Why the Guardian's new Jerusalem correspondent won't take Palestinian antisemitism seriously

Peter Beaumont

The Guardian’s response to a recent Anti-Defamation League poll demonstrating that Palestinian society was compromised by unparalleled levels of antisemitism – results which overlaps with other polls on antisemitism by Pew Global – was two-fold.
First, they published a straight forward post at their data-blog accurately reporting on the ADL figures, including the fact that Palestinians have the highest levels of antisemitism based on results from the 100 states they surveyed.  However, they also published a quite repulsive op-ed by two anti-Israel activists (Donna Nevel and Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark) which justified Palestinian antisemitism and accused ADL – a US based Jewish civil rights group – of cynically using the poll to silence and intimidate those who don’t share their views on Israel – in spite of the fact that the poll didn’t ask any questions about Israeli policy.
Though we were able to convince Guardian editors to remove the most offensive paragraph of the op-ed in question, the broader views expressed by the co-authors of the piece are in many ways consistent with the Guardian’s myopic coverage of the region – reporting which consistently fails to take Palestinian antisemitism seriously when contextualizing news within the framework of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.  
As we’ve argued previously, Palestinian antisemitism does grave harm to Palestinians themselves.  When Palestinians attribute “global events to the machinations of an all-conquering Jewish conspiracy” (Mead), they demonstrate evidence of profound social failure, and are unlikely to develop the vigorous, progressive and competent civil societies that can promote real democracy. Moreover, holding views about Jews which are indistinguishable from the narrative found in the Elders of the Protocols of Zion makes it extremely unlikely that they will ever truly come to terms with a permanent Jewish presence in the region. 
As such, the Guardian’s former Jerusalem correspondent, Harriet Sherwood, not only characteristically framed nearly every Palestinian failure as a result of the occupation, but failed (as best we can tell) to ever so much as mention the injurious impact of Palestinian antisemitism on their society and on the peace process – a pattern of antisemitism denial we believe will continue with their new regional correspondent, Peter Beaumont
Our pessimism is based partly on our firm belief (per his work at the Observer/Guardian to date) that Beaumont seems clearly cut out of the same ideological cloth as Sherwood, and also on a very revealing piece he wrote about antisemitism in 2002 for the Observer (sister site of the Guardian), titled ‘The new anti-Semitism?’.  His essay was written at a time when scores of Israelis were being murdered by Palestinian suicide bombings, and when antisemitic attacks against Jews in Europe were reaching dangerous levels
After noting an example (in December 2001) of a violent antisemitic attack “by a group of Arab-speaking youths” in Brussels, and citing complaints by Jewish leaders about the dangerous increase in such attacks across Europe, Beaumont then advances an argument (similar to what’s known as the Livingstone Formula) indistinguishable from what was advanced in the Guardian op-ed on May 15.

But the problem with all this talk of a ‘new anti-Semitism’ is that those who argue hardest for its inexorable rise are dangerously conflating two connected but critically separate phenomena. The monster that they have conjured from these parts is not only something that does not yet exist – and I say ‘yet’ with caution – but whose purported existence is being cynically manipulated by some in the Israeli government to try to silence debate about the policies of the Sharon government.

So, already, Beaumont steers the conversation away from antisemitic attacks against innocent Jews in Europe, and engages in an ad hominem attack against those who, it is claimed, “cynically” use such examples to stifle criticism of Israel. 
It gets worse.

As data collected by the Stephen Roth Institute at Tel Aviv University, and other research, makes clear, the rise in anti-Semitism in Europe coincided with the beginning of al-Aqsa intifada – and Israel’s heavy-handed response – with most of these attacks limited to acts of vandalism on synagogues and cemeteries. As the institute also makes clear, the perpetrators of these attacks, like those who attacked rabbi Gigi, were largely disaffected Islamic youths, a group itself that is the victim of some of the worst race hate and discrimination in Europe.

First, Beaumont suggests that Israel’s alleged “heavy handed response” to Palestinian terrorism can help explain (if not justify) the rise in antisemitism.  Also, note that Beaumont imputes significance to the fact that the perpetrators of the attack in question were “disaffected Islamic youths” who, we are told, are themselves victims of racism – suggesting, perhaps, that antisemitic attacks by white Europeans (non-minorities) would somehow be more troubling.
However, perhaps the worse element of his essay can be found in his final rhetorical flourish. After insisting that “governments of Europe must attack real anti-Semitism wherever it is found”, he writes the following:

The Jewish community worldwide must be honest too about what is really being done in Israel, ostensibly in its name. For the rest of us who campaign and report and commentate and legislate on Israel and Palestine – we should not be cowed in our criticism of policies of which we disapprove by the threat of being accused by Sharon and his friends of being practitioners of the last taboo.

Beaumont, in the first sentence of the passage, is pointing the accusatory finger not at the antisemites, but at the Jewish community worldwide – millions of Jews who, he suggests, are guilty of insufficient honesty regarding the Israeli crimes committed ‘in their name’.  The victims have become the accused!  
True, it was only one essay 12 years ago, but it says so much about the Guardian worldview, and at least provides a glimpse into their reporters’ crippling moral blind-spot when it comes to even the most egregious examples of Palestinian Jew hatred. 

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