be vigorously dealt with - false accusations of antisemitism are monstrous too. Not only are they damning, they diminish authentic occurrences, of which, sadly, there are still many.

If we are to distinguish between real and fabricated or exaggerated cases, we must have regard to the evidence and be healthily suspicious of other possible reasons for levelling the claim - whether political, ideological, emotional, careless, malicious, or simply born of confusion, fear or anxiety.

Given the strident accusations of endemic, ubiquitous, rampant Jew-hatred in the Labour Party, relatively few concrete cases have been pinpointed, most of them pre-dating Jeremy Corbyn's election as leader.

It's time to calm down, end the hysteria and restore a sense of proportion

Some are genuine causes of concern, notably the ignorant cynicism of Ken Livingstone; some are more dubious. The accused have been suspended pending an investigation and an independent review has now been set up, an initiative that other political parties might care to follow, as Labour is not the only party with an ostensible antisemitism problem.

At different times, the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and Ukip have all been found to harbour members with alleged antisemitic leanings.

For the deeper truth is that latent anti-Jewish feeling has always resided in some segments of British civil society. In recent times, it has been inflamed by the rising passions surrounding the unresolved clash between Palestinians and Israelis, which in turn have unleashed more sinister impulses that sometimes have revived old anti-Jewish tropes of hidden influence and control, including over governmental policy and the media. The lamentable bottom line is that until that conflict is resolved fairly, anti-Jewish feeling is likely to continue to grow.

This is not a happy prospect. Nor is it a new observation. In the mid-1970s, in a pamphlet on the conflict, I mapped out the following hypothetical future scenario: "While Israel continues to rule over the West Bank, there are bound to be ever more frequent and more intensive acts of resistance by a population that is suffering the consequences of economic difficulties in Israel, that is feeling encroached upon by a spreading pattern of Jewish colonisation, and whose yearning for independence is no less than was that of the Palestinian Jews in the early months of 1948.

"As long as Israel continues to govern that territory, she will have little choice but to retaliate in an increasingly oppressive fashion… The moral appeal of Israel's case will consequently suffer… and this will further erode her level of international support, although probably not among organised opinion within the Jewish diaspora. This sharpening polarisation is bound to contribute to an upsurge in overt antisemitism..."

It gives me no pleasure to repeat what seemed self-evident even 40 years ago. If we fail to understand these connections, and continue to uncritically stand by policies widely regarded as unjust and belligerent -policies that would never be tolerated by the custodians of Jewish values if enacted by any country other than Israel - we will continue to scramble around for other explanations for the rise in anti-Jewish sentiment today.

Some of these explanations are patently spurious, unfairly charging people genuinely committed to universal human rights with being antisemites because they grieve for the Palestinian plight. By abusing the charge of antisemitism, there is a danger that it could turn into a badge of honour. On the other hand, staunch support for the Palestinian cause can, and sometimes does, slide into rudimentary antisemitism. Making the proper distinctions is vital.

Other demographics - not least the hard-pressed youth and beleaguered Muslim communities - may feel that the Jewish situation in this country, compared with the problems they face, does not warrant the hogging of the headlines in the way it has. Consequently, this whole saga might generate a resentment against Jews, producing the very opposite effect to that which newspapers like the JC claim they want to achieve - fomenting anti-Jewish feeling rather than combatting it.

It is time to calm down, end the hysteria and restore a sense of proportion.

Corbyn's Labour - what you need to know. Don't miss the special issue of the JC, out this week, including comment from Howard Jacobson

May 05, 2016 12:26

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