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August 27th 2018
There are, apparently, fewer than 300,000 Jewish people in the UK - roughly 0.5% of the population. So far as I'm aware, I only know five of them: four from one family (a school-friend of my mother) and one whose wedding earlier this year included various traditional Jewish elements. It is very possible that I have met many more Jews without knowing it: it's not like someone's ethnicity is the first question I ask. (I'm also not entirely sure if 'Jews' is a word with anti-semitic undertones now - I have distant recollections of a Lib Dem having to apologise for using it at one point, and one of the characters in Community was eager for people to "use the full word", but I'm a little hazy here, sorry).
My point is that Judaism has not been a large part of my life by any means. Anti-semitism, likewise, has not loomed large. In the school playground, where unformed ideas of sexism, racism & homophobia were not uncommon, I don't recall anyone ever talking about Jews or using anti-semitic language or thoughts. It just didn't happen. Perhaps this is a by-product of (as mentioned above) the relatively low number of Jewish people in this country - as well as the fact that there are, geographically, some Jewish communities, and Worcestershire is not exactly a key one. I mean, it's not a key anything. Unless you're looking for sauce.
Up until recently I had only ever heard two people speaking anti-semitically: the first was a guy who always said the most outrageous thing he could think of, in order to get a rise out of someone, and almost certainly didn't really believe what he was saying. I hope. The second guy - the husband of someone I knew from work - was a desperately sad person (I use the word 'sad' in whatever context you choose to read it) who, during a fairly brief conversation, informed me that not only do Jews run the world, but also that the USA was behind the 9/11 attacks and Barack Obama was a Muslim. I suggested that this wasn't true, but because I hadn't watched the YouTube video that said it was, he discounted my opinions.
Recently I have heard two more anti-semitic comments, both "jokes" about Jewish people being parsimonious, and in both cases the people making the comments were insistent that they weren't being anti-semitic. "I admire them for it!" was the gist. Anecdotal, sure, but perhaps indicative of a creeping change in the zeitgeist.
Emboldened by social media? Perhaps. The comments I've seen online have been illuminating: as above, anti-semitism has hardly ever made an appearance in my world, so it has been astonishing to see the vitriol and unhidden hatred poured out into the Twittersphere: the old tropes of Jewish puppet-masters, of secret cabals, and of the Holocaust being faked. I even strayed into David Duke's website out of morbid curiosity, and it's truly frightening.
So, when people accuse Jeremy Corbyn - you knew this was going to be about him, didn't you? - of anti-semitism, this is not what they mean. The accusations against him, and his Labour party more widely, almost all centre around Israel, and the extent to which a comment about Israel is really a veiled comment about Jewish people. And, well, it's confusing. To me, at least. Anti-semites cottoned on some time ago to the fact that they could try to deflect accusations of anti-semitism by using the word 'Zionist' instead of Jew (this reached its peak of crassness in a blog I read a while ago noting that someone was "Zionist in appearance"); on the other hand, there are those who have used this in reverse: attempting to stifle legitimate criticism of Israel by claiming that any such comments are anti-semitic.
This, of course, is not unique to this arena: have a look through Twitter and it won't take you long to find a woman shouting "sexism!" at any man who disagrees with her. Insert the name of any group you like there - 'Christians', if you want it closer to home for me - and there are those who will question motives or pretend that attacks are ad hominem rather than address the points in question.
Anyway, I am very far from an expert on Israel, and - while I recognise its seriousness - it's not a topic that holds any special interest for me. One of the hints that anti-Zionism is often really anti-semitism in disguise is the large number of people who don't find themselves in the same position as me: while they have been unmoved by events in (to pick some hotspots at random) Central African Republic, Turkey, Kosovo and more, they have a great interest in the goings on in Israel. An even clearer indication of anti-semitism is the belief that Jewish people, wherever they live, must hold similarly strong views on Israel: David Baddiel, who is repeatedly on record saying that he doesn't care about the issue, is frequently accosted on social media by those holding him responsible for anything Israel does.
