The Guardian is Britain’s leading left of centre opinion maker. In recent years, the British left has displayed an increasing ignorance of what antisemitism is. These are not unrelated phenomena.
The websites of the Guardian, the Times and the Telegraph all covered Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s 24th September 2009 speech at the United Nations in New York. The Times and the Telegraph both explcitly called Ahmadinejad’s speech anti-Jewish or antisemitic. The Guardian did not.
The Guardian interpreted the world’s most dangerous antisemite as ‘merely’ having attacked Israel in his speech to the UN. Compare what the Guardian wrote with how other newspapers covered the same story (all emphases added by the author):
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s renewed attack on Israel hastens walkout
The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, faced a series of walkouts at the United Nations general assembly last night after launching a renewed attack on Israel, which he accused of genocide, barbarism and racism.
Within minutes of his criticism of Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians, delegations from various countries began to rise from their seats and noisily left the chamber.
Many other countries had left before he even began, partly because it was the evening and partly in protest over his brutal crackdown on the Iranian opposition after June’s election and partly over comments last week again questioning whether the Holocaust had taken place.
…The Palestinians had suffered from attacks on defenceless women and children, seen their homes destroyed and faced an economic blockade in Gaza that amounted to genocide. He described Israeli attacks on Gaza as barbaric.
He suggested that Israel could get away with this because of extensive lobbying and political influence in the US and Europe. “It is unacceptable that a small minority should dominate large parts of the world through a complex network in the US and Europe to retain its racist ambitions,” Ahmadinejad said…
Live: world leaders’ speeches at General Assembly
…Several delegates, including the United States and Costa Rica, walk out of the General Assembly Hall when Mr Ahmadinejad alludes to a supposed worldwide Jewish conspiracy. The offending comment: “It is no longer acceptable that a small minority would dominate the politics, economy and culture of major parts of the world by its complicated networks, and establish a new form of slavery, and harm the reputation of other nations, even European nations and the US, to attain its racist ambitions.”…
Britain walks out of Iran’s Ahmadinejad’s anti-Semitic speech at UN
Britain walked out of a speech by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran at the United Nations on Wednesday night in protest at anti-Semitic remarks.
…South American delegations also marched from the grand hall at UN headquarters when the controversial leader denounced what he said was a global Jewish conspiracy, amid a long rant against capitalism and Western hypocrisy.
He denounced a “small minority dominating much of the world through a complicated network”, and went on to call Iran a “glorious, democratic nation”.
The United States, Canada and Israel decided earlier to boycott the speech before the annual UN General Assembly, after Mr Ahmadinejad repeated his denial of the Holocaust in a speech in Iran on Monday. He has also regularly called on Jews to leave Israel…
The Independent newspaper (like the Guardian, not exactly pro-Israel) also managed to see the wood for the trees, saying of Ahmadinejad:
He also delivered an oblique tirade against the Jews, condemning the “private networks” that he said largely ran the world.
The headline in The Evening Standard quoted UK diplomats as having walked out over Ahmadinejad’s “anti-Semitic” speech. Nevertheless, the actual article referred to both criticism of Israel, and antisemitism, as the reason for the walkout:
Britain joins walkout after Ahmadinejad’s ‘anti-semitic’ rant
British diplomats walked out during a speech by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over “anti-Semitic” remarks by the Iranian leader.
Mid-ranking UK officials at the UN joined their US counterparts as they left in protest at Mr Ahmadinejad’s comments about Israel in his speech to the UN General Assembly
A spokeswoman for the UK delegation said the walk-out was prompted by “anti-Semitic” rhetoric.
Mr Ahmadinejad condemned Israel for what he said was a “barbaric” attack on the Gaza Strip last winter.
…In his speech, the Iranian President accused Israel of “inhuman policies” in the Palestinian territories.
Mark Kornblau, spokesman for the US Mission to the UN, said: “It is disappointing that Mr Ahmadinejad has once again chosen to espouse hateful, offensive and anti-Semitic rhetoric.”
The manner in which the Standard slipped from antisemitic, to Israel and back to antisemitism is illustrative of many people’s confusion between the terms anti-Israel and antisemitism.
It also illustrates the genuine differences of opinion that people sincerely hold over when the two terms should be used. For the vast majority of people – especially on the left - this difference of opinion appears rooted in their attitude to Israel. Those who are hostile to Israel regard their own hostility as fair criticism and unconnected to antisemitism. Unfortunately, all too often, they ascribe their own self-image to that of other critics of Israel: including those who are not merely critics, but those who believe in an anti-Zionist ideology that is rooted not in opposition to real Zionism, but in opposition to the Zionism of the antisemitic imagination.
