Photo by @utdreport

Mind the company you keep, Marcus Rashford

What has social justice to do with antisemitism?

Artillery Row

Recent photos taken in Dubai of England and Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford MBE partying with Richard Kylea Cowie Jr. MBE — better known as “the godfather of grime” Wiley — is quite a slip-up for the self-styled social-justice warrior.

In recent times, Wiley has made a string of antisemitic comments. This has included age-old antisemitic tropes over control of business and making incendiary comparisons between Jewish people and the white-supremacist Ku Klux Klan. He was banned from Twitter after going on an antisemitic rant where he labelled Jewish people “cowards” and “snakes”

Peddling classic anti-Jewish conspiracy theories relating to power, control and wealth, Wiley has also suggested that that Jews write laws, own the police, run banks and run the world. But perhaps the most appalling case of anti-Jewish hatred involving Wiley was shown by the Campaign Against Antisemitism, which highlighted footage which appeared to show Wiley make reference to the Holocaust by asking “Why did Hitler hate you? For nothing? Why did Hitler hate you? Exactly.”

Marcus Rashford then came out with the following statement on Twitter:

This picture has been brought to my attention which I understand now, given context, could easily be misconstrued. I would like to reinforce that I do not and will not condone discriminative language or behaviour of any kind aimed at the Jewish community or any other community … I truly believe that tackling antisemitism in and outside of the game requires a greater level of attention and should very much form part of the game’s anti-racism stance.”

While Rashford has said that the photo could be easily misconstrued” and does not condone any form of discrimination towards Jews, the reality is that he was more than happy to be associated with someone who has a proven history of antisemitic behaviour — and this is not the kind of company Rashford should be keeping after framing himself as a leading social figure in the fight for racial justice. (Rashford has published statements on his Twitter in the past which call for “people to come together, work together and be united”; he has also been vocal over the unquestionably vile racist abuse he has received on social media.)

We should guard against guilt by association. Saying that, if Rashford genuinely wishes to use his high-profile status to be an influential anti-racist “unifier”, socialising with a known anti-Semite who has implied that Nazi Germany’s attempted extermination of Jewish people may have been justified, is perhaps not the best course of action.

Few groups have been vilified more in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic than Jews

The unfortunate reality of the matter is that there is an antisemitism blind-spot when it comes to the British anti-racist movement; this blind-spot contaminated by notions of “Jewish privilege”. So-called “privilege” is nothing but a grotesque myth. Irrespective of socio-economic status, Jewish populations at large have been recently subjected to the political mainstreaming of anti-Semitic beliefs in the UK. The election of Jeremy Corbyn — all too often portrayed by his cult-like following as an anti-racist hero — as leader of the Labour Party will forever be a stain on modern British political history.

On top of this mainstreaming of anti-Semitism, few groups have been vilified more in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic than Jews. The association drawn between Jews and disease is by no means original. Indeed, it builds on a long history of deep-rooted anti-Semitic tropes which can find their origins in the Black Death. The concept of “Jewish privilege” overlooks the fact that elements of the UK’s Jewish population are relatively deprived. In recent times, the rate of child poverty and material deprivation has grown at an alarming rate within Britain’s strictly Orthodox Haredi communities.

There is of course the modern-day anti-racist’s dilemma: that highlighting the problem of antisemitism means acknowledging the uncomfortable truth that levels of anti-Jewish conspiratorial beliefs are relatively high among “underprivileged” minorities. British Muslim and Black British communities are more likely to believe in antisemitic conspiracy theories when compared to the wider public.

Anti-racist activity should not function based on an “oppression pyramid”

A 2017 study by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research JPR found that 27 per cent of British Muslims believed that Jews have too much power in Britain, compared with eight per cent of the general population. It also showed that 25 per cent of British Muslims believe Jews exploit the Holocaust for their own purposes, compared to 10 per cent of general population; eight per cent of British Muslims indulged in Holocaust denial, compared with just two per cent of the general population.

My own study, based on January 2021 polling, revealed that Black British people are more likely to believe that Jews have a disproportionately high level of control over the banks, media and the entertainment/music industry. It found that 21 per cent of the Black Britons polled believed that Jews have a disproportionately high level of control over the global banking system, compared to 11 per cent holding the same belief in the wider population. When compared to the wider general public, Black Britons were also more likely to believe that Jews have a disproportionately high level of control in the global spheres of media (six per cent against 15 per cent) and entertainment/music (seven per cent against 16 per cent).

British antisemitism is more prevalent in specific racial and religious minorities, especially their less-integrated elements. While that may be an inconvenience for many anti-racist activists, that is what the data tells us. Anti-racist activity should not function based on an “oppression pyramid” where certain forms of prejudice are considered to be less important than others.

The core essence of anti-discrimination activism is fighting bigotry on your own doorstep; the likes of Marcus Rashford should take note.

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