Guardian

Guardian defends publication of letter deemed antisemitic


On August 20th, the Guardian published several letters in response to an article published in the paper which noted questions raised about Jeremy Corbyn and antisemitism (Corbyn faces questions over meeting with alleged extremist, Aug. 19th).

One of the letters was signed by Lydia, Joel and Andrew Samuels of London:

We write as members of a Jewish family, current and former constituents of Jeremy Corbyn. The accusations of antisemitism are, of course, political manipulations (Corbyn faces questions over meeting with alleged extremist, 20 August). Influential sections of the Jewish community, maybe guided by their Israeli contacts, are frightened that a notable critic of Israel’s policies and actions might attain a position of prominence in British politics. There are two background issues to which we would like to draw attention, aside from joining in the increasing number of Jews who say, of Israel’s behaviour, “not in our name”. The first is that the hysterical pressure to desist on anyone who wants to talk to Hamas and Hezbollah has been destructive to the prospects of peace. The second is that the repeated conflation of anti-Zionism and antisemitism is no accident. It is done quite consciously.

Shortly after the letter’s publication, Stephen Pollard, editor of The Jewish Chronicle, complained to the Guardian’s readers’ editor.  Here’s part of his email.

“I am sure I do not need to point out to you that this is one of the oldest, most explicit antisemitic memes in existence – the idea that Jews are guided by, and owe their allegiance to, a foreign power (Israel, in the modern world).

“I am, quite obviously, one of those who is accused, since my newspaper has led the way in asking questions of Jeremy Corbyn.

“I should point out that not once have we accused him of antisemitism. Nor have we mentioned the word Israel.

“Not one of the stories we have published has been about Israel; they have all been about antisemitism on the part of his associates.”

A few days later, the Guardian replied to Mr. Pollard and rejected the accusation that the letter was antisemitic.  Here’s part of the Guardian’s reply:

“As you know we always take any allegation of antisemitism seriously. You say that the letter openly expresses the idea that Jews owe their allegiance to a foreign power.

We have contacted the letter writers, who are adamant that they did not say, and neither did they mean, that Jews in Britain ‘owe allegiance’ to Israel and that there was no intention to evoke that trope.

“I do not accept that the wording of this letter evokes, deliberately or otherwise, the antisemitic slur that you see in it.”

Though, in fairness, the Guardian readers’ editor has generally taken complaints about antisemitism, sent by UKMW, quite seriously, their response to Pollard’s concerns is quite troubling. The mere fact that the letter writers allegedly didn’t intend to evoke antisemitic tropes about diaspora Jews’ allegiance to a foreign power is not as important as the question of whether the words used conveyed this toxic narrative to most who read it. 

Indeed, we can of course never get into the mind of those who engage in even the most odious antisemitic tropes to tell with any degree of certainty their inner-most thoughts and prejudices. The only standard which matters to those who take antisemitism seriously, and fully understand the long history of such calumnies, is whether the writer employs words or images historically associated with anti-Jewish prejudice. 

Indeed, the Guardian’s readers’ editor Chris Elliott wrote the following several years ago (in his article titled ‘On Averting charges of antisemitism‘) about charges of antisemitism leveled against some of their journalists which his office (quite admirably) upheld:

For antisemitism can be subtle as well as obvious. Three times in the last nine months I have upheld complaints against language within articles that I agreed could be read as antisemitic. The words were replaced and the articles footnoted to reflect the fact. These included references to Israel/US “global domination” and the term “slavish” to describe the US relationship with Israel; and, in an article on a lost tribe of Mallorcan Jews, what I regarded as a gratuitous reference to “the island’s wealthier families”.

Two weeks ago a columnist used the term “the chosen” in an item on the release of Gilad Shalit, which brought more than 40 complaints to the Guardian, and an apology from the columnist the following week…”

[Guardian editors] are experienced at spotting the kind of language long associated with antisemitic tropes such as Jews having too much power and control, or being clannish and secretive, or the role of Jews in finance and the media.

Newspapers have to be aware that some examples involve coded references. They need to ask themselves, for example, if the word Zionist is being used as a synonym for Jew.

I have been careful to say that these examples may be read as antisemitic because I don’t believe their appearance in the Guardian was the result of deliberate acts of antisemitism: they were inadvertent. But that does not lessen the injury to some readers or to our reputation.

We couldn’t agree more. 

15 replies »

  1. The irony is that because, as Pollard points out, much of the furore about Corbyn has been nothing whatever to do with Israel – rather his habit of befriending, sharing platforms with, inviting and donating to anti-Semitic, homophobic, reactionary bigots – it is this bunch of “as-a-Jews” who have “conflated anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism”.

