The Guardian deploys Tony Greenstein ‘as-a-Jew’ to defend the morally indefensible

“…an acronym – or something like an acronym – lay concealed in the name the group had already given itself. Instead of ‘Ashamed Jews’, what about ‘ASHamed Jews’, which might or might not, depending on how others felt, be shortened now or in the future to ASH, the peculiar felicity of which, in any circumstances, he was sure it wasn’t necessary for him to point out. Within a week he received an enthusiastic response on notepaper headed ‘ASHAMED Jews’.  He felt a deep sense of pride, mitigated, of course, by sadness on behalf of those whose suffering had made ASHamed Jews necessary’.” – Page 115, The Finkler Question, Howard Jacobson

Over the last couple of years, Guardian editors have seen fit to publish a letter by a Nazi sympathizer who believes Jews control the world (Gilad Atzmon), one letter by a woman who has promoted the ancient antisemitic blood libel (Alison Weir), and a UK professor who has defended, on moral and ‘humanitarian’ grounds, the Palestinians’ right to engage in suicide bombing against Israeli civilians (Ted Honderich).

So, with such a contrast in mind, Tony Greenstein’s defense, in the letters section of the Guardian on Feb. 7, of the recent Holocaust Day admonition against the Jews by MP David Ward, though deplorable, certainly does not break any new ground in the Guardian’s willingness to legitimize or defend the indefensible.

As a reminder, here are the words Ward used:

“Having visited Auschwitz twice – once with my family and once with local schools – I am saddened that the Jews, who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust, could within a few years of liberation from the death camps be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza.”

So, who better to defend Ward than the former ‘Comment is Free’ contributor, and anti-Zionist Jew, who has charged the Zionist leadership of collaborating with the Nazis, argued that Israel has engaged in racial policies and ethnic cleansing reminiscent of Nazi Germany, and applauded those who refer to Israelis committing such ‘crimes’ as “Judaeo-Nazis”?

Greenstein’s Guardian letter is ostensibly in response to a Feb. 6 Guardian piece critical of Ward by Aida Edemariam, and he immediately frames the MP’s egregious abuse of Holocaust memory as “much ado about nothing”, and, in the spirit of Glenn Greenwald, characterizes the row as one which has cynically been  “generated” by Zionists and “designed to stifle criticism of Israel and suppress free speech”.

After bemoaning the Zionist ‘stranglehold’ on debate about Israel, Greenstein then proceeds to question the wisdom of characterizing as antisemitic the moral reasoning of those who suggest that all Jews should be held responsible for actions of a few, and concludes by addressing the Zionist-Nazi comparison, writing thus: 

“Ward is accused of antisemitism for making comparisons between the Nazi period and what is happening to the Palestinians. Of course Israel has not set up death camps for Arabs. But when Gerald Kaufman spoke in the Commons about his grandmother who had been killed in her bed by a Nazi soldier, he stated that “my grandmother did not die in order to provide cover for Israeli soldiers murdering Palestinian grandmothers in Gaza”. Is Gerald Kaufman also antisemitic?”

As I’ve argued previously, ‘antisemitism’ isn’t something you can test for, nor is it some sort of immutable character trait.  It is, rather, more aptly described as a racist persuasion, a hateful habit of mind – the willful embrace of an intellectual tradition which vilifies Jews to the point of grotesque caricature, and holds them responsible to moral standards which no other group is held.

Having visited the death factory where over a million Jews were systematically murdered, MP Ward couldn’t help but think, on the international day meant to commemorate the liberation of that hideous place, not of the indescribable suffering of the victims, or of the stubborn survival of the antisemitic ideology which inspired the Nazi genocide, but, rather, of the perfidy and malice of living Jews.

Whether you’re a non-Jew named Ward, or a Jew named Kaufman or Greenstein, engaging in such an insidious and atavistic moral inversion, in which slaughtered Jews are likened to their slaughterers, is cruel, hateful and, by definition, antisemitic.

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