Stephen Pollard: Pigs on a poster are the least of our worries

It is critical that the charge of anti-Semitism is used only in the clearest cut cases
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The Independent Online

'The trouble with you Jews", I was once told, "is that you are far too sensitive". My correspondent (who went on to inform me that the fact of my presence in the pages of a national newspaper was, of itself, evidence that Jews run the media) was upbraiding me after a piece in which I pointed out that, while criticism of Israel is certainly not evidence of anti-Semitism, there are times when the two are indeed one and the same thing.

'The trouble with you Jews", I was once told, "is that you are far too sensitive". My correspondent (who went on to inform me that the fact of my presence in the pages of a national newspaper was, of itself, evidence that Jews run the media) was upbraiding me after a piece in which I pointed out that, while criticism of Israel is certainly not evidence of anti-Semitism, there are times when the two are indeed one and the same thing.

There is now little doubt that the oldest hatred is on the march once more. On the streets, where anti-Semitic incidents are rising to new levels, Jews are physically attacked for the mere fact of being Jews. It is easy - and proper - for liberals to condemn such behaviour. But there is a far more insidious, and far more dangerous, form of anti-Semitism which is now taking hold across large parts of the culture, which uses implicit attacks on "the Jews" to make political capital. When there is evidence of such behaviour it needs to be highlighted, condemned and punished. The consequence of not doing that was commemorated last Thursday, on Holocaust Memorial Day.

But it is critical that the accusation of anti-Semitism is used only in the clearest cut cases. Bandying it around when the evidence is weak is dangerously counter-productive. As the boy who cried wolf discovered, when it really matters, no one will listen.

That is why the latest contretemps over a supposedly anti-Semitic Labour Party poster is so dispiriting. The poster consists of the heads of two Conservative politicians grafted on to the bodies of two pigs with wings, with the phrase "The day the Tory sums add up". That's when pigs will fly; get it?

It's a pretty silly poster. But apparently it's not just silly; it's also anti-Semitic. The reason? The two politicians are Michael Howard and Oliver Letwin, who are both Jewish.

The story arose when a Tory candidate said that the poster is "tasteless" because there is nothing more distasteful for a Jew than being associated with a pig. I won't name the accuser since his publicity stunt was contemptible and should not be rewarded. He appears to have thought that if he made an accusation of anti-Semitism it would somehow endear him to his Jewish would-be constituents.

Let's leave aside his fatuous statement about pigs and Jews and concentrate on the matter in hand. Being beaten up by anti-Semites is, after all, ever so slightly more distasteful.

The phrase "when pigs fly" is in common parlance. Suggesting the Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Chancellor's sums don't add up is fair comment - and has nothing whatsoever to do with their being Jewish. There are, however, real examples which do merit concern. Another Labour poster, which has Michael Howard mocked up as a Fagin or Shylock-style money grabber is genuinely worrying, since it seems to have no intent other than to promote the association between Michael Howard and Jewish caricatures.

And take a recent piece by the Energy Minister, Mike O'Brien, in Muslim News: "Ask yourself what will Michael Howard do for British Muslims? Will his foreign policy aim to help Palestine? Will he promote legislation to protect you from religious hatred and discrimination? Will he give you the choice of sending your children to a faith school? Will he stand up for the right of Muslim women to wear the hijab? Will he really fight for Turkey, a Muslim country, to join the EU?"

Fair comment, you might think. But all bar one of those items are Tory party policy. So the only construction that can be put on Mike O'Brien's words is that Mr Howard will not do what his party has pledged to do, such as aiming "to help Palestine" or "really fight for Turkey, a Muslim country, to join the EU". And why might Mr Howard - the Jew - not do that?

Mr O'Brien also chose to attack another MP, this time a Liberal Democrat, in the same piece. The man he alighted upon just happened to be Evan Harris. Not Charles Kennedy. Not any other LibDem. Just Mr Harris - the only Jewish LibDem MP, who is not even a frontbencher.

His remarks - genuinely playing the anti-Semitic card to a Muslim audience - are as foul in their own way as anything emanating from the BNP.

Or there's Khalid Mahmood, the Labour MP for Birmingham Perry Barr, who condemned the Muslim Council of Britain's boycott of the Auschwitz liberation commemoration: "I'm proud to be a Muslim. But if people are boycotting this, then I think it's a mistake. People who were exterminated in the Holocaust were not just Jews. There were Romany Gypsies as well." It wasn't "just Jews" who died. It was decent people, worth commemorating, too.

Probably the most widespread current anti-Semitic trope is the use of the phrase "neo-con". Few of its users have the slightest idea what it means and employ it instead as a politically acceptable euphemism for "imperialist Jews".

Given time, and the ever greater use of genuinely anti-Semitic political tactics, the need for such euphemisms will disappear. Attacks on "the Jews" will not need to be couched.

Stemming that tide is vital - and it is not helped when baseless accusations muddy the water.

mail@stephenpollard.net

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