Will Jonathan Freedland stand with Jews & oppose those, like Mehdi Hasan, rationalizing antisemitism?

In my post on Mehdi Hasan’s ‘Comment is Free’ essay (We mustn’t allow Muslims in public life to be silenced, July 9th) I focused on his claim that the UK is infested with “Islamophobia”, that Muslims are being cowed into silence as a result, and his broader suggestion that the media tolerates racism towards Islam to a degree that it would never allow towards any other group.

I pointed to the fact that, for instance, the largest media institution in the UK – the BBC – contrary to Hasan’s contention, admits to treating Islam more sensitively than other faiths.

However, there was another component of Hasan’s essay which I did not address: his complaint that he is often personally subjected to abusive, racist commentary beneath the line of his polemics for ‘Comment is Free’, The New Statesman and other publications.  

While such attacks are never justifiable, I did not address that issue because here at CiF Watch we spend a lot of energy combating the unending stream of Jew hatred below the line at ‘Comment is Free’ and because Hasan, by shamefully offering a rationalization for antisemitism (and opposing the very existence of the Jewish state), has forfeited the moral high ground on the issue of racism.

Yesterday (July 10th), the Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland came to Hasan’s defense, in a passionate polemic titled, “I stand with Mehdi Hasan against the torrent of Islamophobic abuse“.

 Freedland wrote:

“Mehdi…focused on the abuse he and other prominent Muslims regularly endure when they enter the public square, with insults often hurled via the medium of the online comment. Sure enough, many of those who disagreed with Hasan’s essay piled on to the discussion below the line to use language and imagery so vile it instantly confirmed the very case he had been making.”

Freedland, after proceeding to cite examples of anti-Muslim commentary beneath the line of Hasan’s essay which, he argued, vindicated Hasan’s argument, acknowledged the following:

“I and other Jewish writers have had more than a taste of the treatment Mehdi describes…And I recognise his lament that the tiniest thing can set off the haters…I’ve also grown used to a variant of that progressives’ prejudice, by which “card-carrying liberal lefties”, as Mehdi calls them, in their rush to defend Palestinian rights end up banging out the old, nasty tunes about the Jews.”

Though it is refreshing that Freedland acknowledges the vicious rhetorical assaults on Jews below the line at ‘Comment is Free’, it is quite dispiriting that he fails to hold Hasan, the protagonist in his tale, responsible for his own record of indifference towards Judeophobia.

While Freedland states his disagreement with Hasan’s defense of Lord Nazir Ahmed who, he noted, “has an awkward record of inviting known antisemites to the House of Lords” and writes that he felt “uneasy” when Hasan “…describe[d] non-Muslims as ‘people of no intelligence’ and as ‘cattle'”, he nonetheless fails to confront the elephant in the room: The following 2009 essay by Hasan.

Here’s the money quote from the piece:

“I do find it both tragic and ironic that the state of Israel – created ostensibly to protect Jews from across the world from hatred, prejudice and violence – through its actions today, and through its self-proclaimed role as the leader and home of world Jewry, provokes such awful anti-Semitic attacks against diaspora Jews.”

Interestingly, Freedland revealed the following in his CiF essay regarding his sympathy towards Hasan:

 “Each time I come across the kind of abuse he cites I mentally replace the word “Islam” with “Judaism” and “Muslim” with “Jew”.”

So, I think it’s fair to read Hasan’s passage about Israel “provoking” antisemitism and ask if Freedland would ever tolerate a commentator who argued that the actions of Muslims in the Middle East justify or provoke anti-Muslim racism in the UK?  Similarly, would he give credence to those who rationalize attacks on Muslims in the U.S. as merely a natural response to the attack by Islamist terrorists on 9/11?

Of course he wouldn’t!

Surely Freedland must know that Hasan’s apologia for antisemitism – blaming Jews for provoking others to hate them – represents a narrative with a long and tragic history for the Jewish people.  As Tablet reported recently about the increase of antisemitism in Malmo, Sweden:

“On Dec. 27, 2008, as the IDF launched Operation Cast Lead, the Jewish community of Malmö held a demonstration in the city’s main square to express sympathy for “all civilian victims” in Gaza and the Jewish state. They were soon confronted by a much larger counter-demonstration, consisting mainly of immigrants from the Middle East. The Jews were singing hine ma tov, but was their song was overwhelmed by chants of “damn Jews” and “Hitler, Hitler, Hitler!” A glass bottle flew through the air and hit a Jewish girl in the back. When a homemade bomb was fired straight into the Jewish group, the police decided to evacuate them. The Jews fled from the square but were followed by kids who used cellphones to report back to the counter-demonstration with which direction “the Jews” were heading. 

When [Malmo’s mayor] Ilmar Reepalu was questioned about these events, he chose to criticize the Jews of his city for not taking a firm stand against the policies of the state of Israel.”

Finally, a video at an event I attended last year in Jerusalem, to mark the 19th year since former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s death, included a conversation Begin had with interviewer David Frost.  Begin, strongly objected to Frost’s description of Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem as “provocative”, and noted that during his youth in Poland, he asked a group of Poles why they felt a need to beat up Jews, and they responded that the very presence of Jews was a “provocation.” 

No doubt Jonathan Freedland would agree, broadly, that acts of racism are never a commentary on the behavior of victims of such bigotry but rather on the hate in the soul of the perpetrator.

If so, consistency (and moral integrity) would demand that he hold Mehdi Hasan accountable to this intuitive anti-racist principle.

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