TERRY PRONE: Two millenia of racism rekindled by a claim for €12 photographs

Alan Shatter said on his Facebook page that the story of the €12 passport photographs 'fitted neatly into centuries of anti-semitic caricature'.

It’s fascinating in a grim way to see anti-semitism revivify itself on this small provocation, writes Terry Prone

I WORK in a synagogue. Admittedly, it’s a deconsecrated synagogue. So thoroughly deconsecrated was this synagogue, 15 years ago, that not as much as a Star of David remains to tell of its past, which was considerable.

It appeared in Ulysses and was apparently the posher of the available synagogues in the late 19th century, known as the English synagogue, because the Yiddish- speaking Eastern European Jewish immigrants did not feel themselves welcome there. I’m told it appears for a fleeting few frames in Darby O’Gill and the Little People, with children pouring out of its two front doors. It is beautiful, and we grab at any stories of its past, one of which, as yet unverified, is that Alan Shatter TD was married in it.

When I mentioned this possibility to a client recently, she looked surprised and asked why Shatter would have been married in it. Because he’s Jewish, I responded. Oh, she said, surprised. I never knew that.

Clearly, my client, if she read the story about Shatter billing the State for the €12 passport pictures, would not have attributed racial/religious significance to it. If she thought he was mean, it was just straight up mean, not stereotypical mean.

Just as most of us who find out — IF we find out — that people we know have had Ashley Madison accounts, will regard them as marital cheaters but are unlikely to shove their ethnicity or religion into the mix. Why would we? Cheaters are just cheaters and miserably tight people are just miserably tight.

Deputy Shatter, on the other hand, got a double whammy: He was assumed to be financially grasping, on the one hand, and it was inferred that he was financially grasping because he is a Jew. In relation to the meanness, he points out that he has never claimed the daily allowance to which all ministers are entitled for overseas trips, which would suggest that he does not pursue sums of State money available to him which are a lot bigger than the €12 that put him in the headlines, and he is livid about those headlines.

Being depicted, in his own words, “as a dishonest, money-grabbing polician” meant — he says— that he “became the object of vile anti- semitic comment.”

This is verifiable. Much of the social media comment on the issue was vile. So much of social media comment on every issue is vile, that one wonders about the pressure to enter a shooting zone without absolute necessity. But in this instance, the comment was also bluntly anti-semitic.

“The story fitted neatly into centuries of anti-semitic caricature,” Shatter stated on his Facebook page. “The allegation made was that, when minister for justice and defence, I made an expenses claim of €12 for photos I required for my personal passport. Of course, I did not. The true story is that in my role as minister for defence in November 2013 I undertook ministerial engagements in Lebanon, Jordan and Israel, which included visiting Irish troops engaged in a variety of UN missions and a refugee camp in Jordan accommodating many thousands.

“Arrangements for the visit required my obtaining inoculations and photos for a Lebanese visit. I was asked to furnish all relevant receipts to the Department of Defence and did so.”

Next thing he knew, his purported €12 claim was all over the media. Now, it could be suggested that if Minister Alan Kelly had a €12 issue, negative publicity might similarly ensue. That may be true, but, were it to happen, the secondary media comment would have been quite different. It might have hosed Kelly with references to water, but his faith or lack of same would never have surfaced.

It’s fascinating, in a grim way, to see anti-semitism revivify itself on this small provocation, given that many of the haters on social media cannot even have met a Jew, let alone have had so bad an experience at the hands of a Jew as to justify extrapolation to an entire race.

The Jewish community in this country is now tiny, relative to, say, the Muslim community, and diminishing all the time. It’s more than a century since the Limerick pogrom, which caused several Jewish families to flee the city.

Nevertheless, like a ghastly version of those desiccated lumps on sale in Euro shops which, dropped into a glass of water, grow by 100% and turn into a sea monster, anti-semitism has the capacity to snap into florid and ferocious life in response to the most minor catalyst.

What has been called “the longest hate” is often assumed to have resulted from the early Christians blaming the Jews for the death of Christ, but in fact pre-dates Christian times by centuries, appearing in ancient Greece and Rome. According to Professor Robert Wistrich, who, up to his sudden death a few months ago, was the leading world authority on anti-semitism, it emerged in Greece as a consequence of difference.

“Vulgar and intellectual anti- semitism in the Hellenistic world could constantly draw on the fact that no other nation apart from the Jews so consistently refused to acknowledge the gods of its neighbours, partake in their sacrifices, and send gifts to their temples, let alone eat, drink, or intermarry with them,” Wistrich wrote.

Another reason pagans hated Jews was because so many pagans converted to Judaism. Just before Christ was born, the Jews numbered 10m in the Roman Empire — an enormous presence. Ancient Rome was much more tolerant than Ancient Greece, if irked by the dissidence of the Jews and outraged by their occasional revolts against the empire. The arrival of Christianity exacerbated anti- semitism. The early Christians, imbued with monotheism, sought to make Christians out of the Jews, and, when they encountered resistance, created the ghetto. But isolating the race and restricting their rights was never enough, and so expulsion became a recurring horror, starting in 250AD in Carthage and proceeding, roughly once a century, into the Middle Ages.

“Expulsions were in some cases thinly-veiled extortion,” according to Grossner and Halperin’s seminal Anti-Semitism, Causes and Effects.

“Additional wealth could be gained by expelling Jews and it was more popular than raising taxes.

“There are instances of expulsions with conditions for return that included payment of moneys as a prerequisite, with an annual assessment for continued residence. Other economically- motivated expulsions were efforts to remove established economic institutions in order that emerging Christian enterprises could develop; others were aimed at eliminating competition.”

Race memory of such expulsions made it essential for Jews to possess wealth in the form of jewellery or coin, that could be grabbed as the Cossacks — or whoever was the latest antisemitic terrorist force — arrived, to make living in exile possible. Which in turn led to portrayal of Jews as rich hoarders.

More than two millennia of racism is still so deeply embedded it can be sparked into action by the suggestion that a Jewish minister claimed €12 for photos for his passport.

 

Clarification: We are happy to clarify that the minister concerned, Alan Shatter, confirmed that he did claim €12 for photographs (solely for diplomatic purposes)  for a Lebanese visa on an official visit to  the Middle East.  The photographs were not for his personal private use and Mr Shatter was requested by Department officials to furnish them with all invoices/receipts in accordance with official protocol.


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