Owen Jones, and the Left’s blind spot over antisemitism

Cross posted by Jeremy Havardi at The Commentator


Owen Jones

Leftists have long had a blind spot when it comes to antisemitism. This is partly because some have found comfort in this rank bigotry, seeing Jews as a privileged elite and a personification of the capitalism they abhor. But it is also because they like to define antisemitism on their own terms, showing disdain for how Jews themselves feel.

They recognise and condemn its more usual manifestations, particularly when it comes packaged with swastikas, jackboots and lethal rhetoric. But they refuse to recognise the other side of Jew baiting — the double standards, the conspiracy thinking, the Holocaust inversion and the anti-Zionism.

Owen Jones clearly has the blind spot just mentioned. In an article in Monday’s Guardian [Aug. 11], Jones discusses the menace of antisemitism in Europe. He recognises that it has spiked during the conflict in Gaza and argues that ‘attempts to belittle it are dangerous, allowing the tumour to spread unchecked’.

He dismisses those who try to deflect blame onto the Jews themselves. This, he says, is like ‘rationalising anti-Muslim prejudice as the inevitable consequence of Islamist fundamentalist terror’. So far, so good.

But then he gets unstuck. First, he raises the old canard that pro-Israel supporters accuse ‘pro-Palestinian’ protestors of being antisemitic in an attempt to silence criticism of Israel.

The danger is that the ‘meaning of antisemitism is lost, making it all the more difficult to identify and eliminate hatred against Jewish people at a time when it is rising’. He goes on to say that for some defenders of Israel’s governments, the ‘supposed special attention received by the conflict is itself evidence of antisemitism’.

In reality, he argues that these protestors are condemning the actions of a heavily armed state backed by the West.

The idea that Israel’s supporters routinely accuse their critics of antisemitism is essentially fictitious. The vast majority of these supporters can recognise the difference between criticism of Israeli policy and baseless hatred. Virtually no sane Zionist sympathiser would label someone antisemitic simply for criticising policy on the West Bank or settlements. These are matters of legitimate public discourse.

But what these supporters will argue, justifiably, is that the discourse on the conflict has become badly corrupted. Israel has been likened to a Nazi state that is engaged in a policy of wholesale extermination. Only recently, Lord Prescott labelled Gaza a ‘concentration camp’ in an article for the Mirror. Others, like David Ward and Lee Jasper, have used Holocaust Memorial Day to attack Israel and the Jews.

Cartoonists have routinely tapped into antisemitic stereotypes to depict Israeli leaders, the most popular of which evoke images of the blood libel. The ‘all powerful’ Israel lobby is accused of being an evil puppet master, manipulating western foreign policy for its own insidious ends. This taps into a centuries old stereotype of sinister and demonic Jews controlling the world.

Supporters of Israel have every reason to condemn such ugly displays of bigotry. Yet the accusation is trotted out that they accuse every critic of anti semitism, which is absurd. This is an attempt to silence and smear Zionists, not critics of Israel. Maybe Owen Jones should answer this question: How nasty must criticism of Israel become before it can be considered antisemitic, or at least bigoted?

Is it acceptable to portray Netanyahu as a hook nosed Jew revelling in Palestinian blood, as a latter day satanic Hitler or perhaps as an evil puppet master controlling western leaders? Unfortunately, images such as these have proliferated at anti-Israeli rallies around the world.

Jones is anxious to defend those who go on ‘pro-Palestinian’ rallies. But the unmistakeable sentiment from marchers is unmitigated hostility to Zionism and a Palestine free ‘from the river to the sea’. Yet Zionism is simply the acknowledgement that the Jews are a nation with a collective right to self-determination.

Anti-Zionists deny Jews this right while granting it to every other nation. That is why true progressives, like the great Martin Luther King, have long recognised the connection between hostility to Zionism and hostility to Jews.

Jones secondly fails to understand how antisemitism is often dressed up in ‘progressive’ form. He (rightly) mentions the danger from Front National, Jobbik and Golden Dawn, three extreme groups suffused with xenophobic prejudice against Jews, immigrants and Muslims. He condemns attacks on synagogues in Paris as well as other assaults.

But antisemitism is not just about jackboots and swastikas, torched synagogues and racist insults. It is about discriminating unfairly against Jews, Jewish institutions and Israelis.

It is about holding Jews to a different standard or demanding from them a unique level of behaviour. It is about calculated offence, such as abusing the memory of the Holocaust for political ends. Nor does antisemitism have to be intended for it to be real.

