JVL Introduction

In a lengthy article on Medium, Shaun Lawson calls for a line to be drawn against the further weaponisation of antisemitism. It’s a forlorn hope as Lawson is all too aware.

Here, with the author’s permission, we reproduce some sections from the article: the introduction, the penultimate section “Is the problem antisemitism? Or anti-Zionism?” (spoiler alert – it is not antisemitism), and the conclusion. We will post a further section on the question “Is Corbyn an antisemite?” separately.

Much of the rest is about the weaponisation of antisemitism on social media and by the Jewish Chronicle and others. It is all a howl of outrage, a clearheaded analysis and a call for radical change.

 


 


Enough is Enough: Rachel Riley, GnasherJew, and the Political Weaponisation of Antisemitism

Shaun Lawson, Medium
12 January 2019


“In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act”.

Introduction

In July of last year, as he concluded his excellent piece on Labour’s proposed Code of Conduct on antisemitism, Brian Klug, senior research fellow at St Benet’s Hall, Oxford, made an appeal — which he already knew would be in vain — for a return to moderation. “A part of me feels the hopelessness of appealing to reason, a sense of swimming against a mighty and unmindful current of opinion”. Six months on, that sense of hopelessness, and the absolute poisoning of the discourse around antisemitism in Britain, is if anything even worse.

The Labour Party would go on to apply the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)’s working definition on antisemitism, complete with all its examples: despite the huge problems with several of these, highlighted by the definition’s own author, Kenneth S. Stern, in his November 2017 testimony to the House of Representatives; human rights organisations such as Liberty; myself in this article for Open Democracy; and Klug too, among many others. Those examples are still being misused: although in this case, Paul Jonson was at least reinstated by Dudley Council after a campaign to clear his name.

Throughout Britain’s long, fractious political summer, what was so noticeable was how almost nobody in the mainstream media was prepared to report anything like accurately on the issue. Labour stood accused of refusing to accept the IHRA’s definition, even though it endorsed it all along. It merely omitted examples which weaken its practical effectiveness; and added more of its own, to bolster it. When Margaret Hodge faced disciplinary action for publicly smearing Jeremy Corbyn as a “fucking racist and anti-Semite” in front of her colleagues and lobby journalists, what she’d actually done — slander her boss in full view of others, with not a shred of evidence justifying it — was almost universally ignored. A penny for the thoughts of all those rightly nauseated by Anna Soubry’s horrendous experience on Monday.

For the crime of carrying out an inquiry, publishing a report, then doing far more in its proposed Code of Conduct than anything any British political party had ever done before, Labour was denounced as “institutionally antisemitic”. The Jewish Chronicle (JC), Jewish News and Jewish Telegraph went even further: describing a lifelong campaigner against all forms of racism, who tends to his allotment and makes his own jam during his spare time, as an “existential threat to Jewish life”. This was madness parading as reason.

Before I go any further, let me make something abundantly clear. Of course antisemitism exists on the left. The reason is because it exists everywhere. It is a horrific cancer which the Jewish people have been fighting for over 2000 years. Jewish people like my late Holocaust-surviving grandmother and her whole family. Jewish people like myself too.

What I expect anyone fighting against it to do is call it out whenever they see it, with zero tolerance. But in Britain in 2019, especially online, that is not what is happening. Instead, not only is antisemitism on the right, which as the Institute for Jewish Policy Research found in a comprehensive report in 2017, is considerably more prevalent than on the left, disgracefully ignored; but thousands of good, decent, anti-racist Corbyn and Labour supporters have been smeared, bullied, attacked in positively McCarthyite fashion: simply for being Corbyn and Labour supporters. Including, in the latest horrifying example, a 16-year-old girl.

The reason for this? It’s political. In a country with a racist Prime Minister, a racist government, a governing party which ignores all calls for an inquiry into institutionalised Islamophobia, whose belatedly added guidelines on antisemitism don’t even apply to its members — only its representatives — and with many on the right (including Daniel Hannan and Leave.EU) routinely repeating a hideous, vile trope against George Soros while much of the media barely says a word, this is the only possible explanation.

