Friday 20 February 2009

Jacobson: You're All Racists!

It was hard to know whether to bother to plough through Howard Jacobson's prodigious output in defence of Israel, across two full pages of Wednesday's Independent.

Such Stakhanovite effort, so many words expended, so that the loathsome Jacobson, a man who disgracefully described the Justice4Jean campaign as 'ghouls' back in 2005, could find a way to insult the readership of his newspaper without simply blurting out the crude essence of his position: that if you were shocked by the bombardment of Gaza and criticised Israel for its actions, you are a racist.

Jacobson particularly rails against the use of the words 'slaughter' and 'massacre' to describe the war inflicted on Gaza. This brought to mind world reaction to the murderous US assault on Fallujah in Iraq in November 2004 - another example of the collective punishment of civilians by an overwhelmingly powerful army, justified in the name of defeating opponents described as terrorists. Notwithstanding the fact that most anti-war activists would find the ideological beliefs of Muqtada al-Sadr repellent, the indiscriminate killing of a trapped and terrified civilian population, with hundreds dead or wounded, was rightly described as a 'massacre'. But at no point was this critique of US military policy ever described as a racist position. Such an accusation would have been absurd.

But writers like Jacobson have no problem with embracing the absurd. It is the basis for preventing discussion about Israel's actions and is cynically targeted at the liberals who read newspapers like the Independent, those who are most likely to react with alarm at being called 'racist'.

It is also dangerous: there clearly has been an increase in anti-Semitic attacks in Britain and anti-racists should not only condemn them, but be able prepared to act in solidarity with those facing these attacks. However, as long as absurdists like Jacobson insist that first you must express no opinion whatsoever about Israel's actions, or you will be placed in the enemy's camp, then such solidarity becomes almost impossible to achieve.

To read an interesting response to the issue of 'the left and anti-semitism', see this from Brian Klug.

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