Thursday, 28 April 2016

The anti-semitism dog whistle

Ken Livingstone's failure to fade out from politics has finally caught up with him.  Odious, historically-inaccurate remarks and an inability to even contemplate retraction of what was either stupidity or insuperable arrogance are likely to result in his deserved defenestration - and will undermine what good he was able to achieve in his time as London Mayor.  For those with a tinfoil hat persuasion there is too much coincidental timing between the current brouhaha and the desperate attempts to resurrect Goldsmith's campaign and reputation.

The problem for Labour is that mud sticks.  However fast a party acts to clean up its act there is always a tendency for guilt by association, or worse still the tendency to over-react in order to attempt to head off the mob.  Again, the accusations around Corbyn have the smack of a concerted campaign aligned to the reluctance of the Blairites in particular to accept that their particular era of party control has reached its inevitable end.  Corbyn has not covered himself in glory, but dithering is not a crime, more the sense of fair play that undermined predecessors not confronted with the same level of media hostility and internal challenge.

What is generally more disturbing is the continued acceptance that to cry anti-semitism is an unanswerable condemnation and conviction, without the ability either to respond or to rebut the allegation.  Even to suggest that this is an unhealthy state of affairs raises the danger that the challenger is a fellow-traveller, and that not to condemn in exactly the same terms as the accusation raises doubt as to the integrity of the sceptical individual.

In the worldview of those who seek to polarise debate, there is no space to criticise the actions and behaviours of the Israeli government, both internationally and domestically, before falling into the trap of general anti-semitism.  Failing to differentiate between the vile misinterpretations of Livingstone, shared with sections of the neo-Nazi right, and people who challenge the right of a nation to operate beyond the constraints of international law is doing their cause no favours.  Closing down debate and assuming that any opinion expressed about current, past or future conduct are the actions of those who are neither prepared to provide robust evidence in rebuttal nor to accept that the realities of history and politics are not unambiguous.

The danger now is that the terms of discussion get closed down.  The actions of Livingston and Shah are irresponsible and wrong - but this cannot be used to silence the questioning as to the strategic and political imperatives that stand in the way of normalising international relationships, nor to further reduce free speech.  The disgusting behaviour of Boris Johnson over President Obama, and the subliminal anti-Muslim rhetoric being used by politicians fighting for election and the Brexit brain-dead, are not exactly equivalent, but they appear almost to have sanction, without the automatic chorus of disapproval.

Nobody is blameless, nobody is capable of encompassing the whole debate.  Instead, we get sub-standard tittle-tattle on party lines, and name-calling on behalf of establishment groups.  There is no evidence that this needs to increase paranoia or distrust, but if the idiocy and evil of individuals is to be used for mass manipulation then it is a tragedy and diminishes the Pharisitical judgement-pedlars despite their continuing efforts to claim the moral high ground.

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