Tesco and Israeli Apartheid debunked

I did my weekly shop in Tesco this afternoon.

There were not many checkouts free so I noticed one with a somewhat elderly man with few items who appeared to be engaged in conversation with the checkout assistant.

She happened to be of African-Caribbean appearance.

As I unloaded my trolley I could hear he was talking to her about marriage and that after 47 years he was on his own.

She was politely responding and laughing with him.

As he left she said something to me, but she had a very strong African accent and I could not understand it – something about being married. She was a woman in her thirties, quite attractive, very personable. She asked me about the weather.

I had happened to buy some kosher grape juice for kiddush.

As she checked it out she asked me ‘is this from the Jewish section?’

I thought that was a bit strange because why did it matter where it was from? And why did she not say ‘kosher’?

I didn’t really give it a second thought until a few seconds later she said ‘I was in Israel this year’.

Oh, I thought, how nice, she clearly realised I was Jewish and, therefore, assumed I would be interested in Israel.

I replied ‘where did you go?’

‘Ashkelon’.

[Packing the milk and yoghurts and fielding a rolling melon.]

‘Ashkelon? That’s a port – were you on a cruise?’

‘No, my brother lives there’.

[trying to remain nonchalant]

‘What does he do?’

‘He works for [name of high-tech company]‘.

‘Sounds like a good job. Did you enjoy your trip?’

‘Yes, I went to Haifa and Tel Aviv’. I lived there for eight years.’

[trying not to look surprised].

‘Where were you before then?’

‘Nigeria’.

‘Do you still have family there?’

‘Yes’.

‘Do you want to return?’

[trying not to channel the BNP]

‘No, my children go to school here… Are you paying with the Clubcard?’.

And she gave me my receipt. At which…

‘Toda raba’

‘B’vakasha’

‘L’hitraot’

What a lovely lady. She made my day.

Never in my wildest dreams whilst I rummaged through the courgettes and the Esquise new potatoes did I ever think I’d have a short exchange in Hebrew with a Nigerian!

So there you have it. The Israel apartheid system which allows Nigerians to live there for at least eight years, provides them with job opportunities in a high-tech industry. Ok, I don’t yet know the full story but it rather debunks the Apartheid myth, once again.

I’ll be sure to look out for this lady again next time. It makes shopping such a pleasant experience to speak a bit of Ivrit at the supermarket.

 

 

 

Irene Sendler the Hidden Holocaust Hero

This is a guest post from the Lowell Milken Center of Fort Scott, Kansas

Irena Sendler the Hidden Holocaust Hero
irene-sendlerRecent memorial commemorations for the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising new interest has sparked new interest into the actions of Polish non-Jews who assisted their country’s Jews during the Nazi occupation.

Some rescuers joined in the Warsaw ghetto revolt, others forged identity papers that allowed Jews to live underground and some hid individual Jews who were able to flee the Germans’ murderous “aktionen” and ghettos. One such rescuer, Irena Sendler, managed to save over 3000 Jewish lives. Yad Vashem recognized her in 1965 but there was no follow-up until a group of Uniontown Kansas schoolgirls heard rumours about Sendler’s wartime endeavours. The schoolgirls embarked on a wide-ranging research project to learn more about Irena Sendler and to publicise her incredible story.

Irena Sendler worked for the Warsaw Department of Social Work when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939. The department’s social workers attempted to help the Jews who were displaced and impoverished by the Nazi invasion and Irena expanded on these efforts as a member of the underground Zagota organization.

In 1943 the Warsaw ghetto was established. Sendler obtained forged documents that identified her as a nurse who specialized in infectious diseases which gave her free passage into the ghetto.  Sendler quickly realized that she could be most effective if she concentrated on helping Jews escape. She decided to focus on removing children from the ghetto because Zagota believed that it would be easiest to hide children.

Sendler started by smuggling street children out of the ghetto but she soon expanded her activities. She walked through the ghetto and knocked on the doors of families whose children were still alive to try and convince the parents that their children’s only chance of survival lay with escape.

More than 50 years after the war Sendler described the anguish of those conversations. “I talked the mothers out of their children. Those scenes over whether to give a child away were heart-rending. Sometimes, they wouldn’t give me the child. Their first question was, ‘What guarantee is there that the child will live?’ I said, ‘None. I don’t even know if I will get out of the ghetto alive today.”

