Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Is the British Labour party deliberately stirring up anti-Semitic feelings?

Britain's ruling Labour Party is currently embroiled in an anti-Semitic scandal. In the runup to the general election, which will be held sometime in the next few months, it presented four possible campaign posters on its website. One showed the faces of Tory leader, Michael Howard, and his Shadow Chancellor (Treasury secretary) Oliver Letwin, superimposed on flying pigs. Both men are Jewish. Another showed Michael Howard dressed in black, one hand outstretched and the other clutching a gold watch (supposedly conveying that he is a 'hypnotist' fooling people into believing he's fiscally responsible). Even normally reticent commentators have said how much the image reminds them of a 'Fagin' or 'Shylock' character -- and accused Labour of flirting with anti-Semitism.
If true, it wouldn't be the first time; last year Labour chairman Ian McCartney was criticised for explicitly describing Letwin as a '21st century Fagin' -- although at the time he was widely defended by members of the Jewish community, who defended his Jew-friendly credentials.
Some have suggested that the current posters are either a deliberate attempt to suck up to the Muslim community; a deliberate attempt to play to the anti-Semitic currents in British society today; a deliberate ploy to get massive, free publicity; or just a naive/innocent mistake.
Truth be told, I simply can't imagine that New Labour's leaders would have deliberately come up with a campaign with anti-Semitic overtones. Anti-Semitism in Britain, as it exists today, is mostly more covert. And indeed, I don't find the posters particularly offensive; certainly not the pig one (the prohibition is against eating pig, not being associated with a pig). In the current climate it seems to me that everyone is a bit over-sensitive. If I were a Tory, I'd shut up now about the posters (which aren't going to be used anyway) and stop making an issue out of Howard and Letwin's Jewishness, which is both irrelevant -- and can't possibly do them any good....


Anonymous said...

The association of Jews and pigs is an old anti-Semitic standard. Anti-Semites were never too much interested in what the exact prohibition for Jews is.

Here's the wikipedia entry, short, but with links to pictures:

(I'm not sure how deliberate the Labour people responsible were, though.)


Anonymous said...

Whether or not the image of a pig is offensive to Jews, I think it's clear that the point of the ads was to refence the 'and pigs might fly' cliche, not to racially offend the particular Tories depicted. The fact that this has even become news -- combined with some other recent articles -- seems to suggest that someone, or some people, in the media has/have decided to find anything they possibly can to portray Labour as anti-semitic.

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