When we stop viewing this prejudice through far right tinted spectacles, we can understand why Kilburn’s Tricycle theatre has been accused of racism. Last week, the Tricycle boycotted the UK Jewish Film Festival after the latter refused to accept a condition that it first reject £1,400 of funding from the Israeli embassy.

The Tricycle suggested that UKJFF was being politicised by this money and, by implication, the theatre would be taking sides over the Gaza conflict.

Yet this condition has not been imposed in other cases where cultural institutions have received government funding. To take one example, the Tricycle hosted the London Asian Film Festival, even though it was financed by the Indian government, a party to the long running conflict over Kashmir.

Moreover, the Tricycle has happily taken a sizeable grant from the Arts Council, a government funded body. Yet British governments have recently been mired in controversial wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This is a blatant case of an egregious double standard applied to a Jewish cultural group. They, and only they, have been forced to sign up to a political credo (i.e. to dissociate from Israel) before they are deemed ‘acceptable’. In an attempt to appear self-righteous, the Tricycle’s organisers have engaged in a most pernicious form of bullying.

Had he cast his net further, Jones might have condemned George Galloway after his recent statement that no Israeli tourists were welcome in Bradford.

Galloway was saying that a boycott of Israeli goods and services was not enough; not one Israeli was welcome to step foot in his constituency either. By demanding that Bradford become Israelfrei, Galloway was not engaging in political debate. He was demonising an entire nation.

Equally bigoted was the decision of the Edinburgh Festival to axe ‘The City’, a play staged by Jerusalem’s Incubator Theatre. There were calls for its artists to publicly dissociate themselves from Israel’s policies in Gaza and the West Bank before being allowed to perform.

But again, such draconian demands have not been imposed on other nationalities. No other performers have been asked to pass a ‘values test’ before they can appear, nor should they be. Such behaviour is an outrageous affront to the principle of artistic freedom.

All three examples revolve around Israel and its conflict in Gaza. But Israel is the ‘Jew among nations’ and the country deserves equal treatment in the court of international opinion. Singling her out unfairly demands some form of explanation.

The motive for doing so is not always racist. Anti-Americanism and hostility to western power galvanise the left, and Israel is a bastion of democratic, western values as well as a staunch ally of America. It is also perceived, wrongly, to be a colonialist power. Hence it is a target of leftist discontent with western power. But the effect of such irrational discrimination and disproportionate focus is no less hurtful than a verbal insult.

It is still targeting the Jews.

It is only when we understand the many ways in which antisemitism manifests itself that we can start tackling it properly. It must be confronted warts and all, and with the blinkers and blind spots removed.

Jeremy Havardi is a journalist and the author of two books, Falling to Pieces, and The Greatest Briton

48 replies »

  1. Owen Jones’ greatest and most egregious omission is the greatest source of anti-Semitic attacks in the UK today: the Muslim community. Only when this country faces facts and deals head-on with the problem of Islamic supremacy and Muslim anti-Semitism will there be any decline in anti-Semitism. The attacks are reported and documented, yet he wilfully ignores the elephant in the room.

    • we dont hate jews, just the murderous policies of Israel aided abetted by the USA and UK there said it again

      • Yes, because whenever someone shoots at you and you shoot back, then it’s “murder”. He calls himself Orwell yet talks only in Newspeak.

      • You can’t speak for the people if you don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s clear and obvious your problem is anything that Israel does to stop missile raining down on her population centers. Apparently, people, to you, doesn’t involve Israelis BUT DOES INVOLVE Hamas fighters and their batshit crazy leadership. Go fuck yourself.

        • 2000 v 63 that’s some war, and the Israeli dead are soldiers not so on the other side, missiles raining down, don’t make me laugh, you got it the wrong way round look at the facts ie dead people

          • How easy is it for Hamas to pass something over you like that? 2000 is nice round number, no? And all of them are civilians, huh?

            Hey, George…. Did you know that gullible is only word not in the dictionary? You stupid putz.

            • a denier of mass slaughter, where have i heard that before, history repeats itself, and the victims become the victimisers, the slaughtered become the slaughterers , all in the name of self defense.

          • During World War 2 – the US killed 1.3 million Japanese versus 106,000 Americans – guess that too was murderous US policies.

            During the Iraq War the allies killed between 500,000 and 1 million deaths. Total allied casualties 3,777.

            Care to comment?

