Gentile Privilege

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
an article dissecting british conservative's wrong-headed and hypocritical reaction to the labour antisemitism scandal and the lessons the left should learn from it (but probably won't).

Submitted: December 05, 2018

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Submitted: December 05, 2018

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Gentile Privilege

Conservatives need to stop using woke tactics in their response to the UK Labour party’s antisemitism scandal.

Anti-Semitism has provided a rare ray of sunshine for UK Conservatives over the last two years. While the Conservative Party has floundered, they have frequently been let off the hook by the distractions created by Jew-hating and holocaust denying on the opposite end of the political spectrum. The temptation for conservative politicians, media and commentators to cling to this lifeline in their time of need has proven too great to resist. But that capitulation must surely be regarded as a failure to stick to principle. The never-ending Labour anti-Semitism saga is a perfect encapsulation of the dangers of identity politics and the slippery slope of accepting the suppression of opinion. 

Allegations of anti-Semitism becoming a problem in the Labour Party followed on fast from the surprise victory of far-left candidate, Jeremy Corbyn, in the party’s 2015 leadership election. The blame for this initial disquiet lies with Corbyn personally. During his decades spent as the unofficial “Foreign Secretary of the left”, with particular interest in Palestine, he overlooked the unsavoury nature of many of his associations, so long as they were anti-Israel. These included a holocaust-denier and a propagator of the blood libel. Concerns grew, stoked by Labour MPs who had never wanted Corbyn for leader. Things seemed to peak in April 2016 when Ken Livingstone, the former mayor of London and one of Corbyn’s few well know supporters, made the bizarre outburst that “Hitler was basically supporting Zionism.” Corbyn set up and inquiry into anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. It concluded that the party was not riven with prejudice. That briefly calmed things down but then in 2018 a Facebook post from 2012 came to the press’ attention, in which Corbyn seems to give his approval to street mural loaded with ugly anti-Semitic imagery. (He claims he didn’t look at it properly). The issue flared up again. The inferno still blazes as I write.

The subject has been flogged in the media to the point of tedium. It has become as reliable an impetus for viewers to change the channel as another “Brexit debacle” story. Every commentator and remotely political figure has had their say with reactions ranging from left-wingers convinced that this, like all other criticism of Corbyn, is a “capitalist conspiracy, to reasonable Jewish voices (for whom talk of “capitalist conspiracies” have ugly historical echoes), socialists admitting that the issue is a real problem and conservative politicians and commentators doing their best to encourage the crises and stoke things up. One point of view has been notably absent: conservative commentators defending Corbyn and the institution of the Labour party from the main charges.

Voices from the right of centre refuting the egregious accusation that Corbyn is an anti-Semite and that Labour is an anti-Semitic party have been not merely rare but non-existent. When considering the amount of newsprint expended by conservative commentators warning of the dangers of identity politics this constitutes a remarkable contradiction. Why have those who have railed for decades railed against political correctness encouraged this manifestation of it?

Personal satisfaction at seeing enemies hoist on their own petard is part explanation. There is certainly amusement to be had watching woke language-policers, who would pounce with fury on anyone saying “coloured people” instead of “people of colour” try to defend video of Corbyn referring to the alien, un-Englishness of British “Zionists.”  Dirty party politics has its influence too. Corbyn’s unexpectedly strong showing in the 2017 general election gave British conservatives such a fright that few can resist jumping on a bandwagon that has seen Corbyn’s own MPs join Jewish protestors outside parliament.

But clearly putting aside the impulse to grasp at political opportunity is imperative if conservative commentators are live up to the positions they have long espoused. (The author, at this point, should declare himself to be non-Jewish, politically right of centre and a supporter of Israel). Isn’t analyses of facts rather than getting caught up in waves of emotion supposed to be central to conservatism?

What are the facts beneath the maelstrom of accusation? It’s difficult to gauge precisely the levels of prejudice within any large organization (Some Jewish Labour members claim never to have experienced antisemitism. Some disgruntled former members claim it is at toxic levels) but in terms of straight out Jew-hatred and holocaust denying there have been about a dozen verified cases out of a party membership of half a million. Beyond that there is a wider issue of anti-Israel rhetoric by party members that that often borders on the demented but, nonetheless, is directed specifically at the state of Israel. (Although sometimes this Israel obsession spills over into prejudiced behaviour: badgering Jewish members for their views on Zionism etc).

