Anti-semitism is on the rise here and abroad. But the BBC’s anti-Labour agenda distracts us from the real threat

JVL Introduction

David Rosenberg argues that all forms of racism including antisemitism are spreading in our society, particularly since 2010 under various Tory governments. The media aren’t interested in that story.

While accusations of antisemitism against the left are generally quite unfair, we must ensure no vestiges of it appear in our own political arguments.

This article was originally published by Morning Star on Fri 12 Jul 2019. Read the original here.

Anti-semitism is on the rise here and abroad. But the BBC's anti-Labour agenda distracts us from the real threat

I WENT on my first anti-fascist demonstration as a teenager in the 1970s. Ten years later I began working for the Runnymede Trust — a body providing research and information on racism and discrimination.

My ears may occasionally need syringing but they are exceptionally well attuned to hearing expressions of any kind of racism or bigotry.

I turned 61 last January, and in the last five or six years I have overheard or personally encountered more anti-semitism than in the previous 55 combined.

I have heard it on buses, Tubes and planes, in pubs, and inside and outside football grounds. As I left a match at West Ham a few years ago a gaggle of men in their mid to late twenties were discussing forthcoming fixtures.

“Who we got next, then?” asked one. “The Yids” (Tottenham FC), answered the second, after which a third shouted “Gas ’em all! Gas ’em all!”

Three years ago I was flying back from Krakow, where I had helped lead an educational trip to Auschwitz for trade unionists and anti-racist activists.

The plane was very crowded. A large extended family group, just in front of me, were unable to secure a block of seats together.

One had to sit a few rows away, next to an orthodox Jewish man. One family member exclaimed: “She has to sit next to a front-wheel!” For the uninitiated: front-wheel-skid = Yid (pejorative term for Jew). “I couldn’t be doing with that!” he added.

The place where I hardly ever hear it, though, is in the Labour Party, despite the epidemic of media stories proclaiming that the party is in the grip of a full-blown anti-semitism crisis.

And when it does surface there, it gets challenged. The guest speaker at our last last ward meeting was discussing the mysterious internal workings of the banking system.

I missed the talk because I was addressing a neighbouring ward about “anti-semitism in Britain” that night.

The talk on banking was apparently laced with hints of conspiracies in which Jewish names featured. I was gratified to hear that several members of the branch challenged him strongly.

These painful allegations returned centre stage this week when the BBC heavily trailed its Panorama programme by a right-wing journalist, John Ware, entitled: “Is Labour Antisemitic?”

It was a shoddy piece of work based around several individuals who formerly worked in the party’s “disputes unit” and seamlessly conflated opposition to Israel’s deeds and zionism with anti-semitism.

The programme opened with a statement by a young Jewish Labour member, who became tearful as she recounted her bad experiences.

Ware forgot to inform us that this was Ella Rose, who used to work for the Israeli embassy.

It relayed individual stories but without reference to any of the key research information provided by several professional and academic bodies that have confirmed that anti-semitism in Britain today is far more widespread on the right than the left.

It did platform two academics, though. One was Dave Rich who authored a book denouncing “left anti-semitism,” especially in Corbyn’s Labour Party.

The other academic was “Professor Alan Johnson.” Viewers were not told that since 2011, Johnson has edited the quarterly journal of Bicom, the most active pro-Israel lobbying organisation in Britain.

Bicom is funded mainly by a Finnish billionaire, Poju Zabludowicz, who is a generous donor to the Tory Party as well.

The Labour Party officially denounced the Panorama programme before and after it was aired, in the strongest terms, for false and malicious claims, and Ware’s political bias.

If the BBC was seeking to investigate racism in British political life, its programming and priorities would surely look very different.

There is a mountain of evidence that racism in its many varieties has become more severe since the Tories took power in 2010, aided and abetted by the Lib Dems until 2015, and on their own since.

The referendum result of 2016 undoubtedly raised nationalist feelings and emboldened racists and fascists.

That is clear in the levels of street level abuse, but the Tories’ hostile environment policies, targeting migrants and refugees, and also devastating members of longstanding Caribbean communities, began in 2012, well before the referendum.

