This letter was written in the context of a couple of letters that were published in the Leicester Mercury: which included “‘Swarm’ is right word” (August 21) – written in response to “Words can dehumanise” (August 7).
Words matter. Earlier this year Katie Hopkins gave sustenance to racial hatred by writing in a national newspaper that migrants were “cockroaches” and “feral humans.”
Talking about humans in such terms is never helpful.
On this point, the history of anti-Semitism provides a useful illustration of why the language one employs to describe people always matters. Indeed all too regularly anti-Semites complained about “swarms of Jews” overwhelming their borders, fuming that “the country will swarm with dishonest Jews.”
But sadly in the modern era accusations of anti-Semitism are used to discredit legitimate criticism of the state of Israel — a state which notoriously flouts international law and brutally represses the Palestinian people.
This weaponisation of anti-Semitism helps explain why in recent weeks Jeremy Corbyn, as an active supporter of the campaign for Palestinian human rights, has been so regularly slurred in the national media as a poisonous anti-Semite.
Unfortunately, none of our city’s 52 Labour councillors or 3 MPs spoke out to the media in Corbyn’s defence. So it is with some irony that a right-wing Zionist group is now “seeking to take Leicester City Council to the High Court over the authority’s boycott of goods produced in Israeli settlements in the West Bank.” (August 25, Leicester Mercury)
This so-called “human rights” group questions the Council’s “anti-semitic calls to boycott Jews.” An accusation founded upon nonsense, as this group’s legal case has nothing to do with opposing anti-Jewish bigotry.
Nevertheless this didn’t stop the group’s director from likening our Council to Hitler’s genocidal regime, as he continued: “When the Nazis first came to power in 1930s Germany, one of the very first things they implemented were boycotts of Jews.”
But Leicester are not boycotting Jews: they are supporting a selective boycott of goods “originating from illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank.” This most certainly is not an action of anti-Semitism, but it does provide a good example why understanding the meaning of words matters.
This letter was emailed to the Leicester Mercury mailbox on 24th August. Published on 27th August as “Why meaning of words matters.”