Nigel Farage has even publicly blamed Jewish conspiracies! Has he been banished from public life? Don’t be silly. He’s not on the left, so of course not. Why would the media even care given that the Soros trope has been spread by, amongst others, The Sun and even The Telegraph?

As if to confirm just how much British political life now resembles an entirely alternative universe, even the JC itself has been in on the act. Imagine an article about Jews which repeats not one, but two antisemitic tropes. First, that the Jewish community’s main priority is wealth and hording it away; and second, which even refers to the Rothschilds. Any denunciation of this? Of course not; it didn’t come from someone on the left. Just the obviously unimportant City Editor of the Daily Mail.

This whole discussion is polluted with so much hypocrisy, so much cynical politicking and self-seeking, so many stones being thrown from the glassiest of houses, we shall all be subject to a great clattering from the sky at any moment. And as I’ll set out later, this wasn’t the first such example from the JC either. Far from it.


This is now followed by three section on:

The harassment, hatred and racism of GnasherJew and friends

Riley enters the fray. 

My grandmother, my family and myself defamed for a second time

You can read them here


Is the problem antisemitism? Or anti-Zionism?

There is, though, one thing I want to re-emphasise. When I state, with categorical conviction (and, I would argue, proof) that the question of antisemitism on the left has been blown up out of all proportion, I am certainly not saying it doesn’t exist. When I state, with equal conviction, that many of those cited as proof of the extent of the problem were either bots, or internet troublemakers and trolls with precisely nothing to do with either Corbyn or the Labour Party, I am not saying that antisemitism in Labour doesn’t exist. There have been a few hundred cases in a membership of about 550,000: less than 0.1%. Those cases must be dealt with through speed and urgency.

A personal view is there’s been a tendency to overlook antisemitism from all sections of society at times because, for want of a better phrase, most of us Jews ‘blend in’. The problem is how so many of us, unconsciously or otherwise, feel we have to. The difference in how members of the public might respond to liberal Jews like me going about our daily business, compared with orthodox Jews who identify themselves as Jewish through their clothing, must surely be significant. If so, that is awful, and something for everyone to reflect on.

And while there isn’t, contrary to popular belief, a serious problem with antisemitism on the left, it is certainly the case that anti-Zionism is infinitely more prevalent than on the right. Which is precisely why Labour focus on it in their Code of Conduct; but also, unhappily, why the likes of Collier, Hoffman or Bennun seek to conflate it with antisemitism. Without question, the language used against Israel is frequently far too strong; and the entire Israeli people being held responsible for the actions of their wretched government also occurs too often, and is quite outrageous. When Jews, whether in Israel, Britain or anywhere else, are too… well, that is antisemitism, plain and simple.

Riley is especially fond of educating her audience on Zionism. In terms of what it used to represent — a desperately needed, yearned-for, cherished home for the Jewish people — she’s quite right: which is why I identify as a left wing Zionist. But she entirely ignores the contemporary context: of illegal settlers, an illegal occupying army, and far right religious zealots doing the most horrific things on a daily basis.

For the Palestinians, on a good day, the reality of Zionism is something like this. On a worse day, it’s something like this (the link is shocking, but should probably be viewed). And on an awful day, it’s something like this (WARNING: Graphic, horrifying, heartbreaking. Absolutely not for the faint of heart).

Almost all of us on the left are so because we stand with the weak against the strong; with the oppressed against oppression. The idea that we’re all supposed to just turn our heads and say nothing about the Palestinians’ plight isn’t just grotesque. It’s inhuman. And while no doubt, the conflict is enormously complex, with the disgusting Hamas (every bit as much of a nightmare for the Palestinian people as the Israeli government. Hamas aren’t freedom fighters; they’re monsters) doing nothing but making it worse, Israeli politics are unrecognisable from even 20 years ago, let alone forty or fifty.