Anti-semitism in British society increased too in this same period. The main statistical rise occurring in 2013-14. That was well before Corbyn led Labour.

It was in the time when the Sun and the Daily Mail were mocking Jewish Labour leader Ed Miliband over his clumsiness with a bacon sandwich, and the apparent lack of gratitude to Britain of his east European refugee father.

What does that anti-semitism consist of? Verbal abuse and threats, anti-Jewish hatred and Holocaust denial expressed on social media, attacks on Jewish cemeteries and synagogues, and physical harassment and assaults on individuals or small groups of Jews (especially ultra-orthodox Jews and school students).

Where the perpetrators have been identified, they are largely white and far right, though there is a disturbing rise in the number of attacks on Jews from members of communities that also suffer racism.

It is incredibly frustrating that one of the most obvious political points about anti-semitism in Britain is completely ignored by the media: that anti-semitism has increased under a Conservative government.

Since 2010 that government has enjoyed direct links to a host of anti-semitic, Islamophobic, anti-migrant, populist, right-wing parties in Europe, such as the Polish Law and Justice party and United Poland, the Bulgarian National Movement, the National Alliance in Latvia, the Brothers of Italy, and more recently the Sweden Democrats and the Vox party in Spain. It has also championed Viktor Orban’s anti-semitic and authoritarian regime in Hungary.

Meanwhile the Tories maintain their alliance to the West with Donald Trump, who emerged from within alt-right circles.

Trump has breathed new life into fringe white supremacist groups in the US, including those who chant on their demonstrations “Jews will not replace us!”

Around the country Labour Party members I speak to are mostly baffled by claims of anti-semitism against Labour. In general, they don’t hear it in branch or committee meetings or in canvassing work, though the media tells them it is happening elsewhere.

The danger is that this sense of bafflement and anger about false accusations will engender complacency and cynicism.

We must ensure that it doesn’t. The growth in anti-semitism here, and even more so in the US, Poland and Hungary, is real enough.

Far-right conspiracy theories that are gaining in traction since the banking crash 10 years ago continue to spread in cyber-space.

We must strengthen our own awareness of the extent to which anti-semitism is central to those conspiracy theories.

A brilliant exhibition called “Jews. Money. Myth” is currently displayed at the Jewish Museum in Camden Town, London.

It reveals the extent to which anti-semitic tropes and stereotypes have been deeply ingrained in British culture over several centuries.

Seventy-five years ago Oswald Mosley mobilised support for a fascist movement here, drawing some support among every class of the population.

His biggest branches were in working-class areas, though he also had branches within 20 major public schools.

However unfair accusations seem of anti-semitism against the left, we have to ensure that we are not reproducing any vestiges of anti-semitism within our own political arguments.



Comments (2)

  • dave says:

    A consistent and much-voiced theme in the right wing press such as in comments and some articles on the Times site is that Labour has ‘done the maths’ and is courting the antisemitic Muslim vote. Muslims are deemed to be culturally antisemitic and the Peterborough by-election of course revved up this belief.

    While British Muslims have been surveyed as expressing a higher level of antisemitic tropes than the general population, I don’t think anyone has cross-referenced this with membership of or support for Labour and the left.

    Personally, the only possible trope I’ve heard from a Muslim is that Jews are clever – but in the same way that other groups such as those from the Far East are clever, in educating their children in Saturday schools etc. No doubt there are some on the extreme religious end with much worse views, but they are not likely to be Labour supporters.

  • Dr Brian Robinson says:

    It’s over a quarter of a century since John Major, in a law and order panic at the time, said, ‘Society needs to condemn a little more and understand a little less.’ The notion never appealed to me and still doesn’t. I sometimes think there’s a leftwing version of the sentiment when it comes to racism, and before I make myself vulnerable to misunderstanding let me hurriedly affirm that the manifestations of racism are wicked, destructive and abhorrent. But why is racism in its many forms so persistent, why do humans resort to it especially in times of social upheaval and economic stress?

