Sometimes the past catches up with present... or is it the other way round?

Above are three images that, according to the people responsible for putting them in print and on screen arrived 'by accident' or 'ignorance', respectively in a BBC Promenade Concert programme, on a British Imperial War Museum Poster, and in a newscast at Chicago's WGN TV station. They are all images that carry a message about Jews, and they are all images that have been apologised for with some version of those weasel words we hear so often on the tongues of politicians; that's to say they are apologies 'for any offence caused' or 'if any offence was caused'. All three images appeared in the last week.

The first is a 'picture' of the violinist Leopold Auer that the BBC chose as an illustration in a Promenade Concert programme. Tschaikovsky dedicated his violin concerto to Auer, and the concerto was being played at one of the last Proms this year. It is to any seeing eyes not just a caricature, but a caricature that deliberately accentuates and exaggerates features that, in such caricatures were (and are - these things are still being drawn in 'cartoons') regarded as 'Jewish'. Such things are categorised as anti-Semitic with little argument (as long as they're not in a cartoon now, then it's politcal comment); anti-Semitic is what they are, and in the late nineteenth century through to the end of the Nazi regime in Germany, those responsible for them felt no shame at all in saying that's exactly what they were, and what they were meant to be. I have put a picture of Auer next to the image. It seems that the BBC got this particular 'caricature' from the Lebrecht Photo Library, where it was properly and responsibly described (i.e. captioned) as an anti-Semitic caricature.

When the image appears in the Proms programme though, it does so without any reference to its anti-Semitic provenance; it is simply Auer.

If you want to check that the library photo does refer to the caricature's anti-Semitic nature, you now can't. By Monday of this week the photo had been removed from the library's online archive; apparently at the BBC's request. Why the BBC's use of this image should make an entirely independent organisation, which has responsibly indicated what this image represents, agree to a BBC requerst to take the thing down, who knows? Why would the BBC need to do it?

The BBC's apology runs thus:

'We're sorry to anyone who was offended by the image choice - this was never our intention.'

This is an apology, as usual in politics and the media, in which the buck stops with 'anyone' who might have been offended, not those responsible for the offence. It does not actually admit that any ‘offence’ exists, except in the minds of those who have complained. A proper apology, of course, is an apology for doing something that the perpetrator understands is offensive. This one asks us to accept that people with a considerable knowledge of European history, art and culture, have not got the faintest idea what the image they chose represents; that one of the most politically correct media institutions on the planet can’t see an anti-Semitic caricature staring it in the face.

Pull the other one!

Elsewhere the BBC said the picture had been used 'by accident'.

The second image is a photograph from the 1940's of soldiers from a battalion of the British Army, in British Army uniform, taken during the Second World War. It is used on a poster published by Britain's Imperial War Museum, the nation's custodian of military history. And it refers to the soldiers as 'terrorists'. You might wonder why that is. If you know the troops in the photo belonged to the British Army's Jewish Brigade, well, you might just get a clue! You'd certainly look hard for any other British Army units described as terrorists. Anyone seen a War Museum poster about the Black and Tans, who certainly were terrorists, and terrorists in the direct pay of the British government?

Here's the caption:

'Terrorist activities: Men of the First Battalion Jewish Brigade during a march past.'

There's no mix up here. The IWM describes the men as British soldiers at the same time it describes them as 'terrorists'. In fighting, mainly against the Germans in Italy, 83 members of the Jewish Brigade were killed in action, 200 wounded; 78 men were mentioned in dispatches; 20 of them won major military awards for bravery. When Rome was liberated members of the Jewish Brigade were represented at the British Army's audience with the Pope. They were also, of course, direct witnesses to the Holocaust when they later moved on through Austria and into Germany itself. So are we meant, in this case, to believe that some of Britain's foremost military historians (who were presumably, at some point, responsible for the content of this Imperial War Museum poster) didn't know who the people in the photograph of the Jewish Brigade soldiers were, or that they had no knowledge at all that these were men who fought and died in the British uniforms we can patently see them wearing?

