‘Hitler had a valid argument against some Jews’: repertoires for the denial of antisemitism in Facebook discussion of a survey of attitudes to Jews and Israel

This manuscript has been accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed academic journal, Discourse, Context & Media. By agreement with the publisher, it can be distributed on this website. For offline reading, a PDF copy is available for download (although if you wish to share it with others, please direct them to this page rather than sending the file directly). EDIT (13 April 2018): The version of record is now available online via ScienceDirect at https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dcm.2018.03.004 ahead of print publication.

Author: Daniel Allington, University of Leicester
Journal: Discourse, Context & Media
Received at editorial office: 11 Dec 2017
Article revised: 16 Mar 2018
Article accepted for publication: 21 Mar 2018
Article available online via ScienceDirect: 12 April 2018

Abstract

Discourse analytic research suggests that, in contemporary liberal democracies, complaints of racism are routinely rejected and prejudice may be both expressed and disavowed in the same breath. Historical and quantitative research has established that – both in democratic states and in those of the Soviet Bloc (while it existed) – antisemitism has long been related to or expressed in the form of statements about Israel or Zionism, permitting anti-Jewish attitudes to circulate under cover of political critique. This article looks at how the findings of a survey of anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli attitudes were rejected by users of three Facebook pages associated with the British Left. Through thematic discourse analysis, three recurrent repertoires are identified: firstly, what David Hirsh calls the ‘Livingstone Formulation’ (i.e. the argument that complaints of antisemitism are made in bad faith to protect Israel and/or attack the Left), secondly, accusations of flawed methodology similar to those with which UK Labour Party supporters routinely dismiss the findings of unfavourable opinion polls, and thirdly, the argument that, because certain classically antisemitic beliefs pertain to a supposed Jewish or ‘Zionist’ elite and not to Jews in general, they are not antisemitic. In one case, the latter repertoire facilitates virtually unopposed apologism for Adolf Hitler. Contextual evidence suggests that the dominance of such repertoires within one very large UK Labour Party-aligned group may be the result of action on the part of certain ‘admins’ or moderators. It is argued that awareness of the repertoires used to express and defend antisemitic attitudes should inform the design of quantitative research into the latter, and be taken account of in the formulation of policy measures aiming to restrict or counter hate speech (in social media and elsewhere).

Keywords: anti-Semitism; anti-Zionism; denial of racism; attitudes; Zionism; Israel; Jews; Labour Party; Facebook; social media

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The leftward-marching Labour Party and the unmoving British electorate

Last year, I did some analysis of how respondents to surveys carried out as part of the British Election Study placed themselves and the main British political parties on a left-right scale. This suggested that, despite what the election results might lead one to expect, there appeared to be no leftward shift amongst voters between the 2015 and 2017 general elections, although there was a strong leftward shift in their perceptions of the Labour Party. One thing I couldn’t explore using the type of analysis and visualisation I carried out there is whether the same people were identifying themselves and the two main parties with the Left, the Right, and the Centre, or whether it was different people but in similar numbers. Because the BES is a longitudinal study, repeatedly surveying the same individuals (so far as is possible), we can reasonably ask this question. But how can we answer it? One way is by using alluvial diagrams, a form of visualisation developed in order to visualise change over time. (If you want to know how to make your own, there’s a guide to creating alluvial diagrams with R in the longer version of this article.)

Self-ratings on the left-right political scale in BES waves 5 and 12
Self-ratings on the left-right political scale in BES waves 5 and 12

This alluvial diagram shows that people tended to give the same answers in 2015 and 2017, and that any movement tended to be balanced by approximately equal movement in the other direction, except in that there was more movement from the Right to the Centre than from the Centre to the Right (despite which, the Right remained larger than the Left overall). This supports the view that there was no leftwards shift on the part of the electorate between 2015 and 2017. But what about the major parties?

