View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Fagin Redux 

It was mentioned a few days ago (and Meryl got there first) that the Chairman of Britain's Labour Party, in discussing Britain's own looming entitlement crisis, chose to describe the Conservative Economic spokesman as a "21-Century Fagin." That spokesman, Oliver Letwin, is Jewish. According to the Telegraph (registration required),

Perhaps the best-known image of Fagin is Ron Moody's portrayal in the musical, Oliver, which won the 1968 best film Oscar.

Moody, who is due to revive the role at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury next month, said he was outraged by the remarks and urged Mr McCartney to apologise.

"I think it is disgraceful and irresponsible. Someone in Mr McCartney's position should choose his words more carefully. Fagin is a monstrous creation. He is a fence, a thief and a corrupter of children.

"I do not think any Jewish person should be compared to him. Such a description is anti-Semitic."

Now, Mr. Moody is an actor. The character belongs to Dickens, not to Mr. Moody, and the version of the character that Mr. Moody has famously played is much more sympathetic than Dickens wrote him. Dickens claimed he was just trying to round out the chracter by making him less generic, and apparently later made Riah in Our Mutual Friend radiate purity and light to try to make up for it.

Of course, the more important reaction is that of other Labourites. Yes, those are crickets chirping that you hear. Stephen Pollard, also in the Telegraph:

Imagine, however, if Mr Letwin were a Muslim, and that Mr McCartney had accused him of behaving like Ali Baba, stealing from the 40 thieves. There would, be sure, have been the mother and father of all rows. Trevor Phillips, the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, would doubtless have called for Mr McCartney's resignation. His fellow Lefties would have disowned him. The Guardian would have condemned him. He would be in disgrace. The penalty for describing a Jew as a thieving hook-nosed monster is, however, nothing.

If the political boot had been on the other foot, and a Conservative politician had described Peter Mandelson as Fagin, the Left would have reacted with fury. So it's not quite true to say that anti-Semitic jibes can be thrown around with impunity. The truth is that they can be thrown by the Left but not by the Right. When the Left sits in judgment, it starts from the premise that the mere fact of being on the Left is, of itself, proof of good faith and decency.

Now, this little slur hasn't gone entirely unnoticed in the leftist British press. See this piece from the Guardian, reproduced here in its entirety:

A week after Ann Winterton lost the Tory whip for her joke about Chinese cockle pickers, two Labour MPs have faced accusations of being anti-semitic and anti-Muslim.

At the Scottish Labour conference on Saturday, Ian McCartney, the Labour chairman, attacked the policies of the shadow chancellor. "What would life under 'Slasher Letwin' look like? No Oliver Twist, this man, more of a Fagin." Charles Dickens' portrayal of Fagin in Oliver Twist is notorious for its anti-semitism. Oliver Letwin is descended from Jewish refugees from Ukraine.

Mr McCartney said it was "absolute nonsense" to say his remarks were racist, adding that he had fought racism all his life.

Meanwhile, it emerged that Nick Palmer - the MP who first criticised Mrs Winterton - had in 2001 used his website to pass on a spoof schedule of a "Taliban TV" station, and been condemned by the Muslim Council of Britain.

Mr Palmer said he had been satirising "an extremist regime". Mrs Winterton said: "This is a case of the biter bit."

Get that? Comparing a real-live Jew to a vicious stereotype is the same thing as comparing a real-live vicious regime to a satire.

Also, a search of the WaPo, the AP, and Reuters turns up exactly zero matches on the word Fagin in the last 30 days.

Blogarama - The Blog Directory
help Israel
axis of weevils
contact us
site sections