It seems the UK mainstream media does not have a monopoly on inaccuracy and – dare one say it? – bias regarding the story on ‘anti-Semitism’ in the Labour Party.
Here’s Kenan Malik’s piece in today’s (May 3) New York Times. It’s a very odd affair which I’m reblogging here in its entirety, along with my own notes on its inaccuracies and questionables.
LONDON — It has, admitted Sadiq Khan, the Labour Party’s candidate in the election this week for London mayor, become “more difficult for Londoners of Jewish faith to feel that the Labour Party is a place for them.” (1)
In recent days, the Labour Party has been embroiled in a furious dispute over the attitudes of some members toward Jews. Two leading figures, Naseem Shah, a member of Parliament for a Bradford constituency, and Ken Livingstone, a former London mayor and a member of Labour’s National Executive Committee, were suspended from the party for what were condemned as anti-Semitic remarks. Ms. Shah had suggested in a social media post that Israel be “relocated” to the United States (2), while Mr. Livingstone had tried to defend her by claiming that Adolf Hitler had been a Zionist (3).
It is not the first such uproar: In February, the party was forced to open an investigation into the Oxford University Labour Club, and in March to suspend some councilors and activists accused of anti-Semitism. All this has led a number of prominent Jews — including the novelist Howard Jacobson, the former senior BBC executive Danny Cohen and The Financial Times’s managing editor, Robert Shrimsley— to withdraw support from Labour.
For others, however, the controversies reveal not Labour’s anti-Semitism but a campaign by the party’s enemies to discredit it. “It’s a smear to say that Labour has a problem with anti-Semitism,” claimed Diane Abbott, a senior Labour spokeswoman.
There is little question that Labour’s opponents — and internal critics of the party’s left-wing leader, Jeremy Corbyn — have exploited the issue for factional gain. Nor is it hard to see the hypocrisy. Boris Johnson, the current mayor of London and a leading figure in the Conservative Party, said that Labour had been infected by the “virus of anti-Semitism.” A week earlier, he had exposed his own racial sensitivity, dismissing President Obama’s support for Britain’s membership of the European Union as the animus of a “part-Kenyan president” with an “ancestral dislike of the British Empire.”
This acquiescence is rooted in the changing character of the left in recent years. Anti-Semitism used to be a problem primarily of the right. It wasn’t that the left had a totally clean bill of health — there is a history of left-wing anti-Semitism — but its firm foundation of universal values and egalitarian principles established a proud tradition of fighting bigotry against Jews.
In recent decades, however, much of the left has retreated from these commitments. Where before radicals challenging inequality and oppression did so in the name of universal rights, many now stress multiculturalism, celebrating a world divided into distinct cultures, each with its own ideas, beliefs and values. Such “identity politics” turns on its head the dictum of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (4) that one should judge people “not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Once identity becomes the primary feature of political life, then people are judged as much by the group to which they belong as by their character or principles.
Identity politics has made it easier to hold all Jews responsible for the actions of the State of Israel and to go after Jews simply for being Jews. As the distinction between criticizing ideas and fingering a group has eroded, there has been a slippage from anti-Zionist activism into outright anti-Semitism. (5) Many who support the Palestinians now seem genuinely unable to distinguish between criticizing the policies of the Israeli government and sowing hatred against a people. (6)
The reverse is also true: Many supporters of Israel today deem anti-Semitic any criticism of Zionism on the ground that it denies Jewish self-determination. That, too, is to confuse legitimate criticism of an ideology with illegitimate bigotry.
Along with the embrace of identity politics has come a proliferation of conspiracy theories. The notion that global affairs are secretly controlled by hidden actors with a malevolent agenda — a classic trope of anti-Semitism — was once a fringe view. Today, such ideas have moved out of the shadows and into the mainstream. Many on the left routinely view public life as manipulated by cabals of bankers, media moguls and the like. Through this process, old canards about Jews have found a new currency. (7)
The final issue, and perhaps the one most difficult to broach for many on the left, is the growth of Muslim communities in the West. “It pains me to have to admit this,” wrote Mehdi Hasan, one of Britain’s leading left-wing Muslim voices, in 2013, “but anti-Semitism isn’t just tolerated in some sections of the British Muslim community, it’s routine and commonplace.”
Last month, an opinion poll of British Muslims bore out Mr. Hasan’s contention. It showed a significant proportion of British Muslims — 30 percent to 40 percent — clinging to virtually every conspiracy theory about Jews: that they held too much power over government, the media, business and world affairs. (8)
It is not that Labour’s leadership is anti-Semitic. What is troubling has been its unwillingness to call out those who are. And that is true of too many on the left.
1. How does Sadiq Khan know Jewish Londoners will find it harder to vote Labour? He hasn’t asked them.
2. Naz Shah did not suggest that Israel be relocated to the States. She retweeted a satirical image that had been created in response to suggestions that all Palestinians should be forcibly relocated to Jordan or Saudi Arabia.
3. Ken Livingstone never claimed Hitler was a Zionist. Indeed, in his infamous stairwell confrontation with fellow Labour MP John Mann, he declared that Hitler was an ANTI-Zionist.
4. It is interesting that the article quotes Martin Luther King. His comment, “Never forget: Everything Hitler did in Germany was legal” was among the tweets that led to Naz Shah’s suspension as people who should have known better mistakenly chose to interpret it as support for Hitler against Jews.
5. It is hard to argue the point about identity politics when Naz Shah’s retweets were responses to actions by the state of Israel, and Ken Livingstone’s comments about Zionism referred to a very particular agreement between Nazis and German Zionists. Neither said anything about Jews as a race.
6. The comment, “Many who support the Palestinians now seem genuinely unable to distinguish between criticizing the policies of the Israeli government and sowing hatred against a people” seems out of place. How does it relate to the UK Labour Party’s problem? The reverse argument is a more accurate description of the issue.
7. Who has been uttering the conspiracy theories mentioned, in relation to the current issue? Nobody, to my knowledge, apart from those who would accuse Labour.
8. How does the author equate his comments about anti-Semitism among Muslims with the activities of Sadiq Khan, who is a Muslim MP keen to win the support of Jewish Londoners? The two don’t mesh, therefore the available evidence suggests it would be wrong to accuse Muslim Labour members of this behaviour. And it is Labour under the microscope, here.
9. While he was Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone enacted policies that reduced anti-Semitic crime. Since he was ousted from that post, such crimes have increased. Why is this not mentioned, to balance the comment about the Egyptian cleric.
10. Similarly, Jeremy Corbyn undoubtedly has to deal in friendly terms with people he doesn’t like, every day. The author appears to be suggesting that the Hamas and Hezbollah delegates were his personal friends, but where is the proof? Does Mr Corbyn have Jewish friends, or has this not been researched?
Perhaps a rewrite is in order, with a little more attention to the facts?
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