Sendler and her Zagota comrades had several methods that they employed to smuggle children out of the ghetto. Small children were sedated and hidden under tram seats, in bags or toolboxes or in carts under piles of garbage or barking dogs.  Older children could be walked out through the sewer system that ran underneath Warsaw or via a break in the Old Courthouse that sat on the ghetto’s border.

Once a child was smuggled out of the ghetto it was vitally important to find a secure hiding place for the child as soon as possible. Zagota members forged documents, identified sympathetic Polish families and brought the children to safe hiding places in orphanages, convents and with local Polish families.  Sendler recorded each child’s name together with his or her hiding place hoping that, after the war, the children would be reunited with their families or, at the least, with their Jewish community. These “ID records” were written on tissue paper and then stuffed into glass jars which Sendler buried in a neighbour’s garden.

The Warsaw Ghetto fighters revolted against the Nazis in April 1943. Within months no Jews remained in the area. Sendler, whose code name for her underground activities was “Jolenta,” was placed in charge of the welfare of Jewish children by the Zagota underground. Sendler continued to try and identify Jewish children who had, somehow, been saved from the transports and mass shootings and she continued to move more children into hiding.

In October 1943 the Gestapo arrested Sendler She was brought to the infamous Pawiak prison where the Germans tortured her but Sendler did not reveal any information about her Zagota comrades or the children’s whereabouts. The Nazis sentenced Sendler to death but Zagota members bribed a German guard and effected her release from prison, just hours before her scheduled execution.

In 1999 a group of schoolgirls from Uniontown Kansas heard about Sendler. They embarked on an extensive research project about Sendler’s life. This project, called Life in a Jar, evolved into an extensive body of research and resource material which is available as a website, a book and as a theatrical presentation.

Three Muslim Women

Well, two women and a girl, really.

I want you to watch these three videos.

The first two especially appear to run counter to our preconceptions, or prejudices, which tell us that all Egyptians hate Jews.

I have no idea what these young women think of Israel or even Jews but I really don’t care. One thing for sure, it will be based on human rights and justice and not on deep-seated irrational hatred.

The first one shows and Egyptian activist Ibhama Abi Saif giving an interview direct from Tahrir Square in Cairo to Israel’s Channel 10 front man Guy Zohar.

Now, in any country, an interview with someone in Tahrir Square reporting their views on the Muslim Brotherhood with a backdrop of the square heaving with protestors would be normal.

But here we see a really charming Egyptian women, clearly religious SPEAKING PERFECT HEBREW.

The context of such an event is the ongoing demonisation of Jews, Zionists and Israelis in Egypt, which is so antisemitic that I, for one, did not see any headroom for such an interview.

Ibhama Abi Saif is polite, eloquent, charming and friendly, non-antagonistic. What’s going on? I had to check my own prejudices with this one. I really love this young woman.

Why am I so enthused by this interview? It gives us all hope. it shows us what the Middle East could look like if you take away the hate. It shows us what normalisation might look like.

Ibhama ends her interview with a most Jewish phrase ‘b’ezrat Hashem’ – with G-d’s help, a direct equivalent of ‘Inshallah’ Wonderful, inspiring and moving even though it’s just an interview.

Here’s a transcript.

Channel 10′s Guy Zohar interviews Egyptian journalist and activist Ibhama Abi Saif.

Egyptian journalist and political activist who agreed to speak with us in Hebrew directly from Tahrir Square.
Guy: Shalom

Ibhama: Shalom Guy.

Guy: So what is going on behind you there?

Ibhama: As you can see, there are masses of people gathering against our regime in Egypt. They want to overthrow the Muslim Brotherhood. Morsi for us is not just a president. He is in the service of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Guy: But he was elected in democratic elections.

Ibhama: I agree with you that there was a vote and the ballot box had their say. But every president, everywhere in the world, derives his legitimacy from the people. If the nation takes that right away from him. He cannot remain in power. We don’t want him anywhere. The masses are out in the streets demanding to over throw him. As far as I’m concerned, and from what I understand This is the epitome of democracy in any country.

Guy: But aren’t you concerned the military will abolish the democracy?

Ibhama: I am not afraid, and no Egyptian is afraid of its military. Our military is one with the nation. As our motto states. This is what we expect from our military. To stand with the people, and this is what is happening.

Guy: And what about the Muslim Brotherhood’s response?

