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Recognising Stereotypes

This is a guest post by Igor

This week’s Daily Star has attracted a great deal of justified criticism for promoting the English Defence League on its front page. Many different commentators have pointed out that for a mainstream daily newspaper to effectively propagandise on behalf of a xenophobic street gang is fairly unprecedented, at least since the days of Oswald Mosley.

Some, though, have seen a more sinister hand behind the newspaper’s position. Roy Greenslade, writing on the Guardian’s media blog yesterday, drew attention to the fact that the Star’s proprietor, Richard Desmond, is Jewish:

Desmond ought to think very carefully about letting the Star use far right politics to build sales. As a Jew, he may well have negative views of Muslims.

But, as a Jew, he should also remember what happened in those societies across Europe in the 1930s where Jewish minorities were demonised in the media for their religious beliefs.

Can he not see that the underlying agenda of groups like the EDL is anti-Semitic? What does he think he is doing?

The idea that Jews are somehow predisposed towards disliking Muslims is, well, antisemitic.

I wonder, if the proprietor of the Daily Star was not a prominent British Jew, whether commentators would be so quick to lay the blame at his door rather than the editor’s; Greenslade perhaps only wrote what many others were thinking. To Greenslade’s credit, when he was challenged on this by the Jewish Chronicle he immediately apologised:

A contrite Mr Greenslade told the JC he was pleased the line had been taken down. He said: “How stupid. I didn’t meant that and I don’t know what I was thinking.

“It’s contradictory, isn’t it. There I was going on about stereotypes and I immediately stepped into a stereotype.”

Mr Greenslade described the generalisation as was “so far from what I believe” and said he tried to be extremely fair when it came to coverage of sensitive issues of religion.

He added: “I sometimes wonder at myself.”

Fair enough. Bloggers sometimes write stupid things without thinking them through properly, and the offending line was quickly removed by the Guardian. However, as often happens with the internet it has been picked up and reproduced by others who clearly agree with the sentiment.

One of these is the  media monitoring website iEngage, in a commentary on the Daily Star’s apparent support for the EDL. In the same blogpost, they quote Ivan Lewis MP citing press freedom, and then in the next paragraph mention his support for Israel. They ask the question:

Perhaps the question to put to Ivan Lewis as shadow culture secretary, and someone who said at a rally organised in support of Israel during Operation Cast Lead that “It is essential that we send a clear and responsible message from the great city of Manchester that this community stands shoulder to shoulder with Israel,” whether media propagation of a virulent anti-Semitism would attract the same flippant response?

The irony of iEngage asking whether “media propagation” of antisemitism would be allowed, and then in the next paragraph propagating Greenslade’s line about Jews being inclined to dislike Muslims, is beyond parody.

More worrying, for a group that obviously cannot see the racial stereotyping in that line, is that iEngage still have aspirations to provide the secretariat for an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Islamophobia.

iEngage’s insertion of Ivan Lewis’s support for Israel into an otherwise unrelated article is typical of them. Last week they attached the headline Zionists Warn Tories About Mubarak Aftermath to an article about fears of Muslim Brotherhood influence in Egypt, presumably because those fears were being expressed by an American called Mort Zuckerman. When ex-diplomat Oliver Miles complained  in 2009 about the presence of two Jews on the Iraq War Inquiry, iEngage republished his comments.

Anti-racist groups need to be sensitive to all forms of racist stereotyping. Building partnerships and coalitions across different communities is a vital part of anti-racist campaigning. If iEngage remain as the secretariat of the Islamophobia APPG, does anyone seriously expect anyone from the Jewish community to work with them, when rather than confronting antisemitism, they repeatedly propagate it?