General Antisemitism

The Guardian’s Linda Grant and fashionable anti-Semitism in the UK

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?

68 replies »

  1. amie:
    “I find value in Larry Summers’ Harvard address when he delineated antisemitism of intent, and antisemitism of effect. The latter looks at the harm done by antisemitism, no matter what looking at the former may say about the originator.”

    Too many big words and ideas for this crowd 🙂
    Can you provide a link to his speech ?


    “how can you put Linda Grant and “nuanced” in the same sentence? She’s writing for CiF in the Guardian for goodness’ sake! ”

    errrr ……. Nick Cohen writes for the Guardian …….. e.g.
    “Nick Cohen’s masterful deconstruction of the Israel-obsessed Guardian Left” – by Adam Levick

    Are you saying that someone who writes for the Guardian can be “masterful” but not “nuanced” ?

  2. Strange you should think that Serendipity: Hawkeye isn’t Linda Grant a friend of Sethele Freedman? His “writing” style, including the shallowness and ultimate resorting to ad homina attacks when bested in argument, was very similar. Perhaps they went to the same “journalism” school – OpinionsasFacts Ltd.

  3. No. I was saying that an individual of Linda Grant’s (lack of) intellectual stature can be neither masterful nor nuanced. Even you would agree that she’s not in the same league as Nick Cohen, but CiF needs all the help it can get to approximate towards the sort of gravitas which could help it to be taken more seriously.

    I agree with Adam’s analysis, but I think Nick Cohen is slumming it rather by associating himself with CiF.

  4. “Even you would agree that she’s not in the same league as Nick Cohen”

    What league is that ? So you would only allow people in a certain “league” to write their opinions in the Guardian (with you being the sole judge)? I guess that it is much easier to denigrate a person’s intellect than to argue with their ideas, at least for a person in your “league”.

  5. To get this discussion back on track and to be clear about my opinion – I feel very uneasy about certain aspects of this article. I will try to organize my criticism and post it later today or tomorrow.

  6. MTC, it’s plain that you would want an argument no matter what I wrote, but nevertheless

    Even an open-minded individual like yourself can hardly argue that everything published on CiF is equally even handed and enlightening or intelligent (viz Harriet “Chicken Lady” Sherwood). Are you really and seriously trying to argue that the guff written by her is on a par with the thoughtful and reasoned approach of Nick Cohen?

    You are not slow in letting us know your opinions and among mine is that Nick Cohen is on a vastly higher intellectual plane than Linda Grant or Chicken Lady! This is not necessarily to state that I always agree with everything he writes, but that is my opinion and I dare say it’s shared by others.

    Now, I don’t give a damn whether you agree with it or not, or whether you are made uncomfortable by it or not (probably in much the same way as you don’t give a damn about who you might unwittingly offend by your way of expressing yourself here) – like you I have a right to be heard.

    My suggestion to you is to set time aside for yourself, alone in a room with a large mirror. Face the mirror and have an argument with your reflection.

    And come back and tell us who won.

    The Groan/CiF are a

  7. Amie, don’t you agree that the resorting to nit picking taxonomy is often the last vestige of the bullsh*t merchant . yup. often is.

    It is a leap to say however that Linda Grant lacks intellectual stature. Her books are very highly regarded and award winning. I haven’t read any of them myself, but have read encomiums of them by other writers and reviewers for whom I have high regard who are not ideological soulmates of hers.

  8. MindTheCrap

    errrr ……. Nick Cohen writes for the Guardian …….. e.g.
    “Nick Cohen’s masterful deconstruction of the Israel-obsessed Guardian Left” – by Adam Levick

    Nick Cohen writes for the Independent. But basically the point is correct.

    However, Nick Cohen is the nemesis of The Guardian crew. It is one of their few redeeming features that goes back to the old Manchester Guardian which was in the hands of rational lefties.

    But, please don’t compare Nick Cohen with Linda Grant.

  9. amie

    It is a leap to say however that Linda Grant lacks intellectual stature. Her books are very highly regarded and award winning. I haven’t read any of them myself, but have read encomiums of them by other writers and reviewers for whom I have high regard who are not ideological soulmates of hers.