Ibhama: I don’t think the Muslim Brotherhood is that dense or stupid. They know the military will not remain silent, that it will act with an iron fist against anyone who thinks he can hurt the people. We are not Syria and we will never be Syria.

Guy: I must ask you, aren’t you worried about speaking Hebrew in the middle of Tahrir Square?

Ibhama: I am not afraid to speak Hebrew in any place in Egypt, where we have people who know Hebrew. They ask me if I’m Egyptian or not, and I tell them that I am Egyptian and this is the language I learned and that I am implementing. I am not afraid at all and it is actually normal here. We have many people who speak several languages, and it’s cool.

Guy: Very nice. Is there something important for you to tell us Israelis?

Ibhama: Yes, of course. I see what is going on in Israel. I call, not just on Israelis but every nation which is not receiving the treatment it deserves from its government or its president, not to remain silent. If Bibi and Lapid are not doing their job, get rid of them, replace them with someone who will do what you want. If they made promises and didn’t keep them. Don’t stay silent. We were also promised many things and they didn’t make good, so we are now removing them. I believe the people will decide what it really wants. Onwards!

Guy: Ibhama Abi Saif, thank you very much. I hope you will continue to update us.

Ibhama: With the help of God. You’re welcome. Bye.

The second video is a report by a young Egyptian woman, Dalia Ziada telling the AJC website viewers not to believe or take at face value what they see reported from Egypt.

She begins ‘Dear friends’.  In another video an ecstatic Dalia begins ‘Dear, dear, dear Agency friends’ soon after Mohamed Morsi is removed from power.

The report below  is about the ‘massacre’ of 50 Muslim Brotherhood members by the Egyptian army. But all is not what it seems.

So, yet another charming young religious Egyptian woman, this time reporting (in perfect English) to a Jewish Human Rights organisation! Something she does regularly. She even met AJC folks at the AJC Global Forum! She reports frequently to the AJC from Cairo and she is in fear of her life for doing so. Incredible.  Maybe the real Arab Spring will be led by women such as this. Inshallah!

The third I’m sure you are aware of – Malala – the bravest girl on the planet.

You can read her story with extracts of her speech at the UN General Assembly here.

And the full speech here on ‘Malala Day’.

See the some highlights below.

This is not the speech of a 16 year old girl. This is the speech of a great politician. This speech is close to the impact of Martin Luther King’s ‘I have A Dream’ speech (and she mentions him in her speech) in Washington 50 years ago, this is the speech of a future world leader. It is a most quotable speech and one that will live long in the memory. People will be watching the speech in a hundred years time.

This is a speech that can change the world – for the better. And it comes from a 16 year old Muslim girl from Pakistan.

Are these three videos the seed of something new, something exciting, something that can change our world and free us from mediaeval religious Fascism and moves toward toleration, acceptance and respect?

Maybe not in my lifetime, but I didn’t expect to see the end of the Soviet Union or the tearing down of the Berlin Wall either.

Empowering women, especially women in cultures that have always oppressed them or disrespected their rights, is what the rest of this century will be about.

Maybe it won’t be about a Jihad against the West but an uprising of strong, confident brave women who will change attitudes and lead us all to a brighter more hopeful future.

B’ezrat Hashem. Inshallah.

BBC Question Time and a latter-day Cassandra

On BBC Question Time last week a panel which included the comedian Russell Brand, London Mayor Boris Johnson and Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips was always going to be entertaining.

It was all going well for Melanie Phillips with both Brand and Johnson saying what a nice person she was personally; then someone asked a question about Iran’s nuclear ambitions and Mel could not resist a fusillade against that country.

Unfortunately, in mentioning Iran’s nuclear intentions, she let slip the word ‘Israel’, the passepartout to frenzied delusional politically correct zeitgeist–embracing stupefaction. Cries of ‘paranoid’ and much booing followed.

It did not help that Phillips often comes a close second to David Icke when it comes to provoking audiences’ derision, but only when she speaks about Israel.

Interesting, isn’t it, that the rest of the evening she was a paragon of sense and considered response with audience tacit approval.

When it came to Iran she failed to make her point dispassionately. A British audience does not like what it perceives as hysteria. Melanie needs to improve her presentation when it comes to issues about which she is really passionate such as Israel or Iran and the threat it still poses.  Saying that Iran needs to be ‘neutralised’ is not language likely to win an argument in today’s PC climate.

