Let’s criticise David Ward, but not the way he likes his criticism of Israel

Tomorrow is Holocaust Memorial Day.

Commemorating the Holocaust (for younger readers, this is the Nazi attempt to exterminate European Jewry along with others they regarded as impure) Liberal Democrat David Ward, MP for Bradford East, says that those who have been brutalised and dispossessed by the Holocaust should learn a special lesson.

The Holocaust was one of the worst examples in history of man’s inhumanity to man. When faced with examples of atrocious behaviour, we must learn from them. It appears that the suffering by the Jews has not transformed their views on how others should be treated.

Just a few words on why this is facile and insidious. If you think a bunch of troublesome people have themselves been brutalised then the precise thing not to do is wag your finger chiding “You of all people should know better”. There are of course many different lessons one could learn from being brutalised – one might be to arm yourself to the teeth and lash out at the first sign of repeat. And if we’re going to psychologise, then psychologise properly. Why is it that so many people who “treat others badly” come from troubled, traumatised or abusive backgrounds? Should we treat the ones who don’t more leniently? Of course not.

Predictably David Ward is supported by antisemitic campaigners such as Gilad Atzmon, who celebrates the alarm of Jews with “The time is ripe for us to say what we see, think and feel”. I won’t help his search ranking by providing a link but encourage you to find him yourself.  Atzmon is just a man, but because he is so constant in his hatred of Israel and Jews we can view his support as a reliable litmus test for antisemitism. He has even turned the Savile scandal to his cause.

David Ward has earned this hopefully unwelcome support, so let’s criticise him along with his new mate Gilad Atzmon, his Lib Dem supporter Mark Valladeressee Sarah AB on Engage – and all the others along the spectrum of bad reasoning to outright Jew hatred.

And I don’t mean the kind of ‘criticism’ David Ward favours when it comes to Israel. I wouldn’t describe that as criticism at all, but as a prejudiced double-standard demonising partisan campaign.

I mean straightforward criticism of his callous perversion and diminishment of the Holocaust – because if we fail to note and object to such moves, before too long it will be open season on the Jews again.

And let’s think back further than the Holocaust. How about central Europe between the World Wars – a time building to the attempted eradication of European Jewry. There’s a good, little-known book I’ve been reading about the Prague Circle – it’s called In and Out and it’s by Leon Yudkin. He describes the appeal of Nietzschian rhetoric of strength and vigour among threatened Jews of interwar Prague (p57). I was surprised to learn that this style was adopted by a young Martin Buber who later became better known as a supporter of a binationalist Jewish-Arab state. This was a minority position and one he reached in the 1920s, before the Holocaust. Others of his contemporaries took very different but no less cogent lessons from antisemitism.

Update – David Icke supports Ward’s original statements. Icke’s strategy is to embolden people who make antisemitic comments to stand by them, and to paint those who apologise as enthralled to an evil entity he refers to as Rothschild Zionists. Icke writes, “Jelly fish-shaking, Israel arse-licking, Rothschild Zionist-owned Liberal Democrats condemn one of their own MPs for simply speaking the truth – and they have done it before”. Again, I’m not helping Icke up the Google ladder (I note that while I’m tiptoeing around the antisemites by not linking to them, Icke doesn’t even mention Ward by name) you can find the piece on his site, 26th January, illustrated by a ridiculous cartoon of an elephant on its knees in somebody’s sitting room, blindfolded with an Israeli flag and sporting a red Star of David on one of its ears. Were I myself susceptible to baseless conspiracy beliefs I’d  probably be wondering whether Icke actually works for Mossad. But I’m not.

Update 2: Mark Gardner’s CST post on Ward.

I am not antisemitic because I don’t feel antisemitic

No matter how sincere you perceive me to be, all the above sentence can confirm is my beautiful intentions. It doesn’t tell you anything about whether or not I am antisemitic. To discover that, you’d have to look for a difference between intent and effect in what I say and what I do. Perhaps I’d be the last person to realise, and react with vehement indignation if accused of antisemitism.

