The ‘New Statesman’ addresses anti-Semitism

January 26, 2014 at 7:22 pm (Anti-Racism, anti-semitism, conspiracy theories, Guardian, Jim D, Middle East, New Statesman, palestine, Pilger, populism, reactionay "anti-imperialism", zionism)

Here’s something you won’t often read at Shiraz or hear from me: I recommend you to buy this week’s New Statesman.

New Statesman

Perhaps intended to coincide with Holocaust Memorial Day, the current issue carries two articles on anti-Semitism: Anthony Clavane on anti-Semitism and the left, and Andrew Hussey on Dieudonné and the re-emergence of the “negationist” tradition in French politics. Both are very informative and well-argued pieces, but their real significance is that they appear in the New Statesman at all. In recent years the magazine’s anti-Zionism has often taken on a strident tone and in the case of regular contributor John Pilger, veered dangerously close to outright anti-Semitism. And, of course, back in 2002, under then-editor Peter Wilby, the magazine brought out its infamous “A kosher conspiracy” edition. An apology was eventually extracted from an initially defiant Wilby, but the wretched man continues to contribute a regular column.

The present issue is not yet available online, so I’m reproducing an excerpt from Clavane’s piece, including a reference to the “A kosher conspiracy” row:

Criticising Israel, as many Jews do, and Zionism as an ideology, which a much smaller number but still a significant minority of the community does, are perfectly valid positions. Publishing an anti-Zionist cover story featuring a golden Star of David stabbing a pliant Union flag with the headline “A kosher conspiracy?”, as the New Statesman (then under different ownership and editorship) did in 2002, is not. It should not have to be spelled out, though this magazine’s then editor did so in a subsequent apology, that all principled critics of Israeli policies should avoid using anti-Semitic images and narratives. They should not, as the BBC’s Tim Llewellyn once did, accuse American politicians such as Dennis Ross of hiding behind “a lovely Anglo-Saxon name”. (Llewellyn went on to say that Ross is “not just a Jew, he is a Zionist … a Zionist propagandist”.) They should have no truck with vile anti-Jewish calumnies, including the blood-libel slur, routinely rehearsed in anti-Zionist Arab textbooks.


“The Zionist lobby,” Dieudonné told the Iranian-funded Press TV, “have taken France as hostage and we are in the hands of ignorant people, who know how to structure themselves into a Mafia-like organisation and…have now taken over the country.”

As Dave Rich at the Community Security Trust, a charity that monitors anti-Jewish attacks in Britain, explains: “this is not the anti-Zionism of people who think that the Palestinians get a raw deal from Israel: it is the anti-Zionism of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a conspiracy theory that believes Jews pull all the strings.”

“We need to keep things in perspective,” warns David Feldman, of the Pears institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism. “we have experienced the worst financial crisis since the 1930s, with Jews prominent in many places [in finance]. Yet in contrast to the situation 80 years ago, few radicals have proposed anti-Semitic explanations.”

As Jonathan Freedland, who writes a weekly column in the Guardian and a monthly column in the Jewish Chronicle, points out, so far only “a few marginal political voices” on the British left have flirted with anti-Semitic tropes. However, after a property website owned by a Jewish businessman withdrew its sponsorship of West Brom on 20 January, and then the FA announced it was charging Anelka, the liberal-left commentariat was presented with a perfect opportunity to take a stand against such tropes. Yet more silence. In fact, it was left to the right-wing controversialist Rod Liddle to condemn the striker’s “repulsive” support for his Jew-baiting friend.

“On this issue,” Freedland told me, “all anti-racists of good conscience should have leapt in. Dieudonné is aligned with the far right. He’s had criminal convictions for anti-Semitism. My worry is that, as time passed before the FA’s announcement and the lack of outrage continued, it didn’t send out a strong message about anti-Semitism

“The quenelle was a previously obscure gesture in this country and now it’s known. So this is the moment to make the point that no self-respecting person on the left should accept a supposedly ‘anti-establishment’ position which in fact says it’s the Jews who are ‘the establishment’.”

