Simon Kelner was Editor of The Independent between 1998 and 2011, and currently writes a column for the Indy’s i100 page. You may recall that Kelner defended his paper’s decision to publish that infamous cartoon by Dave Brown’s in 2003 showing Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ‘devouring the flesh of a Palestinian baby’, claiming that it was not antisemitic.
On September 18th, Kelner published a piece at The Independent titled ‘In praise of Howard Jacobson‘, in which he praised the 72-year-old critically acclaimed British writer as “exacting” and as “unbelievably brilliant as he has always been”.
Kelner and Jacobson are both Jewish, and though Kelner characterized Jacobson in his Indy op-ed as a good personal friend, a stray comment about Israel by Kelner evoked one of the characters in Jacobson’s Man Booker Award winning book, The Finkler Question.
After noting that Jacobson’s latest book, J, “is one of the six books on the Man Booker Prize shortlist to be decided on October 14”, he pivots to a more personal reflection:
Howard and I have a few things in common, not the least that we are Jews from North Manchester. (You didn’t know Howard was Jewish? Well, he does try to keep it a secret.) Beyond that, however, there are subjects on which we have a very different world view.
During a discussion circle in a licensed establishment one night, I ventured the premise that you could understand why the actions of the West, and the expansionist policies of Israel, had helped to radicalise a sector of Muslim society. “You’re just a self-hating Jew,” someone shot back at me. “He’s not a self-hating Jew,” countered Howard, “he loves himself”
Leaving aside the risible characterization of the roughly 21,000 square km State of Israel – comprising about two-tenths of one percent of the Middle East landmass – as an “expansionist” country, Kelner’s suggestion that Muslim extremists don’t possess moral agency represents a classic example of liberal racism – the failure to hold those perceived as historically oppressed to the same standard of behavior as others.
Indeed, Kelner’s argument makes about as much sense as white supremacists in the US suggesting they’ve been radicalized by black crime, Islamophobes claiming they’ve become racist due to Islamist violence, or (closer to home) defenders of Baruch Goldstein attributing his radicalization to Palestinian terror.
If Kelner would never countenance such shameful alibis for the racism and extremism by whites and or Jews, then why would he do so when it comes to Muslims?
Whilst we’re of course not privy to any insight into Kelner’s feelings about his own Jewish identity, anyone familiar with the Jacobson’s all too real characters in The Finkler Question would be familiar with the insatiable appetite of some British Jews to not only criticize Israel, but to announce (to as many non-Jews who will listen) that it’s a uniquely malevolent force in the world – part of the Semitic clique fancied by the Indy and Guardian who are proud to be ashamed of the Jewish state.