This is a cross-post by Danny Stone (PCAAF Director) and Dave Rich (CST) from the London Student:
As students across the country prepared to return to study earlier this year, one graduate was being schooled by the French courts. The British fashion designer John Galliano was given a suspended fine for two incidents of racist and anti-semitic abuse. Galliano reportedly called a French lady a “fucking ugly Jewish bitch” and made some 30 anti-Jewish insults in the space of 45 minutes.
Condemnation of Galliano was widespread. For anti-semitism, in this sense, is easy to recognise. It is the language of the far-right, of Nazis and bigots. One drunk guy in a bar isn’t that big a deal, is it? But there are subtler examples; in several incidents in past months serving MPs have questioned the abilities of Jewish officials to deal with issues such as Middle East policy. Such dual loyalty accusations are at the core of conspiracy theories which, as always, cast Jews as shady masters of money and power. It’s not quite as straightforward as calling someone an “ugly Jewish bitch” though.
Unconvinced? Let us take another example: The Islamist iEngage website uses more subtle language, but has the same message. Zionists advised the Government on a post Arab spring strategy, Zionists had a hand in the Iraq Inquiry, and Zionists are behind the EDL. Presumably, they are not talking about Christian Zionists or indeed secular supporters of the right of the Jewish people for self-determination. Indeed, they are talking about Jewish Zionists, any Jew who does not actively condemn Israel is part of the plot it would seem.
Or how about this: the day before the 2003 Iraq war began, a BNP press release blamed the war on a plot by “Zionist and Christian fundamentalist zealots around Bush” and “Blair’s pro-Israeli big business backers”. This is familiar stuff: the idea that rich Jews manipulate politicians and force other countries to go to war with each other for Jewish gain, has been a staple of far right anti-semitic conspiracy theories for over a century. But the very next day, the Muslim Council of Britain blamed the war on a plot by “Zionists and American neo-Conservatives” to “redraw the map of the Middle East”, which is essentially the same conspiracy theory. Is one anti-semitic and the other not, because of who says it?
This language can of course be the result of deep seated prejudices and stereotypes, or it may be the reproduction of language from the Middle East where this kind of conspiracy theory and much more overt anti-semitism is much more mainstream than in the UK.
A tirade from the BNP or from an Islamist group may be expected, but perhaps more troubling are examples of public figures and mainstream voices with significant followings using this type of language. In the Guardian, respected journalist Roy Greenslade said of Express Newsgroup owner Richard Desmond: “As a Jew, he may well have negative views of Muslims.” Greenslade later apologised, but that he didn’t stop to think before he wrote is cause for concern.
Even more worrying perhaps, are those established and prospective Parliamentarians who can mobilise political action. During the 2010 general election, serving MP Gerald Kaufman (himself a Jew) said “Jewish millionaires own half the Conservative Party” and Martin Linton (ex-MP for Battersea) recalled Nazi-imagery with his comment: “There are long tentacles of Israel in this country who are funding election campaigns and putting money into the British political system for their own ends”.
Coming full circle, back to campus, at LSE in December 2010, Abdel Bari Atwan, editor-in chief of the London-based pan-Arab newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi, referred to the “Jewish Lobby” at least four times in a talk where he said the “Jewish lobby” was “extremely dangerous and is endangering the whole planet, the whole world”, and that it “controlled” the American Senate, Congress and media. He suggested to a Jewish questioner that “You are bombing us every day”. The atmosphere at the talk became so heated that an audience member called a Jewish student and anti-racism officer who was speaking a “Nazi”, leading to wide disorder and the Jewish students having to leave. This is just one example of how abusive rhetoric directed at Jews is not an expression of free speech, but actually shuts down free speech on campus by making rational debate impossible.
Explicit anti-semitism about Jews remains relatively rare in mainstream British discourse; Galliano-type incidents are thankfully well understood and not often repeated. It is, however, disturbingly common for older anti-semitic conspiracy themes to be evoked by modern depictions of “Zionism” and “Zionist”. Such language feeds action.
Where Jews are held accountable for the actions of the state of Israel, regardless of their political views on the actions of the state of Israel, that is anti-semitism. It must be possible for Jewish students to express their views about Israel without fearing racist abuse in return.
Our campuses are the founts of free speech, exchange of ideas and broadening of the mind. Articulating criticism of Israel may be part of that. But let us think about the language we use so that our minds expand, rather than narrow.