Anthony Clavane’s latest book is “Does Your Rabbi Know You’re Here?” (Quercus £6.99)


  1. The ‘New Statesman’ addresses anti-Semitism | OzHouse said,

    […] Jan 26 2014 by admin […]

  2. James Robb said,

    Very interesting post. I wrote about an instance of the use of anti-Semitic imagery (perhaps unintentionally) in a widely-read left blog in New Zealand. See

    Dieudonne also received important left cover in Counter Punch, which has been criticised on the blog The Spanish Prisoner. See

  3. Lamia said,

    The Jew Hatesman is far too modest in not accepting its share of the credit for the growth of this phenomenon. That edition in 2002 marked a new low in British left antisemitism and would not have been out of place in Nazi Germany.

    The magazine has never properly apologised or held those responsible to account. Peter Wilby, John Pilger and Denis Sewell are utter scoundrels who should have been shunned henceforth by any self-respecting journalist. No surprise to read that Wilby is still a columnist there.

  4. Jim Denham said,

    The (now) present edition, immediately following the one carrying the Clavane and Hussey articles, carries six letters in response, three of which take issue one way or another with Clavane. One raises the old, hackneyed and doltish argument that the term “Semites” includes Arabs, so (presumably) there can be no such thing as anti-Semitism in the sense of anti-Jewish discrimination. Another cheers the UN’s decision to drop a definition of anti-Semitism (to “howls of protest from the Israeli lobby” according to the author) that includes vilification of Israel.

    Evidently, not all New Statesman readers have broken with the “radicalism of fools.”

  5. Ben said,

    The decline of the New Statesman has been truly tragic for progressive politics everywhere. In its heyday in the two decades following WW2 it was a beacon and source of ideas and energy for the left, and was very influential. The quality of its literary reviews and current affairs coverage was unsurpassed. It started to deteriorate in the late 1960’s, and today it is a sad joke.

    A recent interview with Julian Barnes recently published in the New Statesman quoted him describing Christopher Hitchens, who with Barnes worked there about forty five years ago, as “idly antisemitic, until he discovered that his mother was Jewish”. Hitchens was not alone to harbour such attitudes. In the aftermath of the Six Day war the New Statesman started publishing calumnies and libels against Israel and Zionism from a variety of journalists whose antipathy to Jewish national aspirations has become the normative attitude on the left nowadays.

    • Robin Carmody said,


      Why do you think the New Statesman declined in the way it did? I can’t help thinking it has something to do with the breakup of Left unity in the period its greatness slipped away, brought about in part by a complacency (it seemed as though the gains of the Attlee government were permanent and too firmly embedded ever to be taken away, that the battles between public and private were settled for good and forever) and partially by a wave of new intellectual ideas which conflicted with each other and were increasingly hard to reconcile. The combined effects of post-colonialism and post-structuralism alienating the broader readership, making it seem too far removed from their own lives, and the assumption (which lasted right up until 1982/83 in many Left circles) that pure market economics were too far gone to make a decisive comeback, ate away at the New Statesman’s self-confidence and sense of purpose. During the 1970s and 1980s it had a succession of editors who all searched for their different ideas of absolute purity and certainty – their own ideological main lines from which all others could be excluded – which very much reflects the story of the broader British Left at that time and until it was too late. Meanwhile, the Spectator was slowly reconstructing itself along with its own movement …

      After all, the New Statesman’s then editor – and we know where he ended up – wrote the famous ‘Menace of Beatlism’ piece in 1964. At the time, that wasn’t seen as particularly breaking with any of the central ideals and principles of the Left, and no more surprising or unexpected for someone in his position to write than it would have been for the editor of the Spectator to write. Within as little as five years – certainly ten – it would have been seen as implicitly racist, elitist, an attack on working-class innovation and resistance to the ruling class and all the other criteria of a redefined Left. So we see again an example of how the power of one kind of Left, one idea of working-class resistance through popular culture and connections with black America, has weakened and eroded the intellectual unity and strength of the Left as a whole.

      Except that I wouldn’t – couldn’t – be without all that pop and rock music has given us. And there’s the problem. There’s not a waking moment when I don’t think about it and try to find the way out that I fear doesn’t exist.

  6. Iakovos Alhadeff said,

    The neo-nazi Golden Dawn party and why the Greek left does not confront them

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