Shellsuit redux

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So, I cast my beady eye over the Littlejohnson programme on anti-Semitism, and I am gratified that my pre-emptive parody turned out to be only a slight exaggeration. It was like Annie Hall without the jokes. Nick Cohen turned up, briefly, to mumble about these mythical Islington dinner parties. Lorna Fitzsimons was indeed a star witness, although her past – as a streetfighting factional opponent of the SWP in the NUS, and as a parliamentary member of Labour Friends of Israel – and her present position heading up the Zionist lobby group BICOM might shed light on the numerous axes she has to grind.

In general, apart from the unconscious humour of Littlejohn of all people giving off about racist homophobes on behalf of the one minority group he actually likes, there was enough evidence there to show that there is anti-Semitism about, and it should be taken seriously. However, I’m not convinced that the Jewish population is helped much by pretending that anti-Semitism is absolutely rife in modern Britain, or that anti-Semitic attitudes are respectable in polite society when in fact they are absolutely marginal. And, as pointed out in the discussion on Aaro Watch, most of the anti-Semitic incidents that take place are of the ilk of criminal damage, and anecdotal evidence suggests that most are carried out by Arab or Asian teenagers (or, in the case of graveyard desecrations, white fascists). The level of anti-Semitic violence attributable to middle-class Guardian readers, or the SWP (itself heavily consisting of middle-class Guardian readers) must be vanishingly small if not nil.

There was however an elephant in the room in the form of the Muslims. In the Littlejohn programme Muslims only featured as sinister swarthy men who hate Jews for no apparent reason. But any objective assessment of British society would suggest that Muslims, or at least those Muslims belonging to visible ethnic minorities, suffer vastly more from prejudice, discrimination, and indeed racist violence than Jews. Not to say that you can’t always find some anti-Semitic incident somewhere, but it would help to get things in proportion. And if you think prejudice against Jews is on of the major problems in Britain today, sit down and listen to Gaunty on talkSPORT for a few hours. And then realise that trying to read coded anti-Semitic innuendo into Socialist Worker articles really isn’t a very profitable enterprise.

6 Comments

  1. Ed Hayes said,

    July 11, 2007 at 10:34 am

    Didn’t see the programme, can only imagine Littlejohn’s new found sensitivity to an immigrant group once accused of being the bearers of radical, dangerous ideologies as well as prone to criminality and having loyalty to an international body rather than their host nation. Oh sorry, that was what the likes of Littlejohn said about Jews in the 1930s.
    However I think Idris of Dungiven has hit on something with the comment about attitudes towards Jews among some supporters of the Palestinians. About 5 years ago I was making my merry way up Grafton St in Dublin when after passing the usual SWP petition stall I saw a group of young Muslim men hadning out leaflets. I went over, got one and on reading it discovered that the massacre at Dier Yessin (sorry for spelling, you know where I mean) was worse than the entire Holocaust (which was enclosed in inverted commas)and that the Nazis had picked on the Jews because of the power they held in Germany after World War One. I told them I thought this was shite. They were polite (all from Leicester in England) but deep down I knew that if they were white then I would either have had to quickly mobilise the SWP and the Anti-Nazi League or more practically have a go myself. I later told one of the few SWP members I talk to about them and he told me, reassuringly, that ‘oppressed people cannot be racist.’ So thats ok then.
    BTW saw the new IPR. Great article by Fennell on why a united Ireland is off the agenda for good. I agree with him! Loads of whinging from Brendan Clifford re internet attacks on him and a big article on immigration.

  2. ejh said,

    July 11, 2007 at 10:47 am

    Actually Muslims aren’t discriminated against in Britain at all – or so the statistics say, according to a Telegraph headline I saw at the next table outside a Benasque street café the other morning.

    I didn’t ask “would you mind if I take a look at your paper?”, if you were wondering…

  3. Idris of Dungiven said,

    July 11, 2007 at 1:37 pm

    With regard to Ireland, you have to factor Irish neutrality in 1939 – 1945 into the equation alongside the Latin mass’s prayers against ‘perfidious jews’ and similar idiocies.

    I happen to think that neutrality was the only politically feasible option for the 26 counties, but one result of it for the post-1945 Republic of Ireland was that anti-fascism and opposition to anti-semitism never became part of the official political discourse of the establishment and the anti-establishment parties, nor was it part of the ‘mental furniture’ of the broad masses.

  4. Mark P said,

    July 11, 2007 at 3:27 pm

    To be fair, Idris, while that may be true it also has to be said that anti-semitism was never a significant deep-rooted mass phenomenon in Ireland to start with. The only major outbreak of it, the Limerick “pogrom” (actually a boycott) of 1904 is significant precisely because it was so small scale. Even the Blueshirts, which actually became a mass movement, were remarkably light on the anti-semitic rhetoric.

    Yes there were anti-semitic ideas around, particularly in some religious circles, and this influenced government policy particularly regarding Jewish refugees during World War 2, it simply wasn’t a part of Irish popular consciousness to any great extent. DeValera remember went out of his way to recognise the Jewish community in his 1937 Constitution and Fianna Fail always had prominent Jewish members and politicians.

    I’ve always thought that this is one of the contradictions in the Dublin 4 state of mind. They want to number anti-semitism amongst the many sins of the backwards peasantry of Ireland, to provide yet further contrast with their own liberal, progressive and modern outlook. At the same time, the very liberal, progressive and modern European states they look towards actually had a much greater tradition of anti-semitic bigotry.

  5. Ed Hayes said,

    July 11, 2007 at 3:42 pm

    Some fair points Mark, but anti-Semitic discourse was much more widespread among both the Blueshirts and Fine Gael in the 1930s than you suggest. See F. McGarry’s book on Eoin O’Duffy for some examples, although a reading of the local press of that decade will throw up other numerous examples. Now of course, it generally wasn’t acted on and in most cases coudn’t have been, since there were very few Jews outside Dublin and Belfast but it existed. It also turns up in radical nationalist journals like the Catholic Bulletin, in speeches by Thomas Ashe in 1917 (of all people) in the IRA’s War News in the 1940s and especially in the radical Catholic mileau of the late 1940s and 50s and also a bit in early Sinn Fein United Irishman of the late 40s. Again I agree, not a defining feature of southern Irish life, and not a cause for the D4 self-flagellation that occasionally goes on but an interesting aspect of politics all the same. On today’s left I just think that there is very little understanding of the Jewish radical tradition or the fact that Jews have not always been uniformly middle class or professionals.

  6. Idris of Dungiven said,

    July 12, 2007 at 10:08 am

    The Aliens Act of 1935 was definitely influenced by anti-semitism. One of the proposed provisions of the act allowed for the changing of names by naturalised foreigners. Some TDs objected to this, saying ‘would you know a man better as O’Donnell than Stavisky?’

    This referred – as any fule kno – to the Stavisky affair in France, a financial scandal involving a gentleman who happened to be Jewish. The TDs would have thought ‘if we keep the Jews out, we can save Ireland from corruption’. Ha. Ha. Ha.

    The D4s deserve to be kicked hard at any and every opportunity, but while they may exagerrate the importance of anti-semitism in Irish culture, it’s there nonetheless. It wasn’t in Berlin that my poor grandfather started believing in the authenticity of the Protocols of Zion, it was in Louisburgh, co. Mayo.


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