The ceremony was a complete triumph for Danny Boyle, his team, the performers and participants and everyone in the UK. Well done to all. This was a moment of pride in a time of worry and concern.
The negatives: carpers and critics have pointed out a Utopian view of Britain, a socialist agenda and a paean to multiculturalism. All this may be true. Yes, the ceremony did not tell us about the problems with the NHS, the railways, housing or social unrest. Please tell me any Olympic ceremony in the past which dwelt on the negatives.
The Olympics is not just a big athletics meeting as Peter Hitchens has written in his inimitable lugubrious and Scrooge-like style. It is a festival of the human family. Flawed, yes, nevertheless it aspires to show us the best of ourselves and to make us feel good about who we are and what we can be. We all know the negative aspects of human behaviour and these are very much on show at the Olympics. So what’s the harm in trying to inject some inspiration, some honest sentiment, national pride?
Israel: I have already written about the IOC’s refusal to remember the 40th anniversary of the murder of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches and a German policeman at the Munich Olympics in 1972. This omission was highlighted by a brief silence for the dead of all conflicts and a fitting tribute to the victims of the 7/7 London bombings which occurred the day after the Olympic bid was won.
One view is that if this had been commemorated it could have resulted in the walk out of Arab and Muslim states and protests at the ceremony itself. So best not to highlight Israel’s isolation. I don’t agree: if there are still people on this planet who believe that kidnapping, hostage-taking and murder and the desecration of the Olympic ideal are not a heinous crime, whatever the excuse or motivation, then the countries that those people represent should be banned from competition.
The Lebanese judo players requested a barrier be placed between them and the Israeli team at their practice venue before the games. A Tunisian competitor who was scheduled to compete against an Israeli has developed a mystery affliction and withdrawn. Indeed, I expect the Israelis to find that many Muslim and Arab competitors are afflicted not by a mystery disease but an ancient and, apparently, incurable one – Jew Hatred. What other country now or in the past has had to put up with this nonsense. The IOC should act against countries which will not compete with Israelis or anyone else on political grounds. I seem to recall that the two Koreas once played a World Cup match and so did the two Germanies before reunification. Iraq played Iran, too, at football.
Only Israel is so monstrous a nation that to even make eye contact with its nationals is enough to afflict your immune system.
But back to the ceremony.
What I really loved about it was that it catered more for the Brits than outsiders. It was full of references and in-jokes which would have completely baffled all but the most serious Anglophiles (or should that be Brittanophiles?). It was the quirky, British TV comedy aspect of it and the fact that we ‘got it’ and others wouldn’t that made it special.
They said Bejing could not be bettered. What Boyle did was not to try to compete with what was essentially a high-tech extravaganza. He completely changed the paradigm; indeed, he subverted the whole accepted notion of what an opening ceremony should be.
For me the highlight came early. Sir Kenneth Branagh emerged from a horse-driven London omnibus as Isambard (which the BBC commentator strangely pronounced ‘Eisembard’) Kingdom Brunel (what a glorious unBritish name that is) replete with signature cigar and stovepipe hat. The look on Branagh’s face was a mixture of pride, self-esteem and wonder. He proceeded to the grass mound at centre of the stadium and declaimed in the best traditions of British Shakespearean theatre:
‘Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep
Will make me sleep again; and then in dreaming
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked
I cried to dream again’
Branagh’s rendition, especially those last nine words, was spine-tingling. I’ve listened to it four times already and it never fails to send shivers down my spine.
Branagh’s choice as Brunel was masterful and his performance perfection. These are the words of Caliban in Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’. The conflation of Brunel as Caliban was strange, but worked. Better Caliban than the Taliban, you might say.
In this context it is a whimsical reference and welcome to the British Isles, even, perhaps its weather. It is, essentially, an invitation to behold a dream sequence, a journey of the imagination which we are about to encounter. And surely the Olympics contain that sense of awe and wonder, fear and trepidation which pass so quickly and become as if a dream of remembered common experience. This was a brilliant and deeply moving moment accompanied by the soaring music of Elgar (Nimrod from the Enigma Variations) – who else. Kitsch? Of course, but wonderful kitsch.
Perhaps, only those of us with a true British nervous system could be moved by this combustive association of Bard, engineer par excellence and imperial music-making.
