Monday, February 09, 2009

Gollywogs and Jewish dolls

As the Carol Thatcher row got started, and the predictable right-wing response about how this was yet another case of "political correctness gone mad" began to gather steam, I reflected on how the mainstream commentariat would react to anti-semitic caricatures turned into dolls. After all, post-holocaust, anti-semitism is supposed to be even more taboo than anti-black racism. I remembered hearing someone - (Howard Jacobson, in the "Roots Schmoots", maybe?) mention that such dolls actually did exist and were sold in Poland. So I thought I'd look for a picture of them, post it, and see if it shamed any defenders of the Gollywog. (I found these Jewish dolls, delightfully depicted with their money bags and boxes).

My mistake was to search for "Jewish Puppet" rather than "Jewish Doll". I was unprepared for the volume and rancour of the images and words that this search uncovered. There's a little bit of me that thinks that we Jews sometimes make too much fuss about contemporary anti-semitism, because in my liberal professional life I rarely encounter it. But my "Jewish Puppet" search revealed to me the extent to which the Jewish conspiracy theory is alive and well on the web. Try it yourself.

It also made me think about the limits of liberal anti-racism, which focuses on terms like discrimination and prejudice. Gollywogs physically embody a racist caricature. The toy and the depiction mean that white people don't meet real black people in an unmediated way -- they bring to the meeting all sorts of ideas and reactions derived from the caricature.

But the stereotype of the Jew is not for the most part about 'prejudice'. The content of anti-semitism is not about beards or long noses, it's about the idea that Jews are clever, powerful and greedy for more power. That's why 'discrimination' seems like an appropriate response to the 'gollywog-like' black people, but genocide is the appropriate response to conspiratorial world-dominating Jews.

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