The idea that a country’s leaders want to bring about Armageddon because of a religious belief in the Mahdi is about as credible to a Question Time audience as Icke’s reptiles.

But that’s the point – is it that far-fetched?

In fact Johnson and Ed Davey seemed naïve in the extreme about Rouhani’s moderateness  and Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

They are not alone. On Twitter Zbigniew Bzrezinski just tweeted:

“Prime Minister Netanyahu is disappointed that a moderate won the Iranian elections. I wonder why?”

This was retweeted by none other than Javier Solana former Secretary General of NATO and the Council of the European Union.

Now you could see the tweet as ambiguous. It could be viewed as supporting Netanyahu’s scepticism. But it does not. It is suggesting that Netanyahu is disappointed because a ‘moderate’ undercuts his argument to attack Iran, which Bzrezinski does not support.

So these two highly influential and, presumably, well-informed politicians cannot see what is so blindingly obvious about Rouhani.

Firstly he is clearly playing ‘Mr Nice Guy’ precisely to fool gullible Westerners and relieve the pressure of sanctions on Iran.

Secondly he is no moderate.  He is only moderate like Goebbels was a moderate Nazi compared to Hitler. He is implicated in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish Community Centre in Buenos Aires and his son apparently committed suicide because his father was too extreme.

But it hardly matters because he is just a puppet of the Supreme leader Khamanei. It is he not Rouhani who decides policy. And Khamanei selected him as a proper candidate for the presidency. In other words, he is pre-approved by a religious despot.

But let’s get back to the proposition that Iran intends a bomb in order to annihilate Israel.

Would Iran bomb Tel Aviv? Does that make sense? Or is the threat enough to big-up Iran in the region so it establishes itself as the major power. Is the bomb not a national testosterone implant?

If Iran were to nuke Israel it would have to figure in the fall-out both literal and figurative.

If Israel is to be removed to give the Palestinians back their land and create a Palestinian state (something I believe would never happen if Israel were eliminated) nuking the land that Palestinians claim and rendering it uninhabitable for decades or centuries does not seem a good strategy.

If the Iranians decide to leave Jerusalem standing,it still deprives the Palestinians of their state in any realistic form unless millions want to ‘return’ to die of radiation.

An what of the reaction of Russia, India and the United States to a country ready to use a nuclear weapon? Surely the US at least would see it as an act of war and NATO would surely react.

But, according to Melanie, this logical, reasoned calculation does not apply to Iran because it has taken leave of its political senses and subordinated them to religious belief and necessity.

Is Melanie destined to become the Cassandra of the West crying ‘I warned you’ as night descends on Western civilisation?

Only time will tell.

Two Unions and a Tribunal: Or ‘how I had my Jewishness defined for me’

This article was first published in ‘Israel and the World’ April 2013

Two recent cases in the UK and Ireland have highlighted the obsessive anti-Zionism that has seeped into the fabric of academic discourse.

Those who obsess about Israel, characterising that state in in the most pejorative of terms, are part of a broader left wing coalition for whom Israel is the new South Africa; a country which, by shedding Apartheid without shedding blood, inconsiderately deprived the Left of something to gather in Trafalgar Square about;  the cause célèbre that makes them feel good about their Socialist credentials once again.

This troupe of Israel-obsessed, Zionist-loathing, self-righteous self-delusionists find support and common cause with the even more obsessive Muslim and Islamist ‘Greens’, thus forming what has been called ‘The Red Green Alliance’.

Even though the views of the ‘Greens’ are about as unpalatable as a side order of Brussel  sprouts, when it comes to their views on Israel, and even though their anti-Israelism and pro-Palestinianism is often, if not invariably thinly veiled anti-Semitism, the Reds are happy to embrace and find common cause with their green brothers and sisters.

Why the Left should find common cause against a pluralist, thriving, innovative democracy and side with those who support and give succour to some of the most obscene regimes in the world is a mystery for which I have little explanation.

In an article by Joshua Muravchik titled “Enough Said: The False Scholarship of Edward Said”[1] there is, perhaps, an explanation:

Said rolled American racism and European colonialism into one mélange of white oppression of darker-skinned peoples. He was not the only thinker to have forged this amalgam, but his unique further contribution was to represent “Orientals” as the epitome of the dark-skinned; Muslims as the modal Orientals; Arabs as the essential Muslims; and, finally, Palestinians as the ultimate Arabs. Abracadabra—Israel was transformed from a redemptive refuge from two thousand years of persecution to the very embodiment of white supremacy.

