Identity and criticism in the crossfire

Identity and criticism in the crossfire

SUPPOSE I said in a dating app that no Dupers need apply. Would that be sectarian? It might feel like it to people who vote DUP and whose religion and politics are interwoven, as is the case with many unionists.

A lot of Protestants would probably think it was sectarian too and that I probably wouldn’t like to date them either.

Suppose I said on my dating app that I didn’t want to hear from any Chuckyheads or Shinners, slang terms for members of Sinn Féin. Would that be sectarian? It might just mean that I couldn’t see a happy romantic future with someone whose political views were so opposed to my own.

But I might have very serious objections to the idea of dating a Shinner. I might have had someone close to me killed by the IRA and not want to risk finding myself making small talk with someone who would excuse that.

But my main point is this: aversion to people of a particular political perspective might not be intended as sectarian or racist bigotry but might well be construed as such.

If I said I wasn’t interested in dating a Zionist would that be antisemitic?

It used to be fairly common in personal column ads in Northern Irish newspapers for people to specify that they were P or C or that they WDLTM someone who was Christian.

In many religious traditions - Jewish, Muslim, Hindu - marriages are arranged, often through mediators or matchmakers, to insure that both parties to it are of the same religion.

In all of these cases ‘others need not apply’ is so clear it need hardly be said.

But I read of someone taking offence at ‘no Zionists’ on a dating app and reading that as antisemitic.

Someone seeking a date is only asking for a companion for a night out with the prospects of developing intimacy.

Warning off Zionists suggests that their politics compromises their sex appeal and maybe it does for a lot of people.

But is this code for all Jews being excluded from consideration?

If I were a Jew I might reasonably fear so.

When we hear the word ‘fenian’ used as a term of abuse in Northern Ireland we don’t take it to refer only to people in the tradition of the republican brotherhood, the actual fenians; we hear it as an attack on all Catholics.

Of course, bigots are going to be alert to the obvious crassness of putting, ‘no Jews’ on their profiles so they will express their aversion more cautiously.

But I will have to read it as cautiously.

While I may be justly and reasonably averse to Zionism I am in danger of sounding like the murderous fanatic who hates all Jews.

And Jews who read those ads will feel implicated anyway, for they will have friends and cousins in Israel. Those friends and cousins are in danger of being killed in anti Zionist terrorism as any real Zionist is.

The bigots decide your identity for you. And they mask their bigotry.

The Nazis would decide for themselves whether you were a Jew or not, just as Hamas will decide whether or not you are a Zionist and the IDF snipers will decide if you are Hamas. You won’t always have much say in the matter.

But when it comes to the use of language, it is often for you and me alone to decide if we are offended.

If I express my contempt for West Bank settlers who would like to claim all Palestinian lands for Israel — and I do truly hold such people in contempt — I may or may not be dropping a hint that I am really antisemitic, that my aversion extends to all Jews.

And you may infer that I am but you may be wrong.

I would say that that is an unfair reading of my position but how do I prove it?

On the one hand, some Israelis are accusing a wide range of critics of being antisemitic, extending this even to the judges in the International Court of Justice.

And on the other hand there are antisemites among us who are cute enough to disguise their bigotry by wrapping it up in political slogans.

How do we tell Israel that its behaviour disturbs us without inviting the charge that we are antisemitic?

Similar charges of being anti-Catholic might come back at you in Northern Ireland for criticising Sinn Féin, or anti-Protestant for criticising the DUP.

Jewish people are perhaps more sensitised to racism because they have suffered such a long and painful history of it. And this current war started with a barbaric assault on innocent Jews, and many Israelis and Jews elsewhere are naturally aghast that this seems forgotten.

But it also seems too easy a shield against legitimate criticism to declare that the motivation behind it is racist, sectarian or antisemitic.

If Netanyahu and his apologists are always going to throw that back at you, how do you get through that?