Swapping “Zionist” or “pro-Israeli” for “Jewish” is not opposing antisemitism. It is, at best, a lazy linguistic complacency that camouflages antisemitic ways of thinking: making antisemitism harder to expose and fight. An unusually explicit example of this can be clearly seen in the footage of a meeting at London journalist haunt, the Frontline Club. View it here (but read the below first).
The meeting, on 12 June 2013, used a book by British Islamist, Ibrahim Hewitt, as the basis for discussion about the media’s approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict. The discussion, between Hewitt, ex-BBC Middle East correspondent Tim Llewellyn, and Guardian foreign leader writer David Hearst, was chaired by Mark McDonald, a founder of Labour Friends of Palestine & the Middle East.
Under the title, “Anti-Zionism: the Frontline”, CST Blog had already warned what might happen at this meeting. We related some of the overblown anti-Zionist conspiracy theory and imagery that Hewitt’s group, MEMO, had previously published. We noted that Llewellyn might be worse than Hewitt. We recalled Hearst’s silence in the Guardian after a judge had found against Sheikh Ra’ed Salah’s denials of having made a blood libel speech. (The judge still granted Salah his appeal.) We asked, without optimism, if Hearst or McDonald might intervene if either of their fellow Frontline speakers strayed into territory occupied by antisemitism.
The footage shows that Hewitt did not repeat the wilder material from MEMO, and that Llewellyn was indeed worse than him. Hearst explained things calmly and without resort to conspiracy theory, but does not seem to have directly rebutted either Hewitt or, especially, Llewellyn. If anything, Hearst surely normalised his fellow speakers to the mainly young audience – rather than undermined them.
The footage also shows that there was only one intervention against a speaker who took things too far. This was against Llewellyn, when Hewitt pulled him up for saying “the Jewish Lobby”: whereupon the meeting chair, Mark McDonald, said that it should be “the Zionist Lobby” or “pro-Israel Lobby” instead.
Any serious objection to antisemitism must go far deeper than swapping “Zionist” for “Jewish”. Otherwise, it simply becomes an exercise in how to swap an antisemitic conspiracy theory for an ‘anti-Zionist’ one. The anti-Zionist left claims, furiously, to oppose antisemitism, but swapping “Zionist” for “Jew” is advising upon camouflage, not anti-racism.
The salient moment occurs approximately 30 minutes and 45 seconds (30:45) into the footage, when Tim Llewellyn asks David Hearst to explain why he says that newspaper editors “wilt under pressure”. Llewellyn:
Is it because. I can see it in the BBC. They’re frighten’, these people are quite aggressive, right. The Jewish Lobby is not much fun. They come at you from every direction.
Off camera, Hewitt says “no”, then, “its the pro-Israel lobby”. It is not exactly clear who says what after this, but it includes McDonald talking over Llewellyn, stating:
I mean that’s a very important thing to say, that its not a Jewish lobby. Can I interrupt a second. Its not a Jewish lobby. It might be a Zionist lobby. It may be a pro-Israel lobby.
But Llewellyn won’t give it up. He retorts:
Yes, but they use Jewish connections to get you.
McDonald’s anti-racism intervention now wilts. He wants consensus, not a discursive analysis on the meaning of “they use Jewish connections to get you”. So, he lamely replies:
Yes, but its not necessarily a Jewish lobby, as in
McDonald’s words trail off. He does not say ‘its not necessarily a Jewish lobby as in the way that antisemites allege Jews run the media and politics, via intimidation, money and power’. Llewellyn gives an inch:
Alright, its an Israeli lobby. A friends of Israel lets say. Lets not be too polite about them, because they’re not very polite about us.
Llewellyn continues, asking why “we are afraid of them”:
Why are we afraid of them. That’s what I don’t understand. You know, I mean, we’re all British…I may be Welsh, but I’m British.
Nobody intervenes. Nobody asks Llewellyn to clarify if he is meaning to say that these lobbying, connected Jews are somehow not British. There are no more anti-racist interventions, not even half-hearted ones.
And so the meeting goes on, showing how easily anti-Zionist conspiracy can be normalised when people are willing to sit alongside it and treat it with respect. In particular, Hearst and McDonald treat Llewellyn’s interventions as if they are entirely normal and legitimate. They are not merely bystanders in this, they facilitate it. The audience takes it all in.
Contemplate the following low points and note that all of them were treated as being entirely normal:
06.20 Ibrahim Hewitt stresses England football manager Roy Hodgson was right to visit Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, but asks about his not visiting the nearby remains of Palestinian village, Deir Yassin.
08.57 Hewitt says that Abraham Foxman (of the Anti Defamation League) is the only person “guaranteed” to get their letters published in the New York Times.
11.30 Hewitt says he enjoys reading the obituaries in the Guardian. Llewellyn interrupts, “any day now”.
21.55 Llewellyn asks “a deeper question” about BBC reporting:
why is it like this?…is it a sinister conspiracy…a lazy way of looking at, you know, the fact that the Israeli lobby is very powerful in all three of our main political parties. Is it the BBC being very fearful?
40.44 Hewitt’s curious use of the word “diaspora”: “one of the paradoxes…that the media in Israel is often more lively and robust on this issue than the media in the so-called diaspora in New York and Europe”.
41.11 Llewellyn jokily tells Hewitt, “learn to write in Yiddish”, to get his letters published in Israeli media. Someone (from the audience) says “Hebrew”, Llewellyn counters, “No, Yiddish”.
50.04 A well spoken English woman cites Moses, her ‘them and us’ style is a classic of the genre:
AIPAC, America’s Jewish Israeli lobby, they are sooooo well organised. And we’re too nice. Whether we’re the Palestinians, or the British, we are awfully nice, we, as you say, go make a cup of tea. They don’t make cups of tea…they are desperately tough…Moses said that they were a hard-necked people. They are. And they are so well organised…
58.40 Llewellyn adds more about what “troubles” him. He objects to Europeans regarding Israelis as being like themselves, whereas Palestinians are not seen that way. He says “the Jewish lobby”, interchangeably with “the Israeli lobby”:
We talk about the Jewish lobby, the Israeli lobby, the friends of Israel. There is this people like us thing…
1.01.20 Llewellyn brings the lobby’s political power into the BBC equation:
The BBC is pressured because its part of a Governmental system. There’s no question about the friends of Israel are big in each three political parties, right.
1.14.08 Hewitt reveals his theory about the “sleepers” that the Israelis are now allegedly activating in media positions of power around the world:
Its very telling that…the Israeli Foreign Ministry actually issued a directive to the hasbara people, the propaganda people, around the world, start placing articles…so they were very confident that they had the ability, the people in place to be able to do that…said a lot, if they can just basically give this directive and all these sleepers all of a sudden wake up and start doing things. There are clearly people in positions of influence who are able to do this.
1.32.06 Finally, the last word at the meeting went to Tim Llewellyn:
The editor of the Guardian who said that comments were free and facts were sacred: was the biggest Zionist who ever lived.
(The footage link, again, is here.)