Corfu, and the na­ture of hate

How­manyJews were on that yacht? And who cares? Sadly, there are plenty who do

The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment&analysis - DAVID AARONOVITCH

THE JC com­ment ed­i­tor and I were dis­cussing this week’s col­umn. And we said the same thing to each other at the same time. Which was that we hoped that the yacht-own­ing oli­garch Oleg Deri­paska was not Jewish. Nat Roth­schild is leg­en­dar­ily Jewish, Peter Man­del­son is half-Jewish (his fa­ther worked for the JC and in that sense was far more dis­tin­guished than the son), and Ge­orge Os­borne may not be Jewish but his Con­ser­va­tive ex­ec­u­tive friend, An­drew Feld­man, has a yid­disher name. All that, in th­ese dark­en­ing times, is enough to keep a hun­dred crank web­sites busy for a month.That is why the com­ment ed­i­tor and I were con­cerned.

Per­haps we shouldn’t have been. Who cares, apart from the spotty her­berts of the anti-Jew cy­berspace? Th­ese are en­light­ened days, in which prej­u­dice is ban­ished to the mar­gins, and a man (or woman) is as­sessed, Martin Luther King-like, purely on his (or her) per­sonal char­ac­ter. Let Oleg Deri­paska turn out to be 10 Jews, and it’s no skin off our beau­ti­fully pro­por­tioned noses.

You can tell from the leaden irony of the pre­vi­ous para­graph that I am about to dis­abuse read­ers of an il­lu­sion from which they were not suf­fer­ing any­way, given how para­noid they al­most cer­tainly al­ready are.

Let me start with Man­del­son the snake. The vet­eran car­toon­ist of The Guardian, Steve Bell, is a ge­nius and, as a ge­nius, is in­dulged in his news­pa­per, and per­mit­ted to de­velop over time a se­ries of con­ceits about the peo­ple who in­habit our pub­lic world. Th­ese con­ceits are Bell’s own; they emerge from in­side his imagination, rather than from any ob­jec­tive view of his tar­gets.

So, in Bell’s brain, Peter Man­del­son is a gi­gan­tic snake; a snake that in­sin­u­ates it­self ev­ery­where, coil­ing around the bodies of its vic­tims. It is a stereo­type that plays to cer­tain cul­tural de­pic­tions of the ser­pent — that it is silently poi­sonous (though Bell’s Man­del­son is si­mul­ta­ne­ously a con­stric­tor), cun­ning and malev­o­lent. Whether the in­cred­i­bly im­petu­ous and emo­tional Lord Man­del­son gen­uinely fits this stereo­type is a secondary ques­tion. The point is that Bell’s rep­re­sen­ta­tion is recog­nis­able.

Ex­cept for one thing. Bell’s Man­del­son-ser­pent is not a scaly, shiny snake, but an in­cred­i­bly pink, fleshy, al­most tumes­cent, snake. In fact, Bell’s Man­del­son is a gi­gan­tic pre­hen­sile body part, and one which pops up in un­ex­pected and un­wel­come places.

Why? You don’t ex­actly have to buy the full Freudian pack­age to know what a snake sig­ni­fies, let alone a semi-erect pink one. And, of course, the other thing we all know about Lord Man­del­son is that he is gay. I don’t think it is par­tic­u­larly fan­ci­ful to see Bell’s Man­del­son as a gay-rape fan­tasy, in which Bell shares his un­con­scious fears that the ho­mo­sex­u­als are af­ter his (and our) vul­ner­a­ble open­ings. This is the artist not as con­scious ho­mo­phobe, but as a suf­ferer from ho­mo­pho­bia.

Are you still there? Then let me drag you back to Corfu. The pe­nile snake is so­journ­ing with the wealthy, one of whom is Mr Roth­schild. And here is the sub-Bun­teresque fig­ure of Daily Mail sketch-writer Quentin Letts, writ­ing on the sub­ject of Greek coastal en­coun­ters, and con­clud­ing: “For the mo­ment it looks as though the trou­bles cre­ated by Lord Man­del­son and his cronies might have peaked. Were I a Sun­day news­pa­per ed­i­tor, I’d be ask­ing my dirt-dig­gers to aim their trow­els at that young money-changer Roth­schild and the BBC’s Labour­raised Robert Pe­ston.”

Letts’s “Labour-raised” is a tech­nique for sug­gest­ing that Pe­ston (whose dad is a Labour econ­o­mist) is bi­ased, without ac­tu­ally sup­ply­ing any ev­i­dence. But “money-changer”? This is an ar­chaic ex­pres­sion. Over at my favourite po­lit­i­cal web­site, Harry’s Place, there was an in­stant, though ten­ta­tive charge of an­tisemitism.

The most high-pro­file mon­ey­chang­ers, of course, are those slung out of the Tem­ple by Je­sus in the New Tes­ta­ment. Those money-chang­ers were Jewish, but then so was Je­sus. The trou­ble is, in old-school de­pic­tions of Je­sus, he is a kind of pre­ma­ture non-Jew, sur­rounded by strangely per­sis­tent Jews. Be­ing an­timoney-chang­ing is one way in which he es­tab­lishes his non-Jewish­ness.

Usury is the most com­mon charge against Jews, for his­tor­i­cal rea­sons we un­der­stand. En­ter “Roth­schild” and “money-chang­ers” in Google and the sec­ond en­try gives you the an­ti­semitic web­site Real Jew News and the pre-Corfu en­try: “Putin’s Purge of the Roth­schild Money Chang­ers” — in which the good Rus­sian de­feats the grasp­ing Zion­ist oli­garchs.

How much of this did Letts know? Prob­a­bly not a lot. My guess, and it may be char­i­ta­ble, given the Daily Mail’s pen­chant for bul­ly­ing and scape­goat­ing, is that Letts isn’t an­ti­semitic so much as suf­fer­ing from an­tisemitism. That’s some com­fort, but not much.

Oh, and as far as I can tell, Oleg Deri­paska isn’t Jewish, though it re­ally shouldn’t mat­ter.

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