Tony Greenstein | 30 September 2017 | Post Views:

The Anti-Semitic Attack that wasn’t

I’m happy to run this story about a serious assault on a Jewish man, but the question is whether it was anti-semitic or not.  It would appear that what was a drug related attack has been elevated, for entirely cynical reasons into being an anti-Semitic attack.  We should remember that whilst all anti-Semitic attacks are made on Jews, not all attacks on Jews are anti-Semitic.
tony greenstein
Guest Post:  Gavin Lewis
Gavin Lewis is a freelance British mixed-race writer and academic. He has published in Britain, Australia and the United States on film, media, politics, cultural theory, race and representation. He has taught critical theory, film and cultural studies at a number of British universities.
Coverage of the
Moshe Fuerste assault reveals deep-seated media prejudice.

the aftermath of global condemnation of Israel’s 2014 bombing of Gaza’s
civilians, including hundreds of children, the UK media and that of the broader
Western world became swept up in a moral panic suggesting that the world’s ‘real’ victims were in fact affluent, middle-class,
white ethnic Western Jews. Apparently anti-Semitism was to be the ‘real’ prioritised problem, and it was
claimed to be rife. However, in the UK, even in the face of media
under-reporting, the extent of racism experienced by Black Britons and Muslims
is evident, because we know the names of those who experience crippling attack,
and who die at the hands of racists and disproportionately at the hands of the
police: Dr Sarandev Bhambra, Mohammad Saleem Chaudry, Mark Duggan and Jermaine
Baker have been some of the many victims of these various experiences. We even
know the places of Muslim worship subjected to arson, such as the Finsbury Park
and Bishopbriggs mosques. By comparison, where were the equivalent white ethnic
Jewish victims of anti-Semitism? Even in the case of the much-trumpeted fist fight
that occurred at Stamford Hill synagogue—which got considerable, disproportionate
media coverage—the local rabbi, Maurice Davis, excluded anti-Semitism as a
cause. Finally, filling a gap in the dominant ideological narrative, there was
one incident that the media could invoke by reference to a real name, which
therefore was privileged with elevated coverage, despite obvious undermining contradictions
in the reportage.

‘This was not an anti-Semitic attack’, a family friend of Fuerst’s was reported as saying. ‘They might have said something about him being Jewish—but it all started because of drugs. He smokes a lot of weed.’

Reporting the incident

While out in a group of four
teenage Jewish friends, Moshe Fuerst was involved in an incident during which
he suffered a ‘bleed on the brain’ (media accounts of his injury vary from
‘serious head injury’ to ‘fractured skull’). The Guardian chose to headline the story ‘suspected antisemitic attack’.
However, the Jewish Chronicle (JC),
which was the Guardian’s cited source,
initially reported Fuerst’s father’s assertions that this had actually been
drug-related violence; it later took down its original online report entirely, and
instead ran with an anti-Semitism claim. Israel’s Haaretz, though, ran the original JC story, which is still
available: ‘This was not an anti-Semitic attack’, a family friend of Fuerst’s
was reported as saying. ‘They might have said something about him being Jewish—but
it all started because of drugs. He smokes a lot of weed.’ Fuerst’s father, Rabbi
Michael Fuerst, told the JC in an exclusive interview that he would not be
surprised if the attack on Saturday night came after a disagreement over
cannabis. ‘He is on the fringes of society and that is what kids on the fringe
do’, Rabbi Fuerst said. ‘He was not involved in hard drugs—he’s not any
different to any other middle classes’.
At trial, ‘Judge Prowse
said that “throwaway remarks that were anti-Semitic were made”, but ruled the
victims weren’t attacked because they were Jewish, saying they were simply “in
the wrong place at the wrong time”’. Ian Rushton, deputy chief crown prosecutor
at the Crown Prosecution Service for the North West, said:
considered very carefully what each of the victims reported the two attackers
saying during the incident, and we have studied the available CCTV. None of the
victims reported that racist or religiously abusive language was used by the
offenders and there is no clear evidence from the statement or CCTV to prove to
the court that they demonstrated or were motivated by racial or religious
This material was never used to update the Guardian’s original story page, which to
this day continues to label the attack as anti-Semitic violence

Despite the fact that anti-Semitism as
a motivation for the attack was unsubstantiated by any official source, the
paper referred to the two accused as ‘the hate attackers’.