So much so that Netanyahu, despite police recommendations to indict him for corruption, is very likely to win election yet again in April. So much so that Israel passed the openly racist nation-state law last summer; and only last week, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked quit the racist Jewish Home party… because it wasn’t right wing enough for them.

Bennett, the Israeli Minister of Education, believes in unilaterally annexing the West Bank and openly opposes a Palestinian state ever occurring. Shaked is Minister of Justice, a huge fan of the nation-state law, and in 2014, shared the following post on Facebook.

“… In our war, it is even more true that the enemy soldiers are hiding in the population and only because of their support can they fight. Behind each terrorist stand dozens of men and women, without whom he could not sabotage. Participating in the fighting that incite the mosques, the authors of the murderous curricula, the shelter providers, the vehicle suppliers, and all those who give honour and moral support. All of them are enemy fighters and everyone is bleeding in their heads.

Now it also includes the mothers of the Shahids, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They have to follow their sons, there is nothing more just than that. They should go, and the physical house where they raised the snake. Otherwise other little snakes will grow up there…”

Netanyahu, Bennett and Shaked are not reasonable people. They make me feel ashamed. Israel was a beautiful dream for all Jews not so long ago. Now, it’s little more than a nightmare for far, far too many people. The idea that the left should say nothing about attitudes such as that posted above… well, there are no words for that, frankly.

Nor, though, am I in any way trying to downplay antisemitism itself. What so angers me is how this evil scourge, with all its horrific consequences which people like me and my family know only too well, is being openly manipulated and twisted for political reasons by those who, when it doesn’t occur on the left (ie. the vast majority of the time), couldn’t care less.

Some of them aren’t just racists or in league with racists; they’re even anti-Semites themselves, as I’ve set out in this piece. This isn’t just political weaponisation of antisemitism. In some cases, it’s political weaponisation of antisemitism… by anti-Semites! This isn’t Kafka, this isn’t Orwell; this is actually happening in Britain in 2019.

Conclusion: What are my motives?

Any Jew speaking up in defence of Corbyn and Labour is, to put it mildly, going to be criticised in the current lunatic climate. So: what are my motives in writing this piece? I’m not some neutral bystander here. I’d like to hope I’m objective, but I’m certainly not neutral.

In Britain, right now, while the narrative is all about Corbyn this, Corbyn that, a racist government led by a racist Prime Minister continues to do the most horrendous things. When Afghan refugees, with no support, no help, are deported back to a place they’ve barely even known – where they are shunned by the locals, kidnapped by the Taliban, raped and/or murdered, that is racism of the most abhorrent form. When Nigerian refugee girls, with no support, no help, are deported back to a place many of them have barely even known – where they are also shunned by the locals, and many are forced into sex trafficking, that is also racism of the most abhorrent form.

When EU citizens living in Britain are treated not as people, but as pawns, by the British government, that is racist. When British-born nurses with no criminal record are deported, that is racist. When British subjects— British subjects! — are deported, and the government doesn’t even acknowledge it until exposed by the press, that is profoundly, horrendously racist.

The minister responsible for that disgrace? You might have heard of her. Goes by the name of May. Her punishment was to be promoted to 10 Downing Street. The minister responsible when that disgrace was exposed? First, she tried to hide how many had been affected, then misled Parliament; then, after resigning, was promoted straight back to Cabinet only months later, to the sound of rejoicing by those wonderful centrists I referred to earlier. And she, incidentally, is both a tax dodger, and gets her own electoral opponent censored at hustings.

As for the PM: this is the woman behind the Go Home vans which disgraced the UK. This is the woman who gave one of the darkest, most racially charged speeches ever heard by a British politician, at the 2015 Conservative Party Conference. This is the woman who called 48% of the population “citizens of nowhere”. And this is the woman who, after the country split 52–48 (which in practice means, ‘we don’t know’), with Leavers voting for all sorts of reasons, decided that only one thing mattered: freedom of movement.

It is not racist to support freedom of movement ending. There are many understandable, legitimate reasons for doing so. But it surely is racist to obsess with this one issue to such an extraordinary extent that it has imperilled Britain’s entire future. All the UK’s difficulties in getting a good deal have been based around red lines rendered wholly undeliverable by that obsession and May’s intransigence.