Corbyn’s own behaviour has caused issues which he acknowledged: “In the past, in pursuit of peace in.. Israel/Palestine I have, on occasions, shared a platform with people whose views I completely reject. I apologise for the concerns and anxiety this has caused.”

Oh. And there is Ken Livingstone, who sits out in a strange category all of his own.

By no reasonable assessment of the facts is it justifiable to claim that Labour has become engulfed in a “tidal-wave of antisemitism” since Corbyn took over. Or that it presents an “existential threat” to British Jews. In fact, the genuine tidal-wave –of media coverage, particularly in conservative media—is unjustifiable going by any reasonable assessment of the facts. Conservatives should not be stirring the pot, but pointing out that this is exactly the situation they have been warning about when arguing politics should not centre on issues of identity. 

This affair has featured all the destructive elements that characterize woke hysteria: twitterstorms; microscopic analysis of language; people declaring themselves as spokesmen, for everyone who happens to share their ethnicity; individual incidents of ugly prejudice by individuals being presented as proof that the institution itself is irredeemably racist (police forces around the world could sympathise) and the understandable but wrong-headed and dangerous insistence that all prejudice is self-defined by the affected group.

That final element is significant as definitions of prejudice became, not just part of the discussion but evidence for the prosecution:

To disagree with the extent of the problem-- is anti-Semitic.

To argue that the Jewish News, Jewish Telegraph and Jewish Chronicle simultaneous editorials accusing Corbyn of representing an “existential threat” to British Jews were both wrong and irresponsible to the point of recklessness -- is anti-Semitic.

These tactics were this instance being used to skewer the left but they were learned from the woke. Every time they are shown to be successful they be will be more widely utilised to the detriment of coherent societies.

That this affair rumbles eternally on, inflicting wounds that more legitimate criticism of Corbyn did not, because of the seemingly unstoppable metastasising of identity politics. Corbyn has been able to successfully brush of the allegation that he was a sympathiser of IRA terrorism (he was) but unable to uncouple himself of the accusation of being an anti-Semite (he’s not) because of one issue utilises identity politics and the other doesn’t (in mainland UK politics). In their satisfaction at watching Corbyn squirm, conservatives have, in contradiction of their own stated beliefs, enabled the spread of techniques being used to suppress opinion and pillory dissenters. It has tarnished the UK’s image overseas gaining front pages on the New York Times and with Australian television pundits casually referring to the leader of the UK’s official opposition party as an anti-Semite.

The acceptance of the identity politics shibboleth of self-definition culminated in Labour MP Margaret Hodge bawling into Corbyn’s face at a party meeting that he was “a racist and an anti-Semite”. The accusation was prompted by disagreement over whether the Labour Party should adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) Working Definition of Anti-Semitism. Corbyn’s reaction when the scandal first blew up in 2016 was the inaction favoured by all politicians to problems: he set up an inquiry. He couldn’t try that trick a second time when it blew up again this year, so Labour considered introducing the IHRA definition into its party rules as a means of reducing the heat from the issue. The debate of this definition is worth looking at in detail because it is an illustration of how the fallout from identity politics scandals spread. Their impact last longer than twitter storms.

It starts with a question put by an aggrieved group to which there can only be one answer. In this case: “Are you against anti-Semitism?”

This is then followed up with the insistence that if you were being honest in your answer of “Yes” then you must also agree to a follow up proposition, in this case the acceptance of the IHRA definition. If the individual (Corbyn) and the institution (the Labour Party) are in a vulnerable position due to forcefully made accusations, on the back foot, eager to cleanse itself then the follow up proposition, whatever it is, becomes difficult to counter-argue.

The IHRA definition was developed in 2003 at the European Monitoring Centre for Racism and Xenophobia (but not accepted) then cut and pasted by the IHRA as their own definition in 2013 because they did not “have time to invent a new one”. Its acceptance has spread through a steady process of various bodies around the world, similarly looking for a ready-made definition, and its promotion by various Jewish organizations.