Back to Jeremy Corbyn. By this categorisation of anti-semitism, I think he's clean. While he may hold strong views about Israel, he does not hold them in isolation - he has been, all his life, a political crank who is never happier than when he is staging a Venezuelan Solidarity meeting in North Islington. I think his views on foreign policy are absurd - essentially, he believes that everything is the fault of the USA or the UK, and on those rare times he has managed to find himself "on the right side of history" it's because it has coincided with this position - but not anti-semitic. If anything, he sees Israel through the lens of the USA, and if America is for it then it must be bad.
This belief, though, leads him into indefensible positions. A lot of the recent furore has been about his appearing at a wreath-laying for one of the Munich bombers, with claims and counter-claims about exactly whom he was commemorating - he wrote in the Morning Star at the time that it was for those "killed by Mossad agents in Paris in 1991"; the Morning Star's sub-editing is about as strong as you'd expect, so it's left to the reader to decide whether Corbyn meant Paris in 1992 or Tunis in 1991 - but even if you tie yourself into knots, it's difficult to explain how on earth the man who would end up as Leader of the Opposition could reasonably have found himself in the position he did. "Present but not involved" is not good enough. (If you want more on this, check out Channel 4's FactCheck).
Then there is the question of the definition of anti-semitism proposed by the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) that the Labour party has not adopted in full, by omitting some of the examples given. The simple explanation of this might be that Seumas Milne (Labour's Director of Communications and Strategy; another left-wing crank who has no place in such a lofty position) is, under the full definition, arguably anti-semitic - here, for example. A more charitable explanation - and one that I have some sympathy with - is that Labour leadership find the extended definition, despite its being widely accepted, questionable. For example, it is anti-semitic, apparently, to compare the actions of Israel with those of the Nazis. While there is widespread evidence that anti-semites do this, I find it troubling to suggest that Israel, alone among all the countries in the world, cannot be compared Nazi Germany: after all, half of Twitter users these days spend their waking hours comparing Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler. Another one is that it is anti-semitic to claim "that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavour"; Seumas Milne once wrote "There's a perfectly reasonable argument to be had about the nature of Israel's racism and whether it should be compared to apartheid, for example." As I said, I am far from an expert in Israel and won't state views one way or the other here, but I do believe strongly in the dangers of shutting down debate by forbidding certain thoughts or views from being expressed.
Putting all this to one side, I made my mind up about Jeremy Corbyn a long time ago, and I think it would be very disingenuous of me to claim that the anti-semitism row has changed things one iota. I'm surprised it has made a difference for so many people, in fact (I mean, there are a lot of people who are just using it as a stick to beat him with, but there are also a number who previously supported him and now no longer feel that they can). As I said above, his views have led him to take indefensible positions on a range of topics, so if you weren't put off by what he and his top team have said and done with regards to the Slobodan Milosevic (he claimed the Kosovan genocide never happened), Vladimir Putin, Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, Nato, the IRA, etc. etc. then, well, I guess it's better late than never to wake up and smell the coffee. Welcome on board.
One last thought, largely unrelated: it is not uncommon in Hollywood for Jewish people to play non-Jews, and vice versa. I wonder how long that will be deemed acceptable. Anyway, my favourite example is the case of Dustin Hoffman - an actor so indisputably Jewish that he was credited as Sam Etic when he voiced a character on the Simpsons - in the forgettable crime drama Family Business. In that film, Hoffman plays Vito, the offspring of a Sicilian and a Scots-Irish American (played by Sean Connery), who is worried that his Jewish wife's family won't accept him because he's a Gentile. You have to admire the moxy of the casting director who said: "You know who would be great for this part...?"

what was I listening to?
This Desert Life - Counting Crows
what was I reading?
I Capture the Castle - Dodie Smith
what was I watching?
The Driver
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