Monday, January 2, 2012

The Language Spotter

This post, on the ruminations of Chris Elliott, the UK Guardian's 'readers' editor', on "language within articles [about the Middle East] that [he] agreed could be read as anti-semitic," (The readers' editor on... averting accusations of antisemitism, 6/11/11) covers much the same territory as my last.

As examples of language that could be read as antisemitic Elliott cites "references to Israel/US 'global domination' and the term 'slavish' to describe the US relationship with Israel"; reveals that the Guardian's website is checked by a "team of moderators... experienced in spotting the kind of language long associated with antisemitic tropes such as Jews having too much power and control, or being clannish and secretive, or the role of Jews in finance and the media"; and cautions that "newspapers have to be aware that some examples [of anti-semitism] involve coded references. They need to ask themselves, for example, if the word Zionist is being used as a synonym for Jew."

As you may gather from Elliott's generalised examples, sorting out the wheat from the antisemitic chaff is far from being an exact science. If his problem is merely dealing with blanket, idiotic and racist statements to the effect that either Jews/Zionists are plotting to take control of the world or have already succeeded in doing so, then I take his point.

If, on the other hand, he is seriously suggesting that it is antisemitic to talk:

(a) of US global dominance or of Israel as the dominant military power in the Middle East, or of Israeli hands and arms often mysteriously turning up in trouble spots around the globe; or

(b) of US presidents and congressmen kowtowing before the Israel lobby; or

(c) of Zionist lobbyists in places like the US, UK and Australia winning friends that matter and influencing people that matter (if pulling strings is too plainspeaking for you) for Israel; or

(d) of wealthy men, who identify as Jews and make no bones about their support for Israel, lavishing serious money on political parties to ensure they toe a blindly pro-Israel line; or

(e) of pro-Israel lobbying - as with most lobbying - taking place away from the public gaze; or

(f) of the Murdoch press, to take but the most obvious example, pushing a ferociously Zionist editorial line, or of certain of its key staff, whether gentile or Jew, espousing blind support for Israel

- if that's his notion of antisemitism, then I'm afraid he's lost me.

And as for using the word 'Zionist' as a synonym for 'Jew', has he not been around long enough to realise that far and away the most flagrant flouters of this elementary distinction are the Zionists themselves?

Elliott's pretense at rocket science is about what you'd expect from a corporate media flak-catcher unable to admit straight up that the vast majority of complaints directed against press reports and commentary critical of Israel are the product of Israel's propaganda mill. But what particularly caught my eye, the absolute stand-out paragraph in his otherwise predictable effusion, was the following bizarre defence of the Guardian's bona fides:

"This is not a fresh concern. It is a particularly sensitive issue for a core of the Guardian's Jewish readers because CP Scott held strong Zionist sympathies, as did WP Crozier, who came after him as editor. In the Guardian's archives is a letter of thanks from the first president of Israel, Chaim Weizmann, thanking Scott for his help in securing the Balfour Declaration, the 1917 statement by the British government approving the creation of a Jewish national home in Palestine."

Leaving aside the apparent absurd suggestion that because Charles Prestwich Scott, owner/editor of the Manchester Guardian from 1872-1932, was a staunch Zionist today's Guardian should still be following his lead, what Elliott can only be saying here is: 'Listen up, guys, CP Scott helped Wiezmann bag the Balfour Declaration in 1917, OK? - so give us a break, will you?'

I'll return to his defence, or what appears to me to be so, in a minute. For the nonce, Elliott's done us all a service by raising the issue of CP Scott. As a student of history usefully reminds us:

"The role Scott played in getting the Balfour Declaration... [should not] be understated. Without his patronage Chaim Weizmann might very well not have risen to the decision-making heights of the Zionist movement and hence they may well have failed to utilise one of their most persuasive, persistent and powerful voices whose war-time dealings with the British government was paramount to securing the pro-Zionist announcement. For as one of Weizmann's biographers and former President of Brandeis University, Jehuda Reinharz, concluded - and it's worth quoting in full: 'Without the help of a small group of young men and women in Manchester and London - and of course various Rothschild family members and CP Scott, the editor of the Manchester Guardian - Weizmann had little, if any, individual or institutional support' in his efforts to secure the British government's historic pronouncement. Thus from such an observation we cannot but gauge the untold significance of the function Scott played for Zionism. For it was largely through Scott's efforts with his one time close confidant Lloyd George that Weizmann received as an outlet, quite possibly, some of the most influential - and favourably inclined - men in the country. Furthermore it was through Scott that Weizmann acquired the vital work in the Ministry of Munitions, something that would further indebt the British government to the Zionist movement and help bring about the Balfour Declaration. It is thus clear that Scott was a key player in the achievement of the Balfour declaration, less through the pages of the Guardian - which would wait until after its announcement to take up full blown advocacy - than through his invaluable network of contacts and political sponsorship of Chaim Weizmann." (Adopting Zionism as a liberal cause: CP Scott, the Manchester Guardian and the Zionist movement, 1914-1932*, Cillian Stephen Doyle, MA thesis,, 2010)

That being the case, let me ask you, dear reader, after fairly surveying the 94 bloody years following the Balfour Declaration's issuance, and perishing the thought of all those still to come, would you, as an employee of the Guardian, be boasting of your paper's part in a promise of which the scholar who has meditated on it and its baneful consequences more deeply than any other - JMN Jeffries - wrote definitively and damningly in 1939:

"[I]t is a pity that it cannot be lost from sight, and a greater pity that it has not yet been removed from the public record. Unlawful in issue, arbitrary in purpose, and deceitful in wording the Balfour Declaration is the most discreditable document to which a British Government has set its hand within memory." (Palestine: The Reality, p 201)

For which part, the current owner and/or editor of the Guardian, instead of putting his seal of approval to Elliott's lame ramblings, should be issuing a front page, banner headline, retrospective apology to the Palestinian people.

[*A fascinating read in toto.]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Now here is a nice quote for the language spotters. It's in German, so beware:

"Wir aber halten es für eine seltsame Ironie des Schicksals, daß das Volk,
das im Okzident das o r i e n t a l i s c h e P a r i a v o l k war, nun
trunken von der Assimilation des letzten Jahrhunderts nach dem Orient als
das o k z i d e n t a l e H e r r e n v o l k zurückkehren will."

Question 1:
Is this an antisemitic text, by modern standards, or not?

Question 2:
Who wrote this, and when?

For the answer to Q2, send me an email.

Ernst Raedecker
the Netherlands