Most clauses of the definition are little different from what a first-year student would come up with if tasked with defining antisemitism: it is anti-Semitic to call for the killing of Jews in the name of religion, to propagate the myth of a global Jewish conspiracy, to deny the holocaust, to hold Jews collectively responsible for the behaviour of Israel. All utterly uncontroversial and glaringly obvious.

However, the definition also throws in some clauses describing criticism of Israel that should be regarded as anti-Semitic. Pro-Palestinian groups have been loudest in arguing against the definition but shouldn’t conservative commentators be equally sceptical.? The IHRA definition has stumbled by a mixture of accident and ideological push into being widely accepted. There is no reason to regard it as sacrosanct. When did conservatives begin unquestioningly revere tenants because they are touted as “international norms”?

A conservative critique of the IHRA definition should include:

Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazi’s.

Anti-Semites do sometimes utilise this comparison. (Labour parliamentary candidate Vicki Kirby was suspended for tweeting “Who is the Zionist God? I’m starting to think it may be Hitler” along with Jews have “big noses”) But it’s not intrinsically anti-Semitic. Nazi comparisons are the most overused tropes in all political discussion regarding practically any subject. Any institution accepting this as a clause will spend its time hunting down the intellectually and morally lazy rather than the bigoted.

Applying [to Israel] double standards by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or required of any other nation.

 No country on earth is criticised the same as all others.  Every geo-political situation circumstance is different. And exceptionalism of treatment can run positive or negative. Those of us sympathetic to Israel will defend behaviour that we would not by other countries because in Israel’s other countries don’t face Israel’s daily existential struggle.

Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination eg. By claiming that the state of Israel is a racist endeavour.

Israel is not like any other country. Its creation and continuing existence requires special status given to one group. The author will argue with anyone who claims the history of the Jewish people does not justify that, in this unique circumstance. But that special status does contradict the principle accepted across western nations, since the middle of the twentieth century, that citizenship should be unaffected by race or religion. The instinctive recoil that many people feel from the concept of one group given special status within a nation should not always be dismissed as anti-Semitism.

The initial reluctance of Corbyn to implement the IHRA definition in full was pounced on by right-wing newspapers such as the Sun and the Daily Mail and even the normally measured conservative columnist Matthew Parris declared that Corbyn refusing to implement this “simple measure” was the evidence that finally tipped him over into believing that Corbyn had “some sort of problem with Jews”. But why shouldn’t Corbyn resist the IHRA definition if he, in good faith, doesn’t agree with it.  (Corbyn certainly doesn’t agree with the Nazi-comparison article because there is video of him breaking it!) The Times newspaper editorial “Jeremy Corbyn needs to adopt the mainstream consensus or be condemned as racist” said it would be a “dark day indeed for thee party” if it did not accept the definition in full. When did conservatives start arguing that politicians must mindlessly accept politically correct totems without critically analysing them. It is hardly “mainstream”. Many people would not agree that all the IHRA articles. The Times justified this position by reference to the “MacPherson principle”. This the principle agreed by the Metropolitan police that any crime should be unquestioningly recorded as racist on the basis that the victim thought that it was. It was instituted after an inquiry into the Met’s failings when investigating a racist murder. Another example of an institution bounced into accepting a dubious principle because it was under political and media pressure after racism accusations.

Think of the president set by this “simple measure” (which now has been implemented). This definition, now has a quasi-legal status within an organisation that could soon be the governing party of the UK. It’s a short jump from there to actual legal status. The laws affecting millions and interfering with how an important subject is discussed changed to give one individual and the organization he leads some respite from inflated allegations of bigotry.

That “Only white people can be racist,” and even that “All white people are racist,” are becoming commonplace attitudes online and in academia. And to argue that they are wrong is in itself evidence of racism. Imagine enough pressure groups band together to these insist these sentiments are inarguable points in any definition of racism? Then, in a panic a powerful orgazation, a political party say, in a panic because a handful of its members have been exposed as racists accepts this pre-prepared definition. Or imagine the doctrine of self-definition of prejudice applied to bigotry against Muslims. If Muslim organizations drew up a definition of ‘Islamaphobia’ it would certainly include any derogatory or even critical comments about their prophet Mohammed. This would be a huge restriction on peoples right to debate the tenants of a religion.

