Guardian letter accuses Oxford U Jews of ‘crying wolf’ about antisemitism

Among the letters published today in the Guardian in response to their Feb. 18th article on charges of antisemitism at Oxford University Labour Club was one signed by several pro-BDS British Jews well-known to readers of this blog (including Tony Greenstein and actress Miriam Margolyes).

First, the signatories write that “antisemitism is conspicuous by its absence in your article on ‘antisemitism’ at Oxford University Labour Club”, ignoring these truly disturbing examples of reported anti-Jewish bigotry revealed by Oxford University Jewish Society.

  • Members of the Labour Club’s committee have been known to sing the song “Rockets over Tel Aviv” and have specifically expressed support for Hamas’ tactic of launching indiscriminate attacks against Israel’s Jewish citizens.
  • One Labour Club member stated specifically that it was “not antisemitic” to allege the existence of a “New York – Tel Aviv axis” that rigs elections, and said that “we should be aware of the influence wielded over elections by high net-worth Jewish individuals”. He also stated that it was “not antisemitic” to allege the existence of an international Jewish conspiracy, even though he did not endorse the idea himself.
  • One Labour Club committee member stated that all Jews should be expected to publicly denounce Zionism and the State of Israel, and that nobody should associate with any Jew who fails to do so.
  • Several individuals, some who have been on the Labour Club committee, repeatedly used the word “Zio” (a word normally only found on neo-Nazi websites) to refer to Jewish students.
  • Several Labour Club members have alleged that US foreign policy is under the control of the “Zionist Lobby” and when asked if by “Zionist” they simply meant “Jewish” they did not answer.
  • One member of the Labour Club was formally disciplined by their College for organising a group of students to harass a Jewish student and to shout “filthy Zionist” whenever they saw her.
  • In a public discussion on the Labour Club’s Facebook group, one member argued that Hamas was justified in its policy of killing Jewish civilians and claimed that all Jews were legitimate targets. Several other members, including two former Labour Club co-chairs and one then on committee, defended the member as making “a legitimate point clumsily expressed”.
  • Two Labour Club members argued that Jenny Tonge, a peer expelled from the Liberal Democrats over antisemitism, should be encouraged to join the Labour Party.

But, arguably the most troubling element of the letter is found in the final passage:

Those who deliberately confuse antisemitism and anti-Zionism give comfort and aid to the real antisemites in our society. Like the boy who cried wolf, they ensure that if antisemitism does rear its ugly head, people will assume that this is just another false accusation. 

The “little boy who cried wolf” charge is nothing new, as it evokes the Livingstone Formulation – a term (coined by Professor David Hirsh) characterizing the spurious charge that Jews cynically ‘play the antisemitism card’ in order to “muzzle” debate about Israel.

This accusation is, in effect, an ad hominem attack on the Jewish community, as it imputes bad faith and dishonesty to those complaining of antisemitism, rather than taking the charge seriously and attempting a refutation on its merits. The Livingstone Forumulation is a popular rhetorical tool within anti-Zionist left discourse.

Though such critics of Israel of course have the right to level such charges against Jews, the Guardian has no obligation to publish their letters – an editorial decision which necessarily grants such toxic invectives far greater respectability than they deserve. 

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