Anti-Semitism in British Newspapers

I’ve often criticized Israel’s partsans for seeing anti-Semitism where it ain’t – fo rinstance, virutally any criticism of Israel in the British press is attributed to anti-Semitism. But that doesn’t mean that there are never legitimate complaints. From Richard Ingrams in this past Sunday’s Observer:

I have developed a habit when confronted by letters to the editor in support of the Israeli government to look at the signature to see if the writer has a Jewish name. If so, I tend not to read it.

Memo to Mr. Ingrams: Go fuck yourself.

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43 Responses to Anti-Semitism in British Newspapers

  1. 1
    Ampersand says:

    Well, I’m reading, for what it’s worth.

  2. Pingback: An Unsealed Room

  3. 2
    Jimmy Ho says:

    Typo alert: please read “have become” instead of *”have becoming”. There’s probably more, so excuse me in advance.

  4. 3
    mint says:

    Thank you Kevin, you put that very well.

    Nice troll, RA.

  5. 4
    John Isbell says:

    Jimmy, thank you very much indeed for that extremely detailed reply. It’s interesting to know more about Le Pen, nasty as it is – what I remember is that he personally tortured Algerians as a paratrooper. Awful human being, and anyone who votes for him is troubled. In the elections, the left said “Vote for the crook, not the Nazi”, but you know that. Hence Chirac’s huge mandate.
    I had no idea le Monde diplomatique wasn’t just a section of Le Monde.
    Probably no-one is reading this. Well, writing it is good.

  6. 5
    Jimmy Ho says:

    John: that is alright. For reading regularly your comments on this blog and some others, I knew that you would not imply such a thing, but I just wanted to prevent any possible misunderstanding.
    I intended initially to make some remarks on your comments above, overall now that I know you are a fellow Parisian, but, alas, I lack the time required.
    For the moment, let me point out that the daily newspaper “Le Monde” and the monthly paper “Le Monde diplomatique”, though founded by the same man, Hubert Beuve-Méry, after WWII, have becoming increasingly independant from one another, and are now located on two very different, if not opposed spots of the political spectrum. The former is left-of-center, sometimes even pretty conservative on some issues (kind of like the NYT, I guess), while the latter is unambiguously leftist/radical, anti-globalization, and has an influence comparable to that of “ZMagazine” or “The Nation”: Dominique Vidal is a member of the staff there, and they regularly publish articles by Edward Said, Noam Chomsky, Amnon Kapeliouk, Amira Hass, etc. (in “Le Monde”, you are more likely to see columns by Alexandre Adler, Jean-François Revel, or Pierre-André Taguieff, all supporters of the idea there is a “new form of judeophobia” rising in France). The English online edition has a subscription system for most articles, but you can read all of them for free at the French site:
    The articles on antisemitic hate crimes are located under the header “Violences antisémites” (
    You will notice that most of them are written by the same Vidal, whose small book I highly recommend as well (don’t bother reading them, Mr. Ingrams, I am already fed up with essentialistic distorted simplification after hearing France-based far right zionists call bright, rational intellectuals Pierre Vidal-Naquet and Maxime Rodinson “self-haters who deserve a Goebbels Prize”).

    One last thing: Le Pen did run about 16% in the first round of last year’s presidential elections. Two weeks later, his opponent Jaques Chirac was elected with 82%, thanks to many non-rightists who did not need to think twice to recognize a case of emergency. It is legal to call Le Pen an antisemite, because he has been repeatedly condemned for that (when asked about the revisionism he advocated, he called the crematories “a detail of History”, made the infamous “Duraffour-crématoire” joke, continuously blamed his failures on the inexistant “Jewish lobby”). Let it be reminded that his party, the Front National, also opposed the official recognizing by Chirac of Vichy’s responsibility toward the deportation of the French Jews.
    Your not hearing of it recently is due to a radical change in his tactics the last ten years that became most obvious after 9/11/2001. He claimed his admiration for Israeli nationalists, depicted as the proud defensers of Western civilization in the Barbarian world of Islam, an analogy that tends to identify Israel and the settlements policy with the French colonization in Maghreb. In the past, he had justified the Apartheid by using the same rhetorics. This is when Jabotinskyan zionist organisations such as the Betar and the Ligue de Défense Juive (an offspring of Meir Kahane’s Chass) started saying that the (French) far right was no more the ennemy. A few Jews allegedly voted for Le Pen, more to “teach a lesson to the Arabs” than to support his agenda. So he instrumentalized the fears of the Jewish community (assimilated altogether to the foreign nation of Israel) to get a new popularity. This does not prove he is not an antisemite. Whenever they are between them (as in some confidential radio shows), his supporters still complain that “they” have taken all the key-positions and that someone whose last name is Cohen or Lévy will never be a genuine French unless he converts to Catholicism (but they wouldn’t recognize Cardinal Lustiger, who was converted during the war to avoid the deportation, a “real” Christian).