The museum's apology said:

'This was the historic label we received alongside the photograph, accidentally uploaded in order to give the public access to our comprehensive archives.'

Gobbledegook for 'we did it by accident'.

It's worth analysing the description of the 'accident', as the 'unfortunate event' seems to be not the word 'terrorism', but letting people see the word used in the context the War Museum had already put it in anyway. The archives of the Imperial War Museum, so the IWM spokesperson unequivocally says, contain photographs that ascribe a 'historic label' of 'terrorism' to the British Army's Jewish Brigade in WWII. Is the 'accident' only that it was made public?

The third image is of a 'greeting' delivered onscreen to the Jews of Chicago by the city's TV station WGN, which was put out yesterday. Yesterday was the holiest day in the Jewish religious calendar, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. I doubt I need to explain to anyone, including infants at my children's primary school, that the image is of a concentration camp uniform with the Nazi yellow Star of David on it and the word 'Jude', Jew. This is surely one of the best know images of murderous evil on earth, as far as the last hundred years of history goes. Are there really people in America who are television producers and directors, current affairs researchers and graphic designers, camera operators, technicians, IT operators, and broadcasters, who are utterly unaware of what this represents, and think it is some kind of appropriate 'greetings card' to put up on a TV screen to send out 'good wishes' to Jews? Do you believe that? The apology from the TV station does contain the words 'ignorance is no excuse', but can we really be persuaded that in a television studio and current affairs office full of highly educated, politcally aware people, they were all that 'ignorant'?

But apparently they were, every one. They said they 'honestly':

'Failed to recognize the image was an offensive Nazi symbol.'

Wow! I don't know where they all went to school, or what movies they saw, or what television they watched, or what books and newspapers and magazines they read, or what planet they were beamed down from... but at least they didn't do it 'by accident'! Someone researched it, thought it 'nice and friendly' as a way to say 'Hi!', and so off it went. Happy holidays!

I am not suggesting there is some kind of anti-Semitic 'conspiracy' going on, but I do think there is a new tolerance of hostility to Jews everywhere that is an accepting, in Europe and America's academic and media establishment, of anti-Jewish imagery, tropes and ideas that would be entirely unacceptable used of any other people, anywhere, by that same establishment. I think those promoting such ideas are being tolerated and sympathised with in ways that were unthinkable even ten years ago, and along with that tolerance there is a new intolerance that should frighten us, not because of its extremes but because of its growing 'ordinariness' - a Proms programme, a museum poster, a clumsy 'mistake' in a TV 'greeting' (still pretty hard to swallow that one). With this tolerance of the inaccurate, unreasonable, unpleasant, unacceptable, goes a resentment of anyone who points out that there is something wrong with the way these 'accidents' and 'mistakes' keep appearing. 'Isn't that just another one of the problems with Jews - they're always crying anti-Semitism about nothing?'

This isn't nothing. One of the things that Lord Scarman said, a long time ago, after investigating Britain's Brixton riots and the police, is that what he first defined as 'institutonalised racism' had, as one of its main characteristics, that it was so woven into the fabric of an organisation's thinking that no one noticed it, no one could see it; its depth was not in excess but in its unchallenged presence in the smallest areas of activiity. So expect more of these 'accidents', a lot more, where Jews and Jewishness are concerned... It's our future. Now!

Don't imagine you'll be anything other than ridiculed, attacked and probably abused for pointing these 'accidents' out to anyone, especially the media and academia.. the best you'll get is an apology, 'for unintentional offence caused'.

Don't expect to be asked to any parties either!

 


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These are moments in our lives that we make mistakes. In the case of the BBC, it's the publication of these three images. What they thought were just simple and harmless photographs were actually racially and culturally offensive. What can we only do now is just accept their apology and move on. We all make mistakes.

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