Has anyone else noticed how almost anything you say nowadays – if it’s leftwing – can suddenly be cited as proof of your anti-semitism?
That is, if you haven’t already been denounced as a Kremlin stooge.
Oppose the regular neoconservative regime-change operations, such as the latest one targeting Venezuela, and point to the long record of war crimes committed by one of its current architects, Elliott Abrams, and that apparently is probable evidence that you’re an anti-semite.
One wonders why @IlhanMN seems to harbor such particular contempt for Elliott¹ Abrams².
¹ from the Hebrew "Elijah," meaning "My God is Yahweh"
² the father of the Jewish people
— Michael Knowles (@michaeljknowles) February 13, 2019
Note, as Ilhan Omar recently did, that AIPAC, the well-financed and single-minded Israel lobby group, has so much influence in the US Congress that few representatives dare to publicly oppose it and you’ll come under relentless pressure to apologise for expressing an anti-semitic view.
Never mind that the Senate just passed an AIPAC-driven law that blatantly violates Americans’ First Amendment rights by limiting their free speech – specifically to protect Israel from those who propose a boycott in support of Palestinian rights.
Want to criticise the bankers, who created a giant Ponzi scheme to enrich themselves and nearly destroyed the global economy – and are now being allowed to do it all over again? Or advocate for socialism and argue that there is a class war being waged against us by a “global elite”, or the 1 per cent? Yes, you’re definitely anti-semitic.
If you believe Jeremy Corbyn should be allowed to lead Labour into the next general election, as he was elected to do by party members, and that it should be possible to deselect Blairite MPs who wish to foil such an outcome and want to allow Theresa May to continue driving Britain over the cliff-edge, you are patently an anti-semite.
And of course, it hardly needs stating that if you criticise Israel, point out that it’s been running the longest occupation in modern history or cite any of the documented evidence that it practises apartheid against Palestinians, you must be irredeemably anti-semitic.
After all, as Guardian commentator Jonathan Freedland keeps reminding us, his and many other Jews’ identities are so deeply invested in Israel that, when we criticise Israel, we attack them. Ergo, we hate Jews.
Political language degraded
What’s most obvious about this new supposed outbreak of bigotry among wide sections of western public opinion is that for the first time in history anti-semitism apparently has little or nothing to do with Jews – except in the minds of those making the accusation.
It is barely fanciful nowadays to imagine a time soon – after Israel and Saudi Arabia go public with their new love affair and their continual plotting against Iran – when it will be judged anti-semitic to criticise Riyadh for chopping off heads or the oil industry for setting the planet on fire.
This degrading of political language to the point of absurdity isn’t accidental. While those claiming to worry about anti-semitism are busy defaming every leftwing argument made against the current neoliberal order, real anti-semitism – the rightwing kind that actually targets and sometimes kills Jews – mostly gets a free pass.
Real Jew-haters and Nazi sympathisers get the space to tell us how much they love Israel. Some of them, such as Hungary’s leader, Viktor Orban, can even rely on a warm handshake from Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
If the left try to point out what is going on, or suggest that the charge of anti-semitism is being “weaponised” to silence us, we are accused of promoting a conspiracy theory and one that – yes – has echoes of “anti-semitic tropes”.
The message of the anti-semitism witch-hunters to the left is simple: Shut up or be smeared over and over again.
Obsessed with Jews
It is worth pausing to note that there are plenty of neocons who are not Jewish promoting these endless “humanitarian interventions” that destroy other countries. There are also lots of lobbyists in Washington fighting for ugly causes who have nothing to do with Jewish communities or with Israel.
There are lots of bankers helping to gamble away the economy who are not Jewish. In fact, a large majority of them aren’t. Most capitalists – the people socialists tend to dislike – aren’t Jews either.
Most of the Blairite MPs trying to stop a Corbyn-led Labour party coming to power aren’t Jews, even if Luciana Berger thinks that anti-semitism is the only possible explanation for her constituency party wanting to be rid of her, rather than her threats to help set up a rival party.
True, Israel has mostly Jews living in it (though many Jews do not live there). But it is not Jews who are being berated by critics of Israel, it is a fully fledged, and highly militarised, state with its own political interests to advance that may not, let’s be frank, entirely mesh with those of other states or with the wider cause of human rights.
Almost all criticism of Israel targets its army command, which is oppressing another people; or its government, which refuses to engage in peace talks and to stop building illegal settlements; or its secret services, which carry out rogue operations on foreign shores and try to promote destabilising wars.
In fact, it is those who fearmonger about a “leftwing” or “new anti-semitism” – presumably to distinguish it from the actual harmful variety – who are the ones obsessed with Jews.
It is they, not us, who premise their arguments on an assumption that the wars they condone are promoted only by Jews, that the Israel lobby represents all Jews, and that the capitalist class are Jewish.
Conversely it is they, not us, who imply that only the “wrong kind of Jews” are anti-Zionists, or that the only disloyal Labour MPs are Jewish ones, or that Jews are incapable of opposing regime change operations that advance US control over global oil resources.
In fact, these anti-semitism “watchdogs” no longer even bother to conceal the fact that their accusations of anti-semitism are intended as smears rather than as serious assessments of a rising tide of bigotry.