    Her comments on CiFWatch reveal a different personality.

  10. Her comments on CiFWatch reveal a different personality. Yes. Odd, isn’t it.

    Jerusalemite. I read Nick Cohen regularly in the Observer, the sister paper of the Guardian.

  11. amie

    Jerusalemite. I read Nick Cohen regularly in the Observer, the sister paper of the Guardian.

    Perhaps I made a mistake and he writes for the Observer. Not the Independent. However, he is one of my ‘gurus’ and although I don’t agree with everything that he has to say, usually he is spot on.

    And of course, I am encouraged by the naked virulent hate that he ‘inspires’ in radical loonies, like many of the commenters on CiF.

  12. I found Linda Grant’s article to be another manifestation of her continuing effort to square the circle of being “in” with the far left so-called liberal UK/US/Israeli circles whose regard she has acknowledged she craves, whilst also coming to terms with the manifestations of its anti-semitism ( which she can deal with by attributing its causes to the doings of the Israeli government, the right, the settlers etc. )

    So really one can see why she can also present Galliano as an almost inevitable response to the constant driving of the world of transgressive fashion to yet more transgressiveness. And of course the business side of fashion, with its drive to profits includes lots of Jews in key positions, doesn’t it? This is in my view utter gold-plated crap, since by analogy one can assume that all creative sado-masochists inevitably become anti-semites. Some do, but the vast majority of sado-masochists belong to the same political parties as the rest of us (as certain bizarre suicides by MPs and the like demonstrate) and there are plenty of quiet, apparently meek-and-mild anti-semites.

    What’s really weird in this latest piece of hers is her attempt to project herself as a moralistically horrified observer of a scene she presents herself as not really being part of. Yet this is a woman who is as Dedicated a Follower of Fashion as you could wish to find, and arguably, given that she writes articles for Vogue and runs a blog called “The Thoughtful Dresser” which intellectualises and celebrates her own Fashionista persona (including being an unapologetic consumer of brands and prices of clothing most of us are unlikely to be able to afford), an active contributor to the very culture she so decries, to the extent of running ads by high end fashion houses on her blog.

    As a review of the book of her blog states:

    he Thoughtful Dresser begins with a cliché: the author’s purchase of a pair of shoes that are both insanely expensive and impossible to wear. The aim, however, is to subvert the image of feminine frivolity and weak-mindedness so often associated with the female consumer. Linda Grant’s argument is that a lifelong devotion to shopping and fashion is an affirmation of life, a statement that one takes oneself seriously and that fashion itself is serious.

    She’d never use such crude language, but “nothing to do with me, gov, I’m just an observer” seems to be what it’s all about. Just right for someone who has spent time living in Israel and making a living writing books celebrating the bits of Israeli culture she approves of, making sure that she distances herself with appropriate irony and disdain from the right targets, whilst contributing to establishing the fig leaf of cover for the Guardian’s “anti-zionist, not anti-semitic”, credibility, second only to Jonathan Freedland.

    And she certainly takes herself seriously. I’m not sure we should do the same. And thanks for calling her on this one, IsraeliNurse.

  13. Linda Grant’s “defence” that she can’t possibly be accused of supporting anti-semitism because she’s been asked by Stephen Pollard to write an article on Galliano in the JC ranks with Howard Davies’ defence of the LSE accepting Gaddafi’s money on the grounds that they also accepted money from George Soros, who’s Jewish.

    But hey, we’re all in La-La Land here at CifWatch. So that’s all right, then.

  14. Linda Grant – one of those who would like to have their cake and eat it too it would appear.

    Meanwhile, at the Paris Fashion Show, the show goes on, with Lady Gaga wearing frocks to die for … accompanied, pace Mind the Crap, by one of the tracks from her latest record … Scheisse.

  15. I think the BBC is having an “absence” for it is certainly “not itself.” In a programme on R4 this evening about Galliano’s resounding plummet from grace, we had one of his (Jewish) clients making excuses for him but the tone of the programme as a whole was condemnatory of the antisemitism he spouted.