This kind of response is summarised in the MacPherson Report’s definition and description of unwitting, unconscious and unintentional racism (6.13-17).

Of course, my intentions matter. Somebody who openly intends to be antisemitic is clearly much more of a direct threat than somebody who doesn’t. But somebody who holds a view of herself as constitutionally incapable of racism is an irrational liability to any multiracial society.

George Orwell wrote:

“To study any subject scientifically one needs a detached attitude, which is obviously harder when one’s own interests or emotions are involved. Plenty of people who are quite capable of being objective about sea urchins, say, or the square root of 2, become schizophrenic if they have to think about the sources of their own income. What vitiates nearly all that is written about antisemitism is the assumption in the writer’s mind that he himself is immune to it. “Since I know that antisemitism is irrational,” he argues, “it follows that I do not share it.” He thus fails to start his investigation in the one place where he could get hold of some reliable evidence — that is, in his own mind.”

Modernity excerpts this from Stephen Sizer, Surrey-based evangelical pastor:

“It is true that at various times in the past, churches and church leaders have tolerated or incited anti-Semitism and even attacks on Jewish people. Racism is a sin and without excuse. Anti-Semitism must be repudiated unequivocally. However, we must not confuse apples and oranges. Anti-Zionism is not the same thing as anti-Semitism despite attempts to broaden the definition. Criticising a political system as racist is not necessarily racist. Judaism is a religious system. Israel is a sovereign nation. Zionism is a political system. These three are not synonymous. I respect Judaism, repudiate anti-Semitism, encourage interfaith dialogue and defend Israel’s right to exist within borders recognised by the international community and agreed with her neighbours. But like many Jews, I disagree with a political system which gives preference to expatriate Jews born elsewhere in the world, while denying the same rights to the Arab Palestinians born in the country itself. Jimmy Carter is not alone in describing the Zionism practiced by the present government of Israel as a form of apartheid.”

The rest of Modernity’s post demonstrates that while Stephen Sizer proclaims that he is against antisemitism, he’s actually rolling in it.

Here is Farid Essack shrugging off the good question “Why Israel only?”. He says:

“And to ask Jews to remember their past is hardly anti-Semitic. Jewish activists do this all the time.”

The point is, it depends what this edict to remember the past is in service of.

Jews, remember your past:

  • because it’s your only defence against the future
  • so that you can empathise with other oppressed peoples
  • because people oppressed by Jews are your particular responsibility
  • so that you realise it’s pointless to try to integrate
  • so that you understand why Israel must carry on existing
  • so that you think of yourself as one of the chosen people
  • because the Nazis tried to obliterate your future
  • because Jewish history is special
  • so that you understand how to contribute to the continuation of world Jewry
  • so that you learn from your mistakes
  • so that you know how to recognise the fascism that’s coming round again sooner or later
  • so that you can defend humanity against fascism
  • because otherwise you won’t understand enough to be fully Jewish
  • because antisemites are trying to rewrite Jewish history
  • because it’s an empowering history of survival against all odds

Some of these reasons are trivial, some politicise Jewish history, some mystify it, some politicise Jewish identity, and some are antisemitic.

Farid Essack’s piece was part of a correspondence debate summarised on Engage – see in particular Robert Fine’s response on the ongoing construction of Israel as an absolutely culpable incarnation of negative properties. He doesn’t say that this way of painting Israel is antisemitic, but I would strongly argue that in effect it is. Most Jews find the prospect of cancelling the state of Israel, and Israel alone, hard to explain in any terms which are not extremely ominous to Jews.

Communitarianism and liberalism

First a few scattered thoughts about community, followed by some chunks out of Prospect relating to Jon Cruddas’ fine line.