    As for the rest, what Kevin said.

  7. 6
    Kevin Moore says:

    Mint posted while I was writing my own post, but I think we’re on the same page. (Just not the letters page :) )

  8. 7
    John Isbell says:

    Jimmy, here is a quote from the article you link to (thank you): “perpetrators of anti-Jewish violence had a range of backgrounds. The police had arrested 67 people in connection with the most serious attacks; 45 were of North African descent. For less serious offences they had arrested 79, of whom 48 were Maghrebis.”
    These data confirm my hunch: roughly 2/3 of anti-semitic attacks were Maghrebin, coming from under 10% of the population. The right should therefore mention this fact in their discussions. As you say, precision counts.

  9. 8
    Ampersand says:

    Elayne, I don’t know. I don’t think you’re an anti-semite, but I do find your approach bewildering – you of all people should know that not all Jews think alike on Israel.

  10. 9
    mint says:

    Hello Amp,

    I don’t require that people produced well-balanced opinions on subjects in
    which they have a strong personal investment, that would be silly and
    unfair if I could, but I don’t promise to read them either. I rarely do
    more for news of Israel than skim Ha’aretz’s online edition. I depend on
    sources I trust, such as this blog, to tell me when something truly
    consequential happens.

    A lot of what I could read on this subject is biased, repetitive and boring
    for an outsider. I know that from experience and I’m not surprised. Were it
    universally biased, repetitive and boring I would be surprised. My pro-
    semitism, or pro-anything else unless it touches me very personally, does
    not extend to trawling through dozen of opinions in the hope of finding the
    balanced ones among them when my role is merely that of the person who
    bought the newspaper.

  11. 10
    Kevin Moore says:

    I make it a policy to not read letters to the editor. Of any publication (except the one I work for, because my boss has a way of inciting angry diatribes. But even then I scan.) Most letter writers fall into two categories: left wing cranks parroting received opinions and right wing cranks parroting received opinions. There are occasional bright spots of folks relating their own experience to a broader issue (my friend Erin recently cited her marriage to Melissa in a letter rebutting some homophobe’s diatribe against gay marriage.) The same rule tends to apply to the OP/ED pages.

    Elayne’s wariness about the Israel issue I think stems from this general problem, combined with her more particular situation of living in New York, the home of a large, often pro-Israeli Jewish population. I don’t think she feels all Jews think alike about Israel, but that experience of the letters page often enough contradicts whatever experiences she may have otherwise. Most reasonable people, for better or worse, don’t write letters to the editor. Most cranks do. A highly divisive, inflammatory issue, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has generated more than its fair share of cranks on either side (almost a cottage industry) who will fire off a letter to the editor as soon as they perceive a slight against their entrenched position. Elayne merely expresses the wariness (and weariness) of a reader who has come across one too many predictable diatribes by a particular class of readers. (It may also be that there are not enough Palestinian/arab names writing in to the editor, as well.) Ingram may be expressing the same wariness, except that as an editor, his obligation extends much farther than Elayne’s as a reader: he owes it to his readers to be impartial, to be reasonable, and most of all, to be truthful. He disserves his readers by using so crude a vetting process. What makes it antisemitic to my eye is that he has used this ridiculous, unprofessional method specifically regarding Jewish names and only on this issue.

  12. 11
    John Isbell says:

    Jimmy: good point. I’m sure my source said Muslims, but I visualized the North Africans of the 10e arrondissement or of the suburbs, whom I’ve always thought of as Arabs. Maybe because French refers to them as arabes, not musulmans. As you say, many French Muslims are not North Africans, and I’d forgotten them. I didn’t write, and I am certainly not meaning to imply that these 5 million Muslims are in any way not French. As you say, this matter requires rigor, and my brief comment was too brief. Thank you for the link to settle my hunch: I lived in Paris for three years, and this question matters to me.
    The American right has for some time been citing recent incidents in France to support the claim that France has always been anti-semitic, and this is convenient for the cheap French-bashing that fuels much of right-wing discourse these days (Instapundit). Making this case without mentioning that France has the largest Muslim population in Europe, as the right unfailingly does, strikes me as sleight of hand. I myself have more understanding for a Muslim who turns out to be anti-semitic than for a non-Muslim who does so, owing to Palestine and often education. Hence, my hunch. Now I’ll read that article: good that it’s from Le Monde. France also has the largest Jewish population in Europe.
    Le Pen had huge success in France a couple of years ago, but all I heard of him was anti-Muslim, not anti-Jew. He ran about 16%.

