Misunderstanding what is divisive

Perhaps Antony Lerman supposes he has “creatively exploited and managed” antisemitism “in such a way as to generate vibrant and relevant discussion about issues of the moment”.

Implicating the Community Security Trust (one of the major Jewish organisations which records, investigates and organises against antisemitism) in Jewish community rifts, he opines that calling for research into antisemitism in Scotland is somehow divisive and “grounds for concern seem slight”.

“So while research on antisemitism should always be encouraged, how will it help Jews in Scotland if it throws up the existence of a Holocaust denier on the Mull of Kintyre?”

Well, wouldn’t it be a great relief to discover that antisemitism in Scotland was emanating from a solitary remote Holocaust denier? Those of us who’ve been worrying that there is something more to it could have a hearty laugh at our mistake, pack up, and go joyfully about our business again. It is strange that the former director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research has no spirit of inquiry to discover what is behind the incidents.

I’d like to hear from anybody who has the urge to diminish reports of antisemitism, after a week shadowing one of the visibly observant Jews who have approached SCOJEC and The CST. Reading Antony Lerman’s piece, you’d think they somehow didn’t matter. It’s wrong to suppose that community renewal can be achieved through diminishing their experiences and fears. It’s head-burying to attempt to address politicisation of racism by diminishing the effects of that racism on its targets.

The Community Security Trust’s Head of Communications Mark Gardner comments on the post (9 Jun 2010, 3:02PM):

“I stressed that the vast majority of Glasgow’s Jews are not visibly Jewish, and lead a comfy enough existence in largely white middle class neighbourhoods where street thuggery, street crime, gangs, racism and antisemitism were very rare. I noted that many of them would drive to work in their cars and did not have to use public transport.

I then said that antisemitism, like any racism, impacts against the more vulnerable sections of the community – schoolchildren who wear kippot on their heads and use public transport; people who are literally the only Jew in the village, or on the council estate etc.

I noted that these were the people who had felt vulnerable and isolated and had consequently turned to SCOJEC expressing alarm at the atmosphere they perceived during Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza last year. I said that I was proud to work with SCOJEC in representing these people’s concerns to Scottish Govt, Police and others, so that they did not feel alone and so that strategies could be developed to prevent things getting any worse.

In any other context, I suspect that Guardian readers would be horrified to read an article such as Tony Lerman’s: an article that basically mocks people’s fears about racism (eg his line about Holocaust deniers on the Mull of Kintyre, which carries far more strength than his emotion free mantra “any incidents are to be deplored”.)

The frightened contacts to SCOJEC and CST from Scottish victims of antisemitism last year were not figments of our imagination. What do you want us to do? Tell these people to stop being such Zionists, to go put a kilt on, eat a black pudding, drink some Irn Bru, buy a house in Whitecraigs, and then everything will be ok?”

6 Responses to “Misunderstanding what is divisive”

  1. Absolute Observer Says:

    I could only bear to go half way down on the comments on cif.

    They are instructive.

    But good for Tony.

    I can’t think of anything better to do with one’s time than undermining anti-racist work. How very, very brave of him, especially in the present climate and in a forum like “comment is free”. A true hero.

    “The Jewish Lobby/Press or whatever you want to call it often seems to find threats everywhere, though that not say some dont exists. I can however having been on some stop the war marches see why they feel isolated or targeted. Some Pro-Palestinian activitsts are thugs, much like the SDL they are only out to fight with the police. There are racists and hooligan on both sides. BOth sides need to rain in those within their groups/organisations who have no interest in peace but simple causing discord.”

    “The claim that there is ‘growing antisemitism in Scotland’ comes from the Jewish centre for Public Affairs article by Collins and Borowski. This article states;

    Recently there has been a significant increase, much of it associated with events in the Middle East. Specifically, the Scottish trade union movement has pursued a policy of boycotting Israel despite a dialogue with the Jewish community aimed at understanding both sides of the conflict.

    My conclusion is that this attempt to highlight growing antisemitism is more to do with countering the perfectly legitimate actions of trades unionists and members of the public in Scotland who protest against and try to influence the intolerable tratment of the Palestinian people by the Israeli government.

    It is nothing to do with anti-semitism, and that accusation is the usual pro-Zionist propaganda that had become so prevelant in British media as it attempts to defend the indefensible”

    “Sounds like they are trying to stir up anti semitism for propaganda reasons.”

    “There was a member of a non-religious Jewish group at the demonstration in George Square, Glasgow, last Monday following the murders on the flotilla. He received the largest round of applause from all those gathered (mainly Arab and Pakistani Moslems) for his reasonable analysis and condemnation of the IDF’s actions.”