The World Cup is ongoing. Because half the delegates had gone awol, I had the opportunity to interface directly with Wikipedia-founder Jimmy Wales at an online conference. Delegates came from across the world, and I had hardly heard of any of them. And yet – I’m usually mousey at conferences – in that chat pane I got into some of the more edifying and immediate debates of my working life, and presenters would adapt what they were saying in response to what was being typed there. The distance became a great virtue because the unique potential of the technologies to afford communication without interruption came into play, and there was a readiness of the presenters, moderators and participants to use it. So often at online conferences, you get the one but not the other, with the result that you feel remote and dystopian. For those of us who are connected (and education, age and income are implicated in digital exclusion) community isn’t only geographically based any more.

A football pundit – or somebody BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme got on just before 09:00 to talk about the football – quoted Hobsbawm: “The imagined community of millions seems more real in the form of 11 named people”. I was out last night after England beat whoever it was they beat. By the end of the night London Bridge was a mess of addled men, blood, cocaine and rozzers.

It’s midnight – Today In Parliament is on Radio 4. The stand-in Labour leader Harriet Harman (I think) is protesting the rise in pensionable age for men to 68 in 2016. She’s not talking about safeguarding a good later life for people who have made a direct economic contribution for as much as 45 years, and who will probably continue to make an indirect one for many years to come. She’s not talking about the look the old duffers where I work (including people with some of the most potentially rewarding jobs going) get in their eyes when they talk about their imminent retirement, and the cloud which comes over their not-so-distant juniors’ when you talk about the goal posts being moved. No, she (or perhaps the editor – I should check Hansard) is expressing it in cash terms.

In this month’s Prospect (June 10, p42 – a sociologist I know a little does Prospect down as ‘Blairite’ but I don’t really get that – compared to anything to its left Prospect just strikes me as above all committed to getting to the bottom of things – and a great many different things, too) I was reading an arresting piece by David Edmonds on the Dagenham and Rainham MP Jon Cruddas. Besides Dave Edmonds’ frank encounters with the regulars of The Roundhouse, a BNP pub in Dagenham, the arresting thing about it was that the threat Cruddas’ faced from the right and extreme right last election had stimulated a new approach, and that new approach is (to put it contentiously) illiberal.

“When a local resident was asked why he was voting BNP he was flummoxed, “Well I can hardly vote Tory, can I?”

Jon Cruddas has tried to win back such voters. He refers, repeatedly, to an encounter with an 86-year-old woman in Dagenham. She pointed across her street to an old mattress dumped by the house’s occupant in his front garden. “This mattress was a proxy for disenchantment and abandonment, he told me, for the decline in neighbourliness, for things that “ruptured a tacit covenant between the traditional working class and Labour”. Cruddas’ response was to back a scheme to get rid of eyesore gardens: people could tell the council about gardens full of rubbish, and the council would ask residents to clear it up. If they didn’t, the council did it for them, but made them pay. “So the front yard became a political space in which we could re-establish a sense of community”.

(In fact it’s usually the thought of the neighbours’ gaze which prods me to tend the garden at the front of my home.)

“Working out how to deal with that abandoned mattress may seem a trifling affair, but it matters: it delineates the line between liberal and communitarian values, and it’s pretty clear on which side of the privet hedge Cruddas sits. “It’s a really interesting question and it is cropping up in other local policies,” he said. “Whether you can walk around with a can of Special Brew; how people look after their dogs; and what about if you burgle a home and get caught – should your wife and child get chucked out of public housing while you are in prison? Has a covenant been broken? These things are right on the frontline of the liberal-communitarian debate.”. He talks approvingly of a council plan to prohibit rowdy revellers from public drinking. It will undoubtedly prove popular… Nonetheless it’s a philosophy that contains dangers. That mattress was on private property. Residents might object to it, but what if the majority of residents were equally offended by neighbours wearing a niqab? Cruddas says that these topics are “issue specific” but what’s required is a principle (or a set of rational criteria) to justify when communitarian values can be imposed on citizens, and when they cannot – and that principle Cruddas has yet to supply.”

You’ve probably guessed what comes next – remember how Margaret Hodge (MP for Barking, next door) was attacked for proposing that length of residency in the community be taken into account when allocating social housing, rather than making decisions based on need alone? That was a communitarian proposal.

