Safe passage: “Tory Jew” Aaron Porter (who is neither Conservative nor Jewish) is protected by police from angry protesters (PA)
What is worse, being falsely labelled a Tory or wrongly called a Jew? This question might have flashed through the mind of Aaron Porter, president of the National Union of Students, when police escorted him away from a group of anti-fees protesters in Manchester who taunted him with cries of “Tory Jew scum.”
Given that Porter is not Jewish and is a member of the Labour Party, the choice of insult may seem bizarre. But Porter probably managed to decode the message. He knows that on the extreme fringe of left-wing activism in this country, “Jew” has become a term of political abuse.
Surprisingly, this does not always relate to Israel or Zionism — at least not directly. Shortly after the incident, Porter went on a fact-finding mission to Israel and the West Bank where he met Israeli and Palestinian students. But his venture into the Middle East imbroglio is not what annoyed the crowd in Manchester.
Porter was being heckled by protesters from that faction of the student movement who believe that the NUS under his leadership has not done enough to challenge the government’s policy on university fees. They also condemn the NUS’s refusal to do more in defence of those charged with various offences committed during the rioting in central London last year. They think Porter has sold out his members, not the Palestinians. So why on earth accuse him of being a “Tory Jew?”
There is a clue to this in the activity of Clare Solomon, president of the University of London Students Union. An ex-member of the Socialist Workers Party, now involved with Respect, she has consistently taken a more militant line in opposition to the hike in student fees and repeatedly outflanked Porter on the left.
In addition to her militancy on this front, Solomon has pronounced views on Zionism, Israel and the Jews. On Facebook last May, she declared that “there is no such thing as the ‘Jewish race’.” She went on: “The view that Jews have been persecuted all throughout history is one that has been fabricated in the last 100 years or so in order to justify the persecution of the Palestinians.”
Solomon has since apologised, explained that the offending words were written in haste and stressed that she does not dispute whether six million Jews were murdered by the Nazis in the Holocaust. She denounced unreservedly expressions of anti-Semitism. But while she has made a welcome retraction, we are left with this articulation of her unfiltered thoughts, a statement of beliefs so deeply rooted that, until challenged externally, did not merit a moment’s doubt or self-questioning.
That may be because in the circles in which she moves it is the received wisdom that supporters of Israel manipulate the Holocaust for their own ends. Yet how does this ideological fixture connect with university fees and the NUS in this country? Because, in these self-same circles there is a concatenation between Zionism, Israel, Jews and everything that is perceived as bad in the world.
As if to make the point right on cue, on the same day that Porter was being barracked in Manchester, hundreds of students in central London were demonstrating against university fees with the chant, “London, Cairo — unite and fight.” In the eyes of this faction, the struggle against higher fees and the Coalition government in England is at one with the global struggle against American-backed authoritarian regimes who are propped up, at the behest of the American Jewish lobby, as a carapace for Israel.
To this segment of student militants the enemy is global capitalism, which is identified with the United States which is, in turn, identified with Israel. They are convinced that Jews run the US and that any effort anywhere to thwart the thrust of progressive politics is probably the result of Jewish interference. To them, it makes perfect sense to bark “Tory Jew scum” at Porter.
Yet, even if we can find a serpentine logic to their behaviour, is it anything more than the ephemera of student politics . Is it even worth noting? Well, yes — I think it should ring alarm bells. The danger is that in the sub-culture of the far Left and in the world of student politics such received ideas go unchallenged and cement young peoples’ view of the world. It is from this matrix that the leaders of tomorrow emerge. As weird and transitory as it may be, this is the breeding ground for future trades union leaders, college lecturers, journalists, MPs, and even cabinet ministers. Think of Peter Hain, Sue Slipman, Jack Straw and Charles Clarke, who were the student leaders and activists of their time.
Most of those who are protesting today will eventually learn that the anti-globalisation conspiracy theories and the demonisation of Israel which is central to them are based on fantasy, and will quietly disavow them. Some may even develop a sense of shame for the things they thought, said, and did. Others will carry their stereotypical perception of Jews with them to the top of their chosen fields. The consequences of that will be incalculable.