Guardian editorial on Corbyn antisemitism row omits their own use of toxic tropes about Jews

In fairness, the Guardian - over the last few years - has been a bit more vigilant in avoiding antisemitic language, and we're certainly glad that their editorial position on the antisemitism scandal currently engulfing the Labour Party is morally clear.  However, it would benefit their readers - and help contextualise the problem of antisemitism on the British Left - if senior editors would show a bit more self-reflection by acknowledging their own troubling history of sanctioning toxic rhetoric historically used by anti-Semites.

The Guardian published a strong editorial today taking aim at antisemitism in the Labour Party,  denouncing Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to confront such hatred, and condemning those who employ what’s known as the Livingstone Formulation

It’s worth repeating that there is nothing anti-Jewish in criticising Israel’s conduct: Jews and Israelis do so every day. But it is antisemitic to dismiss every heartfelt complaint of anti-Jewish racism as an attempt to stifle discussion of Israel, for it suggests that Jews never act in earnest, but are rather motivated by an ulterior motive. 

The editorial (Guardian view on Labour and Antisemitism: a leader must lead, March 27) also argued that antisemitism is present within the Conservative Party as well as the Labour Party.

This is not to make the mistake, too readily made by Mr Corbyn’s political enemies, of pretending that Labour is the only British political party or the only demographic in British society to be infected with antisemitism. It was a Conservative MP, not a Labour one, who complained in the House of Commons in 2014 about “well-funded powerful lobbying groups and the power of the Jewish lobby in America”

However, whilst it’s of course fair to call out both Conservative and Labour politicians for endorsing calumnies about ‘Jewish power’, and the putatively injurious influence of the ‘Jewish lobby’, readers should be aware of the Guardian’s own history of using such toxic tropes. 

Here are some quotes from op-eds published by the Guardian about the power of the lobby:

elements of the lobby vilify Jewish critics of Israel and intimidate the media – Antony Lerman, Nov. 20, 2009 

“Just as important is the pressure that pro-Israel campaigners put on the mainstream US media. They warn people off the very word Zionist as though only antisemites use it and demand Israel be treated as a special country whose politics deserve more sympathy than others….In fact US publishers, editors, and reporters carry the biggest responsibility for the rotten state of US policy in the Middle East. The pro-Israel lobbies are powerful and Obama weak mainly because Americans rarely get an alternative view.” – Jonathan Steele, Aug. 10, 2010

What do Nebraska and Iran have in common? Not much – but enough to cause big trouble for former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, whose possible nomination to be secretary of defense is being challenged by the powerful bomb-Iran-yesterday lobby.”…Militarists in Washington, taking their cue from pro-Israel lobbyistsare trying to derail the appointment because Hagel doubts the wisdom of starting another war in the Middle East.” – Stephen Kinzer, Dec. 31, 2012

There’s more.

In 2009, the Guardian published an article by Peter Preston, chief editor of the Guardian from 1975 to 1995, on media coverage of the Gaza war titled “Israel barks, the US media wags its tail”, alleging that the Zionist lobby dominates US foreign policy and the media. 

In articles and tweets between 2010 and 2012, Guardian journalist Chris McGreal complained about the power of the Israel lobby on the Obama White House, characterized George W. Bush’s presumed deference to the Jewish state as slave-like, and accused (unnamed) US politicians of showing greater loyalty to Israel than to their own country.

In 2011, the Guardian (like Jeremy Corbyn) ran to the defense of Sheikh Raed Salah, leader of the Islamic Movement in Israel, who was attempting to visit the UK.  The Guardian ignored the fact that Salah was found in a British court to have promoted the libel that Jews use the blood of non-Jews to bake “their holy bread”, and suggested that efforts to deny him a visa “had been engineered by the Israeli Government and carried out, at its behest, by its ‘local’ supporters and forced, somehow, upon the Home Secretary”.  

In 2012, the Guardian’s Simon Jenkins alleged that US sanctions against Iran authorized by Barack Obama were the result of the influence of the Israel lobby.

Let’s also recall that, in 2012, the Guardian hired Glenn Greenwald, despite his record of making explicitly antisemitic accusations about Jewish influence on the US government.

And, in 2013, Guardian’s Steve Bell published a cartoon indistinguishable from the kind of explicitly antisemitic cartoons on Jewish and/or Israeli control found routinely in the Arab media.

In 2015, the Guardian published a letter, defending Jeremy Corbyn from charges of antisemitism, which evoked the dual loyalty charge in alleging that “influential sections of the Jewish community, maybe guided by their Israeli contacts, are frightened that a notable critic of Israel’s policies and actions might attain a position of prominence in British politics”.  The Guardian Readers’ Editor ultimately rejected a complaint about the letter by the Editor of the Jewish Chronicle, Stephen Pollard.

In fairness, the Guardian – over the last few years – has been a bit more vigilant in avoiding such language, and we’re certainly glad that their editorial position on the antisemitism scandal currently engulfing the Labour Party is morally clear.  However, it would benefit their readers – and help shed light on the problem of antisemitism on the British Left – if senior editors would show a bit more self-reflection by acknowledging, and perhaps even trying to explain, their own troubling record of sanctioning rhetoric historically used by anti-Semites.

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