It’s a really thought-provoking piece, where the central dilemma of liberalism v. communitarianism (i.e. the social engineering of communal infrastructures and resource where there is currently none) is sharpened by Jon Cruddas’ predicament. There is no sense of fighting for a redistribution of wealth – or not in those bald terms. Well, in the Conservative-Liberal budget, the City’s bonuses stay tax free. Meanwhile, as Caroline Lucas points out, we lose tens of billions a year to tax avoidance and evasion.

This is relevant for where I live, as comments here and conversations show. I know this will occupy my mind for a long time to come.

UCU’s boycott of Israel blinds it to antisemitism. Is this solidarity?

In a post on Engage, David Hirsh gives context to the invitation UCU, the main British trade union for academics, extended to Bongani Masuku to speak against Israel. Last week, Bongani Masuku was found to have incited hatred against Jews by the South African Human Rights Commission.

Self-righteously, UCU rubbishes the SAHRC and the blogs which have tried to raise the alarm about Masuku. What is the word for an organisation so self-regarding that it considers the actions or decisions of its activists sufficient benchmark of goodness, regardless of any other objective criteria? UCU is like that. It would be ridiculous if it wasn’t so serious.

David Hirsh points out:

“The Human Rights Commission is a national institution of post apartheid South Africa. Part of the antidote to the old racist system, and independent of government, this institution functions as the linchpin of the new constitution which endows the rainbow nation with a set of legal and democratic guarantees.

The Human Rights Commission ruled last week that the statements of Bongani Masuku on the subject of Israel amounted to antisemitic hate speech. He is a senior official in the South African trade union movement and is currently in the UK on a trip paid for by the University and College Union to promote the exclusion of Israelis, and only Israelis, from the global academic community.

The Human Rights Commission does not makes its judgments frivolously. The Human Rights Commission is aware of the distinction between criticism of Israel and antisemitism. The Human Rights Commission is not pro-Israel and is not concerned with defending the reputation of Israel. It is concerned with racism.”

He then summarises the history of the anti-boycott campaign in UCU, which warned against precisely this welcoming of antisemitism.

To quote a comment which once caught my eye on Engage, UCU’s insistence that its anti-Zionism cannot be antisemitism is “A bit like the commercial for a car where the would-be buyer asks “Do you have any colour but black?” and the salesman replies “Yes, we have noir””.

What kind of trade union would allow law to become the only thing standing between a group of people and the enactment of another trade union’s prejudice against them? Is this what solidarity has come to mean?

Sand in the eyes of Jewry

Another poor quality post, but the graphomania came on.

I’ve never heard Andrew Marr as breathlessly interested in a guest as he was in Shlomo Sand today on BBC Radio 4’s Start the Week. Shlomo Sand has written a book, which he hopes will change the Middle East context, about Jews as an invented people.

Aren’t all nations. So what? Search me if I, an atheist and non-practioner, know what it is to be Jewish. To me it just means that I take antisemitism personally on behalf of my dead family and my refugee granny – nothing more. I might go to Israel before I die – my parents met on a kibbutz, you could say that Israel made me. I met practically all the Jews I know because of the boycott of Israel and the racist scum it brought out – I even made one or two friends. That is how peopleness works, too – sensitivities draw people together in interest groups, which go on to develop their own culture, etc. Or racism brings out the steel and stubborness in people touched by it, who appreciate the steel and stubborness in each other. My hunch is that when the antisemitism goes away, the peopleness will go away, for the reasons Sand says, leaving only the faith. I’m content with that, in its time. But post-Enlightenment German Jews tried it the other way round and assimilated, abandoning their Jewish identity, and their children ended up eating gas anyway. Shlomo Sand is trying it the other way round again, and he’s a bit previous.

His book is about the nation-building project of Zionism. On Start the Week, butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth. It was the first I’d heard of him, really. I was impressed! Potentially his work could undermine the ideology of the religious Zionists of the settler movement. Good luck to him, if that was what he was about. But the main question is, has he managed to shake off the far right and the malfunctioning post-left?

