The Guardian has commissioned an article, Let’s be clear – antisemitism is a hate apart, from Howard Jacobson. In his attempt to show that anti-Zionism is really a modern form of an ancient plaint, anti-Semitism, Jacobson’s literary talents seem to desert him. His arguments are wooden and stilted as his hackneyed phrases betray a poverty of imagination.
How can one write about Israel without once mentioning the Palestinians? Israel is a state that receives the largest amount of aid of any country, despite its small population, from the United States. It is a state armed to the teeth, with nuclear weaponry, whose military has ruled over 4.5 million people for 50 years. Palestinians live in the same territory as 600,000 settlers, yet unlike them they are subject to a different legal system of Military Law. By any definition this is Apartheid. At the hundreds of checkpoints that cover the West Bank there are separate entrances for Jewish settlers and Palestinians, yet Jacobson has convinced himself that our reasons for opposing Israeli Apartheid is because of anti-Semitism!
Jacobson may be a distinguished novelist but there is nothing original in what he writes about anti-Semitism and Zionism. Jacobson offers us no special insights that cannot be gained from Israeli hasbara (propaganda). For Jacobson, criticism of the Israeli state can be explained by the fact that ‘in the matter of the existence of the State of Israel… all the ancient superstitions about Jews find a point of confluence.’ Apparently criticism of Israel and Zionism has nothing to do with land discrimination and theft, the underfunding of the Arab education sector, the Judaisation of areas of Israel where there are not enough Jews, extra-judicial executions, torture of children or house demolitions. It’s all because we are anti-Semitic!
Jacobson though is but the latest Guardian sock puppet. In the past year it has run a series of articles about ‘anti-Semitism’ with the aim of portraying Labour under Jeremy Corbyn as a party in the grip of a tsunami of anti-Semitism. Articles it has printed include The Left’s Jewish Problem: Jeremy Corbyn, Israel and AntiSemitism and Why I’m becoming a Jew and why you should, too which is a rewrite of an earlier article in the Jewish Chronicle Hatred is turning me into a Jew by Nick Cohen; Why Jews in Labour place little trust in Jeremy Corbyn by Joshua Simons; Labour and the left have an antisemitism problem; and My plea to the left: treat Jews the same way you’d treat any other minority by Jonathan Freedland; Antisemitism is a poison – the left must take leadership against it by Owen Jones, which he rewrites annually. The Guardian has refused to print articles rejecting the idea in the above articles that anti-Zionism is a modern form of anti-Semitism.
Howard Jacobson made his name as a comic novelist. It is a genre that he should have stuck to because there is little that is amusing or revealing in his discursions into anti-Semitism. Jacobson pronounces that the Chakrabarti Report into racism and anti-Semitism in the Labour Party was ‘a soft inquiry’ and ‘was stillborn’. Instead of explaining what it is he disagreed with in the Report he insinuates that the elevation of Shami Chakrabarti to the House of Lords was the payment of a bribe. The Chakrabarti Report was a serious attempt to investigate the spurious anti-Semitism allegations of the Labour Right, the Tory press, and the Zionist movement. Chakrabarti found that the Labour Party was not overrun by anti-Semitism.
Indeed it is one of the curious aspects of the anti-Semitism allegations that no hard evidence has ever been produced. The one serious attempt to investigate these allegations by Asa Winstanley How Israel lobby manufactured UK Labour Party’s anti-Semitism crisis showed that the evidence for the allegations was spurious, fabricated and in the specific case of Oxford University Labour Club, set in motion by a former intern, Alex Chalmers, for BICOM, Britain’s main Israeli propaganda organisation.
Howard Jacobson’s theme is anything but novel. It is that anti-Semitism is ‘unlike other racisms’. It ‘exists outside time and place and doesn’t even require the presence of Jews.’ In response to the Russian pogroms of 1881, Leo Pinsker, the founder of the Lovers of Zion, likewise wrote that ‘Judaephobia is then a mental disease, and as a mental disease it is hereditary, and having been inherited for 2,000 years, it is incurable. [Pinsker, Autoemancipation, Berlin 1882 p.5.]
The logical conclusion is that if anti-Semitism cannot be explained then it cannot be fought. It doesn’t even require Jews. It exists in the realm of the metaphysical like all those other racial myths. After all ‘when Marlowe and Shakespeare responded to an appetite for anti-Jewish feeling in Elizabethan England, there had been no Jews in the country for 300 years.’ Jacobson is wrong, there were Jews in England but the memory of the Jews and the roles they performed in society had not disappeared. It is all too easy to characterise Marlowe and Shakespeare’s productions as anti-Semitic when they simply reflected not only popular perceptions but the actual role that Jews played in medieval society.
As Abram Leon, the Trotskyist leader who died in Auschwitz observed:
‘Zionism transposes modern anti-Semitism to all of history and saves itself the trouble of studying the various forms of anti-Semitism and their evolution.’.. [Abram Leon, The Jewish Question – A Marxist Interpretation, p. 245. Pathfinder, New York, 1970]
Anti-Semitism was seen by Zionism as a permanent feature of Jewish relations with non-Jews, an immutable fact beyond history and time itself. In June 1895, barely six months after the framing of the French Jewish Captain Alfred Dreyfuss for treason, Theodor Herzl, the founder of Political Zionism wrote that ‘In Paris …I achieved a freer attitude towards anti-Semitism, which I now began to understand historically and to pardon. Above all I recognise the emptiness and futility of trying to ‘combat’ anti-Semitism. Since anti-Semitism was a natural phenomenon, it could not be fought. You might as well fight the tides.
Jacobson’s claim that anti-Semitism is a unique form of racism is a truism. All forms of racism have unique characteristics but anti-Semitism is not a unique form of racism. There has always been racism against groups who were seen as better off and prosperous, be it the Huguenots, the Biafrans, the East African Asians or Koreans in the United States. The Chinese of South-East Asia were known as the ‘Jews of the East’. Racism against the Roma is just as persistent and deadly as anti-Semitism if not more so. Continue reading “The Guardian and Howard Jacobson’s blindness to racism”