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Mark Gardner on Antisemitism

There is an important and interesting essay by Mark Gardner in The JC, that you should read. Here’s an extract:

There was, for example, an intelligent left-of-centre focus group that discussed Jewish-related statements by the then London mayor, Ken Livingstone and denounced his various utterances as plainly racist. There was, however, a complication: his statements were only seen as racist when they contained the word “black” rather than “Jew”. Put back in their original format, about “Jews” and they became legitimate comment.

Some readers may perceive this double-standard as a proof that the focus group itself was antisemitic, or that it made racist exceptions about Jews. If so, you are in good company, for no less a figure than Natan Sharansky declares double-standards as one of his “3D” tests for identifying antisemitism. (The others being “demonisation” and “delegitimisation”.)

Nevertheless, the left-wing focus group was expressly anti-racist and against antisemitism, so were they hypocrites and liars? Unfortunately, the same double-standard was exhibited by the other focus groups. Does this mean that all non-Jews are somehow antisemitic?

In fact, the double-standard had nothing to do with the focus groups being antisemitic. Instead, it had everything to do with their (if anything sympathetic) perceptions of Jews and antisemitism, within the broader contexts of history and racism. The focus groups associated antisemitism with the Holocaust and Nazi Germany, so much so that they assumed antisemitism had essentially been defeated when the Allies won. The war is now history and apparently the same goes for antisemitism.

The groups understood antisemitism as being about racism and they understood racism as being about colour. So, how can Jews suffer colour racism; and how can people be anti-Jewish if they don’t know who is Jewish? Then came the “facts” about education, housing, income, employment etc. So, aren’t Jews sufficiently well-educated, well-housed and, well, wealthy, to be obviously not suffering from racism?

Yes, I think that hits the nail on the head.

The common understanding of anti-Jewish racism in this country is that it started in the mid 1930s in Germany, was over by 1945 (Hurrah for Britain!) and today is the preserve only of the few remaining far Right groups that are nostalgic for the days of Hitler. That, I have to say, is possibly the product of a decontextualised approach to the Holocaust, which has a huge amount to say about Anne Frank, but very little to say about the beliefs and the events of the preceding 2000 years, that led up to her murder.

It is problematic to discuss the history of antisemitism, from the impact on the perception of Jews of the two revolts against Roman rule, through the diatribes of Luther, and on to Marx. There’s no examination of the theological underpinning of Middle Eastern antisemitism, throughout a similar period.

Why? Perhaps it is just too complex and contested. Or perhaps there’s a fear that merely pointing out the deep cultural roots of  hatred of Jews might encourage its resurgence by those who respond by saying: “well, perhaps for the last 2000 years, people have been right about the Jews”. There’s no need for such a response – European culture has also demonstrated affection and a benign attitude towards Jews, during parts at least of this period. I’d hope that there might be a realisation that Jew-hatred marks a profound sickness in a society, and that European culture has been at its strongest when it fights hatred against its Jewish citizens and other minorities.

Mark’s final observation – that Jews may be thought to be  too wealthy and powerful to suffer from racism – is ironic. How strange that a reason for ignoring anti-Jewish hatred might itself by underpinned by racist caricatures of Jews. Or, perhaps not.