This is the background against which two absurdities were recently consecrated by academe.

The first case was in Ireland, a cold-bed of anti-Israel activity and sentiment, and perpetrated  by those who clearly believe that the Palestinians are the new Fenians.

The Teachers Union of Ireland agreed an academic boycott of Israel and, thus, aligned themselves with the BDS (Boycott, Sanction, Disinvestment) movement which comprises a motley assortment of groups and individuals who ‘BDS’ no other country, nor who are interested in so doing. This alliance’s rhetoric is often laced with helpful suggestions to the Israeli people to take part in negotiations with themselves (as the other party continues to absent itself) to bring about the end of their own country in order to allow yet another Islamist, anti-Semitic terror state to replace it, all in the name of Human Rights and natural justice, not to mention International Law.

When this group is challenged to explain why they have chosen Israel and not, for example, Sudan or China or Syria or North Korea or Burma as the cynosure of their moral indignation-cum-compass, they can come out with absurdities such as this, reported in the Jewish Chronicle (12 April 2013):

The academic boycott of Israel imposed by the Teachers Union of Ireland is a “backhanded compliment”, the union’s general secretary has claimed.

John MacGabhann said the TUI “expected more” of Israel than it did of other countries and felt a “sense of disappointment” in the actions of successive Israeli governments.

“To a very significant degree, our union and members expect more of the Israeli government, precisely because we would anticipate that Israeli governments would act in all instances and ways to better uphold the rights of others,” he said.

I would bring Mr MacGabhann’s attention to one of the clauses of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism’s working definition of anti-Semitism:

Applying double standards by requiring of it [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.

So, don’t take my word for it, the TUI decision is antisemitic. Apart from that, it’s downright stupid, which makes me worry about the future of Irish education if it is in the hands of those who try to find enough wriggle-room to excuse the enormity of their prejudices.

What is the corollary of expecting Israel to behave better than other countries? Why, it means the TUI expects less of other, unspecified countries. But don’t these inspirational academics, in the glory of their self-righteousness, realise that not only gives a free (moral) pass to Israel’s enemies, but it is profoundly racist. It also contradicts what, I would guess, is one of their own cherished principles; namely, international laws, norms of behaviour and the adherence to the principles of human rights  - which are not negotiable on the basis of ‘well, you know, we’re only Arabs, whadya expect?’ or ‘Come on, we are brown-skinned and clearly of inferior moral fibre, give us a break’.

If they can’t see how repugnant it is to expect more of Israel, and less of others, (and how pathetic an excuse for their own bigotry that is), then how can we possibly trust them to make a proper moral judgement on the rightness of BDS?

The second case was Jewish, Zionist Mathematics lecturer, Ronnie Fraser versus the University College Union.

Fraser accused the Union of harassment due to a number of incidents over the years where he felt that his support for Israel had led to his being bullied and victimised.

This is the same UCU which found that the Working Definition of antisemitism quoted above was not to their liking because it married Israel-bashing with antisemitsm and, although to be antisemitic is taboo even for a UCU academic, to be anti-Zionist is not. In other words, the definition got in the way of their attempts to fig-leaf their own prejudices. Here’s the bit where they felt an index finger pointing rather too close for comfort at their academic sang-froid:

Examples of the ways in which antisemitism manifests itself with regard to the State of Israel taking into account the overall context could include:

Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.

‘Could include’, indeed. Context is all. Yet, in a judgement for this same UCU Fraser lost the case before an employment tribunal. He not only lost it, but one of the reasons he lost it was because the judge found that Jews do not understand their own Jewishness:

“..an attachment to Israel… is not intrinsically part of Jewishness”

So what is? An attachment to money and Christian blood?

As Prof. Geoffrey Alderman wrote in the Jewish Chronicle also on the 12th April:

“..I had only to consult my daily prayer book to reassure myself on this point”

Anyone who can make that statement with a straight face is either obscenely badly-educated (maybe they attended University College?) or they are malign in the extreme. Such a judgement is so ignorant that it smacks of the antisemitic form of anti-Zionism that the case was about in the first place.

So, it seems, Jews turned up in Israel because they though mosquito-infested swamps, 40°C, noisy neighbours, pitiless soil and desert  conditions were a worthwhile colonial enterprise. As opposed to, say, the bounty of Uganda or the forests of Madagascar, both thought, at one time, to be suitable dumping-grounds for Europe’s Jews.

