Saturday, April 01, 2006

The creeping respectability of anti-semitism (continued)

James Mann, the author of the piece from the Guardian below, is a British Labour Party MP who, incidentally, is not Jewish.
As chair of the all party parliamentary group against anti-semitism, I am delighted to see a group of cross-party MPs taking the time to examine anti-semitism in Britain. [....] It is clear from evidence presented to the inquiry that anti-semitism has not gone away and that its nature is now more varied. Traditional anti-semitism still exists, with fascist leaflets as crude as in the 1930s distributed on the streets of the UK. Attacks on Jews continue. [....]
Of course, some people deny that anti-semitism is actually a problem at all, and instead attack anyone who tries to raise the issue, claiming that they are either being hysterical or else cynically using accusations of anti-semitism to silence critics of Israel. For example ...
Having attended only one of the sessions of this inquiry, David Clark rushed into print to judge an inquiry which is still proceeding and whose evidence he has not read (Accusations of anti-semitic chic are poisonous intellectual thuggery, March 6). [....]
Undoubtedly there are strong views on Israel and on the Palestinians, but those views can cloud debate and hide racism. [....] I have not spoken in parliament on the Middle East, yet I receive hate mail inaccurately addressed to "Jewish bastard Mann" and relating my views on anti-semitism to my supposed support for the actions of Israel. Clark may describe this as "plain obnoxious", but he fails to grasp the mindset of someone who would take time to send such stuff.
One aspect that is particularly frightening and unacceptable is the incipient growth of anti-semitism on the left under the cloak of anti-Zionism. [....]

The imagery and some of the language is familiar. A cabal of Jewish conspirators, well funded, close to or in power, working to their own agenda. It is not just the MP Tam Dalyell who expressed such thoughts, others have done so in private and, increasingly, in public.
Clark claims that Dalyell was "deservedly condemned"; but what was particularly worrying was that a wider group ignored his comments - as they did with Ken Livingstone, the infamous New Statesman front page, the AUT academic boycott, and others. The trend is unambiguous. Where once there was a clear line between acceptable political argument and unacceptable behaviour or language in relation to anti-semitism, that line has become blurred.

When I commissioned this inquiry, one MP commented with surprise: "I didn't realise you were Jewish." Neither did I. Anti-semitism is like all other racism: unacceptable without qualification. [....]
Clark's argument, with its characteristic evasion of the issues and claims of victimization, is interesting mostly because of its typicality. The Engage website has posted some further responses to Clark that are also worth reading, including pieces by David Hirsh, Shalom Lappin, Eve Garrard, Mark Gardner, and others--and Clark's response to David Hirsh (See also here.)
--Jeff Weintraub
====================
The Guardian
Friday, March 17, 2006
When language becomes an actor
We need to redraw the line between acceptable debate and veiled anti-semitism, says John Mann

As chair of the all party parliamentary group against anti-semitism, I am delighted to see a group of cross-party MPs taking the time to examine anti-semitism in Britain.
Having attended only one of the sessions of this inquiry, David Clark rushed into print to judge an inquiry which is still proceeding and whose evidence he has not read (Accusations of anti-semitic chic are poisonous intellectual thuggery, March 6).
It is clear from evidence presented to the inquiry that anti-semitism has not gone away and that its nature is now more varied. Traditional anti-semitism still exists, with fascist leaflets as crude as in the 1930s distributed on the streets of the UK. Attacks on Jews continue.

Clark skirted round this issue and failed to differentiate between hostility to Israel, and aggression against Jewish institutions and people. What other community has to spend over £5m annually defending itself because its places of worship, schools and community buildings have been seen as legitimate targets worldwide?

Undoubtedly there are strong views on Israel and on the Palestinians, but those views can cloud debate and hide racism. When I visited Tel Aviv and Ramallah 20 years ago, I was vilified by some for even talking to the Israeli government. For some on the left, the mere recognition of Israel's right to exist has become a defining issue.

I have not spoken in parliament on the Middle East, yet I receive hate mail inaccurately addressed to "Jewish bastard Mann" and relating my views on anti-semitism to my supposed support for the actions of Israel. Clark may describe this as "plain obnoxious", but he fails to grasp the mindset of someone who would take time to send such stuff.

One aspect that is particularly frightening and unacceptable is the incipient growth of anti-semitism on the left under the cloak of anti-Zionism. Clark is clear that dismissing anti-Israel sentiment and anti-Zionism as anti-semitism "cheapens the term". However, he does not draw a line beyond which legitimate debate becomes illegitimate, and where hostile becomes offensive. It is a crucial line to draw if language itself is not to become an actor rather than a descriptor.

The imagery and some of the language is familiar. A cabal of Jewish conspirators, well funded, close to or in power, working to their own agenda. It is not just the MP Tam Dalyell who expressed such thoughts, others have done so in private and, increasingly, in public.

Clark claims that Dalyell was "deservedly condemned"; but what was particularly worrying was that a wider group ignored his comments - as they did with Ken Livingstone, the infamous New Statesman front page, the AUT academic boycott, and others. The trend is unambiguous. Where once there was a clear line between acceptable political argument and unacceptable behaviour or language in relation to anti-semitism, that line has become blurred.

When I commissioned this inquiry, one MP commented with surprise: "I didn't realise you were Jewish." Neither did I. Anti-semitism is like all other racism: unacceptable without qualification. I hope that this inquiry will recommend some practical conclusions that can help redraw that line.

· John Mann is Labour MP for Bassetlaw

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