The British Paper Trail Leading to anti-Semitism

Even for those among us who don’t detect Jew-hatred everywhere, the Daily Mail's 'The Man Who Hated Britain' article smelt distinctly nasty, referencing the classic tropes of disloyal foreigners with dubious motives.

Daniella Peled
Daniella Peled
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Daniella Peled
Daniella Peled

There is much that is peculiarly British about the furore between Labour Party leader Ed Miliband and uber-tabloid The Daily Mail, but the whiff of anti-Semitism isn’t part of it.

The storm over the middlebrow paper’s pseudo-investigative piece on the late Marxist academic Ralph Miliband, father of the current Labour leader, continues to rage in the U.K.’s media and political circles. Even for those among us who don’t detect Jew-hatred everywhere, last Saturday’s “The Man Who Hated Britain” article smelt distinctly nasty, referencing the classic tropes of disloyal foreigners with dubious motives.

Particularly jarring was an accompanying leader column on Tuesday which insisted - in a bizarre, sneering biblical reference - that “we do not maintain, like the jealous God of Deuteronomy, that the iniquity of the fathers should be visited on the sons.”

Was it just by accident that the offending article itself was written by one Geoffrey Levy, and that prominent Jewish members of staff - deputy editor Jon Steafel and business editor Alex Brummer (and not the Mephistophelean Editor-in-Chief Paul Dacre) – were rolled out to make the case for the paper’s reporting?

Oddly, the organized Jewish community, often quick to claim anti-Semitic media bias in the Israel-Palestine context (usually in the left-wing press), has failed to raise any objections at all.

Like Miliband himself, who denied he saw anything anti-Semitic about the article, to do otherwise – at least in national politics - would be seen as playing the race card. That, to coin another very British phrase, is definitely not cricket.

Make no mistake about it: Despite our sterling tradition of fair play and common decency, the British have a distinct streak of xenophobia. We’re an island nation, after all.

There is a certain curtain-twitching, middle-England parochialism that nurses a deep suspicion of “the other” – whether they be immigrants, ethnic minorities or gay people.

The Daily Mail is a pastiche of these characteristics - “the worst of British values posing as the best,” as Tony Blair’s former press chief Alastair Campbell put it when summoned to the BBC’s current events flagship program to issue a slap down on quaking deputy Steafel.

Miliband is not the only party leader to have had his family background questioned by the right-wing press. The Daily Mail has form on this kind of thing.

Just ahead of the 2010 general election, it swung its blinding spotlight of truth on Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg to point out that he was, biologically, “only a quarter English.”

“Despite his Anglo-Saxon name, Nick Clegg is by blood the least British leader of a British political party, the son of a Dutch mother and a half-Russian merchant banker father,” it thundered in an April 17 article.

The tabloid went even further the following day, in a piece headlined, “His wife is Spanish, his mother Dutch, his father half-Russian and his spin doctor German. Is there ANYTHING British about the Lib Dem leader?”

With spreads like these, and the one on Miliband senior, the Mail descends into self-parody, and the British public knows it.

Witness the fun social media had with last week’s story. Clicking through to Should I Read The Daily Mail? leads you to a one-page website with the single word “NO.” writ large.

Then there was How Much Are you Hated By The Daily Mail?, a concise online quiz on sexuality, marriage status and where you could be mistaken for a Muslim, leading to much delighted tweeting by people proud to be hated.

Traffic soared to the Daily-Mail-o-matic website, a comedy headline-generator playing on the paper’s myriad obsessions - think “COULD ASYLUM SEEKERS TURN THE QUEEN GAY?” for a flavor (in 2010, they had a Nick Clegg special).

Right-wing populism is key to the Mail’s brand, but it’s fuelled equally - if not more - by the paper and its website’s plethora of human-interest stories and celebrity gossip.

Having overplayed the attack, Dacre made a strategic error by continuing to go on the offensive, and The Mail on Sunday played right into Miliband’s hands when they sent a reporter to his uncle’s memorial service at Guy’s Hospital, London, to snoop around for more family gossip.

Cue the Labour leader making more than a little political capital over this whole issue, while presenting himself as the wounded son defending his father’s name.

The Labour Party got a near-perfect opportunity to attack a hostile media outlet - anathema to the British left, which labels it “The Daily Hate” - against a backdrop of calls for action against abuses of media power, in the wake of the 2011 phone-hacking scandal (when Rupert Murdoch shuttered the muckraking News of the World tabloid) and last year’s subsequent Leveson enquiry into the practices and ethics of the British press.

The newspaper which purports to be the voice of Middle England misjudged the public mood here. Ultimately, British values of fair play trump any lingering doubts about immigrants and their children “being one of us.”

There are many arenas in British life where loyalty and patriotism in an age of immigration are being redefined. The Daily Mail - the classic forum for debating house prices, European meddling and wrinkle cures - is not one of them.

Ed Miliband, leader of the U.K. opposition Labour Party, in 2011.Credit: Bloomberg

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