The Guardian: “Anti-Semitic whatever the intentions”

January 31, 2002


1. "Anti-semitic - whatever the intentions" (The Guardian, Letters, January 30, 2002)
2. "A new anti-Semitism?" (The Guardian, Leader, January 26, 2002)
3. "Israel's critics" (The Guardian, Letters, January 31, 2002)
4. "Writers and Zionism" (The Guardian, Letters, January 29, 2002)
5. "The anti-Semitism debate" (The Guardian, Letters, January 28, 2002)


The Guardian letters page has in recent days carried a number of letters praising its editorial of last weekend, titled "A new anti-semitism? Not to be confused with anti-Sharonism." Below, by contrast, is one of the letters that criticizes the editorial, followed by the editorial itself.

-- Tom Gross


Anti-semitic whatever the intentions
The Guardian
Letters Page
January 30, 2002

Your leader (A new anti-semitism? January 26) illustrates why so many British Jews are increasingly disturbed by the left-liberal media. The premise that our representative bodies routinely condemn media coverage of Israel as anti-semitic is a gross and oft-repeated misrepresentation of the community's position.

Many British Jews reacted with incredulity when sections of the left-liberal media started using Israel as an excuse for Bin Laden's terrorism. This crass scapegoating, combined with biased anti-Israel reportage, formed the backdrop for the second and third worst months of physical anti-semitic attacks ever recorded - attacks that took encouragement from the dubious legitimacy conferred by media demonisation of Israel and its supporters. The link between systematic anti-Israel bias and anti-semitic attacks is well proven, and drives Jewish community concerns at the scale and nature of left-liberal media coverage of Israel.

Your editorial concludes that anti-semitism should be "unreservedly" condemned. This is a fine sentiment, but the Jewish community will not leave the definition of anti-semitism to the Guardian. This, after all, is a newspaper that regularly features Faisal Bodi ("Israel has no right to exist"); and last year published, on the inauguration of Holocaust Memorial Day, an advert comparing Israel with Nazi Germany.

Guardian writers and readers can pontificate on whether or not these actions are in themselves anti-semitic, but they should not doubt that their appearance in the paper means that their effect is anti-semitic, regardless of the publisher's intention.

Neville Nagler
Director general, Board of Deputies of British Jews



A new anti-semitism?
Not to be confused with anti-Sharonism
The Guardian
January 26, 2002,4273,4343593,00.html

"Among educated people," wrote George Orwell in February 1945, "anti-semitism is held to be an unforgiveable sin, and in quite a different category from other kinds of racial prejudice." It would be comforting to think the same holds true today. But there is a growing feeling within some influential sections of the Jewish community in Britain that there is a resurgence of an old prejudice in a form at once elusive and unpleasant. The Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks, is shortly to give a lecture entitled "A new anti-semitism?" The liberal Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz has recently published a long article on the same subject (omitting the question mark). The president of the Board of Deputies, Jo Wagerman, is quoted saying: "One is very aware that, recently, Britain isn't the same."

How does this new spirit manifest itself? It is a fragmented picture. Conrad Black accuses sections of the British media including the Independent, the Guardian and the BBC of "wittingly or not, stoking the inferno of anti-semitism." His wife, Barbara Amiel, believes she has encountered a newly confident anti-semitism in what she terms "London's political salon scene". Greville Janner, a former president of the Board of Deputies, singles out the New Statesman (which recently published a crude illustration, along with the crass use of the word "kosher") as being explicitly anti-semitic. In the same breath he accuses the Guardian of being "viciously and notoriously anti-Israel". Ha'aretz identifies two prime sources of anxiety amongst the British Jews the paper interviewed: the "left-liberal media" and certain elements within the UK's 2m-strong Muslim community. The Ha'aretz article concludes: "The Jews lump all these together and are worried."

It would help greatly if there was some rapid un-lumping of all these diverse strands. To start with what should be the most obvious thread: it is perfectly decent and defensible to believe that Ariel Sharon is engaged in a policy towards the Palestinians that is short-sighted, brutal and ultimately doomed. To say so makes one anti-Sharonist. It does not make one anti-Israel any more than being anti-Mugabe makes one anti-Zimbabwe or being anti-Rumsfeld makes one anti-America. It certainly does not make one anti-semitic.

For as long as Sharon stumbles down this cul-de-sac of his own making, Britain's Jewish community better get used to hearing Israel spoken of in despairing and often acerbic terms just as many despair of a hopeful future for a Palestinian state so long as Arafat lingers on impotently and corruptly. Ellen Dahrendorf, chair of the New Israel Fund's British branch, put it well in Ha'aretz: "What might actually feed anti-semitism is an absolute defence of Israel-right-or-wrong, because Jews would be seen as defending the indefensible."

All this is not to say that there has not been what the writer Dan Jacobson, terms "a lowering of barriers" inhibiting anti-semitism. That is troubling. And the Jewish community is right to fear that the repulsive anti-semitism which is routine in many Arab countries and among some Palestinians can find an alarming echo within some British Muslim communities. We should acknowledge, as the Macpherson report on Stephen Lawrence did, that nobody is immune from the possibility of prejudice. That includes the liberal left. When we see it we should condemn it unreservedly. But it is precisely because anti-semitism is still so unforgiveable that it is both offensive and unwise to use the term loosely.


