Lord Ahmed blamed the “jews”, because “Urdu has no word for Zionists”. This tells us a lot, and not just about Lord Ahmed.
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There is something rather telling about the interview between Medhi Hassan and Lord Ahmed, published today in the Huffington Post. Ahmed took the opportunity to offer an unreserved apology for an appearance on Pakistani television wherein he blamed a conspiracy of Jews – particularly Jewish media owners – for the prison sentence that he received some years back. For various reasons, I believe that he is at least partly sincere in his apology. Yet what really caught my eye was the explanation that he offered for his references to “Jews”. He had erred in blaming the “Jews”, but he had done so partly because in Urdu there is “no word for zionist”.
At one level this makes no sense whatsoever. The terms “Zionist” and “Jew” refer to entirely different things. The vast majority of zionists are not Jewish. If Ahmed genuinely meant to say that his misfortune was down to the work of zionists – in theory an ethnically neutral category, comprised of people who support a particular political position – then it would have made sense for him to describe his enemies as “Israel supporters” – a term that can surely be constructed in Urdu – not as Jews.
Yet, for those of us who are familiar with the variety of ways in which the term “Zionist” gets deployed, Lord Ahmed’s explanation makes all too much sense. The fact is that all too often the word Zionist is used as a euphemism for Jews. Familiar anti-Semitic tropes are sanitized by replacing the J word with the Z word. And essentially, what Lord Ahmed is explaining here is that in the Urdu language he was denied access to this particular rhetorical device. The absence of the Z word denied him the opportunity to have his cake and eat it – to wheel out the all too familiar trope about Jewish control of the media, whilst hiding behind the word Zionist.
All of this should be food for thought for some of the well meaning folk one encounters online and offline who seem to think that the mere presence of the Z word, and absence of the J word, is sufficient to demonstrate that a comment is merely anti-Zionist (and who seem to respond to any claim of anti-Semitism by robotically yelling “ANTI-ZIONISM ISN’T ANTI-SEMITISM111!!! [dribble]“).
It also explains why – despite being a dyed-in-the-wool anti-Zionist – I sometimes wince when I hear the Z word being spat out with peruliar venom. Because the meaning of words is determined in amidst the contradictory messiness of public discourse. And whatever we want the word to mean – whatever it ought mean – one cannot simply tune out wide variety of meanings that get projected onto the term Zionist. And so, when I hear the word, sometimes find myself wondering who exactly is being attacked. Is it simply those non-Jews and jews who support Israel, or is it the “bad jews”, or those jews who haven’t actively declared there support for the Palestinians, or Jews who are about as Zionist as Britain’s non-jewish majority, but who are far more likely to be faced with questions/accusations about whether or not they are zionists than non-jews who share the same opinions.
To be clear I am not suggesting the use of the term Zionist should become faux pas amongst red circles, or that we should start frowning upon people who use is it as pejorative -something that I have often done. But as a matter of political strategy, it might be a good idea to shift away from talking about “Zionists” and towards talking about “Israel supporters”. Such a term provides far less hospitable cover for anti-Semites in search of a euphemism. Indeed it is a hall mark of anti-Semites that they accuse Zionists of being responsible for things that have fuck all to do with Israel – such as the current financial crisis. Replace the word Zionist with “Israel supporters”, and their sentiments become too absurd to make any sense, even by their bonkers standards. In short, replacing the word Zionist with the term “Israel Supporters” will compel everybody to consider whether they are actually invoking a political category, or whether they are deploying a semi-political semi-ethnic trope to describe those they oppose.
Anyway, it is difficult not to pity poor Lord Ahmed. Just weeks after incurring the wrath of anti-racists and the Jewish community, he has undoubtedly now provoked the anger of Britain’s anti-Semitic community, whose game he has so carelessly given away.
To contact Reuben email firstname.lastname@example.org