David Ward MP and cartoonist Steve Bell have recently provoked controversies about criticism of Israel, antisemitism, and where the two phenomena meet.
Each episode followed a familiar pattern.
Here is the David Ward episode in brief…
His starting point: a belief that one cannot say anything remotely critical of Israeli policy without being accused of antisemitism.
His next move: making a genuinely outrageous statement about Israel, “the Jews” and the Holocaust.
The effect: David Ward is accused of antisemitism.
His conclusion: I told you so!
(Ward’s ongoing refusal to admit the problem with his comments is toe-curling to witness. First, he giggled about it on Sky News. Yesterday, The Guardian published a jaw-dropping interview in which he continued to dig his hole. Today, he called out for an even bigger shovel in Jewish News.)
The row involving cartoonist Steve Bell is different but no less familiar.
Bell, a longstanding, obsessive critic of Israel, was spectacularly boorish during an exchange with the Jewish Chronicle‘s Stephen Pollard on Radio 4′s Today programme last week. Arrogant Bell said of complaints of antisemitism: “They throw it around with such abandon and, if there is real antisemitism, it’s actually getting ignored.”
He did not explain precisely who “they” are, nor did he elaborate on his question of “if” real antisemitism exists anywhere.
But it seems reasonable to conclude he was accusing at least some Jewish people who complain about antisemitism of being the kids ‘who cried wolf’. Yet when real wolves are pointed out to him Bell simply dismisses them with fresh sneers.
He has recently taken to drawing daily anti-Israel cartoons, in which he mocks antisemitism as ‘aunty semutism’ [sic]. I remember when Guardian contributors campaigned on behalf of those experiencing racism. Bell mocks them.
I’m not aware of him targeting any other nations as obsessively as he has the Israelis. Nor can I find any record of him issuing condescending rulings to other minority groups on what they are and are not allowed to find offensive. Were his arrogance more widely targeted it would cause less suspicion.
Ward and Bell are playing familiar games. Ward went to great effort to be accused of antisemitism, in order to become the martyr who had been accused of antisemitism. Bell’s game, meanwhile, is to appoint himself arbitrator of what is and is not antisemitism.
These two games are popular among Israel-haters who lack the rhetorical skill or knowledge to debate the issue properly. No one needs to play along with such fools. Call them out on the game they are playing and they quickly shut up.
Then we can debate with people who actually care.