Antisemitism has been in the news rather a lot lately.
Diane Abbott has been accused of antisemitism for suggesting in a letter to the Observer that Jews have not suffered from racism to the same extent as black people because they are not so visibly distinctive. Currently she is suspended from the parliamentary Labour Party, pending an investigation.
And the Guardian has been accused of antisemitism for publishing a cartoon of Richard Sharp, the departing Chairman of the BBC, which exaggerated the Jewishness of his features in a manner reminiscent of Nazi propaganda.
‘Antisemitism’ means very different things to different people. Some have argued that Abbott’s letter was antisemitic because she appeared to suggest that there is a ‘hierarchy of racism’; others would say that her comments were not antisemitic because she said nothing directly to disparage Jewish people. Some have argued that the Guardian cartoon was antisemitic because it played into ‘antisemitic tropes’; others would say that cartoonists always exaggerate the features of the public figures they lampoon, it is their job.
There are endless arguments within Jewish organisations and in Jewish publications over the meaning of the term ‘antisemitism’. At one extreme are those who regard any condemnation of the State of Israel as ‘antisemitic’; at the other are those who argue that use of the term ‘antisemitism’ should be restricted to the verbal or physical abuse of Jewish people for being Jewish.
The Labour Party alone has four different Jewish groups which distinguish themselves by their competing definitions of antisemitism (Jewish Labour Movement, Jewish Voice for Labour, Labour Against Antisemitism and Socialists Against Antisemitism). Shades of the People’s Front of Judea and the Judean People’s Front from Monty Python’s Life of Brian.