March 10, 2011

Who exaggerates antisemitism and why?

Antony Lerman has a very good article on Open Democracy.  I've seen a fair bit of this exaggerating and misdefining of antisemitism lately, in fact there's been quite a game on here and here.  But I hadn't realised just how much hasbara on this has been pumped out by mainstreamers lately.  See this:
when a cluster of such attention-grabbing incidents occur, commentators are instantly prompted to tell us what they think these events say about the state of antisemitism today. The instinct to ask the question is reasonable enough, but the tendency to jump so quickly to conclusions might not be. From the following short quotes, there seems to be considerable support for the view that the recent incidents have shown antisemitism to be continuous, enduring, pervasive, newly threatening: they ‘reinforced reports of an alarming increase in antisemitism’ (Andrew McCorkell, Independent), provided evidence that antisemitism is ‘the hatred that refuses to go away’ (Jonathan Freedland, Guardian), indicated that ‘our liberal, creative elite [has] rediscovered an ancient prejudice’ (Julian Kossoff, Daily Telegraph), demonstrated that it was ‘the week that antisemitism became really, properly zeitgeisty again’ (David Baddiel, Daily Telegraph) and confirmed ‘the increasing acceptability of antisemitic abuse so long [as] it is couched within an Israel-Palestine context’ (Norman Lebrecht, Arts Journal blog).
There's just a little touch of usual suspects to the list and remember that Anthony Julius has already had a bite of the cherry but what's it all about?
while it’s possible to understand why these commentators reach such conclusions, a tad more circumspection might have been wise. A brief critique of the quotes shows that there are fundamental flaws in the pieces from which they are taken. Claims of an alarming increase in antisemitism don’t square with information announced in January by the Israeli government’s Coordination Forum for Countering Antisemitism that antisemitic incidents were down in 2010 from a high in 2009. The statement that antisemitism is ‘the hatred that refuses to go away’ implies that other hatreds have disappeared, but there is no evidence of this. To say that Galliano, Sheen and Assange are representative of ‘our liberal, creative elite’ is absurdly far-fetched. Antisemitism ‘zeitgeisty’?—how can it be the spirit of the time when there was such condemnation of the incidents? And finally, in the three cases under consideration, the abuse was ‘couched’ entirely outside an ‘Israel-Palestine context’.
But the bit that had me laughing out loud (as they say) was this:
It’s perhaps not surprising that these writers display such weaknesses. None of them are experts in the subject. Not that experts have all the answers or that they would all agree. But it’s surely not unreasonable to expect that editors seeking informed comment should search for scholars and researchers who, while able to communicate their views effectively and succinctly, have at least got serious credentials. Isn’t there something absurd, even paradoxical, about seeking the wisdom of celebrity writers commenting on the verbal inanities of celebrities?
I suspect he is being a little too kind. There has been a game on over trying to use the antisemitism smear or genuine fear of antisemitism to the the advantage of zionism, that is what the usual suspects have in common, not their celebrity, but Lerman is nothing if not diplomatic. He even praises Linda Grant but he manages to mention and critique another suspect before recommending some seriousness:
Adopting a differentiated approach effectively means rejecting a theory of antisemitism, most fully realised in the work of Professor Robert Wistrich, that feeds much current comment: that antisemitism is a unique, continuous phenomenon, stretching back two millennia, that defies parallels and comparisons. Other leading historians of antisemitism, such as Professor David Feldman, who heads the new Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism  at Birkbeck University of London,Professor Tony Kushner  at Southampton and Dr Adam Sutcliffe  at Kings College London, have developed a body of work that sets antisemitism within a wider context of Jewish-non-Jewish relations and does not see attitudes to Jews exclusively through the prism of prejudice.
And there's still more to come including holding up antisemitism with other forms of racism.

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