These are some examples of other letters in The Guardian published this week, which I attach here to show the strength of feeling among the public for and against Israel -- Tom Gross


Israel's critics
The Guardian
January 31, 2002

Criticism of Israel is not anti-semitism (Letters, January 30) just as criticism of Idi Amin was not racist and criticism of Margaret Thatcher was not anti-feminist. The horrific acts of the Nazis should not be used as a smokescreen to justify the treatment of the Palestinians by Israel. Similarly the atrocity of September the 11 does not make the Bush administration immune from criticism for subsequent acts. We are Jews. We are proud of those Jews who fought against fascism. We are proud to have fought against apartheid. We are entitled to criticise Israel and Sharon. Neville Nagler of the Board of Deputies of British Jews does not speak in our name.

Ron Press, Babette Brown, Percy Cohen



Writers and Zionism
The Guardian
January 29, 2002

Dr Tessa Rajak (Letters, January 28) wonders why the "literary classes" have a "negative obsession with the Jewish state". Obviously it can't be anything to do with that silly stuff to do with human rights. The literary classes must be, she insinuates, following the old bigotries of TS Eliot et al. Can I suggest some other possibilities? The literary world these days has plenty of Jews in its orbit but, sadly for Zionists, many of us do not think of Israel as our homeland and we reject the merging of the word "Jewish" with "Zionist". What's more, having stood up to be counted in our opposition to, say, apartheid, we can see an obvious inconsistency in keeping silent on the Palestinians.

Michael Rosen

Anti-Zionism is not anti-semitism, as my colleague David Goldberg clearly demonstrates (Let's have a sense of proportion, January 26). At the same time, anti-semites happily use the cloak of anti-Zionism to gain respectability. The anti-semitism of the literati and of the 1930s clubland lives in this 21st century. Should you not be more careful in making this veiled anti-semitism clear in your discussions?

Rabbi Dr Albert Friedlander

Robert Mugabe is deplorable and deserves the contempt of the world (Straw gets tough, January 28). But why are Tony Blair and Jack Straw unwilling to use similar measures against Ariel Sharon? Maybe he is not using British-made weapons to breach international law? Or is it the same old story of Blair and co getting sanctimonious with a weak and insignificant leader who has nobody to lobby on his behalf?

Saghir Hussain
Muslim Public Affairs Committee



The anti-Semitism debate
The Guardian
January 28, 2002

Thank you for your clear and cogent piece on the issue of opposing Ariel Sharon's policies (Leader, January 26) and for David Goldberg's courageous article on the same subject (Let's have a sense of proportion, January 26).

It is a matter of deep regret for many of us campaigning for the Palestinian people that our stance is often taken to indicate an anti-Israeli, and sometimes anti-semitic, position. Such a response merely serves to obfuscate the issues and to circumvent the need to address them.

Sharon has no desire to seek peace with the Palestinians nor to advance a just and viable solution to the conflict. While I abhor the deaths and injuries caused to innocent Israelis by the suicide bombers, Sharon's every move guarantees that the violence and suffering on both sides will escalate. Palestinian children continue to be detained in Israeli prisons without trial; innocent civilians are shot and bombed; Arafat is, in effect, under house arrest; many Palestinians are denied freedom of movement; homes are demolished in the dead of night; the settlements in the occupied territories flourish; orchards are razed to the ground, depriving the Palestinians of their livelihood; water supplies are scarce and unemployment and poverty soar.

It is because of these appalling conditions that an international movement is emerging to speak out on behalf of the Palestinians and to campaign for and with them. To label this as anti-semitic misses the point. The diminishing of any racial or religious group, the removal of their human, civil and democratic rights, is morally unacceptable and dehumanises us all.

Theresa Dean

You take comfort in the difference between anti-semitism and anti-Sharonism, but would it were all so simple. Time and again your reports have been demonstrably one-sided. Small wonder this is perceived as unreasoning hostility, nor that it alarms even the most moderate of those with a concern for Israel's future whether they are Jewish or not. As for the wider scene, who can say precisely why cultivating a negative obsession with the Jewish state has become a favourite pursuit of the literary classes? This is the atmosphere which has spawned a grotesque New Statesman cover worthy of Die Sturmer. Perhaps not a million miles from anti-semitism after all?

Dr Tessa Rajak
Editor, Journal of Jewish Studies

As an opponent of the occupation and supporter of peace groups such as Gush Shalom and Peace Now, I strongly agree with much of what both Rabbi David Goldberg and the Guardian's leader assert about confusing anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel. But I have not, as Rabbi Goldberg implies, ever commented, in print or otherwise about anti-Semitism in Britain. I have deplored the left-sectarianism of those who refuse to make common cause with those who oppose the occupation on the grounds that we are "pro-Israel." The two things are quite separate.

Linda Grant

David Goldberg says there is nothing sinister when when Jewish people are characterised as being close-knit, clever, adaptable etc. But are these "unintended compliments" any different from those attributed, for example, to black people natural sense of rhythm, gifted at sports etc. Is not this also stereotyping?

Further, the existence of "the modern accultured, broadly accepted successful Jew (sic)" in the German world before Nazism did nothing to prevent their destruction.

David Alfred

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.