My piece a few days ago about an article by David Hirsh criticising Chris Davies provoked a reaction from David Hirsh himself, complaining of its intemperate tone.
He’s right, and I apologise. As Iain Sharpe suggests, it isn’t as if I was trying to exonerate Chris Davies’ comments, and I should not have allowed the more objectionable parts of Hirsh’s article to have wound me up so much.
But there are four things I points I would take issue with in light of his comments.
Firstly, and a little frivolously, I would still maintain that referring to the Euston Manifesto as the manifesto is simply ridiculous. There is a groundswell of its supporters who genuinely seem to think it is the most significant piece of work since Marx and Engels sat down in a pub in Manchester. Get over yourself.
Secondly, I simply don’t accept Hirsh’s argument that Davies here is criticising “Jews” as opposed to the state of Israel. It is clear who Davies is criticing here, no matter how clumsily he goes about it. The Holocaust and the birth of modern Israel are inextricably linked; the Holocaust is part of Israel’s history just as the fall of the second temple is part of Israel’s history. Just because there is not a direct continuity, it doesn’t mean that the simple act of mentioning the Holocaust means you must automatically criticising all Jews as opposed to Israel. It simply makes no sense.
Thirdly, the semantic difference between accusing someone of being racist and accusing someone of knowingly acting in a racist manner is a pretty irrelevant one. Hirsh should nail his colours to the mast and call a spade a spade here. If bringing up racism is unhelpful to his argument (and I think it is), then he should have been more careful in the first place.
Fourthly, it is simply not true to say that no lobby exists that presents any criticism of Israel as anti-semitism. A few years ago when I was a student (and Chair of the Manchester University Lib Dems), there was a big row between the Islamic Society and the Jewish Society over a motion that the Muslims tabled at the student union’s general meeting. An inaccurate version of events was published a couple of years later in the Guardian (the change of venue didn’t make it inquorate – hundreds of people turned up – the fact that vastly more people turned up than could fit into the venue – specially booked to cater for increased capacity – meant that the meeting could not proceed).
Being an insufferable self-righteous little git at the time (and for those who feel that description still applies, believe me, I’ve got better), I attempted to calm the storm by campaigning on the platform that the allow either side a “win” in this would simply stoke up tensions; what we needed was for both sides to walk away. Eventually, that is exactly what happened, but not before the national Union of Jewish Students had phoned up the national Lib Dem HQ demanding that I be kicked out of the party for running an “anti-semitic” campaign.
Note that I wasn’t even picking a side here: I was simply suggesting that the whole debate had become too politicised. Note that this was a national organisation purporting to represent Jewish students. And note that this was 5 years before 9/11.
I don’t believe for a second this guff about the Jewish lobby silencing criticism of Israel for the simple fact that there is absolutely no lack of criticism of Israel. But it certainly is true that there are individuals out there who will leap on absolutely anything and start shouting about racism. I accept that David Hirsh isn’t one of these, but I do feel he is guilty of the same over-simplification that he accuses others of.