No. You can find the pieces below on the web for yourself – I don’t give those people my links.

Gilad Atzmon has approvingly used Sands as an occasion to call again for the de-judaication of Jews (a large article with Jew=Nazi comparions and the gratuitous inclusion of a blood-sucking mohel). I found that Atzmon piece on the book’s official site. Disgrace.

Philip Weiss found Sand “ravishing” and viewed him as “fiercely anti-Zionist”. Uh-oh – Sand’s solution to antisemitism was apparently:

“I am anti-racist. And an anti-anti-semite,” he said. “But look at me, do you think I hate the Jewish?” More devil eyes flashing. “I don’t hate myself… I hate the Jewish people? But that doesn’t exist. How can I hate something that doesn’t exist?”

That’s not how it works, you tosser.

Sand says he doesn’t consider himself anti-Zionist (he’s got himself wrong, then) but Weiss gives the impression he’s a dandy counter-hegemon.

I am happy if somebody strikes a blow at religious entitlement to a piece of land, as long as they shake off the ardent and verbose antisemites who are trying to hump their leg. Shlomo Sand doesn’t, and forfeits credibility.

For what reason?

On the History News Network, Gordon Haber:

“And (as Sand’s reasoning has it) if the myth is a lie-if there is no genealogical connection between today’s Jews and those of Provincia Judea-then there is no justification for a Jewish state.

This, to me, sounds like a leap. But some of Sand’s arguments are not easily dismissed. At least I thought so when I started his book, which I wanted to read with an open mind. But as the arguments piled up, I became suspicious. There is a consistent tone of outrage here: Sand comes off like the relative that corners you every Thanksgiving to harangue you about politics. But it’s not merely a matter of literary style. The tone made me question the author’s disinterest. It made me wonder if he too is distorting history for political ends.”

“So then why does Sand sees conspiracies, or at least ahistorical motivations, where they don’t always exist? Perhaps because his desire for a truly egalitarian Israel has destroyed his objectivity. This impression was confirmed when I watched a clip of Sand on French TV, wherein he comes off as articulate, passionate, and unhinged.”

Editor of the Chonicle of Higher Education, reviewer Evan Goldstein draws the necessary parallel’s with Arthur Koestler’s fit of pique, The Thirteenth Tribe. He ends:

“I recently called Mr. [I thought he had a doctorate] Sand in Paris, where he is on sabbatical, to ask if he is concerned that “The Invention of the Jewish People” will be exploited for pernicious ends. “I don’t care if crazy anti-Semites in the United States use my book,” he said in Israeli-accented English. “Anti-Semitism in the West, for the moment, is not a problem.” Still, he is worried about how the forthcoming Arabic translation might be received in the Muslim world, where, he says, anti-Semitism is growing. I ask if the confident tenor of his book might exacerbate the problem. He falls quiet for a moment. “Maybe my tone was too affirmative on the question of the Khazars,” he reluctantly concedes. “If I were to write it today I would be much more careful.” Such an admission, however, is unlikely to sway the sinister conspiracists who find the Khazar theory a useful invention.”

Fancy thinking that anti-semitism doesn’t matter when you are trying to de-legitimise the idea of a Jewish people. How irresponsible and self-indulgent can a man get?

Why didn’t Andrew Marr say anything?

Read Eve Garrard on Tony Judt’s (whose words you’ll also find on the book’s official site) ‘getting into bed with racists’ comments:

“Judt says that he, and those who share his views, have to tell what they take to be the truth, even if this means that they end up in bed with the wrong people, with racists and anti-Semites, for example.”

Read the whole thing – it’s well worth it.

Be careful when researching antisemitism

Oof, this is another post about a post and its comments. What am I doing with my life, what a loser. But it’s so consuming.

So, my message is be careful because the topic is charged. Some people don’t want anti-semitism to be recognised. A few sickos actually want it to exist. Some people set a very high bar of evidence. Some people are actively looking for evidence that Jews “cry wolf”. Some Jews and anti-racists are scared and uncritical.

