The Guardian, Jonathan Freedland, Antisemitism

3 Mar 2011 by CST

Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian (main feature of G2 section), has written an excellent comment piece on the state of antisemitism today.

It should be read in full and can be found here.

Freedland's crisp analysis covers many aspects of contemporary antisemitism, premised upon instances of what we could reasonably short-hand as 'celebrity antisemitism controversies', involving John Galliano, Julian Assange, Glenn Beck, Charlie Sheen, Mel Gibson, Oliver Stone and Richard Dawkins.

He also covers the ridiculous (yet meaningful) Iranian charge that the 2012 Olympic logo spells "Zion", and cites CST's antisemitic incident report, before noting

What exercises Jews rather more are the less clear-cut cases, those subtler expressions of anti-Jewish feeling, for which they suspect they get rather less understanding, especially from the liberal or progressive quarters where once they would have expected to find allies.

Much of this centres on Israel. Some new cliches have arisen that act as barriers to sympathy for Jews...[these]  have now become so durable that it is now difficult for Jews to get a hearing on antisemitism connected with the Middle East debate.

And yet it is this that raises more unease than the alcohol-fuelled ravings of a washed-up Hollywood star or clothes designer.

From here, Freedland cites Anthony Julius's magisterial Trials of the Diaspora and its critiques of Tom Paulin's Nazi-Zionist themed poem Killed in Crossfire and Caryl Churchill's blood themed play Seven Jewish Children. Next, he addresses "Zionist lobby"accusations and notes that "many" of the people who do this

...even at the very same time fiercely denounce antisemitism...

The set-text on this point remains a 2002 cover of the New Statesman reporting on the activities of "the Zionist lobby" in Britain...The magazine later apologised.

In concluding, Freedland asks

What accounts, then, for the stubborn reslience of what has been called  'the longest hatred'?". Why does it continue to appear even among those educated, liberal elites who pride themselves on their opposition to racism?

The Guardian enjoys unique status as teacher/mirror to those same "educated, liberal elites". So, even if the Guardian is not directly mentioned in this article, we should not dismiss the importance of one of its most senior writers posing such a question; and neither should we underestimate the importance of the explanation he proffers

[Anthony] Julius reckons antisemitism endures because it has a "magnetic appeal"...a conspiracy theory of power...rather than just the crude anti-immigrant stereotypes of other racisms..."a compelling short cut to certainty"...'The Jews are responsible' is a very appealing, very seductive explanation. It requires great self-discipline to resist its blandishments."

The Guardian also holds another (less enjoyable) unique status, namely that of being the leading target for those concerned about anti-Jewish and/or anti-Zionist and/or anti-Israel bias in the media (and its resultant physical and political impacts). This is only natural. Firstly, you don't get a reputation like the Guardian's out of thin air, and this is a reputation that has now evolved (or regressed) for many, many years. Secondly, the Guardian has real power and influence, which brings a greater need for it to behave responsibly. Thirdly, the moral air that it carries about itself, leaves it especially open to criticism. 

Regular readers of CST's Blog (and those who have perused our annual Antisemitic Discourse reports) will know that CST is amongst those holding the Guardian up to close and regular scrutiny. We believe that this is merited by the paper's overall record on these issues and, especially, by the influence that it carries.

Nevertheless, whilst it remains fair comment to summarise the Guardian as being an institution that is prone (like any other body) to institutional attitudes and biases: Jonathan Freedland's article shows that this institution is not monolithic when it comes to analysing contemporary antisemitism and fingering its crucial anti-Zionist component.

To be very clear, this is certainly not to say that we should suddenly expect the Guardian to no longer feature as a subject of deserved criticism from CST, or many others. Rather, it is to simply point out that just as any institution is capable of change, so too, is the Guardian. And, as with any other large institution, (in the absence of legal or other compulsion) it requires education, persuasion and considerable leadership if it is to first recognise its attitudes; and to then consciously strive to diminish them.  

With this in mind, Jonthan Freedland's closing paragraph is especially pertinent

We may want to believe it [antisemitism] went away, but it never did...We may see the likes of Galliano as relics from another era or as mere eccentrics, but they are expressing a set of attitudes that remain deep in the soil and which have never been fully shaken off. They can appear in the most respected institutions, voiced by the most respectable people. Even when they seem to be dozing, they are never quite dead. 

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“I never stop being amazed at the professional, selfless and totally dedicated commitment shown by the CST staff and volunteers. Our community is indebted to CST for the comprehensive protection the organisation provides, which sadly is so very necessary at this time.”

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis
Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth