The Guardian’s complacency over “absolute” anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism: an Open Letter to Alan Rusbridger

May 31, 2015 at 12:28 pm (anti-semitism, AWL, Guardian, israel, Jim D, Middle East, publications)

Alan Rusbridger in 1995 Alan Rusbridger in 1995.

Alan Rusbridger’s retirement from editorship of the Guardian after twenty years produced mixed emotions here at Shiraz. It would be churlish to deny his achievements in maintaining the Graun as Britian’s leading liberal-left daily paper, in overseeing its successful expansion online, and in breaking some genuinely important stories – Wikileaks, News International’s phone-hacking, Snowden, etc.

But having granted all that, the fact remains that under Rusbridger, the paper has been guilty of seriously unbalanced Middle East coverage (often giving space to Hamas and others who don’t just object to Israel’s policies, but seek its very destruction), and -simultaneously – downplaying the danger of anti-Semitism, and especially, anti-Semitism on sections of the left. This caused the AWL’s Sean Matgmana to write Rusbridger an open letter in 2009; now seems an appropriate moment to republish it:

Dear Alan Rusbridger,

The Guardian is the “house organ” of most of the non-Muslim people who took part in the two big demonstrations during the Gaza war. A vigorous campaign by the Guardian against anti-semitism on the “left” might do much good.

On Saturday 7 February, the Guardian carried an editorial, “Language and History”, denouncing anti-semitism and specifically the “anti-Zionist” anti-semitism that is now commonplace, remarking on the growth of anti-semitic incidents in Britain (now on average, one per day, and increasing).

Unfortunately, the editorial seriously misdefined the realities of what it discussed, and pussyfooted around the issue.

“Some extremists on the right and possibly [sic] the left might claim [that] the government is in the pocket of a ‘Jewish lobby’. There is no ‘Jewish lobby’ in the conspiratorial sense that the slur implies, and to assert that there is can only be the result of the kind of racism that has scarred Europe from tsarist Russia to the fascists and Stalinists of the 1930s through to the jihadists now. To present all Jewish people as coterminous with Israel and its supporters is a mistake with potentially terrible consequences. It aligns ethnicity with a political perspective, and it is simply racist”.

Indeed. The editorial records the Government’s statement that “unlike other forms of racism, antisemitism is being accepted within parts of society instead of being condemned.”

And the left? “Some within its ranks now risk sloppily allowing their horror of Israeli actions to blind them to antisemitism…. Last month, a rally in defence of the people of Gaza that included verbal attacks on the so-called ‘Nazi tendencies’ of Israel was followed by actual attacks on Jewish targets in north London”.

The editorial adds that such things as “kill Arabs” graffiti in Gaza are “chilling”. And? “The style in which that is condemned must not create the climate that allows scrawling ‘kill Jews’ on synagogues in Manchester”. The style….

The problem with all this is that it is so shot through with understatement that it seriously misrepresents the state of things. The demonstrations on Gaza “included verbal attacks on the so-called ‘Nazi tendencies’ of Israel”? Included? As we reported ( the demonstrations were entirely dominated by placards equating the Star of David and the Nazi swastika, Israel with South Africa, Gaza with the Nazi mass murder of Jews, or chants about a “Palestine” stretching “from the river to the sea”.

All the platform speakers, in their varying notes, tones annd degrees, proclaimed the same sort of politics. The one-time British diplomat Craig Murray explicitly called for the abolition of Israel and the rolling-back of Middle East history to before 1948. An SWP organiser on the megaphone at one of the marches was shouting that Israeli Jews should “go back to New York”.

The Guardian says that the left “possibly” subscribes to notions of an all-controlling “Jewish lobby”. Possibly? Moshe Machover came pretty close to saying it outright in the recent exchanges in this paper [ie the AWL’s paper Solidarity] – and he is one of the most sophisticated of the “absolute anti-Zionists”.

Mr Rusbridger, the root and core of modern anti-Semitism is the denial of Israel’s right to exist and defend itself. That inexorably leads on to a radical political hostility to most Jews alive.

Of course Jews and Israel are not co-terminous. They could hardly be! It is a fact that all but a few Jews — revolutionary socialists, Neturei Karta, etc. — feel connected with Israel, however critically, and however much they abhor such things as the onslaught on Gaza. How could a people with their history not have such attitudes?

The “demand” that the self-proclaimed left has made on British Jews — very aggressively on university campuses, for example – has been that they repudiate Israel, that they not be Zionists, that they accept that Israel is “racist” in essence and has no right to exist.

