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“The Briefing Room” on Left antisemitism

David Aaronovitch hosted “The Briefing Room” on BBC Radio 4 with a discussion of antisemitism on the Left.

David Hirsh is excellent, Owen Jones is better than I expected and anti-Zionist Kerry-Anne Mendoza, editor of The Canary, is awful. Her effort to compare the alleged “forced sterilization” of Ethiopian Jewish immigrants to Israel with Nazi genocide is disgusting.

If some women were misled or misinformed about injections of Depo-Provera (which acts as a contraceptive for three months and is not equivalent to sterilization), it is indeed appalling, but still in no way comparable to the systematic slaughter of six million in Europe. And to call it an example of Israeli antisemitism is beyond laughable.

Sarah adds I missed Gene’s post so wrote my own response to this programme

Last night’s programme began with a conversation between David Aaronovitch and David Hirsh in which possible reasons for the growth of antisemitism on the left were canvassed.  These included a shift whereby Jews began to be seen as oppressors rather the oppressed. This shift is of course inextricably linked to the changing fortunes of Israel in progressive circles, partly prompted by an alliance between Islamism and (sections of) the left.  David Hirsh explained that those who express nuance or uncertainty on the question of Israel are viewed with suspicion by what he terms ‘the community of the good’.  David Aaronovitch then raised one important point which might usefully have been unpacked further – the refusal to acknowledge all but the most blatant forms of antisemitism even though other forms of prejudices are recognized when they take more subtle forms:

‘when people think about antisemitism they think about it in its most extreme form as being what the Nazis did … physical attacks on Jews and attacks on Jewish property’.

Aaronovitch’s next guest was Owen Jones.  I’m not the only one to have been a bit underwhelmed by some of his earlier critiques of antisemitism, but thought he did pretty well here. He acknowledged that there is a problem on the left, and condemned comparisons between Israel and the Nazis.  He abhors some of Israel’s actions but rightly rejects these offensive parallels, designed to bait.  Readers are unlikely to agree with all of his analysis but I thought his discussion of Zionism went beyond some of his earlier statements in which he has anxiously sought to separate Jews/Judaism from Zionism as though Zionism were an unequivocally evil belief.  He echoes Jon Lansman in finding the term ‘Zionism’ unhelpfully divisive.

If I think of my Jewish friends, their opinions vary wildly on domestic issues and foreign policy issues. Most of them will support – in fact all of them will support – the existence of Israel.  Many of them are deeply opposed to what the Israeli Government is doing and passionately support a Palestinian state. Now surely those of us who want Palestinian national self-determination should be standing in unity with them – and this is the point, antisemitism is sometimes used to shut down criticism of Israel, there’s no question about that whatsoever, but equally many of my Jewish friends are scared about antisemitism, they think it’s a genuine and real menace and they are right to do so. When they hear the word ‘Zionist’ bandied around it makes them feel uncomfortable because they feel it’s being used to target indiscriminately people, often, who are Jewish.

Kerry-Anne Mendoza, the third guest, maintained her opposition to antisemitism but still made specious analogies between Israel and the Nazis.  These were robustly countered by Hirsh – and by Jones.  He went on to assert the need to build a broad coalition with those who both identify as Zionist and oppose the stance of the current Israeli government.