JVL Introduction

David Rosenberg on the lessons of a bad editorial misjudgment at the Morning Star.

How not to think about antisemitism!

21 June 2018
David Rosenberg writes

Today’s Morning Star has done something that a lot of people on the left can reflect and learn from for the benefit of our movement. On Monday it published an article by someone called John Elder that ran a very bad and dangerous argument on antisemitism, Israel/Palestine and the Jewish community – which had the title: “Rising antisemitism cannot be tackled without addressing Israel’s crimes”. You shouldn’t even have to substitute Islamophobia and a proudly self-proclaimed Islamic state such as Saudi Arabia to see the problem.

When the reactionary nature of the article and it’s concessions to an antisemitic mindset were pointed out to them by people they trusted and respected, they had the humility and maturity to hold their hands up and run an apology on the front page of the Morning Star today and remove the article form their website. Yesterday the Star published a counter article to Elder’s, with many excellent points by two longstanding Jewish Communist Party members and Morning Star supporters – Phil Katz and Mary Davis, “Jews and all citizens should be encouraged to challenge actual and existing anti-semitism“. (A Jewish Chronicle report on the matter confused Phil Katz with Mike Katz of the Jewish Labour Movement – par for the course on the Chronicle’s accuracy)

I also sent a letter to the paper which hasn’t been published yet – I hope it still will be – but the editor has acknowledged the contents of that letter, and I am guessing that also fed into the decision to run an up-front, no excuses, apology.

The problems with the original article do reflect some of the wrong-headed approaches that a number of other people on the left share or tolerate, but often when they are criticised they get defensive. I much prefer the Morning Star’s exemplary, honest approach to dealing with this.

Here is the letter I wrote:

Dear Letters Editor

If we heard someone arguing that Islamophobia here is not only inevitable but also justified because of the actions of a particular State that self-defines as an Islamic State, we would instantly recognise this as racism and condemn it. But John Elder has articulated the same wrong-headed arguments about antisemitism in his recent article.

Antisemitism, like all racism, is always wrong, in all circumstances. Socialists and communists must always reject it and actively oppose it regardless of what the Israeli government decides or how the Israeli government acts. And regardless of what self-proclaimed diaspora Jewish “leaders” say about Israel.

Every reliable survey in recent years shows that more and more Jews around the world are becoming less supportive of Israel and Zionism. In Israel there are many oppositional groups facing severe repression by the Israeli state. We need to support them and we need to support Jews who are speaking out here against their “leaders” and against Netanyahu’s government, not lump them in with that reactionary government.

There is no contradiction between supporting the struggle for Palestinian rights and statehood and supporting Jews who face antisemitism. This is especially important when we see antisemitism resurfacing in far right movements in the US, central and eastern Europe, and on the far right fringes here in Britain.

David Rosenberg

And here is the Morning Star apology

Apology: The Morning Star should not have published “Rising anti-semitism cannot be tackled without addressing Israel’s crimes”

The Morning Star published an article in Monday’s paper by John Elder entitled Rising anti-semitism cannot be tackled without addressing Israel’s crimes.

This article has been removed from the website as it crossed a line in attributing anti-semitism to the policies of the Israeli government and made demands on the “Jewish diaspora” and “Jewish community” as if these were responsible for Israeli policy or obliged to account for it.

The Morning Star deeply regrets publication of the article, which was submitted by an external contributor and which we failed to vet with the care necessary on a subject of such importance.

Our newspaper has a proud history of opposition to anti-semitism and strong historic links to the Jewish community forged during the fight against fascism in the 1930s and ’40s.

We apologise for having fallen short of that legacy with the publication of Monday’s article and have reinforced editorial procedures and oversight to ensure this error is not repeated.