“Understanding” is a weasel word, isn’t it.
What would you think if I were to say:
“I don’t hate black people but I understand why some people do”/
Imagine that I then went on to argue that racism against black people was exacerbated by those who argue that the obsessive focus on the supposed criminality of some black people is motivated by racism.
Suppose that I then claim that black identity politics is the worst form of racism in the world, that states run by black people are the more atriocious than anywhere else in the world, and that it is a media conspiracy and European guilt over racism and slavery that prevents us saying so.
What would you think of me?
White racists often do run arguments just like this. They will frequently deny that they’re racists, and will argue that if only people would listen to them and act on their advice, there wouldn’t be so much racism. It isn’t a new rhetorical technque, but it is a transparent one.
That’s basically Ben White’s line too. He argues:
I do not consider myself an anti-Semite, yet I can also understand why some are. There are, in fact, a number of reasons. One is the state of Israel, its ideology of racial supremacy and its subsequent crimes committed against the Palestinians. It is because Zionists have always sought to equate their colonial project with Judaism that some misguidedly respond to what they see on their televisions with attacks on Jews or Jewish property.
Secondly, and related to the first point, is the widespread bias and subservience to the Israeli cause in the Western media…
I have just provided a by no means comprehensive list of reasons why “I can understand very well that some people are unpleasant towards Jews.” I do not agree with them, but I can understand.
… and so on.
Here’s the point. There is a difference between truly attempting to understand why people are nasty racists, and providing an alibi for racists. Ben White is in the business of providing alibis for racists. His argument is essentially “Zionists have tricked racists into hating Jews, generally”. Poor racists.
No progressive ever makes excuses for racists.
Ben White can only get away with this in a context in which a sizeable proportion of self-described liberal opinion holds that the State of Israel is the most significant source of evil in the world. It is, in fact, the hysterical and hyperbolic response to any Israel-related issue among that section of progressive opinion that is a substantial cause of contemporary antisemitism.
Here’s an example. Ben White has a column up on Liberal Conspiracy, pushing his Israel = South Africa crap. This is, apparently, a good liberal view because, of course, Israel is a pernicious colonial settler state that all right thinking people should oppose.
Here’s another example. The charity War on Want is hosting Ben White on Thursday 9 July at the Conway Hall.
There is a substantial section of the British Left which thinks that it is liberal and progressive to claim that racism is best understood as an “understandable” reaction to whatever it is the target of racism is supposed to be guilty of. You can say this, where Jews are concerned, and nobody will bat an eyelid.