Monday, October 10, 2005

Leftist Anti-Semitism In Britain


Damn, am I picking on the British today, or what? Nick Cohen, from the New Statesman:


On the Saturday of the great anti-war demonstration of 2003, I watched one million people march through London, then sat down to write for the Observer. I pointed out that the march organisers represented a merger of far left and far right: Islamic fundamentalists shoulder to shoulder with George Galloway, the Socialist Workers Party and every other creepy admirer of totalitarianism this side of North Korea. Be careful, I said. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq has spewed out predatory armies and corpses for decades. If you’re going to advocate a policy that would keep a fascist dictator in power, you should at least talk to his victims, whose number included socialists, communists and liberals - good people, rather like you.

Next day I looked at my e-mails. There were rather a lot of them. The first was a fan letter from Ann Leslie, the Daily Mail’s chief foreign correspondent, who had seen the barbarism of Ba’athism close up. Her cheery note ended with a warning: “You’re not going to believe the anti-Semitism that is about to hit you.” “Don’t be silly, Ann,” I replied. “There’s no racism on the left.” I worked my way through the rest of the e-mails. I couldn’t believe the anti-Semitism that hit me.

I learned it was one thing being called “Cohen” if you went along with liberal orthodoxy, quite another when you pointed out liberal betrayals. Your argument could not be debated on its merits. There had to be a malign motive. You had to support Ariel Sharon. You had to be in the pay of “international” media moguls or neoconservatives. You had to have bad blood. You had to be a Jew.

My first reaction was so ignoble I blush when I think of it. I typed out a reply that read, “but there hasn’t been a Jewish member of my family for 100 years”. I sounded like a German begging a Gestapo officer to see the mistake in the paperwork. Mercifully, I hit the “delete” button before sending.

Rather than pander to racism, I directed my correspondents to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, a member of the Socialist International which had decided after being on the receiving end of one too many extermination drives that foreign invasion was the only way. No good. I tried sending them to the Iraqi Communist Party, which opposed the invasion but understood the possibilities for liberation beyond the fine minds of the western intelligentsia. No good, either.

As the months passed, and Iraqis were caught between a criminally incompetent occupation and an “insurgency” so far to the right it was off the graph, I had it all. A leading figure on the left asked me to put him in touch with members of the new government. “I knew it! I knew it!” he cried when we next met. “They want to recognise Israel.”

I experienced what many blacks and Asians had told me: you can never tell. Where people stand on the political spectrum says nothing about their visceral beliefs. I found the far left wasn’t confined to the chilling Socialist Workers Party but contained many scrupulous people it was a pleasure to meet and an education to debate. Meanwhile, the centre was nowhere near as moderate as it liked to think. One minute I would be talking to a BBC reporter or liberal academic and think him a civilised man; the next, he would be screaming about the Jews.

Politicians I’d admired astonished me: Tam Dalyell explained British foreign policy as a Jewish conspiracy; Ken Livingstone embraced a Muslim cleric who favoured the blowing up of Israeli women and children, along with wife-beating and the murder of homosexuals and apostates.

I could go on. The moment when bewilderment settled into a steady scorn, however, was when the Guardian ran a web debate entitled: “David Aaronovitch and Nick Cohen are enough to make a good man anti-Semitic”. Gorgeously, one vigilant reader complained that the title was prejudiced - the debate should be headlined: “David Aaronovitch and Nick Cohen are enough to make a good man, or woman, anti-Semitic.”


I'm starting to think they might have a wee problem with anti-Semitism over there in Britain.