Normblog: Alibi Anti-Semitism

In a recent post, I wrote this about anti-semitism:

This is a foul state of affairs. Politics is in a dark, dark place now, and Iā€™m struggling to see how that is going to change for the better.

It may not banish my pessimism, but it’s surely good news when a noted blogger like Norman Geras turns his attention to the current state of anti-semitism. His Alibi Anti-Semitism piece is absolutely essential reading, and to encourage you I will offer this extract (the added emphasis is mine):

The fourth and final alibi phenomenon I shall deal with is more oblique. It consists neither of the direct expression of anti-Semitic themes nor of attempts to explain these away, but rather of turning a blind eye. It is relevant to the case here, all the same, since prejudice makes its way more successfully when there is a certain tolerance of it by others, not actively hostile themselves but indulgent towards those who are.

I will take as my example of this the Guardian newspaper today. This once great paper of British liberalism now provides space on its opinion pages for the spokesmen of Hamas, the contents of its programmatic charter notwithstanding; provides space on its letters page for philosophers justifying the murder of Jews; and provides space on its website for people who deploy well-known anti-Semitic themes even while professing that they have nothing whatever against Jews. The Guardian is, as you would expect, on record as being vigorously opposed to racism: as, for example, when it referred in a leader of November 2011 to ‘a message that is not heard often enough… that racism is never acceptable, wherever it takes place’.

Instructive, in the light of that, is to examine how the paper reacted editorially to the Toulouse killings. On March 20 of this year, before the identity of the killer was known and when it was assumed he was from the French far right, the Guardian echoed the sentiment I have just quoted from its November leader, saying that ‘the [French] republic will come together in the face of such an assault on its minorities’. While cautioning against speculation about the killer’s motives, it nonetheless allowed itself to allude to Sarkozy’s lurch to the right, his claims of ‘there being too many immigrants in France’, and other such expressions of xenophobia. This may be seen as an instance of treating racism as unacceptable ‘wherever it takes place’. Two days later, once it was known that the killer was Mohammed Merah, an Islamist jihadi who had said he wanted to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children, a second Guardian editorial endorsed Sarkozy in ‘condemn[ing] any attempt to denigrate the French Muslim community by associating it with the mad crimes of a terrorist’; and then added precisely nothing about the kind of ideas which might have been influential in Merah’s willingness ā€“ not as a Muslim but as an Islamist and jihadi ā€“ to slaughter three Jewish children. ‘Mad crimes of a terrorist’ was all, and not so much as a breath about anti-Semitism. But the killing of Jewish children, even if to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children, is anti-Semitism of the most unadulterated kind. Those children were guilty of nothing and were killed by Merah because they were Jewish.

A liberal newspaper, committed to racism’s never being acceptable anywhere, can find the words to name the poison that is rightwing anti-immigrant xenophobia, but not the word for hatred of Jews. Incomprehensible ā€“ but for that familiar alibi, Israel as cause.

I don’t agree with everything Geras says, but I’m unable to fault his core analysis to the effect that Israel is used as an alibi for anti-semitism. Will it ever change?

[A tip of the hat and vote of thanks to Harry’s Place for this.]