a broader context, the evolving coverage that occurred during the course of
this story was considerably worse. The Manchester
Evening News
(MEN) is the newspaper of the city where the incident took
place. The MEN has a practice of covering criticism of Israel pejoratively, as
anti-Semitism—there is a very small hard core of wealthy Zionist activism in
Manchester, apparently with significant advertising budgets to spend or
withhold. The paper has previously smeared Muslims protesting Israel’s bombing
of Gaza by likening them to Nazis (as if people of colour weren’t also
persecuted by the Nazis). The credibility of these smears unashamedly rested entirely
on the utterings of local councillor Richard Leese, who in 2010 spent twenty hours
in a cell and received a police caution for assaulting his sixteen-year-old
stepdaughter. The paper ran more than eight variants of the Moshe Fuerst story,
of which some, perhaps reflecting the sensationalist tone of its coverage, it subsequently
felt obliged to either take down or update. In its coverage the paper explicitly
labelled the attack anti-Semitic or emphasised the Jewish identity of the
teenagers, so as to give that impression. This overt and definitive media reporting
tends to be rarer in the cases of Black Britons who have suffered a racist
attack, where the label ‘racism’ is often withheld until it has been ‘legitimised’
by the police or a court. In almost all coverage, and heightening the
sensationalist tone, a substantially blown-up photo of Moshe Fuerst’s shaved,
stitched and operated-on head was used. The Guardian
employed a similar tactic of ‘splashing’ the photo.
Moshe Fuerst

One report, which later
disappeared from the news site but is still available via the website of one of
the MEN’s local sister papers, The Bury
, claimed that it was a case of young teenagers ‘set upon by a gang of
men’—by inference many fully grown adults victimising a smaller number of
teenagers. Like several other news outlets, Israel’s National News revised the figure down to a ‘gang of three men’. The
MEN conceded that it was actually a ‘gang of three youths’—so, not adults. By the time the case went to trial, it
turned out—as the MEN had to further concede—to be two youths in a
confrontation with, er, a ‘gang?’ of four Jewish youths. Despite the fact that
anti-Semitism as a motivation for the attack was unsubstantiated by any official
source, the paper referred to the two accused youths as ‘the hate attackers’. The
extent of some of these hyped claims is still evident, and they have been
repeated in the Israeli media, for example in The Times of Israel: ‘Fuerst’s father Michael said the attack was
carried out by a gang of “non-Jewish boys who were drunk” and who took “great
joy, I’m sure, from the fact that they were beating up a Jewish kid”’. However,
it’s not just that the numbers and ages of the people involved in this
confrontation were manipulated, or even that loaded assumptions about the
assailants’ motivations coloured the story, but also that in this coverage the media
use of the word ‘gang’ is coming though a particular class- and race-based
ideological prism, and therefore it has been unevenly applied. North Manchester
has some affluent sections, home in part to the city’s historic Jewish
communities. When middle-class Jewish teenagers congregate in these areas they
are referred to as a ‘group’. By contrast, working-class kids from poorer and
former blue-collar neighbourhoods that border these areas, such as Middleton
and Salford, are described as gathering in ‘gangs’, as are, in particular,
Black teenagers from the poorer parts of South Manchester, known as Moss Side. None
of the media coverage that prioritised an anti-Semitic motivation in its
reporting investigated or even considered the option that this was perhaps simply
lower-middle-class youths fighting with rich kids.

None of the media coverage that
prioritised an anti-Semitic motivation in its reporting investigated or
even considered the option that this was perhaps simply lower-middle-class
youths fighting with rich kids.

