Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Mind Your Language, Ken; as the London Assembly Probes the Mayor's "Nazi" Outburst against a Journalist, One Jewish Writer Asks Why the Language of the Holocaust Is Being So Debased

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Mind Your Language, Ken; as the London Assembly Probes the Mayor's "Nazi" Outburst against a Journalist, One Jewish Writer Asks Why the Language of the Holocaust Is Being So Debased

Article excerpt

Byline: HOWARD JACOBSON

THIS might just be a blip on our progress to a more humane society, but it would appear t h at far more offence is being given, and far more taken, than in the days when we were all less careful of one another's feelings.

No sooner do we express our outrage at Prince Harry turning up at someone's party dressed in a Nazi uniform, than the Labour party comes up with election posters showing Michael Howard looking not too far from Shylock, and Oliver Letwin not too far from a bacon sandwich; and no sooner do we get an apology for that than Ken Livingstone calls an Evening Standard reporter, who just happens to be Jewish, a "German war criminal".

In response to which intemperate, not to say foolhardy language, the Jewish community is up in arms. Quite properly, the London Assembly will now take a look at what's ailing our Mayor and whether he should be called to account.

My own view, as a Jew, is that we should keep our wits about us, stay very calm, and distinguish between what is offensive in what Ken Livingstone has said, and what isn't.

I do not, to start at the bottom, think it is racist to call someone a German war criminal, even when that person is Jewish.

Neither is it racist to tell him, as Ken Livingstone went on to tell Oliver Finegold, that he is "just like a concentration camp guard".

There is no insult to a Jew's Jewishness in that. Indeed you could argue that such remarks would approximate to racism more had the person they were addressed to been German.

WHAT'S baffling - and it might be better to be baffled initially than enraged - is the apparent randomness of Livingstone's tirade, the incommensurability of his words to the occasion.

Livingstone claimed that he did not want a reporter doorstepping him as he left a party celebrating the 20th anniversary of Chris Smith's outing of himself as gay.

There seems to be an implication here that he feared an unsympathetic grilling, an antigay line of questioning, even. Such anxieties would seem to point to something untoward in Livingstone's mental landscape, but it is no crime to have frayed nerves.

But however exorbitant this invective, it is at least on a continuum of consistent irrationality. How we make the leap to why a Jewish reporter with his pencil over his ear should make Ken Livingstone think of Nazi death camps - these are questions which need to be probed a little further.

No word comes unaccompanied into the world. If Jews are sensitive to any misapplication of words like "Nazi" or "concentration camp" right now, it is because in certain academic and journalistic circles misapplication has become the norm.

One of the ideological wickednesses of recent years has been the routine stigmatising of Israel as a Nazi state. …

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