For example, we need objective measurements about whether or not antisemitism constitutes a threat, and if it does we need evidence to convince policy-makers to worry about it. There is some stuff around which isn’t quite all it could be. For example, I would have been more satisfied with Joel Kotek’s book Cartoons and Extremism: Israel and the Jews in Arab and Western Media if it had included a comparison between the way Jews are dealt with in political cartoons and the way other social groups are dealt with by the same, or different, political cartoonists. Reading it left me with questions – are any other groups depicted so enduringly with tentacles, or brooding over the earth, or as vampires? I suspect not, but it would be helpful to know because the strategies for dealing with particular hatred of one social group would be different from those dealing with hatred aimed at minorities with less discrimination (no pun intended).

In The Boston Review, Malhotra and Margalit are disturbed by inadvertant stereotyping of Jews and I think that although their study is valuable, they made a similar omission.

They recount an experiment to try to find out more about whether antisemitic attitudes shape individuals’ preferred measures to combat the financial crisis. After asking a question about how much to blame the Jews were for the financial crisis, they moved on to the next part:

“Participants in a national survey were randomly assigned to one of three groups. All three groups were prompted with a one-paragraph news report that briefly described the Madoff scandal. The text was the same for all three groups, except for two small differences: the first group was told that Bernard Madoff is an “American investor” who contributed to “educational charities,” the second group was told that Madoff is a “Jewish-American investor” who contributed to “educational charities,” and the third group was told that Madoff is an “American investor” who contributed to “Jewish educational charities.” In other words, group one did not receive any information about Madoff’s Jewish ties; group two was told explicitly that Madoff is Jewish; and group three received implicit information about Madoff’s religious affiliation. In a follow-up question, participants were asked for their views about providing government tax breaks to big business in order to spur job creation.”

Among non-Jewish respondents the variation was statistically significant, and you can probably guess in which direction – read on.

This piece proved highly controversial on Crooked Timber. Indeed there was no peer-reviewed research report, the methodology was incompletely set out, and the investigators didn’t ask about other ethnicities – for example there is also a tendency within US society which blames African American borrowers with sub-prime mortages for the financial crisis but this was not accommodated in the questionnaire. So it is not possible from this research to form an impression about whether blame is mono-causal, or whether one group is blamed more than another, or whether political affiliation is associated with blame of one or other ethnicity, or whether if you blame one group you are more likely to also blame another. I suppose my concerns are about demonstrating the specificity (singling-out) or otherwise of antisemitism. We also don’t know about the response rate, recruitment or sufficient demographic data.

Crooked Timber queried the methodology and then posted the authors reply. I gingerly ventured there (not a regular, it’s very clever but I don’t know what it’s for) and found, below the piece, depressing lethargy about antisemitism and deep interest in burrowing into the methodological minutiae while ignoring the big picture. There was a lot of discussion about the formulation “the Jews”, and some about the mention of Jews at all:

“the only possible “answer” to a question about “the Jews” is f—off.

That’s exactly what I thought. How about adding an option saying “I don’t like loaded questions designed to make me look like an anti-semite” in the next survey.”

Alternative methodologies for surveying the worrying area of antisemitism were overwhelmed by cynicism and methodological head-shaking. I’d be inclined to pick my response items from the media and bury ‘the Jews’ in amongst them to avoid salience bias. Even so, if bias was introduced by the question format then some respondents were readily susceptable to that bias – you can’t elicit stuff that isn’t at least latent. As Malhotra points out to a commenter who complained that asking questions which implicated ethnic groups in unfavourable circumstances introduces bias:

“Henri, you might be right about what we would get if we asked that question, but surely it would reveal something disturbing about the survey respondents? What would you have said in response to the questions? I assume you would have said ‘no’ to both; if you hadn’t, I would think less of you. If all that is right, then I fail to see how this is garbage.”

