Politicians: antisemitism and “offence”
11 November 2015
UPDATE: please see CST Blog for subsequent apologies issued by Sandra White MSP and First Minister Sturgeon MSP.
The controversy over Sir Gerald Kaufman MP’s (Labour) remarks about “Jewish money” and the Conservative Party has helped mask a simultaneous case with Sandra White (Scottish National Party), who is a Member of the Scottish Parliament, rather than the UK Parliament.
White posted an obscenely antisemitic retweet “in error” on Twitter, before it was removed three days later. She has over 6,500 followers, but seems not to have flagged the removal to them. She is one of the Scottish Parliament’s most enthusiastic promoters of pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel activism.
As with Kaufman, White’s offence had Jewish money power at its core. As with Kaufman, the party leadership distanced itself, but never actually called the discourse antisemitic. As with Kaufman, the party leadership’s response was formulaic and inadequate. As with Kaufman, none of this will help calm Jewish fears about responses to antisemitism, especially within anti-Israel contexts.
Both cases are strong illustrations of contemporary antisemitism and the formulaic responses that are all too often made by political parties. They both occur in the context of pro-Palestinian activism, conducted and overseen by those who self-define as being utterly opposed to antisemitism: but whose own pro-Palestinian words and actions leave many Jewish constituents feeling distinctly uneasy.
It is especially ill timed for both the SNP and Scotland’s small Jewish community, coming so soon after a particularly constructive and friendly open communal meeting with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
Unlike Kaufman, at least White has sort of apologised. No wonder. This was her retweet:
It is debatable if an MSP should have used the Murdoch puppet master image, but the Rothschild war pig image is simply appalling.
The wording beneath ROTHSCHILD is “Banqueros y sirvientas”, Spanish for ‘Bankers and servants”. It is a sad sign of antisemitism today that nobody could say with any certainty whether the pig cartoon comes from a Spanish left wing or Spanish right wing perspective. It is seductive for both, even if the left usually finds it unacceptable to say the word “Jewish”, as in “Jewish money”.
This is the full version of the Rothschild half of White’s tweet:
The image superimposed on the pig, above the word ROTHSCHILD derives from American neo-Nazi websites. It has three Stars of David, one in red above BANK, below the picture of Lord Rothschild, the others on President Obama and former President Bush. The presidents are flanked by cartoon hook noses and hands being rubbed together. This is a close up cut and paste from one of the most commonly used antisemitic cartoons in US neo-Nazi circles.
Of course, even without the US neo-Nazi ‘BANK’ image, the picture is still antisemitic. It plays to the enduring antisemitic charge that Jews use wealth to control others to go to war on their behalf (or in Kaufman’s case, to turn a blind eye to Israel’s own actions). This allegation framed Hitler’s only public speech in which he basically threatened the Holocaust; and we should note that Goebbels made a film specifically about the Rothschilds and the Battle of Waterloo.
This what Sandra White blatantly evoked when she retweeted the image: but it is echoed every time a public figure states, or accepts, stupid conspiracy language about Jewish or Zionist money.
The apology for Sandra White’s retweet, as reported by the Jewish Chronicle was:
“After the JC brought the tweet to the SNP’s attention on Monday [9 November, it was posted on 6 November], a party spokesman said: “This tweet was re-tweeted in error and has been removed from Sandra White's account. Sandra apologises for any offence caused."”
This is actually even less than the Labour Party response on Kaufman. It is not clear if the re-tweet “was in error” because someone hit the wrong button, or because it is one of the most disgusting examples of antisemitism ever promoted by an elected politician either side of the England-Scotland border.
Exactly as with Kaufman, if this is “offensive”, then the Party hierarchy ought to be clearly spelling out why that is the case. It is not “offensive” because it causes “offence”: it is offensive because it is racist and specifically antisemitic.
If political parties want to show that they take antisemitism seriously and are genuinely committed to combating it, then they can begin by recognising and denouncing antisemitism much more explicitly when it happens within their own party ranks; and by understanding that merely deleting a tweet or expressing regret for offence caused is not only insufficient, but can also risk compounding and widening the hurt.