The Wadsworth affair and the “anti-Semitic trope” gambit

Picture of Marc Wadsworth, a middle aged, portly Black man with a receding hairline, wearing a red jumper with a black jacket over it, holding a microphone. The forehead of a white woman in the audience can be seen at the bottom.So, today a Labour and Momentum activist (and film-maker and co-founder of the campaign for justice for Stephen Lawrence) named Marc Wadsworth was expelled from the party by the National Constitutional Committee (NCC) for “bringing the party into disrepute and embarrassing the leader” by making an accusation to the Jewish Labour MP, Ruth Smeeth, that she was “working hand-in-hand with the media” to discredit the party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, at a launch event for the Chakrabarti report into anti-Semitism in the Labour party in 2016. Wadsworth, who was represented by Harriet Wistrich (best known for her work on domestic violence) has said he is looking into ways he could challenge the ruling but also said that Corbyn had told him after the event that he could have used “kinder language” but has also said he is not embarrassed by Wadsworth. The Derby North MP, Chris Williamson, condemned the ruling, saying it “flies in the face of the evidence presented and offends against the principles of natural justice”, suggesting that it was the result of predetermination; an unnamed former Labour staffer wrote to the party’s general secretary accusing Williamson of “[bringing] the Party into disrepute by questioning and undermining the impartiality of the NEC and the NCC”.

The comments made to Ruth Smeeth were deemed anti-Semitic because they supposedly echo an “anti-Semitic trope”, that Jews “control the media”. This particular type of accusation, rather than the use of explicit anti-Semitic slurs, expressions of hatred or threats of violence, have formed the bulk of claims of anti-Semitism within the Labour party. Other such ‘tropes’ include the claim that Jews control the financial system or the entertainment industry or that they rule the world from behind the scenes as some sort of conspiracy. The problem is that some of the accusations relate to suggestions that fall far short of any of these tropes by people who do not believe those things and indeed would regard all of them as ridiculous. There is a big difference between saying that the west supports Israel because of the influence of a “Jewish lobby” and saying that Jews control the west; if they had such control, they would need no lobby after all. For anyone wondering why the West supports Israel with, in the case of the USA, billions of dollars of aid (including military technology and firepower) a year despite its rhetoric of human rights and democracy and the denial of these things to the native Palestinians, it’s a quite natural conclusion to come to.

Similarly, there is a wide gulf between saying that Jews have strong connections to the media — the major broadcast and print media — and saying that they control it. In the UK, none of the major newspaper proprietors is Jewish, but a fair number of Jewish columnists get print space in most of the broadsheets every week, and this goes for the left- and right-leaning papers. To say that they are, in general, a prosperous community is not to say that they are “all rich” or that they own all the banks (they do not). And I have even seen it demanded that we not call Israeli soldiers and settlers who kill Palestinian children “bloodthirsty”, as this echoes the “blood libel”, that Jews kill Christian children to use their blood in matzos at Passover — a myth that originated in England with a child found dead and mutilated in the then Jewish quarter of Lincoln, probably the result of a sex attack, but which has been repeated in Arabic propaganda films lately. This term is very commonly used of people who kill for no reason or seem to take delight in doing so; the blood libel is probably the furthest thing from anyone’s mind, especially when the dead are not even Christian anyway.

We often see it demanded that non-Jews not ‘presume’ to say what is anti-Semitic and what is not. However, even if we leave this up to Jews, the question remains of which Jews, since the Jewish organisations that are usually most ready to make such accusations are also wont to claim that dissenting voices are not Jewish enough; the former are generally ‘eligible’ Jews who are synagogue-goers or who would be welcomed into one, rather than people merely of Jewish origin, not all of whom are religious at all. The problem here is that the most convinced anti-Semites do not make any such distinction; racialised anti-Semitism emerged only when Jews started to become integrated into European societies and some greatly modified or abandoned their religion — that ‘integration’ is precisely part of the conspiracy. The same is true of Muslims: there is a Muslim definition of a Muslim which excludes such groups as the Qadianis (Ahmadiyya) and Isma’ilis, but racists do not usually care for this distinction, especially if their objection is to non-white people or ‘foreigners’ rather than Muslims as such. The people most likely to make accusations of anti-Semitism based on tenuous connections to “anti-Semitic tropes” seem to be the first type; the second are less likely to be noticeably Jewish, but also have little or no connection to Israel, and so are less likely to use “anti-Semitism” to attack anti-Zionism.

We cannot trust people who defend an oppressive régime and who would use accusations of racism to defend it, to ‘define’ what is a manifestation of that prejudice and what it not. If it really is to be “left to Jews” then it must be people of Jewish origin in general and not merely those in the ‘mainstream’ (modern-Orthodox, Zionist) Jewish community. It does appear that the effect of such demands is that people have to watch what they say in the presence of white people, and white middle-class people in particular, lest the person turns out to be Jewish and their comment can be interpreted as an “anti-Semitic trope”. After all, it is generally accepted that white people cannot be victims of racism as such, because racism involves power and not just prejudice, but whites can hide behind their Jewish minority and eagerly echo claims of anti-Semitism whenever an uppity member of a minority (or an outsider to the posh media clique) needs to be silenced. If that’s not what is intended, then one might consider the doctrine that the intent is irrelevant and it’s the impact (including on a third party) that counts — a fairly well-recognised doctrine among anti-racism activists and one that is very convenient to and much utilised by people making false accusations, including of anti-Semitism.

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