The Naz Shah Scandal Shows that the Right Has an Anti-Semitism Problem – VICE

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Labour MP Naz Shah as she tells the House of Commons that she “wholeheartedly apologises” for words she used in a Facebook post about Israel. (Photo by PA)

It’s hard being Jewish in Britain today. People give you
strange looks and ask you stranger questions. They’ll tell you without any
shame exactly how you ought to feel about national and foreign politics. You
can very easily get singled out and made to feel different, just because your
ancestors practiced a slightly unusual faith. Strangers will start thundering
at you from podiums and newspaper columns, seeming to address a general
audience but really ranting directly at
and it can make you feel afraid. But they
you to feel afraid. They keep on saying it: be afraid, Jewboy, bad things are
coming for you. What’s worse is that this isn’t just coming from the general
rabble; one of the country’s main parties seems captive to Europe’s oldest and
most shameful hatred. Its public figures will swear up and down that they have
nothing against Jews, they love Jews, they love British diversity, and what’s
more, they have full and unquestioning support for the state of Israel. But if
they love me so much, why do they insist on shouting me down whenever I happen
to disagree with them, or take a stance on the Middle East that differs from
the party line? Why are they getting away with this? Why won’t anyone come out
and admit that the Conservative party has a problem with anti-Semitism?

If you read the papers, though, it looks like it’s Labour
that has the anti-Semitism problem. The story has been circulating for months
now, faster and frothier with each rotation, as a detachment of journalistic
shock troops ransack every inconsequential student group or constituency party,
looking for someone, anyone, with negative things to say about the Jews. The
latest victim is Naz Shah MP, the honourable member for Bradford West, who’s
been forced to resign from her post as parliamentary secretary to John
McDonnell after a series of anti-Semitic facebook posts were revealed
Guido Fawkes and the Jewish Chronicle. Most shocking was an
image that suggested the State of Israel be removed to North America. But
despite the censure, Ms Shah still retains the Labour whip. As a
Telegraph leader put it, “that speaks
volumes about Mr Corbyn’s disgustingly inadequate response to anti-Semitism in
his party.” As a British Jew, I should be very afraid.

And I am. But I’m not afraid of Jeremy Corbyn or Naz Shah. I
am afraid of the massed bien-pensants, those who claim to know
what should be worrying me better than I do, who claim to be fighting my corner
without my ever having asked for it. Naz Shah’s “disgusting” Facebook posts
were not about Jews; they were about the state of Israel. These are not the
same thing.

It really shouldn’t have to be repeated at this point, but
anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism. Israel is a foreign country, halfway across
the world, with a long history of carrying out some extremely unpleasant acts
on its three and a half million captive Palestinians. While it may claim to be
Jewish, that does not mean it can then use an entire global Jewish diaspora as one
vast human shield. The Jewish people have been around for much longer than
Israel; most of us never asked for it, and many of us would like to have as
little to do with it as possible. When opponents of Israel treat Jews in
general and the government in Jerusalem as if they were the same thing, blaming
one for the actions of the other, they are rightfully condemned. Why should it
be any different when the same line’s coming from people who claim to support

I doubt I’m the only British Jew who has encountered this
phenomenon: being accosted by some smiling and well-meaning philosemite, so
eager to tell you how much they love our people and how much they love Israel –
and when you mention that, actually, you don’t see much to love in murderous
tinpot regime committing atrocities in your name, everything sours, and you’re
treated to the strange spectacle of someone who’s never held a Torah in their
life accusing you of being insufficiently Jewish, of being a self-hating Jew,
of not understanding your own religion. It’s the same when I’m told by
newspapers and politicians that as a Jew I’m required to feel threatened by any
anti-Israel sentiment. It might be paternalistic and condescending rather than
exterminationist, but there’s a word for this attitude: it’s anti-Semitism.

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Of course, anti-Zionist activism has its own anti-Semites –
they might not be the same thing, but they can still coexist. In my experience,
though, nobody is more invested in rooting out anti-Semitism within the
Palestine solidarity movement than the Palestine solidarity movement itself.
Unlike the Tory operatives, rooting around for paydirt with their snouts in the
muck, the movement really does have a vested interest in denying a platform to
Jew-haters. The more insidious anti-Semites of the Zionist Right, meanwhile,
want Palestine solidarity to be as full of neo-Nazis as possible (and, of
course, to have no Jews whatsoever),the better to delegitimise it. We’re told
that the Left is full of anti-Semites for whom anti-Zionism is just a
convenient disguise, but if that’s the case, then where are they? In almost
every supposed scandal over left-wing anti-Semitism – from Corbyn himself, from
Naz Shah, from NUS President
Malia Bouattia – it
turns out that the offending statement is just a strongly worded outcry against
the violence of the Israeli state. Very little of it is victimising me. But, as
all those who are shocked and furious on my behalf never stop reminding me, my
opinion here doesn’t really matter.

The Labour anti-Semitism scandal is a purely manufactured
outrage, a cynical ploy to play on the fears of ordinary Jewish people. As the
Tories plunge from one crisis to another, they’re desperately flailing for
something that might tarnish their opponents, and they don’t mind cynically
instrumentalising the British Jewish community in the process. If you want to
seek out the real anti-Semitism in British politics, you might need to look
elsewhere. For most of our history, anti-Semitism hasn’t come from the Left –
which has always been, to a greater or lesser extent, pretty Jewish itself –
but the Right. All those taloned aristos, faces drained ashes-white at the
thought of the grubby hirsute Jews joining their golf clubs or marrying their
daughters; all those Eton boys marching with Mosley or deciding that if the
Jews couldn’t be wiped out, a temporary solution might be to ship them all to
Palestine. In 2015, Labour went to the polls led by Ed Miliband, a man who
could have been Britain’s first Jewish Prime Minister since 1880. The press
crowed over his inability to eat a bacon sandwich; Jeremy Paxman dismissed him
as a “north London geek”. And it’s true; the man was useless – skinny,
indecisive, and strange. But it just so happens that these traits are the cornerstone
of a well-worn anti-Semitic stereotype, one that’s far more damaging to people
like me than any outrage against a distant nation’s crimes. I hope that conservatives will issue a full apology soon.


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The Naz Shah Scandal Shows that the Right Has an Anti-Semitism Problem – VICE