Other highlights were the unique participation of the Queen in the humour of the opening. Arriving by parachute, apparently, with Daniel Craig in his James Bond persona. Rowan Atkinson and the Chariots of Fire sequence with an ageing Mr Bean hamming it up in true Brit fashion.
I can understand criticism of the NHS sequence where Mary Poppins and Nanny McPhee seem to have taken over Great Ormond Street. A clever conflation again of the JM Barrie Peter Pan legacy, the world of children’s books (even JK Rowling put in an appearance) and those NHS antics. The NHS sequence would be anathema to Americans who can’t understand how or why the State should provide something for nothing. And there are many in this country who would agree. But the NHS is a major presence in the lives of the British, for better or for worse and a cornerstone of post War Socialist Britain which even the Tories have pledged to support. Yet, it does seem a little strange to make it part of an Olympic opening ceremony.
I could have done without Sir Paul McCartney. Love him as I do, he is now past his singing sell-by date as he demonstrated at the Diamond Jubilee.
I urge you to replay this ceremony and pause the action frequently to appreciate the richness of texture and the multitude of cultural references woven into the tapestry of the production:
Wind in the Willows, Eastenders, a glimpse of Olympic medallists of bygone years, Pink Floyd, Fawlty Towers and, gloriously, the Rugby Union national teams woven into the national songs of the constituent elements of the United Kingdom.
And then the gobsmackingly awesome forging of the Olympic rings and the Up Helly Aa finale of flame lighting adding a certain Niebelung feel to the occasion which is not inappropriate given the country’s Germanic, Celtic and pagan roots. Even the uprooting of the tree on the replica Glastonbury Tor had a whiff of Yggdrasil about it. It all came perilously close to Nuernberg in the 1930s but kept enough distance to keep such thoughts in the background.
Now then. Shami Chakrabarti. WTF! Never mind, the surreal experience of Shami, Ban Ki Moon and Muhammad Ali in the same shot made it all worthwhile.
I love the atmosphere at these games. I love the Benny Hill music amid the soft porn sand pit that is the Beach Volleyball arena on the hallowed ground of Horse Guards Parade. I love waking up to see archery at my old stamping ground of Lords Cricket Ground and I love the sheer incongruity of an Olympic cycle race through West London. I love the Americans not understanding it all and insisting on renaming things such as The Tower Bridge.
It’s bonkers, it’s charming it’s the Olympics as an end of pier show but it’s British and it makes you proud.
In the 21st century their successors in the form of the Palestinian Authority/Fatah has hijacked the memory of the 11 Israeli athletes murdered in 1972.
Despite the support of many people and organisations the IOC has cravenly demurred from just one minute of silence to remember 11 dead Olympians who came to Munich in 1972 to celebrate the true meaning of the Olympic ideal: that is, for the youth of the world to gather in peace and harmony, where national rivalries and disputes and hatreds are put aside and to compete in a celebration of youth, the human spirit and global fraternity.
That spirit was cruelly murdered by a disgusting bunch of terrorists who then, as now, represented a movement that has no regard for human life or dignity, especially if that life is Israeli and, more specifically, Jewish.
Just 27 years after the end of the Holocaust, Palestinians whose Grand Mufti had been an inspiration to Hitler and who promised to help him wipe out Jews in Palestine, with total disregard for the Olympic ideal, held hostage and then killed Israeli athletes and coaches.
The intention was to kidnap and hold hostage in order to force the Israelis to release more than 200 prisoners and the Germans to release the leaders of the notorious Baader-Meinhof ’Red Army faction’.
The terrorists who survived were later released as a result of the hijacking of a Lufthansa aircraft in 1977 by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, another Fatah group closely associated to today’s Palestinian Authority leaders including Mahmoud Abbas who it is claimed funded the massacre 40 years ago.
So how fitting is it, then, that that same Abbas should endorse a thank you letter, a billet-doux to Jacques Rogge, President of the IOC for not holding a ‘racist minute of silence’.
Palestinian Media Watch reports:
The Palestinian Authority is against the moment of silence at the Olympics to commemorate the Israeli athletes murdered at the Munich Olympics in 1972. According to the headline in the official PA daily, “Sports are meant for peace, not for racism.”
