It should (and could) have been so simple. All Matt Seaton had to do was to issue a statement along the following lines:
“CiF of course finds the comment made by ‘William Bapthorpe’ entirely unacceptable and this poster has been permanently banned from the CiF site as a result. CiF wishes to apologise for any distress caused in the time between the comment being posted and its deletion by our moderators. CiF will exercise additional vigilance in the future and wishes to make it clear that the posting of racist comments will result in an immediate and permanent ban from the site.”
But he didn’t. Instead, we got a rather mealy-mouthed and somewhat begrudging post on Robin Shepherd’s blog which concentrates upon the technicalities of banning and pre-moderation, but comes nowhere near to addressing the actual issue. Why is that?
I think it’s probably fair to say that Matt Seaton didn’t get to where he is today by being bad at his job, and the bottom line of that job is to attract as much traffic as possible to the CiF web site. How is that achieved? Well it seems to me that one possibility is that the Guardian has decided to try to carve its niche in the internet news market by being ‘cutting edge’ and somewhat unconventional, as is reflected in its choice of ‘above the line’ writers quite frequently. In order to be ‘unconventional’, however, one has to be aware of convention, and one accepted convention of modern society is that racism is contradictory to our ideas of a fair, just and healthy society. So if an editor wanted to be really provocative and unconventional, he could, for example, commission articles written by the leader of a racist, theology-based, violent organisation, outlawed in both Britain and the EU, which targets a specific group of people because of their ethnicity such as Khalid Mish’al.
Fortunately, the flouting of conventions in order to attract readers appears to have its limits; as far as I know we have not (thank goodness) been subjected to articles of CiF by advocates of the hanging of gay people in Africa or supporters of Combat 18. So why does the Guardian editorial team see nothing wrong in flouting this particular aspect of one convention alone? Why does a newspaper which most likely considers its readership to be educated people of a liberal left-wing persuasion think that they will be interested in reading articles which promote and excuse bigotry against one particular group of people when they would probably be horrified by bigotry of any other type?
That is because the Guardian is a part of a sub-section of British society in which political antisemitism – as opposed to social antisemitism – is perfectly normal. Whilst Mr. Seaton and many of his readers would no doubt be horrified by the thought that they could be accused of bigotry or racism, they still engage in the most dangerous kind of political antisemitism directed both at the State of Israel and Jews in general. The Guardian’s decision to show a video of the highly offensive and blatantly antisemitic play ‘Seven Jewish Children’, or its equally unfortunate decision to provide a platform for Peter Oborne to peddle his antisemitic conspiracy theories are just two of many examples of its embrace of one specific kind of bigotry and racism. In other words, the Guardian is consciously cultivating an environment in which political antisemitism thrives.
A poster such as ‘William Bapthorpe’ would not write the words he wrote in an environment which he perceived to be intolerant of such statements. Bapthorpe’s comment was particularly extreme, but it is merely the inevitable culmination of years of de-legitimisation of Israel and dehumanisation of Israelis on the CiF website.
One would expect that any true left-leaning liberal would be quite shocked to discover that a newspaper he or she read was attractive to anti-Semites and bigots and begin to ask some very pertinent questions as to how this came about. But Mr. Seaton, who does more than just read CiF, appears remarkably unperturbed by this fact. Indeed he seems quite keen to play along with the situation. Banning ‘William Bapthorpe’ outright would change the rules of the game on CiF; instead he gets a meaningless virtual tap on the wrist. Why? Because, just like governments which put health warnings on cigarettes and yet will never ban them because of the enormous revenue they generate, Matt Seaton knows that the anti-Israel bigotry on CiF is bread and butter, and without it his site would not be nearly as attractive to a certain sub-section of British society in which political antisemitism has become shockingly acceptable and indeed something of a badge of honour.
What is tragic in particular about the climate of opinion being cultivated at CiF, which is obviously deeply worrying both to most Jews and also many non-Jews who are truly anti-racist, is that once upon a time, the Guardian itself would have been at the forefront of efforts to eradicate such a dangerous trend in British society. Now it prefers to play to the gallery. It really is that simple.