The problem, you see, is the whole idea of ‘Jewishness’ and how the outside world cannot, at times, and often for its own ideological convenience, come to terms with the idea that for Jews the Land of Israel is not fundamental to their religion and culture – IT IS their religion and culture. It is as indivisible for Jews as the Trinity for Catholics or the Five Pillars for Islam.

To deny that connection, to divorce Jew from Judaism and The Land, is just another line of attack on Jews and Jewishness  and which leads to assaults on shechita (ritual slaughter) and brit milah (circumcision); and all in the name of animal welfare or human rights.

I’ll finish with words of author Howard Jacobson writing in The Independent[2] about the reaction  to Cast Lead (Israel’s invasion of Gaza in 2008/9) which typifies the level and tenor of attacks on Israel, which, I will remind you, is the homeland of the Jewish people:

“…the air has been charred not with devastation but with hatred…

A discriminatory, over-and-above hatred, inexplicable in its hysteria and virulence whatever justification is adduced for it; an unreasoning, deranged and as far as I can see irreversible revulsion that is poisoning everything we are supposed to believe in here – the free exchange of opinions, the clear-headedness of thinkers and teachers, the fine tracery of social interdependence we call community relations, modernity of outlook, tolerance, truth.”

A Reponse to Yair Lapid’s ‘I Am a Zionist’

Yair Lapid has risen rapidly to become a major player in Israeli politics. His party, Yesh Atid (There’s a Future) had significant success in the recent elections.

There is no doubting his charisma. But who is he and what does he stand for?

If I were an Israeli, I’d probably have voted for him because his views most closely meet my own.

I was made aware of an article that was published four years ago, before he was really politically active.

It is called ‘I Am a Zionist’.

I want to analyse the entire article which is really, in my view, a work part poetic, part secular creed. Of course, I present an English translation but I don’t think that matters.

I am a Zionist

I believe that the Jewish people established itself in the Land of Israel, albeit somewhat late. Had it listened to the alarm clock, there would have been no Holocaust, and my dead grandfather – the one I was named after – would have been able to dance a last waltz with grandma on the shores of the Yarkon River.

[ That last sentence is, for me, sheer poetry. It brings together so many themes of what it is to be a Jew in this post-Holocaust world and it introduces an important theme which is overlooked by those who do not understand the attachment of Jews to the Land of Israel. That theme is emotion and, yes, sentimentality, but it is, nevertheless, a valid and most central reason for Zionism.

Lapid tells us that is grandfather, who perished two decades before he was born, would have survived, moved to Israel and would have lived out his latter years with Lapid's grandmother (who survived) by the Yarkon river in Tel Aviv. The whole image is deeply moving to me and I get emotional just reading it.

It speaks of a lost world and lives cut short, but it also speaks of renewal, redemption and hope. After all, Yair is named after his late grandfather, a strong tradition amongst Ashkenazi Jews. He stands in his grandfather's place but his very presence is both a confirmation of the resilience of Jewish life and history and also a form of defiance. The Nazis were not the first nor will they be the last who wish to destroy the Jews. In this sentence, Israel is a refuge where life can be lived and Jews can reach old age to see out their years amid the beauty of their ancestral land in the dance of life, not the dance of death.

Had we, the Jews, listened to the 'alarm clock' then grandfather would be here with us. We will not let that happen again. We listen to alarm clocks now whether they be Iranian or Islamist or terrorist. At the first ring we jump up and we run to defend ourselves and our country and our future as a free independent nation.

All this I read in that one poetic sentence.]

I am a Zionist.

Hebrew is the language I use to thank the Creator, and also to swear on the road. The Bible does not only contain my history, but also my geography. King Saul went to look for mules on what is today Highway 443, Jonah the Prophet boarded his ship not too far from what is today a Jaffa restaurant, and the balcony where David peeped on Bathsheba must have been bought by some oligarch by now.

[So, don't tell us we are colonisers and foreign infiltrators. The Land IS the Jewish people. It is the warp and we are the weft of our history and the fabric is a strong one. Despite your attempts to tell us we are recent converts, that the Temple never existed and that the tombs of our forefathers are really mosques. Despite your attempt to obliterate our history and to pulverise our synagogues and our graves, you cannot separate the warp from the weft - they are made of the strongest steel annealed in the furnaces of our ancestors' torture.]