    Condemning by itself is not constructive, indeed it’s counterproductive. We need both to condemn and to understand as far as we can. I used to think, but because all the evidence from contemporary anthropological studies points the other way I no longer do, that racism developed through natural selection according to evolutionary processes. A far more useful approach, and one for which there’s now considerable evidence, is to think of racism as a psychological defence mechanism that helps people deal with feelings of anxiety and insecurity.

    The work of the social psychologists Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg and Tom Pyszczynski over the last more than 30 years (and reported very accessibly in their popular book, ‘The Worm at the Core’) has recorded substantial experimental evidence for what they have called Terror Management Theory (TMT). The title of the book was suggested by what the psychologist William James wrote in his 1902 book, ‘The Varieties of Religious Experience’: ‘Back of everything is the great spectre of universal death … the worm at the core of all our usual springs of delight …’

    There’s a good brief account of the relevance of TMT to racism and xenophobia in ‘Psychology Today’ here

    ‘Research has shown that when people are given reminders of their own mortality, they feel a sense of anxiety and insecurity, which they respond to by becoming more prone to status-seeking, materialism, greed, prejudice, and aggression. They are more likely to conform to culturally accepted attitudes and to identify with their national or ethnic groups. According to Terror Management Theory, the motivation of these behaviors is to enhance one’s sense of significance or value in the face of death, or to gain a sense of security or belonging, as a way of protecting oneself against the threat of mortality. In [the author’s] view, racism is a similar response to a more general sense of insignificance, unease, or inadequacy. …’

    The author identifies ‘five different aspects of racism as psychological defense mechanisms.’ The last one he depicts is ‘the most dangerous and destructive extreme of racism — people may project their own psychological flaws and … personal failings onto another group, as a strategy of avoiding responsibility and blame. Other groups become scapegoats … Individuals with strong narcissistic and paranoid personality traits are especially prone to this strategy, since they are unable to admit to any personal faults, and are especially likely to demonize others.’ (And who does that remind you of? And not just on one side of the Atlantic.)

    The author, a senior lecturer in psychology at Leeds Beckett University, concludes that racism and xenophobia are symptoms of psychological ill-health: ‘Psychologically healthy people with a stable sense of self and strong inner security are not racist, because they have no need to strengthen their sense of self through group identity.’ Such healthy people can avoid defining themselves in conflict with others.

    Is it possible to maintain, let’s say through robust religious identification, a sense of living a life of significance in a universe of meaning, in such a way as not to feel threatened when encountering a different group with a polar opposite take on the way the world works, a view which, should it prove true, must negate the alternative, ultimately threatening the security if not the very existence of those who hold it? (Wars of religion in Europe for two or three centuries …) First we may try to ridicule and belittle them, then when that doesn’t work we may try to convert them, and finally if that doesn’t work, why, then we have to kill them: so went (goes?) the argument.

    And then, human brains being the belief engines they are, there are passionately held political views, such as Zionism and anti-Zionism. Zionism: the tragedy of a political philosophy first imagined as an appropriate response to murderous racism only to reveal, much later, its own murderously racist essence. But say that to someone who gets their Jewish identity through a deep commitment to Zionism, and you destroy what the psychiatrist Dr Robert Jay Lifton has called, with a nod to what later became TMT, a symbolic immortality project: in effect, they feel as if you’ve not only killed them or something profound within them, you’ve additionally annihilated their soul. Not surprising that they react with such uncontrolled vehemence, often to the mildest of criticisms of the Zionist enterprise, or of Israeli policies.

    The answer, as others have long been saying, is education, and I would add the kind of education that helps people to gain insight into their motivations and cognitive processes. We need popular television programmes led by good communicators who can talk simply and with lightness. And if possible, with humour.

    But the heightened problem we face now is the seemingly almost inevitable prospect of a no-deal Brexit with dire economic consequences, delivered by a government doing its best to mobilise all forms of racism latent in a population threatened with massive job loss, financial insecurity and indeed something approaching semi-starvation. An ideal situation for a wicked government led by an unscrupulous prime minister to set group against group through the time-honoured device of divide-and-rule.

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