Thursday, June 09, 2005

Anti-semitism in the workplace?

I posit the title as a question because this is something that I'm not sure about. I certainly do not equate criticism of Israel with anti-semitism and I'm generally skeptical of political correctness, not least because of the way some use the epithet "racist" to deflect criticism of their own position. So instead, I think it'd probably be wiser simply to describe my own experience and thoughts and let readers judge for themselves.

One of the causes of my uncertainty is the fact that overt expressions of racist attitudes are today, thankfully, socially unacceptable - one of the undoubted benefits brought by anti-racist education. In my professional capacity as a teacher in an ethnically-diverse Glasgow secondary school, the only explicitly anti-semitic statements I have ever heard have come from a minority of the Muslim pupils - another reason why I find this a difficult topic to write about. There is no doubt whatsoever that those most likely to be on the receiving end of racist abuse and violence in Glasgow are Muslims. I've witnessed it in school and in doing so, have been forced into the position of physical intervention. Inter-racial violence is one of the reasons that my present locale has the unenviable status as Scotland's second (or third, depending on which report you read) most violent school. However, there is also no doubt at all that a significant proportion of Muslim students at my school - how many, I have no idea - have been infected with this oldest of reactionary European hatreds.


The analysis that the United States launched the invasion of Iraq because "America is full of Jews" is not, I've found, confined to the pupils - although it tends to be put more subtly as the influence of the "Jewish lobby", which apparently controls the balance of power in Washington. Is this anti-semitism? I don't know but it's certainly inaccurate : American Jews are - along with the much more numerically significant African-American voters - the most solidly Democrat-supporting constituency in the country. Richard Dawkins was one of the few to make the point that the large swathes of fundamentalist Christians in the US who not only align themselves to the state of Israel but to it's most extreme Eretz-Israel elements were likely to be a more significant influence on the Republican Party - given that they comprise around a third of the GOP's electoral support.

It's the multiplication of small instances like the above that have raised the question in my mind : why is an exception nearly always made in Israel's case?


The day I registered my son's birth at the Martha Street registrar's office in Glasgow was September 11th, 2001. On returning to my parent's house to retrieve my son, my then partner and I came in to see my father, incoherent from a number of strokes but gesticulating at the television, the word "planes" just barely audible from his lips. I looked to the screen; everyone knows what I saw.

It was that - and the Taliban's well-documented, stone-faced, theocratic tyranny - that led me to support the invasion of Afghanistan. To borrow one of Billy Connolly's phrases - this position made me about as popular as a fart in a space-suit with many of my colleagues. During the customary Friday libations, some of my colleagues on the Jurassic left - their knees jerking in unison - took it in turns to climb down my throat : the "root-cause" of 9/11, they vociferously explained, was America's support for Israel.

Again, whether this represents anti-semitism I'm reluctant to charge; they may have simply been unaware that Bin Laden himself had cited the presence of US servicemen - and worse, service-women! - on the holy soil of Saudi Arabia as the primary motivation for the atrocity. (I never found out; in my experience, the Stalinist left like to stop you finishing your sentences, if they possibly can.)

In the same way, it was probably just ignorance behind the standard UN-resolutions argument : in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, everyone learned to say that Israel had more outstanding resolutions against her than Saddam's Iraq; hardly anyone added the qualification that Israel's enemies - particularly Syria - also had obligations under the same resolutions, which they hadn't fulfilled; and I don't recall anyone making the point that Turkey also trumped Iraq in the outstanding resolutions contest.

None of this constitutes firm evidence of anti-semitism - but I'm left wondering why it is that this ignorance always seems to favour Israel's enemies? Why, for example, were so few unaware that more Kurds has been displaced by Saddam Hussein than Palestinians by the Israeli state? Why were so few people even aware of the Syrian occupation of the Lebanon? Why is American support for the House of Saud, the Jordanian monarchy, the autocracy of Egypt (the second biggest recipient of US aid in the region), and the military junta in Pakistan thought so insignificant in the search for the "root-causes" of terror, compared to the apparently unforgivable sin of supporting Israel?

A colleague of mine who I don't know very well - and with whom I'd been unaccustomed to discussing politics - on one occasion launched into a fairly standard anti-Israel spiel. Of course criticism of Israel is not synonymous with anti-semitism - but why did he, on seeing the unreceptive expression on my face, pause and ask, "You're not Jewish, are you?"

I don't know, I just don't know - but I can't rid myself of the sickly feeling that we've been here before.

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