I am a Zionist.

The first time I saw my son wearing an IDF uniform I burst into tears, I haven’t missed the Independence Day torch-lighting ceremony for 20 years now, and my television was made in Korea, but I taught it to cheer for our national soccer team.

[The concept of Jewish soldiers who fight for their land and people is still quite new to Jews. We were often conscripts fighting others' wars or we experienced what it was like to be on the receiving end of soldiers' hatreds and lusts. Russian Jews often preferred to leave the country than send their sons for 25 years military service.

The family story is that my great-uncle in Poland was blinded so the Russians could not take him.

So to see your son (or daughter) in a uniform gladly contributing to the safety of his nation can be an overwhelming one. I know that as a non-Israeli with and Israeli son. So much more Lapid knows it as one who served himself. This too is about emotion and creating continuity and belonging. It's about being in control of your destiny and not to have that destiny belong to the whim of others.

It is also about the idea of your grandfather or great-grandfather cowering in a stiebl in Russia as the Cossacks or the Germans or the Poles, or whoever it happened to be, rode by or entered your town or demanded you line up or took you away for 25 years.

From that to my handsome son or my beautiful daughter wearing an Israeli uniform. If there is such a thing as a miracle...]

I am a Zionist.

I believe in our right for this land. The people who were persecuted for no reason throughout history have a right to a state of their own plus a free F-16 from the manufacturer. Every display of anti-Semitism from London to Mumbai hurts me, yet deep inside I’m thinking that Jews who choose to live abroad fail to understand something very basic about this world. The State of Israel was not established so that the anti-Semites will disappear, but rather, so we can tell them to get lost.

[More strident than I would put it. I think we should still pay for the F-16. No-one owes us anything. We owe the world. We owe the world the demonstration that a civilised country based on Jewish principles is not only possible but desirable.

I don't expect anti-Semites to disappear and I don't think telling them to get lost will help us or deter them. It may make us feel better, though. And as a Jew who was born in the Diaspora I do understand this. I did not chose to be born here. Nor is it that easy to leave. However, the more Israel is unfairly singled out, the more blind eyes are turned to anti-Semitism and Jew-hatred, the more 'anti-Zionism' becomes mainstream and the more the useful idiots of the Left and the deluded 'human-rights' advocates feed the crocodiles, the more likely it is I will leave and have MY last waltz on the Yarkon, as it were.]

I am a Zionist.

I was fired at in Lebanon, a Katyusha rockets missed me by a few feet in Kiryat Shmona, missiles landed near my home during the first Gulf War, I was in Sderot when the Color Red anti-rocket alert system was activated, terrorists blew themselves up not too far from my parents’ house, and my children stayed in a bomb shelter before they even knew how to pronounce their own name, clinging to a grandmother who arrived here from Poland to escape death. Yet nonetheless, I always felt fortunate to be living here, and I don’t really feel good anywhere else.

[Do your worst. We are not moving. This is not about immigration and colonisation, it's about a deep-rootedness that non-Zionists just do not understand. Yes, it's about emotion. It's about history. It's about struggle. It's about self-determination. It's about pride. It's about knowing your great-grandparents stood on a railway platform in Birkenau or by a shallow grave in a forest in Poland. It's about saying 'never again'].

I am a Zionist.

I think that anyone who lives here should serve in the army, pay taxes, vote in the elections, and be familiar with the lyrics of at least one Shalom Hanoch song. I think that the State of Israel is not only a place, it is also an idea, and I wholeheartedly believe in the three extra commandments engraved on the wall of the Holocaust museum in Washington: “Thou shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a perpetrator, but above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.”

[Pretty much the essence of what I have been saying. Despite this, the haters are determined to prove Israelis ARE perpetrators. Not as individual miscreants but as part of a national program and as an indivisible consequence of being Jewish. But you know what I think about that.]

I am a Zionist.

I already laid down on my back to admire the Sistine Chapel, I bought a postcard at the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, and I was deeply impressed by the emerald Buddha at the king’s palace in Bangkok. Yet I still believe that Tel Aviv is more entertaining, the Red Sea is greener, and the Western Wall Tunnels provide for a much more powerful spiritual experience. It is true that I’m not objective, but I’m also not objective in respect to my wife and children.

[I guess you have to be born in Israel and be a true patriot to believe this. I don't think that being a Zionist means you have to believe that everything Israeli is better than its counterparts in other countries. But I did feel a welling of pride and emotion when I first flew El Al within Israel and I still can't explain why.]

