My Jewish friend, your Asian friend
Yesterday I came across the outgoing edition of the Spectator at Smith’s and there were about four articles hymning Boris Johnson in anticipation of his crowning as prime minister, as was expected when it went to press. I thought it was the new edition, but that was on the shelves today and so I realised that those articles went to press before his row with his girlfriend became headline news. Today there was a little more of the same, including one from Conrad Black, former proprietor of the Telegraph group and the Spectator calling Max Hastings a ‘flake’ (despite his having employed him as editor of the Telegraph for nine years) and claiming he has more confidence in Boris Johnson than in Hastings, who is not running to be Tory leader or prime minister. But one of the articles, by James Forsyth, claimed that Johnson’s Britain would be a more liberal place than Theresa May’s and he airily dismissed fears about his racism and prejudice towards Muslims in a few short sentences. The piece does not seem to be on the website, so perhaps they thought better of it after last weekend’s news. But I’m sure the attitude is widespread.
The article referred to the incidences of racism as a few isolated sentences from his back catalogue and dismissed the idea that he is Islamophobic by mentioning Sajid Javid’s support for him. This last is a classic example of the “Black friend defence”, in which a person accused of racism falls back on having Black friends or on the support of one or two Black (or in this case Asian) supporters. Sajid Javid is in no way representative of Muslims, having risen to prominence in a party most British Muslims do not support, having a spouse who is not Muslim, having said that only one religion is practised in his household and it is not Islam. His right-wing White friends will of course never forget his origins, as we witnessed when others in the leadership race were invited to meet Donald Trump during his state visit and he was not; as an Asian friend of mine said, “they will never allow a P**i, even a ‘house’ one, to become leader”. We have to understand that anti-Asian racism is not the same as Islamophobia, which is prejudice against Islam itself or people understood to be Muslims, and Boris Johnson’s hostility was clearly in the latter category as clearly demonstrated during his editorship. As for the racist language, there were multiple incidents of it; it was not an isolated case of inappropriate language where the person responsible apologised. He was writing for a sympathetic audience which is more than willing to overlook the racism.
Also this week, the Derby North MP, Chris Williamson, was reinstated to the party (though this has now been overturned) having been suspended over numerous accusations of anti-Semitism; this action has led to widespread protests from Labour MPs, staff members and from people outside the party as well as sanctimonious condemnations from Tories whose party does much less than Labour does to keep much worse racists out. One of the more common accusations that has been made is that Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters rely too heavily on the support of left-wing, often secular Jews (though there are a minority of ultra-religious Jews who loudly oppose Zionism as well), and ignore the ‘mainstream’ religious Jews who are sympathetic to Zionism. These people will cast aspersions on the Jewishness of members of Jewish Voice for Labour and Jewdas (claiming that they have one Jewish ancestor generations ago, for example) and have made it clear that their approval is no defence against any charge of anti-Semitism when it comes from the ‘official’ voices of “real Jews”, even when these groups are either self-appointed or not fully elected (e.g. elected from synagogues that do not allow women to vote).
I’m well aware that Boris Johnson is not in the Labour party, but there are many who are willing to do whatever it takes to stop Jeremy Corbyn becoming prime minister even if it means getting Boris Johnson instead (or another Tory who will give him a cabinet post, until Johnson stabs him, the country or some hapless Brit abroad in the back again). There is a sense, rarely expressed openly, that anti-Semitism is a prejudice apart that does not bear comparison to any other form of racism; the reality is that, despite some differences in how anti-Semitism has manifested itself over the generations, any prejudice can lead to violence, oppression, mass murder and genocide. There does not even have to be any visible racial or religious difference. Displays of revulsion at anti-Semitism (and willingness to accept the dictates of the Jewish ‘mainstream’ as to what is anti-Semitism, which they will not when a mainstream Muslim group alleges, or tries to define, Islamophobia) are simply how white middle-class people who will often tolerate racism against visible minorities or policies with a racist effect persuade each other that they are not the worst kind of racist. The real reason is that Jews are an acceptable minority: white, Anglicised and not associated with poverty.
So, let’s be clear: if you will not let Jeremy Corbyn or his supporters fall back on their numerous Jewish friends or the years of service some of them have shown to their communities, including Jewish members, don’t insult us by reminding us that Boris Johnson has a Pakistani friend or that, say, Zac Goldsmith’s former brother-in-law is Imran Khan. If you don’t mind shaking hands with Narendra Modi, on whose watch Hindu fascists staged a re-run of Kristallnacht in Gujarat when he was state governor, resulting in thousands of Muslims being killed and on whose watch as Indian prime minister Indian Muslims have been lynched on the pretext of slaughtering cows, please don’t be pointing fingers at anyone dubiously accused of anti-Semitism. Many a racist has Black friends. Many a racist has had sex with a person not of their race, or produced children with them. A racist politician is not the same as an ordinary racist; it does not depend on personal prejudice but on a tendency to use prejudice for political advantage. Boris Johnson has amply demonstrated both, over pages and pages in the Telegraph and Spectator. If Jeremy Corbyn as PM turns your stomach but Johnson does not, it does not make you less of a racist, just a different type of racist.
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