            • Yeah we are a disgraceful murdering race killing for land , wealth, ideology, and Israel is upholding that fine tradition of slaughtering butchers, might is right, care to comment

      • But in your description of the ‘murderous policies of Israel’ is your fermenting hatred of Jews. You might say it again and again but you do so because it suits you and because it thrills you.

      • Oy va voy! A halfwit drug addict clown boycotts Israel! We are doomed!
        Even the huge increase of foreign investments in the last period can’t save us!
        Microsoft, Intel, HP will tremble hering about this…
        Rabbi there is a saying that if a rabbi is stupid then he is extremely stupid. You just proved the truth in it.

      • To Phony Rabbi abusing Jewish titles and “too cool for school” 2nd rate hipster Russell Brand, who plants his own “bombs” in movie theaters,

        • Jeff, your comment is the best, most sane of any I have read! Too bad that Chief Rabiii is too filled with hate to understand it. He calls himself a rabbbi, meaning teacher. His only course is hatred 101.

        • An ounce of humanity, sadly missing here, what a speech, trying to blame the victims. The world can see what’s going on , desperate propaganda like this only reveals the truth more clearly, he may believe what he says , which is sad, or more likely , like so many here he receives financial reward for his so called opinion. Shameful

          • What’s shameful is your misappropriation George Orwell’s good name to run amok with a disinformation campaign. The poor man is spinning in his grave.
            Pat Condell has it about right.

      • First, why don’t you wash your greasy hair? Secondly, idoes your hatred of Jews exceed your hatred of the elderly, even those who aren’t Jewish. Perhaps you would like to see a boycot of everyone over 40. Exactly how long have you hated your parents?

      • I happen to think Russel Brand is a pretty smart guy. His diatribes are generally worth watching. However, this video is pretty lame. Reciting the names of companies to boycott as opposed to actually discussing WHY to boycott. Anyone with half a brain can tell that he’s a bit clueless here.

    • Caveat: If the claim that Anti-Semitism is too broad a term for criticism of the critics of Israel, then how is it that Israel is an Occupying force? That Israel is committing a Genocide (or Massacre as is often the case)? Finally, Owen, when pro-Palestinians call Israel out as an Apartheid state, or even a Regime, then that only lessens the true impact Apartheid had on this planet, not to mention the genuine batshittery of real Regimes like the ones controlling Syria and North Korea.

    • But they do support occupying genocidal apartheid regimes. They say nothing about the genocide of Saudi Arabia, ISIL, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Algeria, Morocco, Libya, and Sudan.

      All of them are occupiers and mass murders.

      All Muslim regimes are apartheid regimes, that are worse than South Africa ever was.

      They do support them. What they oppose is a native people, living free in their homeland – just because they are Jews

  2. “It is only when we understand the many ways in which antisemitism manifests itself that we can start tackling it properly.” – good luck with that. Great piece, Jeremy. Welcome to CW.

  3. I worried about Jones but then saw your picture of him and realised he is only a child.Now I know what Rod Liddle meant by ‘juveniles’ writing about Israel and the anti Semitic swans.

  4. Whenever I hear the words ‘Owen Jones’ I remember him getting his head handed to him by Andrew Neil.

    Owen Jones was a Bullshitting Tosspot then and he hasn’t changed.

  5. Attention Noam/rabbi/whatever. A new huge success of the BDS movement in South-Africa!
    Boycott of Israel takes the strangest forms. South Africans are reportedly talking about refusing to buy Israeli-made penis clamps, a “safe, inexpensive, nearly painless, and non-surgical” device used to reduce HIV rates through medical circumcision, because of Israel’s latest operation in the Gaza Strip.
    GlobalPost reports that “the PrePex male circumcision ring is one of many products in South Africa being targeted by growing calls to boycott Israeli-made goods.”

    We are all AIDS viruses now!

  6. You Jews scream “Nazi” out one side of your mouth and now suddenly screech “leftist” out the other for some reason. One is far right wing, the other is left wing. Which one is it? Or are you trying to slap paint with buzzwords? If anything, pro-Israel is the leftist stance.

    • Hey there! I’m a Jew, and I agree, people who tend to bash Israel relentlessly all the while ignoring the nefarious and violent actions of her enemies are more than likely confused right wing bigots rather than confused left wing do-gooders. Such as in your use of generalization (“You Jews scream ‘Nazi'”) which makes me think of a Klan man who got lost on his way to a Ferguson, MO online debate. I think I recognize you as the goon who happens to wear shit-stained sheets.