Much of the MEN’s
coverage not only gave the impression that this was without question an anti-Semitic
attack but also that it was attempted murder. ‘I believe these men killed my
son and the NHS brought him back to life’ (Michael Fuerst). ‘(W)hy…come up to
him while he is lying on the ground unconscious, kick him in the head, and
potentially kill him?’ The impression is also given by the MEN that the extent
of Moshe Fuerst’s vulnerabilities and potentially critical health status was
instantly evident to those involved in the violent confrontation, thereby
justifying the attempted-murder inferences. Here the MEN writes, suggesting an
immediate consequence, ‘He suffered a bleed to the brain. He was intubated at
North Manchester General Hospital and then put in an ambulance and taken to the
neurosurgery specialist centre at Salford Royal. As soon as he arrived there he
was operated on. At Crumpsall (North Manchester General) he was already
slipping into a coma’. Actually, as the JC reported—perhaps unaware of the MEN
narratives—it was apparently a day or so later that Moshe Fuerst’s health
crashed and his condition became apparent: ‘The 17-year-old was taken to
hospital and initially discharged. He returned to Salford Royal Hospital on
Sunday after he complained of headaches, and vomited and collapsed’. But the
MEN reporting reinforced national tabloid coverage in papers like the Daily Mail and Daily Mirror, which consequently followed a similar tone: using the
language ‘anti-semitic attack’ and the inference of attempted murder, and, like
the Guardian, splashing the
post-operative photo of the teenage victim. It’s worth reiterating that the youths
were convicted of assault: no attempted-murder or hate-crime charge was made. By
the time the case came to trial, in reference to the assailants and in
contradiction of the implied media narrative that they’d kicked the victim into
a coma and casually sauntered off, Judge Prowse said, ‘They genuinely had no
idea of the severity of the incident that they had been involved in’.
other issue in the reporting is the manner in which the potential gangs, class,
drugs and/or alcohol-related aspects of this case were underexplored and
under-represented in favour of an anti-Semitism narrative. Significantly, the JC
initially wrote that ‘the two groups clashed after shouting at each other’
(accounts suggest that this took place from opposite platforms at a tram stop).
The JC’s subsequent reports were revised, apparently so as not to give the
impression that the Jewish teenagers had been doing any of the baiting and ‘shouting’.
But the pictures of the two youths who were eventually convicted of the assault
are quite telling in that, in contradiction of the anti-Semitism narrative, both
young men appear to be performing gang signs with their hands, perhaps indicative
of a more basic, tribal youth conflict?
Moshe Fuerste’s assailants, Joseph Kelly, left, and Zach Birch, right. Source: Manchester Evening News.
None of this—even
the legal decision—categorically rules out any anti-Semitic motive in this
attack, but a number of questions arise. Why, given the weight of evidence and
testimony, did the coverage veer off in the direction of an anti-Semitism
narrative when so many other factors were worthy of consideration? Why did the corporate
media manipulate material in this way, particularly as the coverage occurred
just after the first anniversary of Israel’s bombing of the children of Gaza? If
there is a homogenous ‘anti-Semitic’ narrative being encouraged, it does not
appear to be a genuine expression of the diverse grassroots reality of Jewish-British
experience, sentiments or communal allegiances. In May 2016 the Daily Mirror (also part of the MEN’s Trinity
Mirror news stable) splashed the headline ‘Jewish cemetery vandalised by yobs
in “sickening” anti-Semitic attack’. Yet buried at the very bottom of the page
was the following statement: ‘Stephen Wilson, administrator of the North
Manchester Jewish Cemetaries Trust, said he reported the vandalism to the
police after being alerted by the cemetery’s ground staff. He said he was “dismayed”
by the attacks but was not convinced the motive was antisemitism. “It’s my
guess—locals come over the wall, you always find drink cans (beer) over here,
they’ve been in that frame of mind and they’ve done it for the sheer hell and
fun of it”’. Mr Wilson’s dismissal of an anti-Semitic motive to the vandalism
in Manchester replicates Rabbi Maurice Davis’s position—‘everybody gets on and
we haven’t had any experience of anti-Semitism’—on the fight that occurred at the
entrance to Stamford Hill synagogue hundreds of miles away in London. Both incidents,
though, were headlined as anti-Semitic.

Four consecutive
Al Jazeera investigations plus ongoing commentaries have revealed that the Israeli
embassy has been attempting to provoke its sympathisers to intervene in and
manipulate British political and media culture. Could this current moral panic,
its tone and potential misrepresentation of Jewish-British experience, be a
reflection of this?

