Near the start of his April 29 article for eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s media publication The Intercept, Robert Mackey says that what is at stake in a current British political dispute is, “whether critics of Israel, who question its government’s policies or its right to exist as a Jewish state, are engaged in a form of coded anti-Semitism.”
Though the piece is entitled “Why a British Fight Over Israel and Anti-Semitism Matters to the Rest of Us” it’s clear to anyone who has followed the furor, that what actually matters, to all of us, is how the British Labour Party should react in the wake of its recent anti-Semitic scandal in Oxford, now that it’s been made public that two senior members of the British Labour party have conflated certain actions of Israel with Nazism. So no, Mr. Mackey, this isn’t about a certain “coded anti-Semitism,” it’s about whether the anti-Semitism we are hearing is acceptable in political discourse.
And why that should matter in America is because leaders like Jeremy Corbyn of the British Labour Party and Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican candidate for president, need to be clear to their supporters that anti-Jewish language and threats are not acceptable.
And, though Corbyn has ordered an inquiry, both he and Trump are failing dismally at the moment.
After having repeatedly failed to disavow the support of David Duke (he belatedly said that he had said that he disavowed it, though he hadn’t), the former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, the Trump campaign has so far been silent on the vicious personal attacks, threatening phone threats and Twitter Nazism inflicted on Julia Ioffe after her (not particularly negative) article about Melania Trump for GQ magazine. While Trump himself — with his Jewish daughter and Jewish grandson — does not seem anti-Semitic, he has nevertheless continued to fan the flames of general hatred and signally failed to stamp out the vicious racism of his supporters. Even at the Forward, one of our conservative columnists who preferred a different Republican candidate, was threatened so much she went out and bought a gun.
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Trump seems to depend on the support of angry white voters. His implicit stance seems to be that if that support has to include some virulent anti-Semitism — so be it.
Corbyn is in a different situation. His party of the left is supportive of minorities fighting racism, religions fighting bigotry and women fighting sexism but, as Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian shows, the Labour Party doesn’t treat Jews like other minorities or religions and, as Robert Shrimsley in the Financial Times points out, the party seems to simply not like Jews.
We can debate the historical events of Hitler (and contemporary British governments) wanting to get rid of the Jews, and Zionists wanting to take them to join their co-religionists in the Middle East (as first Timothy Snyder then Paul Bogdanor and Joe Weissman have done) but the nitpicking of verifying history takes us away from what is actually at stake in this: Is there a double standard about Jews and Israel?
Not why will the Tweet haters hate? They hate women gamers and they hate Jews and they hate anyone who isn’t them. For Trump who knows better, there is also no double standard, he’s just a leader who has chosen to embrace racism and the Republican party should give him the response he deserves. For the British Labour Party and for the global press, though, there are some serious questions to answer. These include:
Why can’t Jewish students define their oppression in the National Union of Students as do other minorities? Why do racists like Vicki Kirby (she suggested that Adolf Hitler might be a Zionist God) get readmitted to the Labour Party and voted onto committees? Why can the French-founded Morocco occupy Western Sahara for 40 years, French established Syria kill half a million Arabs in the past 5 years, American-supported Egypt double-down on its oppression of journalists and its civil population, and Saudi Arabia indiscriminately bomb civilian targets in Yemen without similar outcry to whatever latest events happen in Israel?
And why can the Intercept choose to exclude Jews, Brits and Israelis from the discussion of why it matters to “the Rest of Us”? Well, it’s because Mackey resorts to a tired old canard as he explains that what’s at stake is a Jewish / Israeli global conspiracy? “That matters because attempts to disqualify all critics of Israel as racists are widespread across the globe.”
No, Mr. Corbyn of Labour, Mr. Trump of the Republican Party and Mr. Omidyar of The Intercept, it’s time to set your houses in order and explain to your followers that racism is unacceptable, even when leveled at Jews.
Dan Friedman is the director of content and communications at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America. Formerly the executive editor and whisky correspondent of the Forward, he is the author of an illuminating (and excellent value) book about Tears for Fears, the 80s emo rock band.