The Naz Shah Scandal Shows that the Right Has an Anti-Semitism Problem
But who cares about my opinion? I'm just a Jew.
Labour MP Naz Shah (Photo by PA)
It's hard being Jewish in Britain today. People give you strange looks and ask you stranger questions. They'll tell you without any shame exactly how you ought to feel about national and foreign politics. You can very easily get singled out and made to feel different, just because your ancestors practiced a slightly unusual faith. Strangers will start thundering at you from podiums and newspaper columns, seeming to address a general audience but really ranting directly at you, and it can make you feel afraid. But they want you to feel afraid. They keep on saying it: be afraid, Jewboy, bad things are coming for you. What's worse is that this isn't just coming from the general rabble; one of the country's main parties seems captive to Europe's oldest and most shameful hatred. Its public figures will swear up and down that they have nothing against Jews, they love Jews, they love British diversity, and what's more, they have full and unquestioning support for the state of Israel. But if they love me so much, why do they insist on shouting me down whenever I happen to disagree with them, or take a stance on the Middle East that differs from the party line? Why are they getting away with this? Why won't anyone come out and admit that the Conservative party has a problem with anti-Semitism?
If you read the papers, though, it looks like it's Labour that has the anti-Semitism problem. The story has been circulating for months now, faster and frothier with each rotation, as a detachment of journalistic shock troops ransack every inconsequential student group or constituency party, looking for someone, anyone, with negative things to say about the Jews. The latest victim is Naz Shah MP, the honourable member for Bradford West, who's been forced to resign from her post as parliamentary secretary to John McDonnell after a series of anti-Semitic facebook posts were revealed Guido Fawkes and the Jewish Chronicle. Most shocking was an image that suggested the State of Israel be removed to North America. But despite the censure, Ms Shah still retains the Labour whip. As a Telegraph leader put it, "that speaks volumes about Mr Corbyn's disgustingly inadequate response to anti-Semitism in his party." As a British Jew, I should be very afraid.
And I am. But I'm not afraid of Jeremy Corbyn or Naz Shah. I am afraid of the massed bien-pensants, those who claim to know what should be worrying me better than I do, who claim to be fighting my corner without my ever having asked for it. Naz Shah's "disgusting" Facebook posts were not about Jews; they were about the state of Israel. These are not the same thing.
It really shouldn't have to be repeated at this point, but anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism. Israel is a foreign country, halfway across the world, with a long history of carrying out some extremely unpleasant acts on its three and a half million captive Palestinians. While it may claim to be Jewish, that does not mean it can then use an entire global Jewish diaspora as one vast human shield. The Jewish people have been around for much longer than Israel; most of us never asked for it, and many of us would like to have as little to do with it as possible. When opponents of Israel treat Jews in general and the government in Jerusalem as if they were the same thing, blaming one for the actions of the other, they are rightfully condemned. Why should it be any different when the same line's coming from people who claim to support us?
I doubt I'm the only British Jew who has encountered this phenomenon: being accosted by some smiling and well-meaning philosemite, so eager to tell you how much they love our people and how much they love Israel – and when you mention that, actually, you don't see much to love in murderous tinpot regime committing atrocities in your name, everything sours, and you're treated to the strange spectacle of someone who's never held a Torah in their life accusing you of being insufficiently Jewish, of being a self-hating Jew, of not understanding your own religion. It's the same when I'm told by newspapers and politicians that as a Jew I'm required to feel threatened by any anti-Israel sentiment. It might be paternalistic and condescending rather than exterminationist, but there's a word for this attitude: it's anti-Semitism.
Of course, anti-Zionist activism has its own anti-Semites – they might not be the same thing, but they can still coexist. In my experience, though, nobody is more invested in rooting out anti-Semitism within the Palestine solidarity movement than the Palestine solidarity movement itself. Unlike the Tory operatives, rooting around for paydirt with their snouts in the muck, the movement really does have a vested interest in denying a platform to Jew-haters. The more insidious anti-Semites of the Zionist Right, meanwhile, want Palestine solidarity to be as full of neo-Nazis as possible (and, of course, to have no Jews whatsoever), the better to delegitimise it. We're told that the Left is full of anti-Semites for whom anti-Zionism is just a convenient disguise, but if that's the case, then where are they? In almost every supposed scandal over left-wing anti-Semitism – from Corbyn himself, from Naz Shah, from NUS President Malia Bouattia – it turns out that the offending statement is just a strongly worded outcry against the violence of the Israeli state. Very little of it is victimising me. But, as all those who are shocked and furious on my behalf never stop reminding me, my opinion here doesn't really matter.
The Labour anti-Semitism scandal is a purely manufactured outrage, a cynical ploy to play on the fears of ordinary Jewish people. As the Tories plunge from one crisis to another, they're desperately flailing for something that might tarnish their opponents, and they don't mind cynically instrumentalising the British Jewish community in the process. If you want to seek out the real anti-Semitism in British politics, you might need to look elsewhere. For most of our history, anti-Semitism hasn't come from the Left – which has always been, to a greater or lesser extent, pretty Jewish itself – but the Right. All those taloned aristos, faces drained ashes-white at the thought of the grubby hirsute Jews joining their golf clubs or marrying their daughters; all those Eton boys marching with Mosley or deciding that if the Jews couldn't be wiped out, a temporary solution might be to ship them all to Palestine. In 2015, Labour went to the polls led by Ed Miliband, a man who could have been Britain's first Jewish Prime Minister since 1880. The press crowed over his inability to eat a bacon sandwich; Jeremy Paxman dismissed him as a "north London geek". And it's true; the man was useless – skinny, indecisive, and strange. But it just so happens that these traits are the cornerstone of a well-worn anti-Semitic stereotype, one that's far more damaging to people like me than any outrage against a distant nation's crimes. I hope that conservatives will issue a full apology soon.
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