  13. 12
    MFB says:

    One mildly interesting take is (if this is the same guy I think it is) that Richard Ingrams used to be editor of the brilliantly scurrilous magazine PRIVATE EYE.

    Of course, saying that you won’t read letters on Israel written by Jews essentially means that you have no sense of humour (it is all but impossible to be a racist unless you believe in your own perfection, which means you have no sense of your own absurdity).

    So here we have not only the familiar case of a former leftist flipping over into fascism, but the odder case of a former humourist flipping into humourless zealotry.

    Humans. What a sad species. (Can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em, sigh . . . )

  14. 13
    Alison says:

    Richard Ingrams was editor of Private Eye, but he was never particularly left wing. Just a kind of ex-public school naughty boy/iconoclast. He ribbed the powerful, whcih was great, but he was always quite reactionary too.

  15. 14
    John Isbell says:

    For decades, Private Eye has exposed government scandal both left and right – whoever’s in power – and it is acidly funny, but it is definitely not a left-wing magazine. One thing it loves doing is shocking people, because it knows it teases: I remember Auberon Waugh writing about poor people, and saying: “I have often released the hounds on Hampton Heath myself.” (from which I conclude that Waugh, whom I’ve met, is a prat.) It’s an establishment anti-establishment insider magazine, breaking all the scandal.
    I think Ingrams confused his background in that with an excuse to let out his anti-semitism. Wayne X. Hitler seems to have the answer.
    ibyx, thanks for that link. I’ll check it.

  16. 15
    John Isbell says:

    ibyx, that article makes some important points, but I would have preferred more data and less commentary. Phrases like “the Left wants” and “the good leftist” raise my eyebrow. The article seems to have two theses: anti-Israel sentiment on the left is (sometimes) both dishonest and anti-semitic, which I will accept after adding the word “sometimes” that was lacking, and this exposes the moral bankruptcy of the left and of the UN, which I do not accept. The author appeals to having been a Communist in the 1960s for authority to be as right-wing as she wants. I do not accept appeals to authority.
    Also, you read this as about anti-semitism in Europe. The author is Italian, and refers only to Italy.
    I would love to see a data-driven overview of anti-semitism in Europe today. This is not it.

  17. 16
    Lorenzo says:

    “Memo to Mr. Ingrams: Go fuck yourself.”

    Holy crap! Amp just used a four letter word! *jaw agape*

    Heh. I totally agree with you, but was shocked by the language!

  18. 17
    Elayne Riggs says:

    “Hello, why do you assume that a Jewish writer is necessarily biased about Israel?”

    My deep dark confession is that, whenever I see a letter about the Middle East situation in my local paper, I too check to see if it’s written by someone whose name sounds Jewish or Arab, and I usually skip the Jewish ones because they’re – almost to a person – rabidly pro-Israel to the exclusion of any sort of logic or balance.

    Does this now make me anti-Semitic (or a self-hating Jew or whatever), or just an astute reader who notices patterns regarding the letters my paper chooses to run?

  19. 18
    Jimmy Ho says:

    John Isbell wrote: “I have my own hunch that a lot of the resurgence of French anti-semitism we hear about comes from its 5 million Arabs.”

    John, what exactly is the group you are referring to as “Arabs”? I suspect you are confusing with the estimated number of Muslims in France (4-5 million). The majority of them originate from Northern Africa, which allows only to say most of them are of Arabic descent, the others being Kabyles (the native inhabitants of Algeria before the arrival of the Arabs). More importantly, a significant number are actually French citizens. It is illegal in France to take ethnic origin in account for official statistics, therefore, it is meaningless to discuss any number of Arab population before stating clearly whether or not you restrict it to non-French persons having the citizenship of an Arabic country. Of course, that famous 4-5 million (always presented as a “menace” by the far right) also encompasses quite a lot of Muslims in no way connected to Arab “ethnicity”: Turks, Subsaharian Africans, Iranians, Pakistanis, et al.
    I think it is fundamental to be as rigorous as possible in this matter, just so that one does not fall into the same essentialistic absurdity that inspired Ingrams’ insulting paragraph (which, by the way, should be criticised with the utmost severity by the very people it pretends to support; this is offensive for both “sides”).
    As for anti-semitism in France, I can only suggest that you revise your “hunch”. Dominique Vidal says it better than I would in this “Le Monde diplomatique” article (English version: “Are The French really Antisemitic?”, 2002/12):

    If you read French, Vidal’s articles on the topic have been collected in “Le mal-être juif”, Agone, 2003.

