Monday, July 27, 2009
"Why Does Britain Ignore Anti-Semitism?"
Denis MacShane, British Member of Parliament
I am cross-posting this excellent article by UK politician Denis MacShane, which appeared in the Guardian on July 25, 2009. It is entitled: "Why does Britain ignore anti-Semitism?"
"Here is a non-story. There were more than 600 attacks on British Jews in the first six months of the year. This is twice as many as the same period in 2008. Most consisted of verbal abuse – frightening enough for elderly Jews or Jewish schoolchildren – but 77 of the attacks were violent, including an attempt to kill a Jew by running him over.
So far, no British paper has reported this increase in antisemitic attacks. Why? There are six to seven times as many Muslims as Jews in Britain. If since January there had been – scaled up proportionately – 2,000 attacks on British Muslims, it would make headlines everywhere. Those whose language and discourse created an atmosphere that denied British Muslims their right to a peaceful life under law would be the object of investigation – journalistic and intellectual – and put under pressure.
But, in today's Britain, to be anti-antisemitic is to invite scorn, as if no problem existed. Those arguing that a broad antisemitic discourse is sadly not something of the past and is relevant today find themselves more likely to be criticised in the national media than those who promote language that belittles Jews.
Last year, two men, Simon Sheppard and Stephen Whittle, were convicted by a jury in Leeds crown court of posting violent anti-Jewish hate on the net and sending a pamphlet entitled "Tales of the Holohoax" to a synagogue and Jews. They jumped bail and fled to the US expecting that the American tradition of free speech enshrined in the first amendment to the American constitution would protect them. But a Los Angeles court decided to respect British law and extradited the two men. They are now serving prison sentences.
This story combines the problem of British Jew-hate and the currently tricky question of extradition. Yet, other than the estimable Yorkshire Post, this tale of rank antisemitism received no news coverage.
So the news blackout on the rise in antisemitic attacks this year comes as no surprise. Instead, there is a convoluted discussion on this site and in the Jewish Chronicle about an intellectually challenging essay discussing whether comparing Israeli Jews to Nazi killers is acceptable.
I think it is not. Criticism of Israel is not only healthy but necessary. Just read Ha'aretz or any number of Israeli writers and activists. But the portrayal of Israeli Jews as SS Nazis which is widespread in the cartoons published in the Arab press is not an attack on Israel as a state but an attempt to dehumanise its Jewish citizens – and Jews everywhere. There is a rich vocabulary of abuse, invective and denunciation that can be used to attack Israel. But in using Nazi imagery the crudeness of the antisemitism is obvious.
Moreover, it is utterly counter-productive making those Jews critical of Israeli behaviour feel under attack as reason and normal political discourse go out the window. President Obama and Hilary Clinton are making major efforts to solve the Middle East conflict by asking Israel to make concessions. Their task is made much harder by, first, those who carry out antisemitic attacks without press exposure and condemnation. Second, by those who pretend that antisemitism is not a major problem with a range of state backers as well as ideological justification for positions hostile to Jews from the BNP or the Polish politician Michal Kaminski, who is a political group leader in the European parliament. Third, by those who think, like Silvio Berlusconi, that branding political opponents as Nazi camp guards is acceptable political insult.
Like Voltaire, I will defend the right to say what is wrong save where it leads to violence and hate against my fellow citizens for being what they cannot change. To call Jews Nazis is wrong. I think it is antisemitic. Others may disagree. But attacks on British Jews are a 21st-century reality and that should worry us."
Fousesquawk comment: On May 21, British Member of Parliament (and buffoon) George Galloway, an anti-Israel demagogue appeared at the University of California at Irvine, where I teach. During the Q&A which followed his anti-Israel diatribe, I recited to him a list of recent pro-Palestinian rallies in the US and Canada, in which pro-Palestinian supporters had shouted, "Long live Hitler!", Hitler didn't finish the job!" and "F--- Jews!". He broke into my words by calling me a lair (even though all the incidents are on YouTube) as a crowd of 600 Muslims in the audience cheered as if they were at a soccer stadium. After an exchange of words, I finished my question by asking about similar anti-Semitism against Jews in Britain-a question he never answered.
The fact is that anti-Semitism is a problem and growing, both in Europe and the Americas. It must be addressed openly and the practitioners of it identified and condemned.