To those who do not live in the United Kingdom (and to some who do) the reasons for the amply documented rise in antisemitism there can be something of an enigma. Why should a developed, first-world country in one of the most affluent regions of the world succumb to such an archaic prejudice? The hypotheses are many and varied, but it is my belief that one cannot analyse the phenomenon without an appreciation of the changes which have occurred in the sociological and anthropological structure of modern British society over the past three or four decades.
March 1st saw the publication on CiF of an article by Linda Grant in which she ‘contextualises’ the recent well-publicised antisemitic rant by fashion designer John Galliano. The class structure has, of course, always played an important role in shaping and defining British society and whilst there has undoubtedly been some fluidity within that structure in recent years, the basic framework still remains a decisive factor. In Grant’s article we see a classic example of the upper middle classes defending their own.
In the middle class milieu which is the stomping ground of holders of the Guardian World View, antisemitism is akin to head lice. Nobody wants to admit that it exists in their social circle – it is something which probably infects the lower classes, but not nice, educated and enlightened professionals. And so, the Guardian has wheeled out a Jewish author to absolve the ‘brilliant’ Galliano of a sin for which a council estate yob would not find forgiveness on its pages. Who can possibly question the Guardian’s verdict if a Jew declares that Galliano is probably not really an antisemite?
Grant offers up a plethora of extenuating circumstances for Galliano’s behaviour: He was drunk, he’s a genius, he is undergoing some sort of mental breakdown attributed to stress, he has made a career out of breaking taboos, and the industry pushed him into being extreme. And now he is even unemployed, having been sacked by those rich Jews upon whom his livelihood depended. In other words, Grant (and the Guardian) is prepared to believe that Galliano is everything except that which the evidence he himself provided (on more than one occasion) would indicate.
And so Galliano joins an ever-expanding gallery of figures of varying degrees of prominence within certain sections of British society whose antisemitic outbursts are contextualised, excused and overlooked. The closing – of –ranks protection of Foreign Office officials, media types, peers, artists, politicians and, now, fashion designers has its limits, however. Such protection is not afforded to those who break ‘taboos’ of other kinds. Racist or bigoted rants of other definitions are not treated with kid gloves. It is not considered excusable by ‘genius’ or ‘daring’ to break other social prohibitions such as child abuse or gay bashing.
In addition, were Galliano not some over-paid purveyor of useless artistic eccentricity (what can possibly be more vacuous than un-wearable clothes?) functioning within a bubble sustained by the classes who aspire to display their affluence, social class and ‘success’ by means of ownership of the ‘right’ handbag, shoes, jewellery or car, nobody would be scratching around for mitigating circumstances by means of which to excuse his behaviour. A working class council-house inhabiting, supermarket shelf-stacker who abused a shopper with a rant about how he loved Hitler or sprayed graffiti on the walls of a railway station indicating approval for the gassing of Jews would not merit protection or understanding from either Linda Grant or the Guardian. Quite the opposite, in fact.
In my personal experience – and I write this ‘as a Brit’ – middle class antisemitism in the UK is, to say the least, no less prevalent than its rawer working class version. Indeed it is possibly even more pernicious because not only does it often infect policy makers, educators and opinion shapers, it is too frequently either ‘contextualised’ as ‘anti-Zionism’ or just denied . At least the Combat 18 supporting, swastika – painting mobs I encountered on the streets of England were honest about their racist prejudices.
So isn’t it time for people such as Linda Grant to confront their inner fashion victim, nurtured by middle class snobbery functioning within a ridiculous celebrity-obsessed culture, which results in the double standards and inexcusable leniency displayed all too often towards those of ‘their own’ who engage in antisemitism? Isn’t it time for them to acknowledge that they are not morally superior to the average BNP voter just because they belong to a different class, own expensive handbags or attend fashionable social gatherings and that their whitewashing of antisemitism is contributing to the worrying resurgence of a phenomenon which is much more than just a ‘taboo’ occasionally transgressed by the daring, the drunk, the stressed or the genius?
Antisemitism, like any other form of racism or bigotry, is an ugly and dangerous prejudice which has a detrimental effect on the lives of the people towards which it is directed. In the case of antisemitism, we should need little reminder of how quickly and pervasively it can infect an entire society and how tragic the results of that can be. For Linda Grant and the Guardian to be complicit in trying to disguise and downplay the extent to which antisemitism is present in all levels of British society today makes them part of the problem, not the solution.
After all, they wouldn’t be seen dead in their ‘progressive’ social circles defending anti-LGBT, anti-black or anti-Muslim bigotry, so why the attempted exoneration of Galliano’s obvious antisemitism?