Does supporting Israel make you a friend of the Jews?

Stephen Pollard is wrong on Kaminski, Israel and anti-Semitism

Stephen Pollard has a rather strange piece in the Daily Telegraph. In a surprising and misconceived attempt to defend (!) Polish MEP Michal Kaminski from accusations of anti-Semitism, the editor of the Jewish Chronicle ends up making this rather bizarre point in the very final paragraph:

"Far from being an anti-Semite, Mr Kaminski is about as pro-Israeli an MEP as exists."

Eh? Why on earth does he suddenly refer to Israel here? Is he really so naive that he thinks supporters of Israel can't be anti-Semitic at the same time? If so, I would point him in the direction of the pro-Israeli, but nonetheless anti-Semitic, BNP. As Ruth Smeed, of the Board of Deputies, has said:

"The BNP website is now one of the most Zionist on the web - it goes further than any of the mainstream parties in its support of Israel and at the same time demonises Islam and the Muslim world."

Or, perhaps, is he implicitly arguing that being pro-Israeli is now a litmust test for being a philo-Semite, rather than an anti-Semite? If so, he is treading down a dangerous path. Critics of Israel are often accused of blurring the line between Israelis and Jews, of conflating Zionism and Judaism, but, as I have often argued, it is Israel's supporters across the world who often do so - and do so in such a brazen and shameless manner.

I, for example, am a supporter, admirer and friend of the Jews but a longstanding critic of Israel. Mr Kaminski, on the other hand, seems to be a supporter of Israel but a longstanding opponent of the Jews. Does Mr Pollard get the difference?

(On a related note, the irony, of course, is that the ideological forefather of Israel, and founder of Zionism, Theodor Herzl surrounded himself and his political project with some of Europe's leading anti-Semites, stating in his "Diaries" that "Anti-Semites will become our surest friends, anti-Semitic countries our allies.")

 

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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No, Jeremy Corbyn did not refuse to condemn the IRA. Please stop saying he did

Guys, seriously.

Okay, I’ll bite. Someone’s gotta say it, so really might as well be me:

No, Jeremy Corbyn did not, this weekend, refuse to condemn the IRA. And no, his choice of words was not just “and all other forms of racism” all over again.

Can’t wait to read my mentions after this one.

Let’s take the two contentions there in order. The claim that Corbyn refused to condem the IRA relates to his appearance on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme yesterday. (For those who haven’t had the pleasure, it’s a weekly political programme, hosted by Sophy Ridge and broadcast on a Sunday. Don’t say I never teach you anything.)

Here’s how Sky’s website reported that interview:

 

The first paragraph of that story reads:

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been criticised after he refused five times to directly condemn the IRA in an interview with Sky News.

The funny thing is, though, that the third paragraph of that story is this:

He said: “I condemn all the bombing by both the loyalists and the IRA.”

Apparently Jeremy Corbyn has been so widely criticised for refusing to condemn the IRA that people didn’t notice the bit where he specifically said that he condemned the IRA.

Hasn’t he done this before, though? Corbyn’s inability to say he that opposed anti-semitism without appending “and all other forms of racism” was widely – and, to my mind, rightly – criticised. These were weasel words, people argued: an attempt to deflect from a narrow subject where the hard left has often been in the wrong, to a broader one where it wasn’t.

Well, that pissed me off too: an inability to say simply “I oppose anti-semitism” made it look like he did not really think anti-semitism was that big a problem, an impression not relieved by, well, take your pick.

But no, to my mind, this....

“I condemn all the bombing by both the loyalists and the IRA.”

...is, despite its obvious structural similarities, not the same thing.

That’s because the “all other forms of racism thing” is an attempt to distract by bringing in something un-related. It implies that you can’t possibly be soft on anti-semitism if you were tough on Islamophobia or apartheid, and experience shows that simply isn’t true.

But loyalist bombing were not unrelated to IRA ones: they’re very related indeed. There really were atrocities committed on both sides of the Troubles, and while the fatalities were not numerically balanced, neither were they orders of magnitude apart.

As a result, specifically condemning both sides as Corbyn did seems like an entirely reasonable position to take. Far creepier, indeed, is to minimise one set of atrocities to score political points about something else entirely.

The point I’m making here isn’t really about Corbyn at all. Historically, his position on Northern Ireland has been pro-Republican, rather than pro-peace, and I’d be lying if I said I was entirely comfortable with that.

No, the point I’m making is about the media, and its bias against Labour. Whatever he may have said in the past, whatever may be written on his heart, yesterday morning Jeremy Corbyn condemned IRA bombings. This was the correct thing to do. His words were nonetheless reported as “Jeremy Corbyn refuses to condemn IRA”.

I mean, I don’t generally hold with blaming the mainstream media for politicians’ failures, but it’s a bit rum isn’t it?

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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