Britain’s anti-Semitic Blame Game

Haven’t you heard the news? The left hates Jews. That’s right, the left hates Jews. That’s the message the British media has been pushing since Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader. But it doesn’t stop there.

Not only does the radical far-left hate Jews, but the left has the cunning to hide its anti-Semitism behind its concern for the rights of the Palestinians. Meanwhile, the hard-right has no inclination towards racism and anti-Semitism in its professed love for Israel and all things Jewish.

If you find this narrative hard to accept, that may be because you’re a rational and sensible person or maybe you’re just another anti-Semite. Who’s to know? Yet we find it’s the British right that has been quite happy to fan the flames of anti-Jewish hatred from time to time.

“There are other very powerful lobbies in the United States of America, and the Jewish lobby, with its links with the Israeli government, is one of those strong voices,” Farage said on LBC.

In this case last year, Nigel Farage responded to a caller on his radio show. The caller was drawing a comparison between the influence of Russia in US politics and the role of the pro-Israel lobby.

“That’s a reasonable point,” Farage told listeners. “There are about six million Jewish people living in America, so as a percentage it’s quite small, but in terms of influence it’s quite big.”

In all fairness, Farage did play down the role of Jews in US politics. “They have a voice within American politics,” he said, adding “as do many other groups”.

“I don’t think anybody is suggesting the Israeli government tried to affect the result of American elections,” he stressed.

There may be a conversation to be had about the role of AIPAC and other pro-Israel organisations in the US, but the characterisation of the lobby as ‘Jewish’ and ‘foreign’ invokes the idea of American innocence in the Middle East.

It’s as if the United States would not be a major ally of Israel, if it weren’t for the Jews. This is anti-Semitic. The US became Israel’s principle in the wake of the Six Day War to extend its regional influence. It was realpolitik, in the fight against Russian influence in the region. Not a palace coup.

The LBC incident was barely registered in the mainstream press. So the world went on without noticing that Farage had entertained talk of a covert Jewish hand interfering in American life and went after Labour instead.

To add insult to injury, a couple of months after Farage’s remarks, former UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom made his own intervention on Twitter. Retweeting an anti-Brexit statement by Lloyd Blankfein, Bloom commented: “International Jewish bank recommends second vote and we should vote Remain.”

Bloom was forced out of UKIP for his outbursts. But in this case he wasn’t alone among former allies. Farage’s tasteful response to the campaign for a second referendum was to dub it ‘the Soros vote’. Again, there was no outcry in the press.

In case you’ve been living on the Moon for the last 30 years, George Soros is the Hungarian Jewish financier – who, having funded several liberal reform projects, founded a top-ranking liberal university and the Open Society foundation, has become a central figure in the far-right’s demonology.

Soros, or so we’re supposed to believe, has his own page in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. He controls capital markets. He floods European countries with migrants. He uses NGOs to subvert governments. He even survived the Holocaust, the biggest crime of them all. What was Soros supposed to do, perish? A bit of unrequited wish fulfilment here.

Such conspiracy theories have gone from the fringe corners of the alt-right to mainstream, government-friendly publications like The Telegraph.

Going for broke, the otherwise derided ‘Torygraph’ let it all hang out. “George Soros, the man who ‘broke the bank of England’, backing secret plot to thwart Brexit,” read the headline of an 18 February article, co-authored by Nick Timothy, Kate McCann, Claire Newell and Luke Heighton.

The classic tabloid headline was not a caricature. Claiming a scoop, the very first paragraph begins substantiating the claim. “George Soros, the billionaire known as the man who “broke the Bank of England”, is backing a campaign to overturn Brexit, the Telegraph can disclose,” it reads.

The pretence to objectivity indulged here is the dénouement of a classic stylistic trope, typical of right-wing UK tabloids, unafraid to indulge narrative cliché in a headline, only to reinforce its claims in a more serious and considered way. The use of single quotation marks about ‘breaking the bank of England’ does not disguise the fact that The Telegraph believes it to be true.

While Viktor Orban brings in anti-Semitic legislation on the pretext of limiting the influence of Soros, much more respectable voices on the right are obviously happy to normalise these paranoid fantasies. Indeed, the distance between centre and far right is indeed not that far – at least when it comes to Jews.

Besides, the paper was towing the party line. The Conservative Party has maintained an open alliance with Orban’s Fidesz party for many years. The May government congratulated Orban on his ‘electoral victory’ this year and swung its MEPs behind Hungary in the European Parliament. This is partly about Brexit, but it’s also a part of an old story.

The British right has long been virulently anti-Semitic, even when it supported the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. This was true at the time of the Balfour Declaration, as it is true today. Though there was a time when the British government would come out in opposition to Israel’s wars.

In the case of the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, Thatcher imposed an arms embargo on Israel which officially lasted until 1994. This would never happen today, the British political class has become much more like the US right when it comes to Israel.

The driving force of this shift is the rise of Islamophobia. It’s no coincidence that the establishment has become much more pro-Israel since the United States and Europe became major targets for Islamist terror groups.

We’re meant to believe the left is harbouring anti-Semites and terrorist sympathisers, just as the right is supposed to stand up for Jews and not for radical Muslims. It’s like living in a hall of wildly distorting mirrors.

Britain remains rife with racism, most of tied to its colonial past and all of its political parties still have accounting to do. Next time you hear complaints about anti-Semitism in Labour, try and read it within context. Facts don’t lie, but racists do.

Ten Theses on Anti-Semitism

Photograph courtesy of Kyose Masamune. Published under a Creative Commons license.