  20. 19
    Wayne X Hitler says:

    Ingrams is a Dick. I have changed my last name so that anti-Semitic schmuck would read my letters if I cared to send him one.

    What I do know is whenever I see a column written by a jackass named Ingrams I will not read it.

    That jerk thinks he knows me and what I believe by his moronic interpretation of the origins of my name. What a shlemazel!

  21. 20
    ibyx says:

    For an excellent article on antisemitism in Europe:

  22. 21
    john williams says:

    Perhaps there is a clue to thicky Dicky’s attitude in this,

    INGRAM (British). “Pastureland homestead/river-meadow”; or, from Germanic Angleramn/Ingilramn (=angel raven).

  23. 22
    Mary-Jane says:

    Till I moved to the US, I was a regular reader of The Observer, so I should point out that Mr Ingrams is the paper’s resident right-wing lunatic, and is (if letters to the Editor are any indication) either ignored or detested by most of its readers. He regularly writes anti-feminst (in fact, anti-just about everything which has happened since 1950) tracts too. Because so many people ignore him, he will occasionally write something more nasty and bigoted than usual, just to get a reaction (and raise his quota of outraged letters from readers, no doubt.) I think it’s probably better to just pretend that he doesn’t exist, as he seems to be one of those conservatives who thrive on annoying anyone to the left of Strom Thurmond.
    But I do agree that he’s plumbed new depths with this latest screed. Shame on him, and shame on The Observer (which, even though it’s supposedly a liberal paper, has been drifting rightwards since supporting the invasion of Iraq) for providing him with a platform for hate speech.

  24. 23
    John Isbell says:

    Thanks, Mary-Jane. I saw a Brit arguing that while you do find anti-semitism on the left in Britain, based in being pro-Palestinian, there was probably more of it on the right. Maybe so. I have my own hunch that a lot of the resurgence of French anti-semitism we hear about comes from its 5 million Arabs. But that’s a whole other subject.
    r@d@r, my favorite line in this discussion: “I have a feeling Dick Ingrams is going to be getting a whole lotta letters to ignore in the near future.”

  25. 24
    Amy S. says:

    I’m changing my last name to “Smith” in hopes that fewer crackpots will respond to my letters in the local paper, thus greatly diminishing my customary take of dead fetus pictures, bible tracts, and long rants in orange Crayola about myself, the Pope, Elmo and Sharon all uniting to destroy the Aryan race’s purity.

  26. 25
    mint says:

    RA, I’ve no idea whether the Observer writer’s insinuation, that
    all mail about Israel he receives from people with Jewish
    sounding names is biased, is true or not. That’s not my problem.
    It would not surprise me if a large majority of such mails were
    biased in favour of Israel, it’s policies or even the IDF and I
    wouldn’t mind. I would expect him to voice conflicting, and biased,
    opinions equally, and certainly not to exclude a commentator on the
    basis of his name.

  27. 26
    r@d@r says:

    I have a feeling Dick Ingrams is going to be getting a whole lotta letters to ignore in the near future.

    Apropos of nothing, I have at least once been met with surprise by people who share my last name (of rather nondescript German origin) when I informed them that sadly no, I did not have the honor of calling myself a fellow Jew. Maybe I should send Mr. Ingrams a letter so that he’ll ignore my goyishe opinions as well.

    I also feel completely free to criticize the policies of the state of Israel along with my many Jewish friends who passionately and wholeheartedly do the same.

  28. 27
    Aaron says:

    I think PinkDreamPoppies may have a point about the Ingrams quote. But I don’t read things written by people with Pink, Dream, or Poppies in their name so I wouldn’t have the slightest idea what was written.

  29. 28
    Kevin Moore says:

    I don’t read letters written by anyone with the last name of Moore. They’re all idiots.

  30. 29
    Tom T. says:

    How can Ingrams know whether a letter supports Israel unless he reads it? Or at least some of it. It strikes me that he’s not even being honest about his prejudice; it just wouldn’t sound as loftily dismissive for him to say that he reads these letters and then gripes about them in a nasty way.

  31. 30
    Joe Grossberg says:

    I wonder if, whenever Ingram sees a feminist article/letter, he’ll disregard it if the author is female.

    After all, “too few people in this modern world are prepared to declare an interest when it comes to this kind of thing”.

    Kudos, Amp.

