Guardian Editorial, 7 February, 2009

guardianThis an editorial in The Guardian, 7 Feb, 09

Distinguishing between anti-Zionism and antisemitism has become a growth industry for every university department of cultural criticism. It is time the debate came out into the open, away from the classrooms and the academic journals. On average, there is an antisemitic attack of some kind every single day in the UK: graffiti, vandalism, arson and occasionally actual physical assault. Jewish schools have been granted extra protection. The Community Security Trust, which monitors incidents, issues frequent advice and warnings. According to the Trust the number of such incidents has risen again since Christmas, and the assault on Gaza. The government acknowledges that there is a growing problem. Responding to a two-year investigation by an all-party committee, it was decided that from this April, every police force will be required to keep a record of antisemitic offences.

This is not because – as some extremists on the right and possibly the left might claim – the government is in the pocket of a “Jewish lobby”. There is no “Jewish lobby” in the conspiratorial sense that the slur implies, and to assert that there is can only be the result of the kind of racism that has scarred Europe from tsarist Russia to the fascists and Stalinists of the 1930s through to the jihadists now. To present all Jewish people as conterminous with Israel and its supporters is a mistake with potentially terrible consequences. It aligns ethnicity with a political perspective, and it is simply racist.

The government has also recognised that there are “specific indications that, unlike other forms of racism, antisemitism is being accepted within parts of society instead of being condemned.” The left fought a long and honourable battle for racial equality, but some within its ranks now risk sloppily allowing their horror of Israeli actions to blind them to antisemitism. There is an ill-considered tendency to reach for the language of Nazism in order to excoriate Israel, regardless of its impact on the climate of tolerance. Last month, a rally in defence of the people of Gaza that included verbal attacks on the so-called “Nazi tendencies” of Israel was followed by actual attacks on Jewish targets in north London. That is not, of course, to say we should not criticise Israel and judge it by the same criteria as any other state.

It is chilling to see “kill Arabs” graffitied on homes in Gaza. But the style in which that is condemned must not create the climate that allows scrawling “kill Jews” on synagogues in Manchester. For that is what is at stake: what might merely be insensitivity can, cumulatively, erode the conditions that foster racial tolerance. For they depend not only on the laws, but on a respect for all people’s sensitivities.

Some British people who are very pleased with themselves

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