    Israel and it’s cheerleaders have devalued the phrase “antisemitic” to almost the point of meaninglessness by constantly misusing it to cast opponents of Israel in a bad light and avoid dealing with the issues they raise. That this goes on all the time can be seen on any I/P thread on CiF after 5 minutes.

    How can you tell the real antisemites from those falsely accused?”

    “Criticism of Israel has been so conflated with the term antisemitic by those who wish to defend the Israeli state actions against the Palestinians, that the term is losing all currency.

    How can you take seriously the term antisemitic, which is at the heart of this issue, when the term itself has been so abused by Israeli supporters in the Palestinian debate? It has come to mean almost any criticism related in anyway to people who may be connected with Israel. On this basis it is an intellectually dishonest term and devalued by some of the very people that seek to use it as a stick to beat any Palestinian supporter with.”

    “I have questioned the motives of many of the accusations of antisemitism on CiF, so that makes me, obviously, an antisemite! Not a direct accusation of-course. An inference.

    Could I utter enough hail Mary’s to be forgiven? Doubtful, it’s simply galling to be called a bigot just because I disagree with the actions of the Israeli government and think that the slur of antisemitism is being fatally undermined in it’s cause.

    I’m afraid your hats won’t fit me, but I realise that won’t stop you trying to make them.”

    “the point you seem unable to grasp.
    When Israel and Palestine are in the news
    Jewis people DO get attacked.
    [the response to ths]
    The point you seem to have trouble with is that criticism of Israel doesn’t equate to antisemitism.
    It’s not up to you to give anyone a hat, by the way. Far too many people in the ‘support Israel’ camp have a tendency to claim their opponents are anti-semites, or the Guardian is anti-semitic, or some other bit of guff designed to derail criticism.

    Maybe you should be looking at yourself and your own tendencies?”

    “The point YOU seem unable to grasp is that that doesn’t make any of the posters on CiF one iota more or less antisemitic. I’m obviously not denying the existence of antisemitism, simply saying that the phrase is being devalued by inappropriate use, by of all people, Jews. ”

    “Note that anti-semitism often includes accusing someone of “dual loyalty”.

    It’s absurd to think that this is true of Jews as a group, but I know of at least a few Cif columnists and commenters who appear to place Israel’s interests above those of their own country. Personally, I think this is fine in principle, since mindlessly supporting your own country over others come what may is daft, but even if it were not it’s absurd that it should be considered racist to point out a manifest fact.

    What’s the point of complaining about anti-semitism when the working definitions are so plainly barmy?”

  2. Bill Says:

    I’ll blow some bubbles in the bathtub and say that it’s not even about finding 1, 2 or as many as 200+ holocaust deniers in Scotland. Once again, that’s caricaturing anti-semitism and putting prejudice on a pedestal so you don’t have to worry about the real McCoy. It’s about identifying 1, 2 or 200 people who expect Jews to stop being so Jewish, insist on convenient unilateral globalizing of Zionism so Jews can be targeted locally for criticism over Israel, demand that Jews criticize Israel “as-a-Jew” when asked by non-Jews (even as we are now told, as a “third and least desirable option”), and all the other things that would never be acceptable if applied to any other group.

    Or as AO says, you can find a few commenters on CIF who flunk the Cinderella Test and call it a day.

  3. Absolute Observer Says:

    You raise an interesting point.
    The benchmark for “real” antisemitism is either Holocaust denial or putting Jews into gas chambers. What is overlooked is the connection between contemporary expressions of antisemitism and non-racist versions (that is, the ones in the posts above – secret lobbies, Jews crying antisemitism to protect their brethren, etc.) Lerman plays on this well in his cif post.

    • Bill Says:

      …and imagine the screems of blue murder if people were to say that racism is burning a cross on a lawn, as opposed to constantly assigning starting faculty from underrepresented groups to service gen-ed classes (where it’s been proven that student opinion surveys tend to skew down). Or sexism is smacking a co-ed on the ass, not steering her to one major over another that she’s interested in ’cause the math requirement’s lower. But there actually have been apologists for the UCU’s stunts saying that antisemitism is best described by The Protocols — and not what they’re doing (go fig!). And they seem to be able to get away with it!

      Heck, I’d you held the gun at my head and told me to chose between 10 David Irvings or one part-time FTE of Tom Hickey, I’m going for the curtain number one!

  4. Joe Says:

    Tony has had it in for the CST for a while now. After he rejoined JPR, articles by CST researchers were deleted from the JPR website. And this is the guy who talks about being silenced.

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