Antisemitism has been in the news rather a lot lately.
Diane Abbott has been accused of antisemitism for suggesting in a letter to the Observer that Jews have not suffered from racism to the same extent as black people because they are not so visibly distinctive. Currently she is suspended from the parliamentary Labour Party, pending an investigation.
And the Guardian has been accused of antisemitism for publishing a cartoon of Richard Sharp, the departing Chairman of the BBC, which exaggerated the Jewishness of his features in a manner reminiscent of Nazi propaganda.
‘Antisemitism’ means very different things to different people. Some have argued that Abbott’s letter was antisemitic because she appeared to suggest that there is a ‘hierarchy of racism’; others would say that her comments were not antisemitic because she said nothing directly to disparage Jewish people. Some have argued that the Guardian cartoon was antisemitic because it played into ‘antisemitic tropes’; others would say that cartoonists always exaggerate the features of the public figures they lampoon, it is their job.
There are endless arguments within Jewish organisations and in Jewish publications over the meaning of the term ‘antisemitism’. At one extreme are those who regard any condemnation of the State of Israel as ‘antisemitic’; at the other are those who argue that use of the term ‘antisemitism’ should be restricted to the verbal or physical abuse of Jewish people for being Jewish.
The Labour Party alone has four different Jewish groups which distinguish themselves by their competing definitions of antisemitism (Jewish Labour Movement, Jewish Voice for Labour, Labour Against Antisemitism and Socialists Against Antisemitism). Shades of the People’s Front of Judea and the Judean People’s Front from Monty Python’s Life of Brian.
This lack of clarity over the definition of antisemitism has enabled people to exploit the term for political ends: what I have described in previous articles for the Daily Sceptic as the ‘weaponisation’ of antisemitism.
In January, I wrote about the smearing of Andrew Bridgen MP by Matt Hancock in the House of Commons as ‘antisemitic’ for having tweeted that the Covid vaccine programme was “the biggest crime against humanity since the Holocaust”. I described the smear as “patently ludicrous… part of a concerted campaign to ‘weaponise’ antisemitism, to use antisemitism as a cudgel with which to beat anyone who speaks out against the Covid regime.”
In February, I wrote about an attack by the Guardian on GB News presenter Neil Oliver for “indulging conspiracy theories… spreading ideas linked to antisemitism”. Oliver had referred in his programme to a “silent war” against the British people and to plans to impose a “one-world Government”, which supposedly echoed ‘antisemitic tropes’. I argued that these accusations were “so flimsy that they’re hardly worth rebutting“, and that they had been inspired by Mark Steyn’s recent departure from GB News: the Guardian sensed weakness and was looking to cause further trouble for a conservative broadcaster.
Now a similar line of attack has been used to persuade Fox News to sack its leading presenter, Tucker Carlson.
Many theories have been put forward by commentators to account for Carlson’s dismissal, such as his criticism of the conduct of the war in Ukraine, his revelation of what happened at the Capitol on January 6th 2021, and his discussion of the influence of the pharmaceutical industry on the broadcast media.
Some or all of these likely played a part in persuading Fox News to sack Carlson.
But another explanation is to be found in the persistent campaign for Carlson’s dismissal conducted by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).
The ADL was established in 1913 in the aftermath of the lynching in Georgia of a young Jewish man called Leo Frank after he had been convicted of the murder of a local girl – widely considered to be a travesty of justice – and the state Governor had commuted his sentence from the death penalty to life imprisonment.
The ADL has campaigned tirelessly against antisemitism for more than a century. It is much better funded and more influential than comparable organisations in other countries (such as the Campaign Against Antisemitism here in the U.K.).
The ADL has often been accused of exaggerating the extent of antisemitism to persuade people to give it more money, but it used to keep focused on combating hostility to Jewish people (and to the State of Israel).
Then in 2015 the ADL appointed as its Director Jonathan Greenblatt, who had previously worked as Special Assistant to President Obama.
Greenblatt’s appointment was a controversial one: he has been accused in many quarters both of politicising the ADL in a pro-Democrat direction and of stretching the definition of ‘antisemitism’ to encompass the entire ‘progressive’ agenda. According to his detractors, anything that Greenblatt disapproves of, he condemns as ‘antisemitic’ – whether it actually has anything to do with antisemitism or not.
Greenblatt was never going to be a supporter of Tucker Carlson, who has been an outspoken critic of both the Democratic Party and the ‘progressive’ agenda. Greenblatt was particularly riled when Carlson started talking two years ago about the ‘Great Replacement Theory’, the notion that the Democratic administration is promoting the immigration of large numbers of people from developing countries because they are more likely to vote Democrat.
In April 2021 Greenblatt wrote to Suzanne Scott, the Chief Executive of Fox News, calling for her to sack Carlson, on the grounds that “the ‘Great Replacement Theory’ is a classic white supremacist trope that undergirds the modern white supremacist movement in America. … This is not legitimate political discourse. It is dangerous race-baiting, extreme rhetoric.”
Greenblatt also spoke to a meeting of the World Federation of Advertisers calling on its members to boycott Fox News on account of Carlson’s “promotion of the antisemitic replacement theory”.
In September 2021 Greenblatt renewed his call for Carlson to be fired, stating that “for Tucker Carlson to spread the toxic antisemitic and xenophobic ‘Great Replacement Theory’ is a repugnant and dangerous abuse of his platform.”
Carlson heard about this second attack live on air from his former colleague, Megyn Kelly, who asked him how he felt when “sure enough, the ADL comes after you”.
