Middle East Monitor / October 28, 2020
Believe it or not, the Jewish Chronicle hasn’t always looked increasingly like a racist, anti-Palestinian, anti-Muslim rag. Under the ownership of Asher Myers and Israel Davis between 1878 and 1906, in fact, the paper even had an anti-Zionist period. This was not as unusual as some readers may think. In that era, and for decades after, Zionism was a very small minority trend in European Jewish communities.
In fact there is a good case to be made that political Zionism’s origins are more “Christian” than “Jewish”. It was only once British planners hit upon the notion of Zionism’s utility to imperialism in Western Asia that the movement’s true rise began, and it was under the tutelage of the British Empire that many of the leaders of the Zionist movement in Palestine got their start.
Indeed, many of the people behind the Zionist militias began their training in the British Army during World War One, or in Britain’s “Special Night Squads”, which were basically death squads formed to repress the 1936 Palestinian insurgency against the British Mandate occupation and Zionist colonialism. A Jewish Infantry Brigade was part of the British Army during World War Two, recruited from Jews who had already migrated to Palestine. Many went on to serve in the nascent Israel Defence Forces.
Today, the largest pro-Israel group by membership in America seems to be John Hagee’s Christians United For Israel (CUFI). The group currently claims to have more than six million members. While that figure may be questionable (only a few years ago it claimed to have two million) there’s no doubt that CUFI has a large base among a certain kind of extremist Evangelical Christians.
Following the mass expulsion of the Palestinian people in 1948 — described by some historians as “ethnic cleansing” — and the foundation of Israel as an exclusively “Jewish state”, the Zionist movement managed to convince public opinion in the West that it, and only it, represents “the Jews” or “the Jewish community”. The reality is far more complicated. Many Jews today – and in growing numbers –reject Israel’s claim to represent them, and also reject the state’s systemic violence and racism against the indigenous people of Palestine.
In this regard, then, we are beginning to come full circle. David Cesarani’s history of the Jewish Chronicle details how, under Myers and Davis, the paper fervently opposed the founding father of political Zionism, Theodor Herzl. The paper “emerged as one of Herzl’s most bitter opponents,” Cesarani writes, and “fought Herzlian Zionism every step of the way.”
The Jewish Chronicle’s editorial line echoed the chief Jewish ideological opponents of Zionism, who at the time were very much in the majority within Britain’s Jewish communities.
When Herzl convened a congress to found the World Zionist Organisation in 1897, the paper “was aghast” and endorsed the successful protest of a group of German Reform rabbis who prevented the congress from being held in their country. It was forced to meet in Basel, Switzerland instead.
Summarising the paper’s editorial line, Cesarani writes: “The very notion of an ‘International’ Congress was an insult to the patriotism of Jews of various nationalities, and anti-Semites have not been slow to avail themselves of the groundless insinuations that Jews are now confessedly unpatriotic and half-hearted as citizens of the states in which they live.”
In other words, Zionism was not only a danger to Palestinians, but also to Jews in their native countries around the world. Subsequent events have demonstrated this to be the case.
However, under new owners, the Jewish Chronicle later turned towards Zionism. Throughout the “War on Terror” era, it has made a noticeable shift towards what is called the Islamophobic right.
The newspaper’s current editor is Stephen Pollard, who took on the role in 2008. From the very beginning of the Daily Express columnist’s leadership, the newspaper was hostile to the Labour Party, even the tepid New Labour policies of Gordon Brown. It also hired openly anti-Muslim columnists like Melanie Philips. And it was devoted fanatically to Israel.
On his (now deleted) blog only two years before being hired by the Chronicle, Pollard had shown just how far to the right he was, posting a “manifesto” written “to preserve Western civilisation” from the threat of “Islamists”. In it, he insisted that “the Left, in any recognisable form, is now the enemy.”
Such right-wing fanaticism unsurprisingly led the paper into outright war against Labour under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. To sustain the lie that the party under Corbyn had become a cesspit of anti-Semitism, the paper went to increasingly desperate lengths to make what many reasonable people saw as defamatory statements and smears, not just about the then Labour leader but also the wider party membership and, indeed, the whole British left.
Palestinians and Muslims have been subjected to the same treatment. Interpal, a charity which focuses on helping needy Palestinians, was libelled by the paper as “terrorist” funders and a massive £50,000 in damages was paid to the trustees last year. The Jewish Chronicle also published an apology.
Reports have increased in recent years about the newspaper’s growing financial difficulties and declining readership. Closure was most recently averted after a buyout by a consortium that included BBC journalist John Ware. How much longer, then, can the Jewish Chronicle sustain its costly campaign against the people of occupied Palestine and their supporters?
Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist living in London who writes about Palestine and the Middle East