Ben White, Israel and South Africa: Apartheid analogies

Lucy Lips writes:

Understanding” is a weasel word, isn’t it.

What would you think if I were to say:

“I don’t hate black people but I understand why some people do”/

Imagine that I then went on to argue that racism against black people was exacerbated by those who argue that the obsessive focus on the supposed criminality of some black people is motivated by racism.

Suppose that I then claim that black identity politics is the worst form of racism in the world, that states run by black people are the more atriocious than anywhere else in the world, and that it is a media conspiracy and European guilt over racism and slavery that prevents us saying so.

What would you think of me?

White racists often do run arguments just like this. They will frequently deny that they’re racists, and will argue that if only people would listen to them and act on their advice, there wouldn’t be so much racism. It isn’t a new rhetorical technque, but it is a transparent one.

That’s basically Ben White’s line too. He argues:

I do not consider myself an anti-Semite, yet I can also understand why some are. There are, in fact, a number of reasons. One is the state of Israel, its ideology of racial supremacy and its subsequent crimes committed against the Palestinians. It is because Zionists have always sought to equate their colonial project with Judaism that some misguidedly respond to what they see on their televisions with attacks on Jews or Jewish property.

Secondly, and related to the first point, is the widespread bias and subservience to the Israeli cause in the Western media…

I have just provided a by no means comprehensive list of reasons why “I can understand very well that some people are unpleasant towards Jews.” I do not agree with them, but I can understand.

… and so on.

There is a difference between truly attempting to understand why people are nasty racists, and providing an alibi for racists. Ben White is in the business of providing alibis for racists. His argument is essentially “Zionists have tricked racists into hating Jews, generally”. Poor racists.

No progressive ever makes excuses for racists.

Ben White can only get away with this in a context in which a sizeable proportion of self-described liberal opinion holds that the State of Israel is the most significant source of evil in the world. It is, in fact, the hysterical and hyperbolic response to any Israel-related issue among that section of progressive opinion that is a substantial cause of contemporary antisemitism.

Here’s an example. Ben White has a column up on Liberal Conspiracy, pushing his Israel = South Africa crap. This is, apparently, a good liberal view because, of course, Israel is a pernicious colonial settler state that all right thinking people should oppose.

Here’s another example. The charity War on Want is hosting Ben White on Thursday 9 July at the Conway Hall.

There is a substantial section of the British Left which thinks that it is liberal and progressive to claim that racism is best understood as an “understandable” reaction to whatever it is the target of racism is supposed to be guilty of. You can say this, where Jews are concerned, and nobody will bat an eyelid.

Now, the next time Ben White writes an article comparing his views on Israel and South Africa, he might want to start it like this:

“I do not consider myself a supporter of South African apartheid, but I can understand those who were; similarly I do not consider myself an antisemite, but I can understand those who are.”

THAT kind of analogy doesn’t help his case at all!



Filed under anti-fascism, bigotry

11 responses to “Ben White, Israel and South Africa: Apartheid analogies

  1. Weak. Immensely weak. Israeli apologists clearly have attempted to conflate the Israeli state with Jews: hark at the oafish Denis MacShane attempting to smear anti-Zionists as Jew haters practicing “the new anti-semitism”. In a context where you can’t criticise a state for its war crimes without being dubbed a racist a very important term has become next to meaningless.

  2. seismicshock

    Even if that’s the case, that doesn’t mean that criticism of Israel should be put in a racist way. Ben White frequently has done.

    I appreciate that critics of Israel may well be accused of antisemitism unjustly, but in this case Ben White has said he understands antisemitism.

    If that’s his starting point, he’s bound to hate Israel, much as people who claim to understand anti-black racism may end up hating African states.

  3. Tony Copsey

    James that is bullshit. I have read MacShane’s book on the new antisemitism and he specifically distinguishes between crticism of Israeli policies and antisemitism.

  4. SS – He doesn’t put it in a racist way.

    Tony Copsey – I wasn’t referring to the latest tract he’s churned out, actually. Perhaps he’s seen the light, but I doubt it.

  5. Tony Copsey

    James: please give the specific quote where MacShane does that (i.e smearing anti-Zionists as Jew-haters). Perhaps you need to read his book?

    Yes Ben White does put things in a racist way. Read this blog and you will find abundant evidence. Or perhaps you can tell us why Ben got so upset at the arrest of people plotting to blow up a synagogue?

  6. Tony, like I said in my last comment, I was not referring to his book.

  7. Tony Copsey

    James – ok, so what were you referring to?

  8. Also, he quite clearly was not “upset”: You are perpetuating a quite simply bizarre smear against the man. He simply pointed out that this was a sting operation and an instance of a few morons enjoying spectacularly violent fantasies being humoured, then arrested, by law enforcement agents. It’s not that it’s a pity it didn’t all work out, it’s that it was never going to all work out, & folly to pretend otherwise.

    If this is the level of distortion people can expect during engagement in debate with you I shall decline to continue.

  9. Tony Copsey


    Re BW: OK perhaps ‘upset’ was the wrong word, sorry. But why did Ben step away from questions and delete comments from his own blog when asked to clarify what he meant by ‘a fully controlled threat to our freedoms’?

    Re MacShane: I’ve looked at that piece and I don’t see anywhere where MacS smears anti-Zionists as Jew-haters. I’ve read the Parliamentary Report and I don’t see anything along those lines there either.

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