According to Jibril Rajoub, President of the Palestinian Olympic Committee:“Sports are meant for peace, not for racism… Sports are a bridge to love, interconnection, and spreading of peace among nations; it must not be a cause of division and spreading of racism between them [nations].”[Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, July 25, 2012]
These words appeared in a letter sent by Rajoub to the President of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge. The letter ”expressed appreciation for [Rogge's] position, who opposed the Israeli position, which demanded a moment’s silence at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in London.”
How can anything be more obscene, more morally repugnant, more of an inversion of all norms of civilised behaviour than actually calling it a racist act for the world to commemorate the killings of Jews by racists.
The real reason the PA does not want the Minute of Silence is that they actually applaud and revere the terrorists who committed the act. They are national heroes.
How can there ever be peace and reconciliation with people who hold such vile views. Better to shut up. Instead they actually congratulate the IOC in their brazen dirt-rubbing, self-satisfied, vainglorious smugness.
Why congratulate? Because this actually is the act of hijack; it says ‘look world, what we did is OK because the IOC are on our side. The Jews can go to hell. Those murders were a victory. You don’t cry over dead Jews’.
So Rogge and his cowardly Olympic cabal are now complicit in that massacre by association. It’s not good enough that he held his miserable minute of silence in front of 50 people at the signing of the Olympic Truce. Some Truce. Some chutzpah!
Despite this, earlier today, the Zionist Federation held a 15 minute ceremony which was webcast and attracted much attention on Twitter. Last week an initiative in Hackney brought the Mayor of London and several dignitaries to the Arthaus for a moving ceremony and unveiling of a plaque.
40 years later, little has changed. Israeli Jews are still murdered in Europe; Burgas last week being a case in point. But in those years Israel has moved in world public perception from plucky little David, a victim, to a perpetrator who can hardly be surprised when it is attacked for its ‘crimes’. That crime is the crime of existence.
Let’s hope the Olympics are a great success. But don’t be fooled. The Palestinian team is there to further its attempt to be recognised without negotiation. It’s there not because it cares for its athletes or the Olympic ideal; it’s just another means to further its political objectives, delegitimise Israel and demonise Jews.
This week Holocaust survivor Mayer Hersh received an honorary degree, a Doctor of Education from Edge Hill University.
This was a fitting tribute to his dedication over many years to tell the story of his own experience of the Holocaust.
I attended a ceremony at Whitefield Synagogue in Manchester.
When it was Mayer’s turn to be called to reading desk there was an unforgettable moment when Chazan Muller and the choir sang a beautiful ‘yamod, literally, ‘stand up’, the usual formula for calling someone to the reading of the Torah. The entire congregation stood and clapped as Mayer was escorted to the bimah, now a stooped figure who needs a wheelchair to get about.
It seems that the years of abuse at the hands of his Nazi oppressors are finally catching up with him.
After the service several of the people he has inspired, Jews and non-Jews, spoke movingly about the work he has done for the last 30 years.
A video of Mayer’s receiving of his DEd. can be be seen in the first 30 minutes of the video at the end of this post.
I have known Mayer for about 20 years and I cherish that friendship. We even found that we are ‘landsleit‘ with my family coming from his home town.
I have previously written about a particular meeting with Mayer which is typical of the great man. You can read that here (My Friend, Dr Mengele). I said then that Mayer is a great man; as his physical stature shrinks, his moral stature seems to increase year by year.
“Recalling and telling my story is painful, but nevertheless I treasure the opportunity to do so because in so doing I am able to cherish and preserve the memory of my family and community; the pain of remembrance is my only link to them.”
When the last survivor has gone, we must all continue this ‘pain of remembrance’ on their behalf – for all time.
In response to the recent vote in the General Synod of the Church of England to support closer ties with EAPPI (Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel), I was involved in writing this response on behalf of the Jewish Representative Council of Greater Manchester and Region which was subsequently sent to Christian magazines as an open letter:
The Jewish Representative Council of Greater Manchester and Region expresses its great disappointment at the result of the vote in the General Synod to support EAPPI (the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel).
Whereas it is perfectly legitimate for any Church or religious body to question or criticise the actions of the UK government or any foreign government for that matter, as a question of conscience, it is alarming in the extreme to see the established Church of England support an organisation which itself associates with individuals and organisations whose motivation is not that of human rights or religious conscience, but of demonization and deligitimisation of the State of Israel.
