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November 24, 2019 8:03 pm

New York Times Tries Explaining Away British Labour’s Antisemitism

avatar by Ira Stoll

Opinion

Britain’s opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves his house in London, Aug. 6, 2018. Photo: Reuters / Toby Melville.

A New York Times news article reports about how “Britain’s Jews Are Feeling Politically Homeless” amid the rise of Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

The Times reports that British Jews “flinch at handing power to Mr. Corbyn, seen by many as the only person who can stop Brexit, pained as they are by an avalanche of anti-Semitism accusations against the party.” That’s an odd formulation; it’s not the accusations that are causing the pain but the antisemitism.

The Times article’s low point is this breathtaking paragraph: “Scholars say certain strains of anticapitalism have historically risked casting Jews as a class of rich conspirators oppressing working people. Some of Mr. Corbyn’s supporters also stridently oppose Israel, occasionally resorting to anti-Semitic tropes to make their points.”

These “scholars” go unnamed by the Times, their identity undisclosed to Times readers. The larger problem, though, is the confusion of cause and effect. Blaming antisemitism on anticapitalism is backwards. It’s just as plausible that the antisemitism is the cause of the anticapitalism as that the anticapitalism is the cause of the antisemitism. Anticapitalism is, like antisemitism, so irrational that it defies logical explanation. But one possible explanation for why some people hate capitalism is that these people hate Jew, so they hate capitalism, which is a system that allows Jews to prosper.

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If my logic here about capitalism seems speculative, it may be clearer for readers to follow in the case of Israel, where the Times makes a similar, parallel error, again getting the story backward. It’s not, as the Times suggests, that anti-Israel sentiment “occasionally” spills over into antisemitism. Hating Jews isn’t, as the Times portrays it, some unfortunate if somewhat rare side effect of hating Israel, like, say, an upset stomach from ibuprofen. In the non-Times reality, antisemites hate Israel because they hate Jews, and because Israel is the Jewish state. It’s not the anti-Israelism that causes the antisemitism; it’s the antisemitism that causes the anti-Israelism.

Veering into antisemitism doesn’t help opponents of Israel “make their points,” as the Times describes; it undercuts the validity of those points, discrediting them.

In addition, it’s also not only “some of Mr. Corbyn’s supporters” who “stridently oppose Israel”; Corbyn himself has made a career of it.

What other hatreds are there where the Times makes such effort to make excuses for the haters, to find the most charitable possible way of explaining away the hate?

I suppose it’s encouraging to see the Times covering the story of antisemitism in Europe. But if the Times is going to be offering these sorts of apologies—they were just resorting to antisemitism “occasionally,” to “make their points” against Israel—it almost might be better for the Jews and maybe also for the Times if the Times ignored the story altogether. After all, for a lot of people who follow this issue, mention of strident opponents of Israel “occasionally resorting to anti-Semitic tropes to make their points” first brings to mind not supporters of the British Labour party, but the Times itself, which apologized earlier this year for publishing what the paper eventually conceded was an antisemitic political cartoon.

Ira Stoll was managing editor of The Forward and North American editor of The Jerusalem Post. More of his media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.

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