An example of a left-wing counterpoint to all this can be seen in the Youtube clip of socialist activist Owen Jones interviewing <<who>> . Jones begins by claiming he “doesn’t know” what he thinks he believes about the now adopted IHRA definition (In fact, he plainly doesn’t believe in it. But like Corbyn and most Labour members feels compelled to go along with it).  <<name>> argues against the Israel-critical articles on the grounds that it restricts the rights of Palestinians to make their case. This is the only counterpoint that the left can bear to wield in favour of free speech: that banning offensive speech against one victim-group can only be wrong if it can be superseded by the rights of another victim-group. Who wins is a matter of who takes precedence in the hierarchy of victimhoods. This is a cultural and political dead end.

So, what should the right’s counterpoint be?

On 26 March the same day as the “Enough is Enough” protest Britain’s three Jewish newspapers published simultaneous editorials accusing the Labour Party of constituting “an existential threat” to British Jews. Conservative publications, the Times, The Daily Mail, The Telegraph, The Spectator, if they were to live up to the principles that they have long espoused should similarly respond with identical front pages and editorials. The front page should read:

“ENOUGH IS INDEED ENOUGH because you are wrong.”

The editorial should read:

“Jeremy Corbyn is not an anti-Semite and the Labour party is not an institutionally anti-Semitic organization. They do not constitute an existential threat to British Jews. Corbyn’s past associations are of a reflexive, unthinking anti-western posture and prove he would make a disastrous Prime Minister but are not evidence of anti-Semitism. The examples of individuals in the Labour Party have been exposed as anti-Semitic are unfortunately only to be expected within a huge organization with many thousands of members, activist and councillors. There is not evidence to suggest they are widely shared within the party.

“We understand that Jewish groups, newspapers and individuals feel threatened by news that has come out of the Labour Party. The actual evidence, rather than the overheated rhetoric, shows that those fears are unjustified.

“It is frequently said that only members of an affected group can say what constitutes a prejudice and the extent of the problem of that bigotry. That belief is wrong. Those affected by bigotry must be central to the debate and listened to with respect but the final say must be made by the whole of society. Wider society should not feel they cannot tell any group that they are wrong. The feeling of being victimised is not evidence. Decisions regarding definitions of prejudice and its regulation affect all of society. These include decision regarding the freedom of speech. Sometimes, anti-Israel invective is so poisoness that members of the British Jewish community often feel the speakers real motive is anti-Semitism. They may sometimes be right. But in a free society that offence is something they will have to live with.

“The endless rows over anti-Semitism within Labour though while beneficial to the Conservative Party are damaging to the conduct of politics and to society as a whole. Enough is indeed enough. The accusations have been inflated well beyond the actual incidents. It is now the responsibility of everyone, Labour MPs, Conservative MPs, conservative newspapers and media commentators, as well as Jewish organizations to calm the rhetoric down.

“To those on the political left we say:

“You have now had a taste of how impossible it is to wash off an accusation of bigotry once it is made no matter what the facts. You have experience the phenomena whereby even defending yourselves or disagreeing with your accusers is evidence of your irredeemable racism. You have learned that there is no cause – not even one as straightforwardly righteous as to be against anti-Semitism—that cannot be used and abused by opportunists, political point-scorers, bandwagon-jumpers and dishonest commentators. Perhaps this could be remembered on future occasions when you are tempted to throw the labels of ‘racist’ or ‘misogynist’ at opponents because you know that such accusation can stir up a mob, set people you dislike on the back foot, wound or even destroy. The Labour-Antisemitism affair has shown how easily accusations can snowball when they touch of the sensitive topics of identity and bigotry. Is it too much to hope that a lesson could be learned by those who have been for a long time so casual in throwing around such accusations?

“On the political right we have been guilty of the very flaws we have often accused the left of having. We have deliberately help stir up the fears of a vulnerable group. We have encouraged political division along ethnic lines. After having been guilty of understating racism in society and we have now compounded this by overstating the problem of anti-Semitism in Labour purely for party political ends.

“This episode does right of centre media, politicians, commentators and thinkers no credit but we will engage in it no more. Enough is enough.”

RICHARD MONTGOMERY

 


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