Owen Jones and the Haters of Jews

Tom Doran

ComradeOwenJones Owen Jones and the Haters of JewsOwen Jones can rightly be described as a phenomenon. Still not even in his thirties, he has sought to remake the British left and has succeeded to an impressive extent. Without him, it’s doubtful the anti-austerity movement could have coalesced and unified so quickly, and been so single-minded. He writes with admirable clarity and punch, and I hate everything he stands for.

Well, no, that’s not fair. At this point I should note that O-Jo and I have history (though I don’t flatter myself he’ll remember). I was a frequent heckler of his on Twitter, disagreeing with nearly everything he said until, eventually, he blocked me. I genuinely don’t think I was that unpleasant, but I’m a terrible judge of my own character, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on that. I am annoying, it has to be said.

A righteous socialist crusader like him and a difference-splitting Blairite like me were always going to be at odds. But today I write not to bury Jones, but to praise him. In honour of Holocaust Remembrance Day next Sunday, he’s written a timely and heartfelt column that sounds an alarm. Anti-Semitism never went away, and is on the march again:

We remember this horror on Sunday, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, not simply to mourn the millions who were murdered but to absorb a warning from history. But a warning from the present will fly into Britain the day before, a sobering reminder that the cancer of anti-Semitism still festers, however effectively it has been driven into remission. Gábor Vona, the leader of Hungary’s far-right Jobbik party, will address a meeting in London to canvass support from Hungarian émigrés in upcoming elections. This arrival of the leader of a poisonous anti-Semitic, anti-Roma movement is bad enough; the timing is an insult.

This is an encouraging thing to see. The rise of Jobbik hasn’t commanded nearly enough attention outside circles that pay special attention to such things (comrade Rob Marchant has been especially good on this subject) and Jones can do a lot to remedy that.

But I was never going to write a post saying “Three Cheers for O-Jo” and leave it at that, was I? Those of us who have been worried about the rising tide of Jew-hatred* for some time will take heart from his column, while at the same time noting – with distinct lack of surprise – what it doesn’t say. Namely, that a very large share of the modern threat to Jews in Europe originates not from old-fashioned blackshirts, but from Islamism.

It’s at this point I’ll probably lose many of you. What right do I, a white atheist, have to lecture an entire minority on a problem that affects all of society? For bonus points, you might add that an admitted admirer of the warmonger Tony Blair is the last person who should be casting stones.

While the only qualification anyone needs to condemn anti-Semitism is a working conscience, I must concede a small amount of truth in this. In a fundamental sense, like the wider debate over Islamism, this is an argument taking place within the Muslim world that people like me can only observe. That’s why, rather than asking you to take my word for it, I urge you to read this piece by Mehdi Hasan, another frequent sparring partner of mine. Writing last March in response to the Lord Ahmed story, he is quite blunt:

It pains me to have to admit this but anti-Semitism isn’t just tolerated in some sections of the British Muslim community; it’s routine and commonplace. Any Muslims reading this article – if they are honest with themselves – will know instantly what I am referring to. It’s our dirty little secret. You could call it the banality of Muslim anti-Semitism.

As I write this, I can sense Jones’s likely retort: it’s not his place to criticise Muslims, let him focus on Jobbik & co. while Muslim writers confront home truths. As I’ve said, there’s something to this… But is it not a little extraordinary to write a column on the state of anti-Semitism in modern Europe without so much as mentioning this worrying development? Especially since the most horrific act of anti-Semitic violence in recent memory – the murder of three children at a Jewish school in Toulouse – was perpetrated by an avowed Islamist.

I bring up the Toulouse/Montauban atrocity for another, even less comfortable reason. Among the killer’s usual laundry list of grievances was the following: “The Jews have killed our brothers and sisters in Palestine.” And here we find another, less noble reason why some on the left are selective in their vigilance: a great deal of modern anti-Semitism is expressed in the form of attacks on “Zionism” and “Zionists”.

The relationship between Israel, anti-Semitism and the Western left is an intricate and complicated one; I made a fledgling attempt to explore it in this essay. Like Owen Jones, I oppose the occupation of Palestinian land and want justice for both sides. But if the hard left wishes to take anti-Semitism seriously – and I take them at their word that they do – then at some point they will have to face the facts. All the facts.

*I prefer this term to “anti-Semitism”, which is both imprecise (Arabs are also Semites) and itself an anti-Semitic coinage, by 19th-century Jew-haters who wanted a more scientific-sounding term. I nevertheless end up using “anti-Semitism” most of the time because others do, but it’s something to think about.

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  • Kolya


  • Ciaron Goggins

    Dear Little Owen, remind us, how many demos has he been arrested on?

  • JohnJustice

    Very nicely put.

  • greggf

    “I prefer this term to “anti-Semitism”, which is both imprecise (Arabs are also Semites)….”

    No Tom, “anti-semitism” is an OK term to use…..

  • mightymark

    “Anti semititsm” is, and always has only ever been used to refer to “Jew hatred” having been invented for the purpose BY antisemites. Quibling about the meaning is a sure sign of someone not taking the issue seriously and trying to obfuscate matters.

  • greggf

    Yes mark. I don’t know why he’s quibbling either.

  • mightymark

    Perhaps although my comment was in fairness not directed at Tom who clearly does take it seriously. Mildly troubling though that he doesn’t seem to know the history of the term.

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