It appears that at one
point, apparently in support of an interpretation of the Moshe Fuerst incident
as an anti-Semitic attack, claims were made that ‘a Jewish Kippah skullcap worn
by one of the boys appeared to have been spat at after it fell to the ground
during the incident. However, police said the victim “couldn’t be sure” about
this happening in a formal statement which was presented to the Crown
Prosecution Service to make a charging decision’. Greater Manchester Police ‘said
the allegation surrounding the Kippah cap was fully investigated, but the
victim was “unsure” as to whether it was spat on’. The police later said:
September 21, two weeks after the attack, one of the victims attended a police
station to report that he believed his Kippah may have been spat upon on the floor
during the attack. Further enquiries were carried out by officers to
investigate and the circumstances were discussed with the victim. On September
30, the victim made a formal statement to the police regarding this matter, in
which he was unsure if the offender spat towards his Kippah.
To summarise: in
support of an anti-Semitism narrative, and as an apparent afterthought two
weeks after the incident, these claims were made, then withdrawn, then made
again, unsubstantiated, at trial. No DNA evidence was ever produced in support
of the claims.
As noted above, this
coverage and its continuous self-contradictory, flip-flopping claims, occurred
just a few months after the first anniversary of Israel’s bombing of Gaza’s children,
which in many quarters received much less coverage than the assault on Moshe
Fuerste. To put this incident in broader socio-historical context, at almost
any time in postwar Britain, regardless of the injuries he sustained, if Moshe Fuerst
had been Black, he may well have been treated as a suspect, even prosecuted—unjustifiably
or not—for an offence such as ‘affray’. One infamous historical example illustrating
this institutional prejudice is the 1993 racist murder of Black teenager
Stephen Lawrence, where not only did the authorities initially refuse to
prosecute the killers but also the police put the dead victim’s parents, Neville
and Doreen Lawrence, under surveillance after they publicly complained to the
media about continuing police inaction.
More recent incidents
echo Britain’s ‘all darkies look and are the same’ racist past. Bristol police
tasered an elderly Black Briton, Judah Adunbi, directly in the face because the
officers involved couldn’t tell the difference between him and another
Afro-Caribbean man who was the genuine suspect. This generic ‘Black labelling’
resulting in a ‘police stop’ was something Adunbi had suffered before. He had
merely been attempting to enter his own home, and the police were apparently
oblivious to or unable to recognise the fact that he had been their own race-relations
adviser to the local Independent Advisory Group. An innocent, unarmed Brazilian,
Jean Charles de Menezes, was publicly shot dead because he was presumed to be Middle
Eastern—as if that would have made it all right. Retired top-flight professional
footballer Dalian Atkinson was killed by repeated police taser assaults. Complaints
of racism—on an incident-by-incident and thematic basis—are given far less
column space, and often the term ‘racism’ may not even be used. These
inconsistent degrees of coverage have certainly never reached equivalent anti-Semitism
moral-panic reportage levels, even—as in case of the killing of Mark Duggan—when
the original incident provoked rioting. In contrast to the relatively free use
of the term anti-Semitism, the word racism was hard to find in news coverage of
the original de Menezes killing or in commentary on the extraordinarily surprising
subsequent promotion of Police Commander Cressida Dick, the officer in charge
of the operation in which he was killed, to police commissioner.
Given how heavily the anti-Semitism
narrative was pushed in reporting the Moshe Fuerst assault, it’s worth going
back to original coverage, including family testimony, that featured in the JC:
‘The rabbi [the boy’s father, Michael Fuerst] questioned whether antisemitism
had been the key driving force behind the attack. “They were not neo-Nazis out
looking for Jewish boys to beat up. They were drunk kids. I imagine they knew
they were all Jewish—one of the boys was wearing a yarmulke”’.
One of the defining
characteristics of ongoing racial oppression is that it is underpinned by a
history of slavery, colonial genocide, institutional power, the leverage of the
cultural-media apparatus, and white racial, economic and class privilege. This
is what differentiates it from simple prejudice that individuals such as
redheads experience. By comparison to the Black experience of racism, rather
than being oppressed by institutional practices, the mobilisations of current anti-Semitism
moral panics—particularly as and where they support the Israel lobby and aspects
of white privilege—appear to be benefiting from these entrenched power dynamics.
Even now there are numerous easily accessible webpages on news sites—including
that of the Guardian—where the
constructed narrative of the Moshe Fuerst incident includes the headlines and
descriptions ‘anti-semitic attack’, and this plays into a broader, largely
incident-free moral panic about anti-Semitism. By comparison, racist incidents
against Black and Muslim Britons require a far greater degree of
substantiation. The death toll experienced by the Palestinians is downplayed
and/or—in the tradition of nineteenth-century racist, ‘civilising-the-savage’
narratives—is treated as a justifiable developmental inevitability of white Western
progress. Similarly, the oppression of Black and indigenous Jews in Israel is
made invisible by the corporate media. And, disgracefully, the reported reality
of Israel practising apartheid and ethnic cleansing is treated as debatable, even
when it is supported by the testimony of Nobel Peace Prize winners Nelson
Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. But perhaps, given the racist double
standards on the comparative value of human life upon which the current moral
panic is structured, the hypocrites in the corporate media regard Mandela and
Tutu as only Black Noble Prize

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