05 August 2018

Professor Waxman and discomfort of the British Jews. Oh, and Freedom of Speech...


It so happens that every time I see an article that starts with the "full disclosure" of the kind: "I am Jewish..." or "As a Jew...", I get butterflies in my stomach. This time wasn't any different.

When I have seen the headline of the article in Times of Israel:

Who gets to define anti-Semitism?

I, of course, was slightly thrilled*. I was less thrilled after reading the lede:
The UK Labour Party must protect free speech, including the comments about Israel that most British Jews abhor.
So free speech is the issue then? Hmm...

And then, of course, the "full disclosure" part:
I am a British Jew, though I have spent my adult life in the United States. I’ve found it more comfortable to be a Jew here, but I have always bridled at the notion that Britain is, or is becoming, an inhospitable environment for Jews, whether due to anti-Semitism on the left there or among its large Muslim population.
Quite revealing, especially the part of being more comfortable. I assume that prof. Waxman was already asked about that confession, so I shall leave it alone. Just to mention that the butterflies in my stomach invited a few friends to join the dance. And when prof. Waxman bridled at that notion - what can I say: the butterflies really lost it, each one dancing and jumping up and down to its own music. Inviting more buddies, too.

Now it is my turn to do that "full disclosure" part, I guess. Not being a British Jew, just an oldish Israeli one, with a considerable time done elsewhere (USSR mostly and USA some), I hate the topic of antisemitism. Every one of the few people reading this blog knows that rarely does it go into this murky subject, for various unrelated reasons.

But when many (if not all) of my British friends, Jewish and not so blessed, bitterly complain about that malady in what used to be their political home of preference, when they leave that home in droves, when they start looking elsewhere for acceptance - only a deaf and blind would ignore that.

When the leader of that party is caught again and again in de facto antisemitic acts, like buddying up to terrorists (tell me who your brothers are...). Like declaring the mere existence of Israel bizzare. By seeming unable even to say "Israel", so deeply is the word lodged in his craw.  Etc. etc.

When dignitaries like David Duke and Nick Griffin declare their support for the said leader - tell me who you friends are now.

When the Deputy Leader says things like "Labour faces ‘eternal shame’ over antisemitism."

When the glorious leader himself is forced to issue an artificially sounding half-confession/half denial, which (at least) includes words like "But I do acknowledge there is a real problem that Labour is working to overcome."

What does all of the above leave of prof. Waxman bridling? I don't know and really don't want to.

But all of the above is not really the point of the discussed article, nor of this post. The real point is the big red herring of free speech, placed by prof. Waxman at the center of his article. According to his logic (or his beliefs) it's quite fine (in the framework of free speech, of course) to direct more attention and criticism to Israel’s alleged crimes and misdeeds than toward other democracies. It is cool (free speech) to compare Israeli policies and actions to those of Nazi Germany. It is quite acceptable (free speech) claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour. Etc.

And I wouldn't even comment on that bizarre notion:
The fact that many Jews are justifiably offended by false analogies between Israel and Nazi Germany does not automatically make such analogies anti-Semitic.
Because, as I mentioned already, this is just another piece of the same red herring and as such is besides the point.

To the point: the vaunted freedom of speech prof. Waxman so selflessly defends is not something that should be protected by a political party, it is rather the business of the government and its institutions and the public at large. To use a (randomly chosen, with apologies to prof. Waxman) definition of political party:
A political party is defined as an organised group of people with at least roughly similar political aims and opinions, that seeks to influence public policy by getting its candidates elected to public office.
I strongly doubt that even a man, so liberal in his views as prof. Waxman, will object to the notion that Holocaust deniers, Israel-haters and various other shades of anti-Semites and other racists and bigots, while they might have the freedom of speech protection of their activities and their hate speech, are not entitled to "automatic" (whatever it means) protection of their party membership.

In other words: I might fight to death for your freedom of speech, hateful as your speech might appear, but I wouldn't want to invite you to my party (pun intended).

I hope this dispenses with the red herring in its entirety.

Q.E.D.

(*) And disappointed eventually, since no matter how carefully you read the article, you wouldn't find an answer to this, seemingly trivial, question. Rather a dismissal of the whole by this:
That’s what the British Jewish communal establishment declared in its condemnation of Labour’s definition of anti-Semitism: “It is for Jews to determine for themselves what anti-Semitism is.”

While the feelings and sensitivities of Jews should be considered, they are not sufficient.
One would think (wrongly, apparently) that the issue of defining an insult is in the eyes of the insultee. But prof. Waxman, obviously, doesn't think so. I am not going to deal with this, painfully obvious, strawman, aside of quoting my Facebook British friend, Sarah Minxy Mann Yeager, who expressed it quite well:
People like you are the reason we are running scared. Ask yourself this xxx: if a black person told you they felt there was racism being aimed at them from a political party would you dare to ask them to substantiate it?

If an LGBT person told you they were feeling victimised would you dare to ask them for proof?

Why, as a JEW who tells you there is a palpable threat to their whole group from a political party, do you dare to expect any more substantiation than daily press articles that cover the front pages of our national press from the Daily Telegraph to The Mirror?

If you are curious, YOU go and look. You are clearly not satisfied with the evidence that I have given you and your refusal to believe there is a problem is tantamount to gaslighting.

You are telling me, a JEW, that I am imagining it and there is NO antisemitism. I am telling you there is.

Why is my telling you isufficient? If I were BAME and told your something similar you would not ask for proof.