Tony Greenstein, an anti-Zionist Jew expelled by Labour party bureaucrats after a concerted campaign to character-assassinate him as an anti-semite, took one of his accusers to court, the grossly misnamed “charity” the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, in a libel action.
The CAA had claimed that Greenstein was a “notorious anti-semite”. “Notorious”, let us remember, means “famous or well-known”. So it should have proved a doddle for a well-funded charity that deals in little else but tackling anti-semitism to support its claim.
Strangely, however, when given a chance to produce the evidence before the UK High Court, the CAA declined to do so. In fact, rather than use the standard defence against libel, claiming their remarks were a “statement of fact” – or what used to be termed “justification” – the CAA resorted to the much weaker defence of “honest opinion”.
Traditionally in libel cases against media outlets, reporters have had to show they had a factual basis for their reporting, while opinion-writers could duck out under claims of “fair comment”, which allowed for muckraking and provocative viewpoints.
“Honest opinion” allows you to state falsehoods, and puts responsibility on your victim to prove the near-impossible: that you did so maliciously. In short, you can defame as long as you can claim you did so in good faith.
What the CAA has indicated is that when it describes someone as an anti-semite, it does not need to base its accusation on evidence (such as a clear statement of prejudice against Jews) but rather root it in hearsay or its own hunches. In other words, the CAA is consciously playing fast and loose with the definition at the heart of its mandate. It is hollowing out the meaning of anti-semitism to politicise it.
The CAA’s legal manoeuvres confirm that the charge of anti-semitism has indeed been weaponised to silence political dissidents – just as critics, myself included, have long been claiming.
Right kind of Jew
Of course, the CAA is far from alone in pursuing this strategy. It is precisely the reason all those anti-semitism claims are being thrown around recklessly to silence anyone who wishes to disrupt the status quo – the constant warmongering, the neoliberal rape of the planet, and the entrenchment of a carbon-based economy that threatens imminent collapse of a climate conducive to most life.
Lots of rightwingers would like to use the anti-semitism smear to win political arguments in the more unruly, less predictable political environment we currently inhabit. But sadly for them, it only sounds credible when status-quo-loving centrist and rightwing Jews use it. Which is why we hear them using it so much.
It was why TV gameshow assistant Rachel Riley was taken seriously rather than ridiculed as she suggested to her hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers that Owen Jones, a diehard soft Zionist and fairweather Corbyn supporter, and Noam Chomsky (or Chomski, as Riley misspelt his name), a dissident Jewish intellectual, were anti-semites.
Both were characterised by her as “far left”, which is now treated as synonymous with “anti-semitic” in the rightwingers’ playbook.
Astoundingly, Riley was liberally spraying around the anti-semitism smear even as she made a series of anti-semitic statements during a TV interview that unusually failed to register on the radar of the usually vigilant anti-semitism “watchdogs”.
She observed that she didn’t look like a “typical Jew” (no hooked nose, Rachel?) and argued that her previous use of the expression “Bloody Jews again” wasn’t anti-semitic. She also implied that criticism of Israel shouldn’t be allowed because it was offensive to Jews (thereby conflating Jewish people with Israel, as well as denying anti-Zionist Jews a voice).
But then again, Rachel Riley can’t be anti-semitic because she, unlike Tony Greenstein, is the “right kind of Jew”. She’s on the right.
The danger of an own goal
There is a glaring danger in this abuse of the anti-semitism allegation, even if the CAA and Israel apologists like Riley refuse to see to it. And it is not just that their deceptions, their distortions of an important word’s meaning, cheapen and weaken its power when it’s needed most.
It’s not just that anti-semitism as a term of denunciation will be limp by the time those nasty European and American white supremacists remember that their love of Israel and their hatred of Jews can work hand-in-hand, as it did for earlier anti-semites like Britain’s Lord Balfour, by exiling local Jews to far-off Israel, where they will be welcomed by a state committed to a demographic war with the native Palestinian population.
No, the biggest problem is that the constant misuse and abuse of the anti-semitism charge serves to reinforce popular rightwing anti-semitism, the kind of anti-semitism that actually endangers real-live Jews rather than simply antagonising an ethnic supremacist state that claims to represent Jews.
If the anti-semitism “watchdogs” keep misusing anti-semitism – misrepresenting the left by employing language that assumes all neocons are Jews, all lobbyists, all bankers, all capitalists – they will feed the current revival of real, rightwing anti-semitism.
When they behave as if disloyal Labour MPs are all Jews, when they encourage the perception that it is Jews, rather than Labour rightwingers, who are the ones rigging the political system on the left to their advantage, they risk pushing those dabbling with leftwing politics into the arms of the far-right.
Their actions, inadvertently or not, will feed the idea that Jews control the economy, Jews control politics, Jews have all the money, Jews wage wars, Jews always get their way.
The reality, of course, is that it is the powerful, a class of the super-rich, who control the world to their own advantage – and the great majority of them are not Jewish. But the anti-semitism vigilantes aren’t concerned about nuance, about detail. They’re too busy keeping the left down to notice that the far-right is rearing up behind them.