Tell me: what exactly has Jeremy Corbyn ever said or done which compares in any way with any of the above? Who, exactly, have died as a result of his decisions? I understand and fully acknowledge the contempt which much of the Unionist community in Northern Ireland hold him in; but that’s pretty much it. Yet he’s the danger to Britain?!

Not only that: but the very thing which led to Windrush was the 2014 Immigration Bill. Corbyn, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott were among just eighteen MPs who opposed it. Most didn’t give it the remotest thought; and Yvette Cooper, idol of the centrists, thought the Bill contained “some sensible ideas”.

May’s government, moreover, isn’t just racist. It isn’t just cruel. It is wicked and pernicious. At least 120,000 people have died because of austerity. Homelessness is at such horrendous levels, even the US media is remarking on it on shock. Child poverty is set to reach a disgusting 37% by 2022: a figure which should shame us all. Foodbanks aren’t just proliferating at an incredible rate. They’re even opening in schools.

Fully 72% of both PIP and ESA cases are won on appeal; in other words, the government, condemned by the UN for both austerity and its treatment of the disabled, is denying untold numbers their basic human rights. As those appeals take so long to be heard, many die before they are. Wages haven’t merely stagnated for a decade; they’re still below 2008 levels: with the average worker earning fully a third less than 11 years ago. And while Riley, tone deaf to the end, sunned herself in India and posted pictures for her adoring public, in Britain, starving schoolchildren scavenge through bins for food, while young women sleep in them.

Corbyn? He wants to change all of this. If he wins the next election, he will change all of this, and give the UK its dignity, its heart, its compassion, its basic decency back. Yet he’s the danger?! Are these people living on the same planet?

If this campaign works — if Riley, Gnasher et al get what they want — the suffering of so many millions will get even worse (probably, far worse) than it already is. That is why celebrities like Rowling incur so much ire from Corbyn’s supporters. She’s in a position of comfort now. Horrendous numbers of people not only aren’t; they can barely feed themselves or their kids. And just in case there’s any doubt: if I thought Corbyn was an anti-Semite, or Labour were endemically antisemitic, I’d renounce my support like a shot. But he isn’t, and they’re not.

Given all I’ve written, no doubt Gnasher and his motley crew will be all over the Twitter search engine like white on rice when they read this. Good luck with that one, guys. Though you may like to know that I’m not a Labour member; only a passionate supporter. And the reason for that is precisely to retain my editorial independence, and not be cowed into silence by the likes of you.

There is, finally, one further motive. Just as it stands to reason that support for Israel will inevitably decline across the world unless its government drastically changes course, there’s a very profound danger for Jews everywhere too. The more antisemitism is weaponised, the longer these ridiculous smears against Corbyn continue, the more it will sound like the Boy Who Cried Wolf. If, heaven forbid, British Jews were ever in the same kind of peril which European Jews found themselves in during the 1930s, we might find ourselves seriously lacking support and help.

That might partly be because of the actions of the Israeli government alienating and appalling so many. But it might well also be because, except in cases of actual danger, much of the public simply tires of the constant drumbeat around antisemitism. Much of the public… except the left. Because in that, please God, never to occur scenario, you know who’ll be manning the barricades, fighting with us? Only pretty much all of those being defamed and impugned right now.

That is how disgusting this is. It is one of the most shameless, dystopian, grotesque spectacles I’ve ever seen in public life. Those who stand alongside racists; who conduct mass, McCarthyite pile-ons against good, caring people; who bully and harass children; who defame Holocaust survivors; and who when confronted with antisemitism or racism from anywhere other than on the left, turn a blind eye or even defend it, should hang their heads in shame. More than that: they should be held to account.

Enough is indeed enough: of all forms of racism and bigotry, of the vile scourge of antisemitism… and of its grotesque weaponisation for warped political gain. The behaviour of the individuals discussed in this piece has been repulsive. It cannot and it must not stand.