This was reflected in the tone and content of some of the speeches made at the Synod. The debate at Synod was littered with references to ‘powerful lobbies’, the money expended by the Jewish community, ‘Jewish sounding names’ and the actions of the community ‘bringing shame on the memory of victims of the Holocaust’.
This is deeply offensive and raises serious questions about the motivation of those behind the motion.
The content of the EAPPI website itself is rife with uncontextualised allegations, witness and declaration whilst giving but lip service to balance, historical perspectives and disputed legalities.
The Church of England would do well, if not better, to concentrate its efforts, and lead on the parlous situation of Christian communities in the Palestinian Arab Territories and throughout the Middle East where they are subject to attack, abuse, dispossession, forced conversions, expulsion and murder not at the hands of Jews but of Muslims.
It should be noted that Israel is the only country in the Middle East whose Christian community is growing.
Our Council which only last week joined in the celebrations connected with the establishment of the Council of Christians and Jews 70 years ago will continue its interfaith work with the Church of England in Manchester with whom it has strong and highly valued ties; but this relationship has been severely damaged by this vote.
We especially thank the Bishop of Manchester Rt Revd Nigel McCulloch for his opposition to the motion and for his deep understanding of the real issues.
I have emphasised the area under discussion but I believe this topic merits more than one blog post.
I read today in YnetNews
The Orthodox Christian Church in the Gaza Strip is claiming that a group of armed Islamists kidnapped five Christian Palestinians, a young man and a mother and her three daughters, to force them to convert to Islam.
In a statement, the church said that “the dangerous Islamist movement is trying to convince Christian men and women to convert to Islam, destroying Christian families and the Christian presence in the Gaza Strip.”
The church refused to divulge the name of the Islamist group it accused of these attempts.
The head of the Gaza church claimed that one of the Christians was abducted on Saturday after he had been heavily pressured to convert to Islam and had been prevented from seeing his family. According to the leader, the young man’s parents filed a police complaint, but the police did nothing after learning that the person behind the alleged kidnappers was a senior cleric identified with Hamas.
This reinforces my emphasised text above written before this story. All over the Arab world and within the Palestinian Authority Christians are under attack. In Bethlehem they are leaving or being forced out not by Israelis but by Muslims who intimidate them and appropriate property; in Egypt the Copts have been under attack. In Syria; in Iraq the Christian population is all but gone after centuries. Caroline Glick in the Jerusalem Post reviewed the situation last year.
So where is the EAPPI equivalent in these countries? Where are the Synod resolutions? What is the Church doing about it? Which governments are they protesting to? Which NGO’s have they set up to investigate?
As usual, it’s only Israel and the Jews who are subject to a level of scrutiny Israel alone in the Middle East would tolerate.
Meanwhile the in Israel the Christian community is the only one in the Middle East that is growing and the only one that feels safe and whose religious rights and practices are protected not just by law but in fact.
For months now a particular pro-Palestinian website has directly linked to an image on my website.
The image was of a UK and an Israeli flag and used to illustrate an article, on this other website, about the decision of the UK government to tighten up the universal jurisdiction rules which were being abused to issue arrests for Israeli lawmakers and military visiting the UK.
I just deleted the image so that a blank space would replace the flag image.
Then, after so many months, still linking to my site, I decided to strike a blow for the hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from Arab lands who were expelled over a decade for no other reason than they were Jews in a spiteful ‘revenge’ for the creation of the State of Israel.
Of course, where would these refugees go? Many to Israel. Thus the Arab countries were hoist by their own petard, as it were and now it was my time to do a little hoisting of my own.
So I recreated the image I had deleted but this time it carried a message: “Between 1947 and 1958 900,000 Jews were expelled from Arab countries because they were Jews”; beneath is the Israeli flag.
So far, it’s still there.
I wonder how long it will remain.
I guess you might call it self-hacking on their part.
But then, those uprooted Palestinians are the only refugees in history whose numbers have increased over time and who are granted that status in perpetuity and uniquely.
Meanwhile the 900,000 Jews have settled and got on with their lives building a future for their families having left behind their property, memories and dead relatives who lived in their former host countries for centuries.
Nothing speaks more eloquently of the need for a Jewish homeland than those who would deprive us of one.