Safe to say that his work did not go down at all well on Crooked Timber, with one commenter suggesting that some others coordinate the task of going round the blogs raising the problems with the findings. I don’t know this person, but it seemed very important to him either that bad science should not stick, or that nobody should think there is more antisemitism than he has decided exists. And I think it’s the latter – he’d be busy elsewhere with higher-stakes stuff otherwise. There’s more weirdness.

Crooked Timber commenters are far more sophisticated in their diminishment of antisemitism than I’m used to. CounterPunch contributor Tim Wilkinson devoted himself to discrediting Malhotra’s and Margalit’s findings, penning a vignette that the researchers had an agenda to foment antisemitism where there was none. Somebody else cast aspersion on the motives of the researchers. I was reading for a long time before somebody said they were uncomfortable with the slurs and somebody else asked whether deep critics of Malholtra and Margalit had equally gone for Mearsheimer and Walt with their far flakier non-peer-reviewed thesis. I find Crooked Timber depressing, it’s so high brow and sophisticated but you get the same quota of crap below the post, you just have to spend more time deciphering it while the chill of the place eats into your bones.

(In contrast there’s a glow, warmth and rollicking that emanates from Harry’s Place like the brothel in the model village in Beetlejuice.)

What we know from Malhotra and Margalit is that a mention of a corrupt businessman’s Jewish ethnicity was associated with a significant drop in support for tax breaks for businesses, and this was enough to lead Malhotra and Margalit to feel disturbed, and make the modest conclusion that:

“The media ought to bear these findings in mind in their coverage of financial scandals such as the Madoff scam. In most cases, religious and ethnic affiliations have nothing to do with the subject at hand, and such references, explicit or implied, ought, then, to be avoided.”

My “be careful” is a caution to researchers of antisemitism to watch their backs as well as their methods. There is certainly a need for this kind of research and Malhotra and Margalit deserve praise for undertaking it. I look forward to the next iteration. Just as a final thought Malhotra is right to predict the end of peer review as we know it, but there’s a lot of leeway between a journalistic piece and a peer-reviewed one. I would really like to see the authors modify the study, conduct it again, produce the report and data as a wiki (non-editable), let peers review it on the Web, and adapt it accordingly. That way Neil Malhotra will never again have to defend being topical. Although, if they were British, this would butter them no parsnips in the confounded, evil Research Assessment Exercise.

Jewish establishment, diversity, and rebellion

Keith Kahn Harris writes about the diversity in Britain’s Jewish community in Prospect, as flagged up by Bob From Brockley. The crux:

“While figures from the Community Security Trust show there has been a rise in attacks on Jews in Britain in recent years, there are deep divisions within the Jewish community about the causes—and indeed the gravity—of this. Critics of Israel within the Jewish community—from organisations like Independent Jewish Voices and Jews for Justice for Palestinians—say that accusations of anti-semitism are used to stifle debate about Israel. In turn, many Jewish leaders accuse such critics of legitimatising anti-semitism and some shriller Jewish voices—Melanie Philips being the best example—argue that the very survival of the Jewish community in the UK is imperilled.

This argument is a fierce and often circular one. But in the midst of it, the reality somehow gets lost: Jews become victims or perpetrators, the focus of debate but not living, breathing, individuals.”

I found this piece curious – I wasn’t sure for whom KKH was writing. The teeming diversity of British Jewish expression has long been evident, I thought. In my circumstances (left, atheist, university worker, East Anglian, and only contingently Jewish out of a sense of duty when confronted with antisemitism) the Jewish establishment has always seemed remote. On the contrary, my sense of Jewish life in Britain is dominated by the strident far left and ‘independents‘ contemplating their own navels, chasing their tails, feeling sorry for themselves, going on (and on, and on) about the various origins of their social embarrassment – the Jewish Board of Deputies, the Community Security Trust, the Chief Rabbi, the Jewish Chronicle – responding to Palestinian oppression as if it were an opportunity for group self-definition and bonding, helping to bring campaigns to boycott Israel into workplaces and social spaces and then failing to stand up for Jews against the attendant antisemitism. They remind me of Kevin.

