The Guardian’s false accusation of “false accusations of antisemitism”

February 24th, 2012 by Mark Gardner

The Jewish community has probably had more run-ins with the Guardian than every other British newspaper combined. This matters on two levels: emotionally, because the Guardian exemplifies the kind of liberalism that many Jews instinctively feel; and, politically, because of the moral tone that the Guardian sets within British life.

In recent years, Jewish upset has been exacerbated by the Guardian’s Comment is Free (CiF) website, which carries many more articles than the print edition; and is fundamental to the paper’s future.

CiF’s initial growth was tarnished by failures to adequately moderate readers’ comments underneath the actual articles. After much effort, this was largely remedied. Nevertheless, from a Jewish perspective at least, problems persist with the actual CiF articles themselves.   

It was refreshing to see CiF recently feature a particularly spiky anti-antisemitism piece by Tanya Gold, but last week it reverted to type with a particularly poor and offensive article by Rachel Shabi. Its title claimed to reveal how “Israel’s rightwing defenders” make false accusations of antisemitism.

Shabi is welcome to her opinion, but after all the grief between the Jewish community and the Guardian, you might hope that they would hesitate before publishing such a shabby piece of work. Its extremely ugly headline and sub-headline (see below) are plain insensible; it has utterly inadequate levels of proof; it has utterly partial summaries of the sources that it links to; and it refuses to acknowledge that opposition to the phrase “Israel firsters” might be something other than an evil deception to defend Israel.

Shabi’s article can be read here. The title and subtitle:

False accusations of antisemitism desensitise us to the real thing.

Attacks on the New York Times’s new Jerusalem correspondent undermine the credibility of Israel’s rightwing defenders.

So, surely the article is about how the NY Time’s new Jerusalem correspondent has been falsely accused of antisemitism by “Israel’s rightwing defenders”?

Well, no actually. The article’s first three paragraphs deal with the new correspondent, Jodi Rudoren. Shabi claims Rudoren has been called an “anti-Zionist”, but there is no mention here by Shabi of antisemitism, none whatsoever. The word doesn’t feature, nor in any of the three articles linked to by Shabi’s article (here and here and here). It isn’t even hinted at in any of them. The headline and sub-headline are simply wrong and insensible. This, despite their being so provocative and insulting.

Less importantly, the word “anti-Zionist” appears in quotation marks, as if this is what Rudoren has been called. No source is given for this claim. Click on the links provided by Shabi’s article, and you still won’t find it: you’ll find criticism of Rudoren, strong criticism of whom she has tweeted with, people saying she gives the impression of being partial, but you won’t find the simple “anti-Zionist” accusation –  and, I repeat, far less anything mentioning antisemitism.

The closest you’ll find to a plain “anti-Zionist” accusation is this quote taken from Tablet online magazine: but Tablet is a centre-left US Jewish publication, so what does it have to do with the “rightwing defenders” of Shabi’s article? (And, again, nothing here remotely connected with “false accusations of antisemitism“.) 

Next, Shabi moves from Rudoren to an argument in America over the use of the phrase “Israel firsters”. This is a phrase that denotes those who put Israel’s interests above those of their own country. (Former American Ku Klux Klan leader, David Duke, is an especially notorious user of the term.)

Given the centrality of the ‘dual loyalty’ motif and attendant Jewish conspiracy and treason charges to antisemitism through the centuries, the antisemitic resonance and potential of “Israel firsters” is starkly obvious: as is the right of Jews (and others) to complain about its use. Not here, according to Shabi. Her take on it, as published by Guardian CiF:

“Witness the recent storm over the phrase “Israel firsters”: used to accuse people of putting policy on Israel above US interests, it sparked a row among liberal commentators on whether it carries connotations of dual loyalty that feed into antisemitic tropes. This was just another attempt to smear liberal American critics of Israel, and fed into the frustration over such blockading – best expressed in the title of one recent post: “Dear Israel lobby, we give up – please give us an acceptable way of insulting you.”

Yet the real danger in all this is that the rush to throw charges of antisemitism at people who criticise Israel will desensitise vigilance over the real thing. Such tactics are meant to intimidate and paralyse, choke and divert the discussion over Israel’s occupation and policies in the Middle East.”

And there you have it, CiF is happy to publish that concerns raised about the expression “Israel firsters” were “just another attempt to smear…intimidate and paralyse, choke and divert” liberal criticism and discussion of Israel. No question about it and seemingly no requirement from CiF that Shabi should explicitly explain the rationale behind her “smear” claims, which derive from this at Salon.com, linked to via Shabi’s above link at “liberal commentators“. Incredibly, the former AIPAC spokesman quoted in it didn’t even directly call anyone an antisemite, he merely says of US Democrats using the expression “Israel firsters”: “these are the words of anti-Semites, not Democratic political players.

And that is the false accusations of antisemitism as stated in the title.

All of this, brought to you by Guardian Comment is Free: which is why it matters.

Postscript

When the AIPAC spokesman was asked to explain himself by Salon.com, he gave the following answer – and it is as strikingly appropriate for the Guardian, as it is for the Democratic Party (especially the final sentence): 

Those who accuse pro-Israel advocates and American Jews of having “dual loyalties” and being “Israel Firsters” are engaged in anti-Semetic hate speech. Period. These are age-old canards and anti-Semetic smears that go back centuries, suggesting that Jews are disloyal, alien and cannot be trusted. This kind of rhetoric has no place in civil dialogue and anyone’s politics, but especially among progressives.

The organizations who pay the salaries of those using such hate speech, (see below for specific examples), and who have clearly had it brought to their attention, must either confront it and end it, or take full responsibility for it. In this case, that choice belongs to both CAP and Media Matters. This is a free country and people can say what they want, but the question for those organizations is whether they are an appropriate home for such discourse.