Guardian stokes fears rather than producing balanced reporting

JVL Introduction

CST and the Antisemitism Policy Trust has published a new report, Hidden Hate: What Google searches tell us about antisemitism today. It uses Google search data from 2004 to 2018 to show what people in the UK are searching for in relation to Jews, Zionism and the Holocaust, and what this tells us about antisemitic attitudes in Britain today.

Jay Blakwood argues that to effectively address the manifestations of antisemitism this report reveals, we need to distinguish sharply between antisemitism on the one hand, and legitimate criticism of Israel on the other. We also need to avoid the Guardian’s sensationalist, fear-mongering journalism, “stoking the fears of its readership rather than producing a balanced response”.

Guardian Stokes Antisemitism Fears

Jay Blackwood, Jewish Dissident Blogspot
11 January 2018

Today’s online edition of The Guardian chose to lead with the headline ‘Britons make 170,000 antisemitic Google searches a year’, quoting a new report by the Community Security Trust (CST).

In fact the report paints a far more nuanced picture than the Guardian article would have us believe, and is well worth reading. Like most such surveys, it can be ‘cherry picked’ to support a number of different conclusions.

For this reader, several key findings stand out.

Firstly, on the question of how online antisemitism manifests itself, the report’s author Seth Stephens-Davidowitz makes the following point:

The most common antisemitic Google searches in the United Kingdom are for jokes mocking Jews. These are more common than searches such as “Are Jews evil?”
Jews are the fourth most frequent subject of searches for offensive jokes online in the United Kingdom, behind fat people, black people and gay people.

This is barely mentioned in the Guardian article, which as usual seems intent on stoking the fears of its readership rather than producing a balanced response. In fact, jokes about Jews appear in the list of frequent searches in between jokes about gays and jokes about blondes – make of that what you will!

Stephens-Davidowitz also points to the correlation between antisemitism on the one hand, and anti-Muslim and anti-black racism on the other:

We find a clear connection between antisemitism and other forms of hate in the search data. Among the most common searches also made by people who search for “Jew jokes” are “racist jokes,” “black jokes,” “p**i jokes,” “n****r jokes,” and  “Muslim jokes.”
Someone who searches “Jew jokes” is more than 100 times more likely to also search for “n****r jokes.” 

So the report confirms the common-sense perception that someone holding antisemitic views is probably going to hold a raft of generic racist and reactionary opinions.

Just as unsurprisingly, the report concludes that the prevalence of antisemitic searches is not coloured by the political make-up of a particular region:

We found no statistically significant correlation between the political representation of a geographical area and the frequency with which people who live in that area make antisemitic searches. In other words, antisemitism is just as high in areas with lots of Labour Party voters and areas with lots of Conservative Party voters.

This would tend, of course, to counter-act the claim that Labour supporters – and therefore presumably areas with a high density of Labour voters – are particularly prone to antisemitism.

As someone who has repeatedly pointed out the dangers of the disingenuous anti-Corbyn campaign conducted by the Board of Deputies and their allies, I was troubled but unsurprised to find that the number of antisemitic searches increased around the high point of the campaign against Jeremy. According to Stephens-Davidowitz, they peaked in April 2018, just at the point where the anti-Corbyn media frenzy and the BoD attacks were at their height:

There was a 79 per cent rise in antisemitic searches in Britain in April 2018.

Zooming in on the April 2018 rise, we see that most of the rise was on April 25, 2018. This was the day after representatives of three Jewish community organisations, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Jewish Leadership Council and the Community Security Trust, met Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn to discuss the problem of antisemitism in the Labour Party. That same day, Corbyn penned a well publicised apology in the Evening Standard. He wrote that Jewish people “deserve an apology” and added that he was “sorry for the hurt and distress caused.” Much of the media coverage following the meeting reported on the failure of the respective parties to agree on a way forward: the Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council called the meeting a “disappointing, missed opportunity.” We can only speculate as to which aspect of this event may have caused the spike in antisemitic searches the following day.

Personally I would be inclined to ‘speculate’ that the constant attacks in the mainstream media by Blairite MPs, self-appointed community ‘leaders’ and hack journalists back-fired spectacularly, effectively stoking the fires of the very antisemitism over which so many crocodile tears were being shed. The over-heated hyperbole typified by the slogan ‘2018 Is The New 1939’, and by claims that Jews faced an ‘existential threat’, were almost bound to spark the kind of negative reaction which this study reports.

As usual, the CST finds it hard to distinguish between antisemitism and anti-Zionism. But the report’s conclusions are instructive in this regard, informing us that:

…searches for “anti-Zionism” rose 9-fold during the 2014 conflict in Gaza and Israel.

The negative impact of the Gaza events on the public’s perception of the Israeli state are surely no surprise to anyone, and hardly contribute to a serious study of the nature and scope of antisemitism per se in modern Britain.

Sadly the report also confirms the continuing popular appeal of various antisemitic conspiracy theories, from Holocaust denial to the Rothschild meme. Its author correctly makes the link between these theories and the murder of worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh last year.

I continue to believe that in order to effectively address these conspiracy theories, and other manifestations of antisemitism, we need to sharply distinguish between antisemitism on the one hand, and legitimate criticism of Israel on the other. I also believe that we need to avoid the kind of sensationalist, fear-mongering journalism that the Guardian has once again indulged in.

Comments (1)

  • RH says:

    I think many of us will have reacted in the same way to this shoddy ‘research’ with its mountain of assumptions.

    But, of course, one has to factor in the fact that the role of the CST is to keep fear on the boil rather than deal with the actuality.

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