“The ADL?” Carlson replied. “Fuck them.” He continued:
The ADL was such a noble organisation that had a very specific goal, which was to fight antisemitism, that’s a virtuous goal. I think they were pretty successful over the years. Now it’s operated by a guy who’s just an apparatchik of the Democratic Party.
It’s very corrosive for someone to take the residual moral weight of an organisation that he inherited and use it for partisan ends.
The Great Replacement Theory is in fact not a theory, it’s something that the Democrats brag about constantly.
The problem Carlson has faced in talking about the Great Replacement Theory is that it has also been cited by people who have carried out antisemitic and other racist hate crimes. In May 2022 a white supremacist shot and killed 10 people in a supermarket in a black neighbourhood of Buffalo, New York. He cited the Great Replacement Theory as the reason for his attack, and claimed that “the Jews” were behind it.
The shooter never mentioned Carlson, and he expressed hatred for Fox News. But this did not stop the ADL from making the link. Greenblatt issued a statement that “the individual who allegedly carried out this attack was heavily influenced by white supremacist ideology, including the virulently antisemitic and racist ‘Great Replacement’ conspiracy theory. … More must be done – now – to push back against the racist and antisemitic violence propounded by the far Right.”
On April 24th this year, as soon as Carlson’s departure from Fox News was announced, Greenblatt danced on his grave, posting on Twitter that:
It’s about time. For far too long, Tucker Carlson has used his primetime show to spew antisemitic, racist, xenophobic and anti-LBGTQ hate to millions. @ADL has long called for his firing for this and many other offenses, including spreading the Great Replacement Theory.
The criticism of Carlson in connection with the Great Replacement Theory is an example of what the Germans call ‘contact guilt’ (Kontaktschuld, similar to ‘guilt by association’). Carlson has talked about the Great Replacement Theory, and so have bad people who hate Jews. So Carlson is somehow associated with these bad people.
The Jewish Chronicle published an article celebrating Carlson’s departure from Fox News in which it criticised him for discussing the Great Replacement Theory, which it said had also been cited by people responsible for antisemitic violence, while adding a caveat that “Carlson has never been found to have directly advocated violence against Jews”.
Well, exactly. Carlson has never said anything antisemitic. That notion comes entirely from his critics.
The Guardian argued that Carlson was actually a “fascist” and that, although he had been “careful to avoid explicitly antisemitic statements”, his “antisemitism” was “clearly dog-whistled”.
The American Jewish magazine the Forward also accused Carlson of “promoting antisemitic dog whistles”, adding that Carlson’s refences to the Great Replacement Theory were “always just veiled enough to maintain plausible deniability against accusations of antisemitism”.
‘Dog-whistle antisemitism’ refers to the use of coded language that is apparently intended to be understandable to antisemites but not to anyone else. Just like ultrasonic dog whistles which are audible to dogs but not to people. Anyone can be accused of ‘dog-whistle antisemitism’, because it doesn’t require any actual evidence of antisemitism, and is therefore an accusation against which it is impossible to defend oneself.
We are now in a situation in which the definition of antisemitism has been widened so far as to be almost meaningless. As was pointed out by fellow GB News contributor Dominique Samuels after the Guardian’s attack on Neil Oliver, “if everything is antisemitic, then nothing is”. The real problem of antisemitic abuse and violence gets buried under a mountain of gobbledegook.
And because almost anything can be described as antisemitic, the accusation of antisemitism can be weaponised against any political opponent who contradicts the officially sanctioned narrative, even though he or she has said nothing about Jews at all.
As Oliver pointed out to James Delingpole, nobody complains when people on the other side of the argument, such as Klaus Schwab and Ursula von der Leyen, talk about one-world Government. They are not accused of being antisemitic, yet as soon as a sceptic mentions globalism or one-world Government, the accusations of antisemitism begin. “Just Kafkaesque nonsense,” said Oliver.
It could even be argued that Diane Abbott has suffered in a similar way. Far be it from me to defend Abbott, who by denying the Jewish experience of racism showed an apparent ignorance of the concerns of the very large population of ultra-orthodox Haredi Jews in her own constituency – the ones who dress out of 18th-century Lithuania – who are subjected to racist abuse on a daily basis.
But there is an argument to be made that the majority of Jews today do not suffer from racism in the same way as blacks because they do not stand out so conspicuously. Whether or not one agrees with this argument, it is not clearly not beyond the bounds of civilised debate – though Abbott made it very poorly in her letter to the Observer.
Why, one might wonder, was Abbott suddenly excommunicated from the parliamentary Labour Party following her letter, despite having apologised (again badly expressed)? Was she suspended for reasons of morality? Or because the present Labour leadership saw an opportunity to rid itself of one of the last remaining high-profile supporters of Jeremy Corbyn? To this extent, one could argue that antisemitism was weaponised against Abbott too.
None of which serves the interests of Jewish people, whose welfare should surely be the focus of all discussions about antisemitism. Baroness Anderson, who as Ruth Smeeth was subject to a good deal of antisemitic abuse when she was a Labour MP under Corbyn’s leadership, was interviewed on GB News about Abbott’s suspension. “I’m tired of my identity being used as a political football,” Anderson said. “Suddenly from 2016 onwards, the only bit of my identity that seemed relevant for certain people was the fact I also happened to be Jewish.” I can see her point.
Andrew Barr is the founder of Jews for Justice, which campaigns for free speech and civil liberties from a Jewish perspective. The first public Jews for Justice debate will be held in North London on the evening of Monday May 22nd. Email here for more information.