I should say here that this is a phenomenon across different social groups. Socialist Worker Party members and sympathisers bonded over the series of Student Occupations they organised with Gaza at the centre. However, the article which triggered this post is about Jews, which is why Jews are at the centre of this post.

I wish there were expressions of diversity which did not simultaneously involve contriving identities of plucky ‘truth-to-power’ speakers and self-indulgent orgies of rebellion. The Jewish establishment, such as it is, is open and tolerant – although surely not to the extent that it will put up with infinite amounts of invective from members whose sole identity seems to be built round an attraction to, or fetishisation of, dissent for its own sake.

Here is the experience of an Israeli peace activist at a Jewish Socialist Group event. He must have talked for, oh, 5 minutes – his co-panellists made longer presentations. And then to the floor for questions:

“Then the floodgates where opened. In true Jewish socialist tradition, everyone was entitiled to an equal voice, and indeed several people in the audience pulled note sheets from their pockets and read speeches longer than mine. Most of them seemed to focus on the marginalisation of Jewish radicals. I found that confusing, first as Leila told me later, I thought we were here to talk about Gaza. Second, in my dictionary radical means way-off-centre. If you don’t want to be in the margins, why define yourself as radical?

Anyway, on and on it went. I felt that most of the comments where essentially historical reviews and ethical manifestos, but the chair, Julia Bard, thought there were many fresh ideas for action. Maybe. Sometimes sitting on the stage focuses your hearing on certain things. On the other hand, I might have a different idea on what constitutes action, a more Newtonian view.”

So what the hell is there to celebrate about? KKH writes:

“On the one hand, the Jewish community has never been so dynamic; on the other, many Jews feel under threat and divisions over Israel within the Jewish community can create a deeply poisonous atmosphere. Yet both of these things indicate something positive: that the Jewish community that has finally adapted to British multiculturalism. Whereas once British Jews kept their heads down, their leaders exhorting them to be good citizens first and foremost (“Englishmen of the Mosaic faith”), since the early 1990s there has been less reticence about being publicly, proudly Jewish. This confidence had lead to many things; including great cultural vitality, but also to a greater willingness to openly articulate feelings of persecution. It has also meant an increasing refusal to toe the line by those who dissent from the communal leadership. Surely this is healthy at least.”

Yeah, I think so.

So when he ends with the advice:

“What the Jewish community now needs is to internalise the principle of British multiculturalism; to accommodate—indeed, celebrate—the differences that have opened up in this new more self-confident era. Jews and non-Jews alike must recognise the diversity of today’s Anglo-Jewry.”

perhaps what KKH is urging here is not only my first reading – a request to Jewish leadership for a form of resistance to antisemitism which avoids assuming agreement and support of other Jews as an entitlement. Perhaps he is also requesting an acknowledgement from Jewish dissenters that in British society they can have equal standing to – or more prominent standing than – the Jewish community leadership. Think of Independent Jewish Voices’ Steven Rose (leading neuroscientist, formerly on BBC Radio 4’s Moral Maze, Israel boycott leader), Stephen Fry (ubiquitous sleb), Miriam Margolis (recently Desert Island Discked). Whereas most British people would be lucky to have heard of anybody from the Jewish Board of Deputies or the Community Security Trust.

However, unfortunately a tone of skepticism against the Jewish leadership is set in the strap to the piece in Prospect First Drafts:

“Jews in Britain have never been more culturally confident or politically diverse. Why, then, are so many of their leaders scared?”

Read the piece and read the comments, including an understandably defencive one from Mark Gardner, at the Prospect Blog.

But I know a little of KKH’s writing, and sufficient to understand that although the point may not have come across in this particular piece, he is more concerned about the state of the relationships between people with different political views than he is about taking pot-shots at the Jewish leadership.

“Blessed are the peacemakers…”

Update: this piece was flagged by David Hirsh on Engage and he is joined by Keith Kahn-Harris in the comments.