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The unnoticed rise of the centrist voter (and what it means for Labour)

Centrist dads, eh? (And presumably also centrist mums, although abusing them on behalf of the Absolute Boy might sound less like striking a feminist blow against patriarchy.) How wrong they were! They were so sure that Labour was going to lose the election, when as everyone now knows… well, actually, Labour did lose, but never mind — the centrists were still wrong. Slugs! By refusing to compromise on his left wing principles, Jeremy Corbyn shifted the Overton Window, opened up some clear red water between Labour and the Tories, and flipped social liberals for Socialism. In losing the election by a mere 55 seats out of a possible 650, he achieved total vindication for his strategy, and proved that he only has to do more of the same in order to find himself at the head of the Government after the next election (unlike — say — Gordon Brown, who lost by 48 seats and resigned, the melt). Onward, comrades! Onward to Socialism!

Now, I don’t believe that many people primarily choose whether or not to vote for a party to vote on the basis of how ‘left’ or ‘right’ they believe it to be. But ideas of leftness and rightness provide people with a way of summarising their relationships with political parties, and for this reason, I think it’s worth paying attention to the answers they give to survey questions about where they place themselves and the major parties on the left-right spectrum. And so we come to waves 5 and 12 of the British Election Study (or BES), in which a staggering 30725 and 34464 respondents took part immediately prior to the UK General Elections of 2015 and 2017. In the following chart, based on BES data, the grey areas show how people identified themselves, while the red and blue lines show how they typically situated the Labour Party and the Conservative Party on the same axis (respectively).1

l-r-ident-plus-median-parties

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The left, the right, the centre – and what they care about most

Why did people vote as they did in the June 2017 UK general election, and how might they vote in the next one — whenever it comes? One of the best sources of information on that question is wave 13 of the British Election Study: a very large survey conducted just after the election for a consortium of academics at the University of Manchester, the University of Oxford, and the University of Nottingham. Altogether 31196 respondents completed the survey, of whom 27019 (after weighting) answered the question ‘As far as you’re concerned, what is the SINGLE MOST important issue facing the country at the present time?’ and 23194 (again after weighting) identified themselves politically by positioning themselves on an eleven point scale from left to right. 21213 both placed themselves on the scale and gave their view on the most important issue. I’ve been working with this dataset for a little while, looking at how demographic variables predict perceptions of the most important issue (see my earlier post for my initial exploration of this topic), but here I’d like to focus on the association of particular issues with particular positions on the political spectrum:

mii-by-left-right-w13

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Misogyny is intrinsic to a Far Left built on bullying

The journalist, Sam Kriss — a member of the Labour Party — has been accused of sexual harassment. So has the journalist, Rupert Myers — a member of the Conservative Party. And so, on the other side of the Atlantic, have the movie mogul, Harvey Weinstein — a supporter of the Democrats — and the TV host, Bill O’Reilly — a supporter of the Republicans. There is nothing specifically left or right wing about misogyny.

But there is something very specific indeed about the misogyny of the contemporary British Far Left: something very specific that is very specifically denied when Corbyn’s cheerleaders enthuse that ‘Corbynite slang is remarkably unproblematic in its derivation’, or insinuate — however ridiculously — that ‘centrists’ are particularly prone to transphobia, or suggest, with unintentional irony, that the real threat faced by left wing women is that of ‘centrist dads’ who ‘want to educate you and hate fuck you’. (Honestly, there’s nothing new about the sexual abuse of women on the far left by men more highly placed in the far left’s brutal hierarchy.)

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‘The usual suspects’: Euler diagrams of letter signatories as a practical application for set theory

The day before the 2017 Labour Party Conference in Brighton, Labour Vision published an essay in which I argued that responsible non-Jews on the Left should take note of majority Jewish opinion, and not ignore it in favour of tiny minority groups on the fringes of the Jewish community whose opinion happens to be more convenient for Leftists. What actually happened at the conference is history — and quite unpleasant history at that (for details, I recommend reading both Marcus Dysch’s overview of events and David Collier’s eyewitness account). There’s much more to be said on the topic, and I’ll get around to saying some of it before long, but for now, I’d like to revisit the odd little centrepiece of my Labour Vision essay: the analysis of signatories to four letters opposing action against antisemitism. (tl;dr: There are very few Jews who are committed anti-Zionists, but the anti-Zionist movement needs them in order to maintain the impression of not being anti-Jewish, so a lot of the same names get recycled between different open letters to the press. Also, a tutorial on how to make Euler diagrams in R. Something for everyone?)