The denial of Israel’s right to exist, predominant on the self-proclaimed left, is the precondition for the bizarre alliance of so much of the left with political Islam (to give it its proper name, Islamic clerical fascism). It is what allows the self-proclaimed left, political Islam, and Islamic communalists to merge and meld almost indistinguishably on occasions like the Gaza demonstrations.

Inevitably that radical political hostility to most Jews alive taps into the great half-buried septic reservoirs of old anti-semitism — into old racist, religious, and nondescript crank anti-Semitism.

The Guardian Editorial writes of Nazi and Stalinist anti-Semitism in the 1930s. The worst Stalinist anti-semitism – from which come such things as the Stalinist-typical lunacy of equating Zionism and Nazism – erupted in the late 1940s and early 50s. The poisonous account of modern Jewish and Zionist history in the 20th century, which is dominant on the “left”, originates there, in Stalinism.

These old ideas of High Stalinist “anti-Zionism”/ anti-Semitism are rampant in the pro-Palestinian movement because they have conquered so much of the Trotskyism-rooted “left”. Young people who, to their credit, want to do something about such things as Gaza, come under the sway of the “smash Israel”, supposedly “pro-Palestinian” campaigns. The are taught ro reject a “Two State” settlement.

For the Guardian editorial to say that the difficulty lies in “the style” in which specific Israeli actions are criticised and condemned is simply preposterous! Whatever the “style” — and it varies from the seemingly reasonable to froth-at-the-mouth, open anti-semitism — the proposal to put an end to Israel leads inexorably to the things which the Guardian condemns, and to far worse.

The Guardian Editorial talks of the anti-semitism of the “jihadists”. The point is that the politics dominant in the Gaza demonstrations were entirely in line with the jihadists and their anti-semitism.

The Guardian has influence within the broad left. It is a pity you do not use that influence to tell the left the unpalatable truth about the state it’s in, that you don’t hold the mirror up, force people who should know better to see what they have let themselves become.


Sean Matgamna 


  1. damon said,

    While I’d agree with some of that letter, I’d have to disagree with parts of it also.
    The easy bit is saying how rubbish the pro-Palestinian activist movements are. And the mislabeling of ”Jewish lobbies” and all the rest.
    Though you could call it a Jewish lobby in the USA that put pressure on the US government to support the new state of Israel back before the UN vote that clinched it in 1948 – couldn’t you? It gets a bit confusing.
    The US bribed and threatened most of the poor countries that voted in favour I believe.

    Another thing I’m not entirely clear about is why you will get called an antisemite by many people who support Israel, if you say that you think Israel’s onslaught against Gaza last summer was seriously lacking in humanity. I did – and got a lot of that from Israel supporters.
    If you criticise the main Israeli spokesmen who come onto the news programmes to justify bombings of UN shelters etc (they always say that they weren’t ”aiming” for the civilians, but only the Hamas guys who were ten feet away). It you criticise them for statements like that, it will be said you hate Jewish people.

    So all in all in my opinion, Israel/Palestine is such a partisan and subjective issue that you can’t get a one size fits all perspective.

    • Jim Denham said,

      “Another thing I’m not entirely clear about is why you will get called an antisemite by many people who support Israel, if you say that you think Israel’s onslaught against Gaza last summer was seriously lacking in humanity. I did – and got a lot of that from Israel supporters.”: well if anyone said that to you, they were clearly wrong. I, personally, have *never* encountered Israel supporters calling people “anti-Semites” for opposing Israel’s internal or external policies and/or actions: certainly not over Gaza, in my experience.

      • Oh Fuck Off Damon said,

        No, and neither has Damon.

        It’s the mantra of the sort of ignorant wanker who claims to have an interest in The Suffering Of The Palestinians but hasn’t the mental capacity or literacy to investigate beyond the odd Guardian editorial –

        “Every time I make some harmless criticism of Israel, for example saying that Israel is just like South Africa, or saying the violence towards Jews sanctioned by the Hamas charter is fair enough when you consider the horrors of the Nakba, I get called an antisemite! Just shows how Jews want to stifle ‘debate’ and censor everyone, like they do in the media and the American government and the UN”

        Ignore the bleating of this pointless twat

      • damon said,

        Really? That was my experience on Harry’s Place.
        If you make more than a few posts about Israel – even though that is a very common subject on that site, first you’ll be asked why you take an interest in the region if you’re not from there and are not Jewish.
        That’s a way of weeding people out.
        The question is asked if you take such an interest in other rather obscure regions of the world. In Central America or Africa or other places. ”Why Israel/Palestine?” comes the question. Is it that it’s because Israel is the only Jewish state? (I was actually asked this). And what is my problem with Jews etc.

