Things can take a surprising turn. 'Not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic' is a truth that has been often stated. To which it has just as often been pointed out in reply that this truth doesn't license the inference that all criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic; for it yields only the proposition that some criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic, and this is compatible with some other criticism of Israel being indeed anti-Semitic. In fact, there is such other, anti-Semitic, criticism of Israel, and not merely criticism but also downright hostility and hatred. None of that should by now surprise anyone, I know. The logical relationships are pretty straightforward and the relevant facts of the matter are all easy to come by.
What is surprising is something else. Those of us who have been pointing out the logical compatibility between 'Not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic' and 'Some critical attitudes towards Israel nonetheless are anti-Semitic' have perhaps rather too much taken it for granted that emphasis on this latter thought might put anti-racist liberals and leftists on their guard - on their guard against countenancing, associating themselves with, giving a free pass to, attitudes towards Israel of an anti-Semitic kind. It would seem to be an important concern for anti-racist liberals and other people of progressive outlook to have, for reasons of a quite general kind which I hope I don't need to explain. Yet this may have been a naïve and too sanguine expectation on our part.
For there is a third proposition that increasingly captures, I will not say the spirit of the times, but the spirit of a significant sector of contemporary opinion. This third proposition may be formulated as follows:
It doesn't matter if criticism of and attitudes to Israel are anti-Semitic, so long as they are also anti-Zionist.
In other words, racist animus against Israel is getting an easy ride from more and more commentators just on condition that it chimes in with the narrative of Israel as a usurper-colonialist and racist state. It's as if the taint of anti-Semitic racism isn't strong enough to worry the easy-riders (much less to put a question in their minds about anti-Zionism itself); instead the 'truths' of anti-Zionism are taken as, so to say, cleansing in their effects, so that Jew-hatred is not allowed to deflect anyone from the proper business of denouncing Israel.
This thought was prompted, following Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent speech at the Geneva conference (which I have characterized here), by a letter to the Guardian from Ghada Karmi, in which (scroll down) she says:
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's UN speech on 21 April struck many as obnoxious, but in terms of understanding the 1948 roots of the Middle East conflict he was spot on. Vilifying him may feel good, but it is a diversion [from] the real issue.
Got that? 'Vilifying' him. And not the real issue. You couldn't ask for anything clearer. The guy can deny the Holocaust and look forward to wiping Israel from the page of history, he can give out Jews-controlling-the-world talk, but to react against this is vilification and a diversion from the real issue. Karmi is perhaps unfamiliar with the circumstance of there being more than one real issue.
Take a look next at Martin Jacques in the New Statesman. After warming up with the irony of 'a people who suffered from racism on such an enormous scale... themselves display[ing] the same kind of attitude towards the Palestinians' (my italics) - Jacques expresses himself nonplussed by, he can't think of a good reason for, the boycott of and the walkout at the Geneva conference. Just think about that walkout: it's not enough for Jacques that a guy with Ahmadinejad's Holocaust-denying record is a keynote speaker at this conference and that his speech, as both prepared and delivered, contains clear anti-Semitic tropes. If it can be fitted into an anti-Zionist narrative, this doesn't matter.
The same 'balance' of considerations is to be found in the column by Seumas Milne and the Guardian leader to which I drew attention last week: Ahmadinejad's speech may have been repugnant and inflammatory; but justifying a walkout when the speech is contextualized by reference to the colonialist-settler story that is Israel? It would seem not. Declining to sit and listen to a Holocaust-denier is in those circumstances, for Milne, itself the symptom of racism. Meanwhile, the newspaper for which he writes is careful to observe that the speech of Ahmadinejad, displaying 'the views of a crude anti-semite', might colour how his remarks on the establishment of Israel are taken. Never lose sight of the main thing, hey? Israel, not anti-Semitism - even if and when there is anti-Semitism. As the man said, I guess it doesn't matter any more.
The Guardian, let it be remembered, now opens its opinion pages and its opinion website to the spokesmen of Hamas, an organization that propagates hatred of Jews and endorses the poisonous myths of 'The Protocols of the Elders of Zion' in its charter. It might be said in the paper's defence that Hamas is the political representative of a section of the Palestinian people and the Guardian is simply fulfilling its journalistic duty in reporting the views of leading members of that organization. But this is not reporting; it is providing a platform - for the views of an organization with 'crude' Jew-hatred in its founding documents - and that is something different.
On Saturday, to bring the story up to date, Mark Brown let it be known that the Guardian was making available a reading of Caryl Churchill's Seven Jewish Children. He noted that the play has been controversial and that part of the controversy centres on whether it is anti-Semitic. Readers will now be able to 'make their own judgment'. One wonders whether the decision to make the play available in this form reflects a judgement by the paper itself that Seven Jewish Children is not anti-Semitic. I mean, if it either is or even just might be anti-Semitic (I've put forward seven reasons here for thinking that it is), you'd hope the Guardian would have some qualms about helping to put it about. Things are now such, however, that it's impossible to form a view about whether Churchill's play has been judged by those concerned not to be anti-Semitic, or whether the possibility of its being so is thought not to matter because... so long as it's anti-Zionist, who cares whether it's anti-Semitic? Given the emerging track record at the Guardian, how could one tell?