  32. 31
    PinkDreamPoppies says:

    I’m not supporting Mr. Ingram’s comment at all, but I do want to clear something up. There’s been some mention that Mr. Ingram wasn’t reading letters from people on the subject of Israel if the letter was signed by a person with a Jewish name. This isn’t what he said. What he said was that he didn’t bother to read letters in favour of the Israeli government that are signed by people with Jewish names. This doesn’t make it any more appropriate (and I wholeheartedly agree with Amp’s sentiment that the man should go fuck himself) but let’s be sure to ridicule him for what he actually said.

  33. 32
    blunted says:

    I’ve been accused of being anti-Semetic… and it’s usually by the same people who accuse me of being unpatriotic for not supporting the President. Since I don’t support Israel’s attacks on Palestinians, I must not like Jewish people. But I don’t support the Palestinian’s suicide bombings, so does that make me anti-Arab?

    If some ill-informed (in my opinion) soul decides to be against Affirmative Action, I don’t automatically label them a racist… just like if someone says they don’t want a cheeseburger for lunch, I don’t label them a vegetarian. We all have things that we agree/disagree with, but lately there seem to be blanketing buzzwords used to label an individual with one specific belief. Think gays should be allowed to have sex? Well, my friend, you’re part of the “homosexual agenda”. Politically, we all tend to throw people into groups based on one or two beliefs expressed.

  34. 33
    PG says:

    Mr. Ingrams’s anti-semitism is the kind that is becoming common with non-Muslim Europeans. They are not anti-Jewish except when it comes to Israel.
    There was a scandal recently about someone who refused to hire a faculty member because the candidate was Israeli. I don’t think this would have happened had it been an American, Australian, French etc. Jew.

    There was an excellent post here, some time back, about distinguishing between those who are anti-semitic and anti-Israel.
    But these Europeans make it hard to draw a line between the two, because their anti-semitism is based in their anti-Israelism. They try to excuse what has grown into bigotry because they claim it is politically based.

  35. 34
    Scott Martens says:

    Uh, I hope RA didn’t mean me, since I was trying to say that Ingrams is wrong. Ingrams is wrong even though a letter to the editor on Israel written by someone with a Jewish last name is more likely to be pro-Israel than a letter written by someone with an Arab last name. I would say exactly the same thing if someone wrote that they don’t read letters to the editor about Israel written by people with Arab names.

  36. 35
    Scott Martens says:

    Now, if he’d just said “I tend to ignore anything written by Barbara Amiel”, well, then I would have agreed with him. She was a blight on my homeland and now that she’s moved to London with her broomstick husband Conrad Black, she can be a blight on somebody else’s.

    I understand Ingrams’ sentiment – we all get tired of hearing the same lines trotted out over and over again by the same kinds of people on issues – but he still deserves to be repeatedly tongue lashed for simply saying he won’t read it if the author appears to be Jewish.

  37. 36
    RA says:

    Hello, why do you assume that a Jewish writer is necessarily biased about Israel? Or, at least, necessarily biased in a certain direction? The last time I checked, there were people with Jewish names writing from every imaginable place on the political spectrum. Check out the blog you are commenting to right now!

    The organized Jewish community in Britain may have a single position, but not every Jew in Britain (or anywhere else) shares it.

    Do I need to suggest that Amp add your name to the address line of his memo?

  38. 37
    Ampersand says:

    RA, I can see how you could read Scott’s post that way. Given my knowledge of Scott from reading his blog, however, I’m confident that’s not how Scott meant it; he’s well aware that there’s a range of Jewish opinion on the Israel question (and, I might add, all other imaginable questions).

  39. 38
    Mark says:

    I think RA was responding to Mint, actually (or at least, that’s how I read it…).

  40. 39
    Larry Lurex says:

    My own take on this is that while I disagree with Ingrams, I think that there are some very scary pro-Israel people out there. I wrote on a web site about some horrific pictures of the Holocaust were, and something to the effect that Israel shouldn’t use violent means to achieve her ends. Well, wasn’t I accused of anti-Semitism?

    BTW, I’m probably one of the few people blogging who *has* visited Belsen. It is deeply sad.

    I have sympathy for the idea of the state of Israel, in common with many British people, but sympathy also for the Palestinians, who have suffered a lot. I think it is time for a permanent settlement.

  41. 40
    mint says:

    Oh, say that isn’t so John. It can’t be that you refuse to listen
    to a biased position, which is the Observer writer’s gripe. You’ll
    wind up only hearing the local official take on every subject.

  42. 41
    John Isbell says:


  43. 42
    John Isbell says:

    I guess I’ll add, rather tendentiously: whenever I see a letter on black issues with a black signature, I tend not to read it.
    Of course, black signatures are so much harder to spot. The way they blend in with the community. Jewish names you can spot a mile off.
    Is all this there in that guy’s comment? I think it is.