The responses to the Telegraph's dog-whistle front page were highly predictable—on both sides of the political spectrum. It's time we started calling out hatred wherever it appearsby Daniel Sugarman / February 9, 2018 / Leave a comment
Twenty months ago, as the debate was raging over whether the UK should vote to leave or remain in the European Union, I wrote down the reasons why I had decided to vote Remain.
I worried about the financial implications for the country, as well as how leaving might decrease our international influence. I also deplored what I described back then as “the degeneration of much of the Leave campaign in recent months into a toxic blend of xenophobic, jingoistic cheerleading, masquerading as security concerns.”
Then, however, I turned to my feelings as a British Jew.
“Brexit could well lead to a period of potentially massive economic and social upheaval,” I wrote. “Historically, such periods tend to be very bad for us Jews.”
“When the paradise promised by the Leave campaign inevitably fails to materialise in the wake of Brexit, I have every expectation that elements which have long blamed the EU for all their misfortunes will revert to an older and more familiar scapegoat.”
So when I saw that the Telegraph had devoted its front page to a supposed exposé on a Jewish billionaire “backing secret plot to thwart Brexit”—followed up by the Daily Mail’s sinister mutterings the next day about “tainted money”— I can’t say I was hugely surprised. If anything, I was astonished that it had taken this long.
George Soros’s politics are no secret. Nor is the fact that he donates serious sums of money to back the political causes he agrees with. The idea that this is some sort of shady, insidious plan to topple governments is a preposterous one.
It is also exactly the same charge which is being used by far-right ideologues in Eastern Europe—particularly in Soros’s native Hungary—and is now found in scores of anti-Semitic memes plastered all over racist Facebook groups and Reddit threads. For them, Soros is Rothschild 2.0, a “rootless cosmopolitan” who tries to poison hearts and minds.
But perhaps even more depressing than the Telegraph’s headline itself were some of the reactions to the piece, authored by former May advisor Nick Timothy, as a whole. For reasons of brevity, let’s highlight just a couple.
In the blue corner, we had Dan Hodges, a (non-Jewish) journalist who has rightly called out those on the far-Left, including many supporters of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, for anti-semitism. Yet here, presented with a front page that was less a dog whistle than a canine-signalling orchestra, all he could do was go “nothing to see here, guv.” It was little short of pathetic.
Speaking of pathetic, a glance across to the red corner, and the reaction of certain people on the far-left to the Telegraph’s front page, was almost beyond belief.
“The Telegraph has published a story selling the fascist line that ‘there’s a silent, ultra-Liberal conspiracy being run by a rich Jew”, declared Kerry-Anne Mendoza, editor of The Canary. “This is what antisemitism looks like.”
Of course, what anti-semitism also looks like is the cascade of tweets by Canary columnist, Steve Topple, ranting about “Rothschild” control of oil fields and central banks. Apparently, Mendoza sees absolutely no problem with this outpouring of anti-semitic hate so close to home.
I cite these examples not because they are exceptional, but only because they are most recent. In fact, these problems are pervasive on both sides of the aisle.
The Jewish community as a whole is tired—so very, very tired—of certain, highly predictable, responses to anti-semitism from different sides of the political spectrum.
Firstly, we are tired of being told by the far-left, when we point out incredibly obvious examples of anti-semitism, that we are somehow trying “to stifle legitimate criticism of Israel.” This almost Pavlovian reaction, is, with bitter humour, known among the Jewish community as “the Livingstone Formulation.”
Secondly, we are tired of seeing people on the right, when they are called out on their use of an antisemitic trope, pivot to their support of Israel—as one of the writers of the Telegraph article has now done. Sadly, as evidence reaching back decades shows, it is perfectly possible to hold anti-semitic views while supporting the state of Israel.
How exactly can such attitudes be combatted? One point is relatively simple, and it’s something that Jewish students, in particular, have been stressing for a long time. The Macpherson report, the inquiry into the tragic murder of Stephen Lawrence, talks about allowing people from minority groups “the right to define their own oppression.” However, when it comes to Jews, many people seem unwilling to extend us that same courtesy. This needs to change.
This is not always easy, because the Jewish community, as with any other, will often have multiple opinions. There are those within the Jewish community who have defended the Telegraph’s headline. There are many, however, who have condemned it.
As a general rule, though, for both the far-left and the right: if a large number of people from a specific group—in this instance, the Jewish community—are telling you that something is offensive, it’s wise to listen to what they are saying, rather than rush to find certain members of said group who agree with you.
I fear that the current global upheaval is leading to anti-semitic talking points increasingly being accepted into the mainstream, both on the left and right.
What we need, more than ever, are people who are willing to call out this hatred wherever it appears, including on their own side, rather than simply when it’s politically expedient to do so. The more people like this there are, the less we will have to fear.