LATELY, a realisation had pained me that I was once fond of British MP Margaret Hodge for her sharpness in grilling the British society’s millionaires to cut them down to size. She once held the coveted chair of the select committee, in the United Kingdom, on tax avoidance. Since then perhaps, I had given her little thought until she made that foul-mouthed, slanderous and — in any other context than a ‘McCarthyesque’ circus whose real target happens to be the first Labour leader — outlandish attack on Jeremy Corbyn almost a year ago.
Then came Giladgate and the suspension of Labour MP Chris Williamson for defending Israeli Jewish musician and a vehement critic not only of his own state but ‘a particular subset of Jews’ — Gilad Atzmon.
I have heard others stress upon that term — a particular subset of Jews. Those who call Atzmon anti-Semitic in Britain have rarely, in my experience, taken the trouble to read him in the round except for a few cherry-picked quotes. I blame a confusion Atzmon is at pains to disentangle.
Anti-Semitism is rising sharply across Europe, experts have said, as France reported a 74 per cent increase in the number of offences against the Jews in 2018 and Germany said that the number of violent, anti-Semitic attacks had surged by more than 60 per cent.
Hungary has told the UK Jewish Group to ‘mind it’s own business’ over the issue of anti-Semitism. The figures confirm the results of three recent Europe-wide surveys showing Jewish people feel at greater risk and are experiencing markedly more aggression amidst a generalised increase in racist hate speech and violence in a significantly coarser, more polarised political environment.
In the largest ever survey of Jewish anti-Semitism opinion, addressing more than 16,000 Jewish people in 12 European countries, the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency said at the end of 2018 that anti-Semitic hate speech, harassment and an increasing fear of being recognised as Jewish were becoming the new normal.
‘Decades after the Holocaust, shocking and mounting levels of anti-Semitism continue to plague the EU’, the FRA director, Michael O’Flaherty, said. ‘Jewish people have a right to live freely, without hate and without fear for their safety.’
The 28-nation Eurobarometer poll released in June has revealed a widening gulf between public perceptions of anti-Semitism and those of the Jewish community: while 89 per cent of Jewish people polled said anti-Semitism had ‘significantly increased’, over the past five years, only 36 per cent of the general public felt it had.
Another major recent survey of public attitudes for the CNN found more than a fifth of the 7,000 people polled in seven countries believed Jewish people have too much influence on finance and politics while 34 per cent felt that they knew little or nothing about the Holocaust even if 32 per cent still thought that Jews exploited it to ‘advance their position.’
In famous book The Wandering Who?: A Study of Jewish Identity Politics, he sets out three understandings of Jewishness. One refers to those born Jewish, another to followers of ethical values and spiritual disciplines encoded in the Torah. To make important generalisations about either is absurd; to make important negative generalisations a double disgrace, a moral affront in and of itself and a moral affront in light of a thousand years of the western history culminating in Hitler.
The third understanding, however, refers to ‘Jews identifying as members of a superior race’. These last, says Atzmon, ‘are the Jews I speak of in such negative terms and whom I urge to question their arrogant assumptions’.
If these are the words of an anti-Semite; you may call me one too. I have not encountered that third category in personal life. The Jews I know and count as friends are on the left or at any rate liberal. (Nor do any belong to Atzmon’s second category; with a few exceptions I do not much rub shoulders with religious types, whatever brand they smoke). But this reflects the demography of my world.
In the Never Again culture of Israel and the powerhouses of London and New York City, they do exist, and I applaud the man’s courageous, principled and costly stance of calling them out.
The talk of cherry-picking brings us in this context back to Dame Hodge, who adorns the preamble of this story.
Three nights ago, she was on ‘Newsnight’ to slam the reinstatement of Chris Williamson. In so doing, she issued another slander, folded into an aside on the man Williamson had, with guilt by association a standard smear in Stalinist McCarthyite and other forms of witch hunt, defended at no small cost.
The next day that man responded with clear proof that Hodge, probably through ignorance as much as malice had profoundly misunderstood a statement he had made. Here then is Gilad Atzmon on the subject of Margaret Hodge on the subject of Chris Williamson.
I offer it not because Hodge is important although as the above photo shows she still commands respect within the Labour Party. I offer it because great care is called for when examining issues not intrinsically difficult but so buried by obfuscation and mendacity, so emotionally charged and in this case so tightly bound with the quite different agenda of ousting Corbyn.
On these matters, Hodge’s interventions are at best crass, ignorant and spiteful. At best, and in this, she exemplifies so much that is rotten in our political classes and debased media.
One might also read Atzmon’s written response, addressed more at Lord Falconer than Dame Hodge. After rebutting accusations of holocaust denial, he concludes:
‘I categorically deny being an anti-Semite. Crucially, I have never been charged or even questioned about anything I said or wrote by any law enforcement authority anywhere in the world. That Lord Falconer accuses an innocent citizen, one with an absolutely clean record, of being “guilty”, and the BBC presenter does not challenge or even question Falconer’s assertion is a clear indication that Britain is now a lawless place… an authoritarian society governed by a compromised political class. Britain has become uninhabitable for intellectuals, truth tellers and peace lovers. Sad it is but no longer a surprise.’
In this context, we should note three ironies. One is that this same Labour right applauded the Maidan Square coup which brought anti-Semites, the real kind, into the Kiev administration to embolden Ukraine’s far and thoroughly anti-Semitic right (as when in 2017 thousands of nationalists marched in Kiev to celebrate the birthday of Stepan Bandera.) Another, related, is that in devaluing the anti-Semite term, which is what you do when you call Corbyn one, you let real anti-Semites off the hook. A third is that like the west at large, Israel, I mention this given how many names on Tom Watson’s tweet are in Labour Friends of Israel, has again and again been willing to work with anti-Semites, also the real kind, in pursuit of its agendas.
Again, the nature of Israel, both as a racist state and to borrow from a Stephen Gowans book, as a ‘beachhead for imperialism’ from which to control the middle east is obviously relevant in more than one ways. Here I confine myself to the observation that Israeli Jewish critics of Israel, like white South African members of the ANC in the apartheid era, exemplify, whatever other traits they may demonstrate, considerable courage.
And finally, I am aware of a revival outside the traditional circles of western Communist parties of interest in defending Stalin. At one level, this is understandable. Given the corruption of our media and political systems, it can be tempting to assume that whomever our rulers and their servants hold up as paragons of virtue or as monstrosity incarnate will be the opposite.
I would go so far as to say such reasoning will more often than not deliver broadly accurate results. It is certainly no substitute for proper investigation, however, and I am planning to write something that addresses not so much the brutality of Stalin as his ‘criminal incompetence’.
After swastikas were daubed this week on portraits on Paris postboxes of Simone Veil, the late French Holocaust survivor and politician Jean Veil, her son, told RTL radio that ‘at bottom, we knew the leprosy was still there’.
Nazarul Islam is a former educator based in Chicago.
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