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Jonathan Freedland’s illusions about the nature of modern antisemitism

This is a cross post by Adam Levick from CIFWatch

It’s sad that, at the Guardian, being a Zionist who takes anti-Jewish racism seriously warrants such a tribute, but in contextualizing antisemitism and the assault on Israel’s legitimacy at the Guardian and Comment is Free, it’s important nonetheless to make moral distinctions. For sure, Freedland is notChris McGreal, and he certainly is not an ‘as-a-Jew’.

His recent essay, however, published at Peter Beinart’s site, Open Zion, titled ‘What US Jews don’t get about European Antisemitism‘, Jan. 14, displays the characteristic intellectual ticks evident in self-styled progressives who comment on antipathy towards Jews.  Freedland sets the tone early by ridiculing a few of the widely discredited stories about antisemitism in Europe, such as the false report six years ago that British schools had banned the teaching of the Holocaust.

In fact, Freedland spends a remarkable amount of space – nearly 25% of his essay – providing examples of what isn’t antisemitism, and mocking those who, he alleges, exaggerate the threat to Jews in the UK and the rest of Europe.

Freedland writes:

“We are getting used to the fact that U.S. Jews seem ready to believe the worst of this part of the world. In the two cases I’ve mentioned, many Americans were all too willing to accept that British Jews were about to become latter-day Marranos, driven underground by an anti-Semitic government and its jihadist allies, huddling together to teach their children about the Holocaust in Hebrew whispers.”

Finally, getting to “real” antisemitism, Freedland notes the importance of making distinctions “between Western Europe on the one hand and Eastern and Central Europe on the other.

Freedland correctly cites the rise of the Hungarian neo-fascist party Jobbik, as well as Greece’s Golden Dawn party as an ominous indication of a dangerous cultural lurch towards classic European right-wing antisemitism.

Interestingly, Freedland spends little time, however, discussing Islamist antisemitism in Western Europe, and not a word is mentioned about the Judeophobia of the European left.

He writes:

“The most extreme case is surely last year’s multiple homicide—the victims, three children and a rabbi—in Toulouse, apparently by a jihadist maniac. Others have long been alarmed by the case of Malmö, Sweden, a city whose 45,000 Muslims make up 15 percent of the population and where Jews have been on the receiving end of persistent anti-Semitic attacks.”

Then Freedland engages in an egregious obfuscation, positing a stunning moral equivalence between victim and perpetrator, by adding the following:

“So, yes, in Western European countries the tension between established Jewish communities and emerging Muslim ones can be perilous.”

First, it’s important to establish that – based on a comprehensive study at Yale, on antisemitism ten European countries, by Charles Small and Edward Kaplan – Muslims in Europe are dramatically more likely to harbor antisemitic views than non-Muslims.

While Freedland correctly notes that there “is a surge in anti-Jewish hatred whenever the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians escalates”, the implied cause and effect is erroneous.

The empirical data which Small and Kaplan analyzed strongly indicated that – contrary to what Freedland implies - anti-Israel sentiment consistently predicts the probability that an individual alreadyharbors strong antisemitic views.

However, beyond the statistics, Freedland’s suggestion that there is anything resembling parity in attacks by Muslims against Jews and attacks by Jews against Muslims represents a staggering inversion.

Freedland only included two examples of Muslim antisemitism, but, of course, there are hundreds morehe didn’t note. Here are a few plots to murder Jews by Muslim extremists in 2012.

  • In October, A former Portsmouth Football Club player was among a group of 11 alleged Islamic convert terrorists arrested in France for targeting Jews – 7 months after Mohammed Merah murdered Jewish children in Toulouse.
  • In July, Mohammed Sadiq Khan and his wife Shasta Khan were convicted of planning to bomb Jewish targets in north Manchester.
  • In March, Italian police arrested Mohamed Jarmoune, an Italian of Moroccan origin, who they suspected of planning an attack on a synagogue, at his home in Brescia.

Moreover, in the UK in 2011, 31 out of 92 total violent antisemitic attacks in the UK in 2011, according to the CST, were committed by Muslim/Islamist perpetrators – an extremely disproportionate number when you consider that Muslims make up roughly 4.8% of the population in England and Wales.

Would Freedland suggest that there are (evidently unreported) Jewish or Zionist terrorist cells engaged in similar plots and attacks against Muslim targets? Are there synagogue versions of the radical East London Mosque? Are there Jewish neighborhoods in London, such as Golders Green, understood to be no-go areas for religious Muslims?

Of course, he certainly knows the answer to these questions.

However, there is a more important point which needs to be addressed.

Right-wing antisemitism in Europe  - certainly within the mainstream media, and at the Guardian – has been properly delegitimized in a way Islamist antisemitism has not.  When the BNP, EDL and other like-minded right-wing extremists march in London, there is something approaching moral unanimity on the racist, xenophobic danger they present.  However, such a moral consensus does not exist when demonstrations in the UK are held by sympathizers of Hamas, Hezbollah and other violently antisemitic movements.

Finally, sometimes CiF Watch is asked why we spend so much time condemning Islamist antisemtism and less amount of time condemning right-wing or neo-Nazi racism against Jews.

The answer is simple.

White supremacists, and other extreme right-wing groups, don’t have a platform at ‘Comment is Free’, while Islamist extremists who are affiliated with groups openly calling for the murder of Jews (and, no, not merely Zionists) are routinely provided a platform by Guardian editors – evidently motivated by the risible belief that such violent radicals are giving voice to genuinely “progressive” values.

While I’d like to give Jonathan Freedland the benefit of the doubt that he sincerely is intolerant towards all forms of antisemitism, it’s difficult not to conclude that he lacks the fortitude necessary to confront the dangerous legitimization of Islamist inspired Judeophobia in the UK – particularly at the media institution where he’s currently employed.

Alan A adds

The problem is not just that a blind eye is turned to Islamist antisemitism, but that self-styled progressives go beyond Nelsonian blindness and actually form alliances with antisemitic Islamist organisations. The strongest alliances are between the extreme Left and Islamist groups. However, as there’s no cordon sanitaire between the far and moderate Left, these alliances now are a feature of organisations as diverse as London Citizens, Amnesty and Oxfam. They also include, these days, prominent Labour Party figures.

Jewish organisations are then drawn into ‘engagement’ with antisemitic Islamist organisations, which use the relationships for PR and cover, when they’re accused of promoting hatred.

Jonathan Freedland is particularly blind to the objectionable nature of these alliances. See, for example, this piece by him in The Jewish Chronicle:

Mohammad Aziz of the ELM, for one, has impressed Jewish groups with his openness and – confirming that the ELM is no monolith – attended Limmud. But he has been monstered by the anti-Islamist Harry’s Place blog as a dangerous radical. Are there more than a handful of Muslim leaders the watchdogs would deem acceptable? And would that handful be as unrepresentative of British Muslims as, say, Jewish radical anti-Zionists are of British Jews?

In fact, it was anti-Islamist Muslims – religious people who oppose the takeover of their institutions by individuals aligned with the far Right politics of South Asia – who produced much of the material that nailed Aziz.

The approach of much of the Left, Jonathan included, is that it is best not to mention Islamist directed antisemitism. Rather, we should apply the most lax standards reflecting the lowest of expectations of these organisations and individuals: while applying the highest standards to “whites” who have dalliances with extremism.

And that’s a problem.