A few years back, News Corp was warning, almost every week, about antisemitism in Australia. Invariably, the claims were bogus: more about slating the Greens and the BDS movement than genuinely exposing bigotry.
Today, with a small but significant coterie of genuine antisemites raising their heads, we find News Corp again in the thick of the action: not calling out the racists, mind you, but providing them with political cover.
Let’s look first at Mark Latham. After destroying the manifold opportunities presented to him in the wake of his failed political career, Latham’s currently reinventing himself, in his taxpayer-funded retirement, as the world’s oldest teenager. When he’s not snarling at women for not sleeping with him, he’s yukking it up about Pepe and Kek and Big Man Tyrone: all totally normal preoccupations for a grown man who once led the largest political party in the country.
Latham’s recently signed with an outfit called Rebel Media. Who might they be? As Jason Wilson explained in the Guardian, Rebel Media offers a platform for ideologues at the intersection between the right and the far right. In fact, Latham announced his new venture during a conversation with none other than the English Defence League’s founder Tommy Robinson: a fellow who typifies the Rebel stable, what with being both a long-term Islamophobe and a convicted criminal.
Here’s another fun fact about Rebel Media: back in March, it hosted a video entitled ‘Ten Things I Hate about Jews’ in which one of its long-time contributors Gavi McInnes explained that ‘Jews are ruining the world with their lies and their money and their hooked-nose, bagel-eating faces.’
That’s the company Mark Latham now keeps.
Oh, he’s also chummy with Rowan Dean, the former adman responsible for the Australian edition of the Spectator.
Now, as the Monthly’s Richard Cooke points out, Dean’s roster of talent at the Spectator currently includes someone by the name of ‘Moses Apostaticus’.
The image below gives us a pretty good sense of Mr Apostaticus’ world view.
Here’s some of his other handiwork. pic.twitter.com/ar6QxSHDVu
— Richard Cooke (@rgcooke) July 11, 2017
Yes, that’s right – under Dean’s editorship, the Spectator’s publishing an unabashed antisemite of the Jews-run-the-world variety.
How did Latham and Dean come to be palling around with antisemites?
There’s no great mystery to it. They’ve both embraced the self-pitying identity politics of the right and thus spend their time moaning about the manifold injuries suffered by wealthy white men. The most virulent and consistent version of conservative identity politics gets articulated by the so-called alt right – and that’s the putrid swamp in which Latham and Dean now wallow.
For the most part, they devote themselves to attacking Islam, safe in the knowledge that, in Australia, you can say almost anything you want about Muslims without fear of repercussion.
But Islamophobia’s a gateway drug to a whole wonderful new world of bigotry. If you’re positing an inherent incompatibility between ‘Muslim culture’ (whatever that might be) and the West (whatever that might be), it’s not long before you’re extending the argument more generally, identifying all kinds of other ‘cultures’ that need to be purged from the body politic.
Recall Dean’s other recent intervention: his call for Race Discrimination Commission Tim Soutphommasane to ‘hop on a plane and go back to Laos’ if he was worried by the absence of diversity in Australia. In the past, that ‘love it or leave it’ rhetoric has been the preserve of skinhead gangs and overt neo-Nazis. The alt right, however, prides itself on what it calls ‘racial realism’: the embrace of racialised chauvinism (masked with only the thinnest of irony).
The extent to which that now prevails at the Spectator can be gauged from another recent post: John Elsegood’s defence of South African apartheid and its architect, Herbert Verwoerd, whom, we’re told approvingly, ‘likened the racial groups as being at different stages of development’, ‘considered that separation ensured good neighbourliness’ and argued ‘every nation had a right to survival without being overwhelmed numerically by others of a different culture’.
It’s not, then, surprising that Islamophobes embrace antisemitism. As Mattias Gardell explained in Overland some years ago, the tropes of Islam baiting can be traced back to the same sources as the tropes of Jew baiting:
The tradition of Islamophobia is, like anti-Semitism, rooted in the medieval Christian hostility to the ‘enemies of God’, with these perceptions disseminated, expanded upon, restructured, rearticulated and reactivated in various social and political contexts, from the Turk scare in early modernity, via the colonial expansion, to the War on Terror.
Many stories told about Jews in medieval and early modern Europe were also spun around what were then termed Moors, Saracens or Red Jews: Muslims were devil-worshipping, sexually deviant, man-eating monsters; Muslims ritually defamed the cross and consumed the blood of ceremonially slaughtered Christian children in blasphemous communions. Church art portrayed Mohammed as the Antichrist, and Muslims as horned devils, Christ-killers, dogs or a hybrid race of dog-men. Lars Vilks – the Swedish artist who depicted Mohammed as a dog – may claim originality, but the dog motif goes back hundreds of years and is as old as the Judensau (the medieval depiction of Jews in obscene contact with a sow).
In some ways, the antisemitism of the alt right, whose memes Latham now bumblingly parrots, is almost a structural necessity: a movement devoted to conspiracies, racism and provocations was always going to embrace the most provocative racist conspiracy of all. Besides, the argument about protecting traditional culture against foreign influences invariably ends up in the traditional antisemitic opposition to the ‘alien’ Jew. Think of the Spectator’s defence of Hendrik Verwoerd and his theories of ‘separation’: does it really surprise anyone to discover that ‘like so many racialists, Dr. Verwoerd had his early training in anti-Semitism’?
It’s tempting to dismiss Latham and Dean as irrelevant. Yet both men still work for mass circulation News Corp papers – Latham writes a column for the Daily Telegraph; Dean writes for the Courier Mail (and produces spectacularly unfunny satire for the Australian Financial Review) – and they both appear regularly on Sky. They both thus lend credibility to the antisemites with whom they’re associated. The Spectator’s considered a mainstream publication and yet it publishes ‘Moses Apostaticus’, a man whose antisemitic stylings could quite easily have appeared under one of Dr Goebbels’ mastheads. As for Mark Latham, the guy nearly became Prime Minister of Australia – which makes a prestigious signing for Rebel Media, given the thugs, bigots and crackpots who normally write for it.
Furthermore, Australian conservatism’s going through a process of decomposition, as substantial sections of the right sign up to topple Malcolm Turnbull, even at the cost of bringing down the government. Cory Bernardi’s already fishing in the Liberals’ troubled waters but he’s not the only one with ambitions of creating a new rightwing tendency.
Will the alt right make a breakthrough? Who knows – but Murdoch’s continuing support for Latham and Dean and others of their ilk provides the far-right fringe with an important platform at an opportune time.
Editorial note: Overland no longer capitalises or hyphenates ‘antisemitism’; as one of our writers puts it: ‘it’s not as though there’s a thing called “semitism” that people are “anti”, but that “antisemitism” is a thing’.