euler_diagram

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Imaginary (Jewish) friends

It is an article of faith for many on the British Left that measures to combat left wing antisemitism are in reality measures to combat Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn: attempts promoted by the fiendish ‘Israel Lobby’, and opposed by Jews. Yes, by Jews. You know the Jews I mean: maybe not the Jews you’ve actually met, but, as Chaminda Jayanetti put it, ‘the Good Jew[s] – the Perfect Jew[s]. The Manic Pixie Dream Jew[s]. The Jew[s] to be put on a placard as evidence of how Not All Jews support Israel.’ There’s a certain kind of Leftist who needs those Jews.

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Who won the Twitter election? Part ii: ‘faithful’ and ‘promiscuous’ followers

Last month, I published an analysis of candidates’ public Twitter followers immediately before the General Election. As I showed, Conservative candidates tended to have more public followers than Labour candidates — but once we control for whether candidates had or had not previously been Members of Parliament, we find that Labour candidates tended to have more public followers than Conservative candidates. SNP candidates tended to have more public followers than Conservative or Labour candidates, although that finding was not statistically significant after controls because of the low numbers involved.

This does not, however, address the question of which party’s candidates had more public followers in total — nor the much more subtle question of how many of each party’s candidates’ public followers exclusively followed candidates of that party, and how many also followed candidates of other parties. To answer that question, we need to know who the candidates’ followers were. Fortunately, I do:

Total public Twitter followers of all candidates in the 2017 General Election, showing how many followed each party's candidates exclusively (solid colour) and how many also followed the candidates of one or more additional parties (transparent)
Total public Twitter followers of all candidates in the 2017 General Election, showing how many followed each party’s candidates exclusively (solid colour) and how many also followed the candidates of one or more additional parties (transparent)

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Who won the Twitter election? Part i: followers, and which party’s candidates tended to have more of them

Just over half a year ago, the Telegraph carried out an analysis appearing to show that ‘the Labour leader’s shadow cabinet d[id]n’t have as wide a reach as their opposite numbers on Twitter’. This conclusion was arrived at by comparing ministers and shadow ministers whose roles were directly parallel: ‘[Jeremy] Corbyn has more followers than Theresa May, while Diane Abbott saw off Amber Rudd, John McDonnell beat Philip Hammond and Keir Starmer edged out David Davis’, but with regard to the others, ‘the Government enjoyed a clean sweep of the board’ (ibid.).

This is interesting, but I don’t find it satisfactory. The Conservative Party’s best known and most popular politicians were mostly in the cabinet. But while Corbyn himself remains the Labour Party’s biggest social media star, its second- and fourth-most popular MPs on Twitter were and are excluded from the shadow cabinet by virtue of not being Corbyn loyalists, while the third-most popular has technically remained a shadow cabinet member but was excluded from the Telegraph’s analysis by virtue of having no Tory opposite number.

So what happens if we look at the public followers of all prospective parliamentary candidates? This happens. (Figures collected in the week before the General Election for a different purpose and re-used here. Small parties excluded. If you want code, here’s my notebook. Hat tip to Democracy Club for its crowdsourced list of politicians’ social media accounts.)

Twitter following by party, GE 2017

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‘Middle class problems’? Social grade and the ‘most important issue’ in wave 13 of the British Election Study

The findings of wave 13 of the British Election Study are now out. Wave 13 was conducted just after the June 2017 General Election, and analysts all over the country have been crunching the numbers. This is my contribution, and looks at answers to the question, ‘As far as you’re concerned, what is the SINGLE MOST important issue facing the country at the present time?’ This was a free text question, so respondents were able to provide whatever answers they wished, without restriction. What I wanted to find out was whether people of different NRS social grades would express different concerns in their answers to this question. We already know that Labour gained vote share from the Conservatives in more middle class areas and lost it to them in working class areas. Might analysis of those ‘most important issues’ give a hint as to the different priorities of people of different social classes?

I’ll get some analysis of the numbers up before long, but — for now — here’s the chart:

bes_w13_MII_by_grade

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