  2. The Guardian disingenuously claims that ““We have contacted the letter writers, who are adamant that they did not say, and neither did they mean, that Jews in Britain ‘owe allegiance’ to Israel and that there was no intention to evoke that trope.”.

    But the letter writers themselves said: ” Influential sections of the Jewish community, maybe guided by their Israeli contacts”. What else could those words mean besides “owing allegiance to Israel” or being influenced by Israel?

    “Guided by Israeli contacts” also has a more sinister undertone of sneaky Israeli spies whispering instructions into their ears.

    It is as antisemitic as it comes, and no amount of self-justification by the Guardian or the letter writers si going ot change that. If they don’t like being called out on their bigotry they should blooming well take care what they write and publish.

    • The supreme irony of this letter is that if, heaven forbid, Islam succeeds in its intentions here, all the protestations by these spineless,cowardly as-a-Jews would benefit them not one jot.

      I am disgusted by them.

  3. “I have been careful to say that these examples may be read as antisemitic because I don’t believe their appearance in the Guardian was the result of deliberate acts of antisemitism: they were inadvertent. But that does not lessen the injury to some readers or to our reputation.”

    Since he wrote those words Chris Elliott has presumably realised that The Guardian has no reputation worth protecting in its coverage of Israel (villains) and the Palestinians (heroes).

    • This from the chump who famously once wrote “Facts are tricky things.”

      It would still appear so.

  4. It is just a thought but I am wondering whether or not UKMW knows that Lydia, Joel & Andre Samuels are genuine people. Furthermore does the Guardian know who they are; in other words has it checked them out in terms of their names and address and so forth? It is stated that the letter was “signed” so it sounds as if it were a hard copy as opposed to email although that need not be case. One of the favourite tricks of those who condemn the Israeli government is to state that “many Jews have written to agree with us”…. easy to say but not always so easy to prove.

  5. Ah! THAT Andrew Samuels!

    He once spoke at a conference I was at, some time ago, and said even then how we should attune ourselves more to Muslim ways. I walked out, much to his discomfiture. It seems that his head has been thoroughly messed with since.

    I have little doubt that he’s a good psychotherapist, but his views and obsessions stink, and he allows them to seep into his public speaking. If he did sign this letter then I am not at all surprised. I have to hold my nose now if I read anything of his about psychology.

  6. @ Adam Levick –

    In his description of the Jewish Chronicle’s Corbyn campaign coverage, Stephen Pollard claims that “not once have we mentioned the word Israel … Not one of the stories we have published has been about Israel; they have all been about antisemitism on the part of his associates”.

    Either Pollard has told the Guardian – and JC readers – an outrageous lie, or he never actually READ the 30+ articles published on this theme by his newspaper before firing off his complaint. Not only was Israel “mentioned” in a great many of them, but in some cases very prominently indeed (e.g, one headlined ‘Who is prepared to point Labour in the right direction on Israel?’ @ http://www.thejc.com/lifestyle/lifestyle-features/139845/who-prepared-point-labour-right-direction-israel ).

    Even when Israel wasn’t explicitly named – in, for instance, the JC’s widely-cited “key questions” feature @ http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/142144/the-key-questions-jeremy-corbyn-must-answer – five of the seven “antisemitic links” alleged refer specifically to I/P political activists and/or pro-Palestinian campaigns

    At a remote stretch, Pollard might still have been able to argue that his paper never sought to make Israel an electoral issue when repeatedly levelling its catalogue of accusations at Corbyn …. were it not for the hustings the JC co-arranged on July 20.

    This was, the Chronicle reported, ‘an event organised by Labour Friends of Israel and the JC’ in which ‘[t]hree quarters of the session focussed on Israel, with questions on boycotts, the current Israeli government, West Bank settlements and the 2017 centenary of the Balfour declaration. Mr Corbyn was asked about previous comments in which he had referred to Hamas and Hizbollah terrorists as “friends”…’ (See http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/140188/labour-leadership-candidates-clash-jewish-community-hustings ).

    The fact that Stephen Pollard – and you, who make not a peep of dissent at his patently ludicrous “never mentioned Israel” claim – can’t acknowledge even THAT event to have positioned Israel squarely at centre stage for the JC when continuing to regurgitate allegations of Corbyn’s “links” speaks volumes about your lack of credibility as honest brokers on both I/P issues and antisemitism.

  7. ” … a notable critic of Israel’s policies and actions might attain a position of prominence in British politics.”
    Pardon me, but didn’t that horse leave the barn quite some time ago?