        Then it’s presumed that you are a typical PSC supporter – like that post below. That you will be supportive or at least ”understanding” of Hamas, and that you go along with the idea of calling Israel an apartheid state etc. I don’t btw, I just don’t support IDF military tactics.
        Then of course you are asked what military experience you have, and asked how you can claim to know how to conduct self defence of Israel better than the IDF does.
        That’s how it goes, and it’s the way of the main Israel support networks I have found.
        It’s a pity any discussion gets like that, because it just leads to tribal camps who are at loggerheads with each other.

    • Steven Johnston said,

      As socialists we should not support either side, as our side is the working class as a whole. Workers rights in Palestine? You having a laugh! As for Israel, yes, life is better there but it’s still capitalism so why would I take their side?

    • Ben said,

      “…The US bribed and threatened most of the poor countries that voted in favour I believe….”

      I am not aware of any evidence for this.

      The US State Department was strongly against the creation of Israel, taking its cue from the British Foreign Office. Secretary of State George Marshall did everything he could to prevent the establishment of a Jewish state. The CIA was led by strongly anti-Jewish officials who were influenced by the British intelligence services, who themselves were engaged in inciting and arming the Arab states to attack Israel and destroy it.

      • damon said,

        I got that idea from reading Israeli historian Benny Morris’ book ”1948”.
        When you look at the list of countries that voted for the creation of the state of Israel, third world countries on the other side of the world must surely have been bought off or leant on.
        A bit like FIFA giving a world cup to Qatar perhaps. The question would be ”why?”. Thirteen Latin American and Caribbean countries voted for.
        Of course they were bought off. Why wouldn’t they be?
        But it’s only what I read.

  2. Glesga Keeping Scotland Free From Loonies said,

    Never heard of the bloke. The Guardian read by people who think they should run the country.
    The issue today is fighting Islamic fascists wherever they raise their heads.

    • Steven Johnston said,

      The Times is read by people who actually run the country, the Morning Star by people who think another country should run this country and the Sun is read by people who don’t care who runs the country as long as she’s got big ****!

      • Glesga Keeping Scotland Free From Loonies said,

        Sorry Steven but it is the Financial Times. The Morning Star is read by people who want another country to run our country and the Sun is read by people who want women with big tits to run the country. The Express is run by people who want to run the country the way it used to be. The Guardian is read by people who think they should run the country.

      • dagmar said,

        Big “****”, eh? 1:26

  3. Paul Canning (@pauloCanning) said,

    Jim. The Snowden ‘revelations’ were a terrible example of the Guardian doing good work. They were click bait and extremely badly edited.

    I wrote at the time that the left should not fall for what I believed was a libertarian assault on the notion of government.

    In it I explain just how bad the Guardian and other media coverage was. (my piece is long and a bit rambling scanning it again)

  4. Ben said,

    “…To present all Jewish people as coterminous with Israel and its supporters is a mistake…”

    Rusbridger implied that it is OK to be vile to “Jewish people” that is, to Jews, if they are Israeli or support Israel and its leaders. Rusbridger’s sly assertion is perhaps the most offensive and vicious part of his unpleasant and insincere apologia for the Guardian’s lack of fairness and respect towards Israel and its people.

    Matgamna short letter exposing the Guardian’s true colours can only scratch the surface of the anti-Israeli malice and contempt that suffuses the Guardian’s representation of events in Israel and its neighbourhood. This anti-Israel policy permeates all parts of that paper, not least its Comment Is Free section where any reader comment that argues too strongly in favour of Israel is summarily deleted with a mendacious claim that it transgresses the community standards policy of the paper.

  5. Lamia said,

    It’s a very good letter by Matgamna.

    “Some extremists on the right and possibly [sic] the left might claim [that] the government is in the pocket of a ‘Jewish lobby’.”

    You’ve got to give the Guardianistas points for brass neck. It was the new Statesman, not the Spectator, that ran the ‘Kosher Conspiracy’ edition in 2002, with its disgraceful cover that would have been right at home in the Nazi publication Der Sturmer. It is quite something, the way that a large section of the left convinces itself that the main source of antisemistism in the west today is the far right rather than themselves and their Islamist ‘allies’.

    Good riddance to bad Rusbridger.

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