This Zionism of the antisemitic imagination replaces the word Zionist for the word Jew and then regurgitates age old antisemitic imagery and themes in a contemporary “anti-Zionist” form. The Times, Telegraph, Independent, Evening Standard, and delegates from many nations (inclduing the UK and US) at the United Nations get it. Sadly, the Guardian does not.
It is difficult to discern if the Guardian correspondent, Ewan MacAskill, actually heard Ahmadinejad’s speech; or if he knew (and ignored) that the UK and US delegates stated their walkouts were due to antisemitism.
The walkouts followed the previous pattern of what happened when Ahmadinejad addressed the UN anti-racism conference in Geneva on 20th April 2009. This speech followed an earlier diatribe from him at the UN General Assembly in New York on 23rd September 2008 (in which there was no mass walkout) when he said the following:
“The dignity, integrity and rights of the American and European people are being played with by a small but deceitful number of people called Zionists. Although they are miniscule minority, they have been dominating an important portion of the financial and monetary centers as well as the political decision-making centers of some European countries and the US in a deceitful, complex and furtive manner. It is deeply disastrous to witness that some presidential or premiere nominees in some big countries have to visit these people, take part in their gatherings, swear their allegiance and commitment to their interests in order to attain financial or media support.”
“This means that the great people of America and various nations of Europe need to obey the demands and wishes of a small number of acquisitive and invasive people. These nations are spending their dignity and resources on the crimes and occupations and the threats of the Zionist network against their will.”
It is not known if either Ahmadinejad or his speech writers read the Guardian. There is, however, one sentence in the above section that bore a striking resemblance to a Guardian editorial that had been published only two months earlier during the US Presidential election campaign.
This is the sentence, “It is deeply disastrous to witness that some presidential or premiere nominees in some big countries have to visit these people, take part in their gatherings, swear their allegiance and commitment to their interests in order to attain financial or media support.”
And this is the Guardian editorial from 24 July 2008
Obama in Israel
The message that matters
When a presumptive US presidential candidate arrives in Jerusalem, he willingly dons a jacket designed by Israeli tailors. He is compelled to call the country a miracle, to visit the Israeli Holocaust Memorial Yad Vashem and to link the memory of the 6 million Jews who died in Europe to Israeli victims of Palestinian violence today…
Now of course the Guardian would never mean it like that - well, not like Ahmadinejad means it anyway. And of course the Guardian would neither threaten another Holocaust, nor deny the last one.
Nevertheless, the Guardian as an institution – and as a consequence much of its constituency – has clearly allowed its hostility against Israel to erode both its understanding of antisemitism; and its vigilance against imagery that evokes deeply rooted antisemitic stereotypes.
This is not so much a conscious decision, or some covert antisemitic conspiracy: it is simply what happens when, over time, basically decent people lose sight of the dividing line between criticism and hatred, and between scathing political comment and racist abuse. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule at both the Guardian and throughout the wider Left, but they are swimming against the tide.
Whilst Ahmadinejad’s readership of the Guardian is unknown, the BBC is certainly an avid reader: and it would appear to have caught the ‘see no antisemitism’ bug.
The BBC coverage of another antisemitism-related controversy at the UN this week, over the leadership election to UNESCO, avoids mentioning that the Egyptian culture minister, Farouk Hosny blamed Jews for his failure to get the leadership of the international body. Rather, the BBC choose to report that Hosny said he failed to land the post because of “Zionist pressures”.
The Associated Press coverage shows that this wasn’t all he said:
“It was clear by the end of the competition that there was a conspiracy against me,” Hosny told reporters at the airport upon his return from Paris.
“There are a group of the world’s Jews who had a major influence in the elections who were a serious threat to Egypt taking this position,” he said.
The AP coverage was carried in many newspapers, but Egypt’s Daily News was even more explicit:
Hosni said he was a clear winner since he received 22 votes in the first round, and the runner-up received only eight.
“Then the Jewish game started by the US and big nations that claim democracy, and transparency. They all conspired against me,” he added.
“It was clear by the end of the competition that there was a conspiracy against me…There are a group of the world’s Jews who had a major influence on the elections and who saw a serious threat in Egypt taking this position,” he said.
Hosni also accused the American ambassador at the UNESCO specifically of working against him.
Hosni also lamented that he had had the Western press and “Zionist pressures against him every day.”
[With thanks to Arieh Kovler for having brought the Guardian's 24.09.09 coverage to CST's notice]