I am a Zionist.

I am a man of tomorrow but I also live my past. My dynasty includes Moses, Jesus, Maimonides, Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, Albert Einstein, Woody Allen, Bobby Fischer, Bob Dylan, Franz Kafka, Herzl, and Ben-Gurion. I am part of a tiny persecuted minority that influenced the world more than any other nation. While others invested their energies in war, we had the sense to invest in our minds.

[Yes, but what led to the disproportionate number of Jews who have influenced world history? Why are we so clever? Why are we so bookish? Why do we challenge convention and never settle for another person's 'truth'? It's quite simple. Those non-Jews, Darwin and Dawkins, would tell you. Those Jews who live today are here because someone in their past made a decision which saved their life or their children's lives. We have been breeding out those not bright enough to survive for 40 generations or more.

In addition: the Christians and the Muslims often prevented us from full participation in their society marking us out as strangers and infidels or unbelievers whose very presence was simply tolerated. So what did we do: we had to have our own food, our own hospitals our own burial societies, our own places of worship. But above all, our own schools where we could study Torah. We have always been literate. We have always been interested in forensic debate over the matters of Jewish law and custom in the Torah or Talmud. We always spoken at least two languages.

We created a ghetto of the mind and made ourselves more intelligent, more cultured, more spiritual and more self-sufficient. It does not make us superior or better. It just makes us able to do a lot more with a lot less if given the space and the peace to do so.]

I am a Zionist.

I sometimes look around me and become filled with pride, because I live better than a billion Indians, 1.3 billion Chinese, the entire African continent, more than 250 million Indonesians, and also better than the Thais, the Filipinos, the Russians, the Ukrainians, and the entire Muslim world, with the exception of the Sultan of Brunei. I live in a country under siege that has no natural resources, yet nonetheless the traffic lights always work and we have high-speed connection to the Internet.

[Please see my response to the previous paragraph.]

I am a Zionist.

My Zionism is natural, just like it is natural for me to be a father, a husband, and a son. People who claim that they, and only they, represent the “real Zionism” are ridiculous in my view. My Zionism is not measured by the size of my kippa, by the neighborhood where I live, or by the party I will be voting for. It was born a long time before me, on a snowy street in the ghetto in Budapest where my father stood and attempted, in vain, to understand why the entire world is trying to kill him.

[And now we come full circle because pretty much all of the world is still trying to kill us either deliberately or through negligence which will allow those who want a second Holocaust to succeed].

I am a Zionist.

Every time an innocent victim dies, I bow my head because once upon a time I was an innocent victim. I have no desire or intention to adopt the moral standards of my enemies. I do not want to be like them. I do not live on my sword; I merely keep it under my pillow.

[This is a major cultural ethical difference between most Israelis and those who would destroy them. However, do not be complacent; there are too many Israeli Jews who do have the moral standards of their enemies. Fortunately, they live within a legal system that, for the most part, restrains them. Yet, the idealised view of the moral Jew is being sorely tested in Judea and Samaria. Recent demographic changes are also causing challenges. Even so, the overall imbalance in hatred and bigotry compared to Israel's enemies, and even some of its friends, is enormous].

I am a Zionist.

I do not only hold on to the rights of our forefathers, but also to the duty of the sons. The people who established this state lived and worked under much worse conditions than I have to face, yet nonetheless they did not make do with mere survival. They also attempted to establish a better, wiser, more humane, and more moral state here. They were willing to die for this cause, and I try to live for its sake.

[Idealism has to be acted upon. I hope Yair Lapid succeeds in demonstrating that he can act upon his idealism and advance the peace process.]

I assume Lapid still feels the same as he did in 2009. This is the manifesto of an Israeli who is proud of his nation and its achievements, proud of his history but aware of the threats to that nation. He will defend it if he has to. But he’d rather live in peace.

This is the reasonable, long time mainstream peace-seeking, compromise making, tough Israeli stance. All it needs is the other side to be of like mind. Sadly, that is not something that is forthcoming.

Pesach and the first Zionists

So, there we were, slaving away for Egyptians, building cities, being abused and generally not being treated like full citizens whilst yearning for the homeland.

Then, despite several diplomatic attempts to persuade the authorities that we should be allowed to return, they just wouldn’t listen. After all, slavery is a good deal for the enslavers and a bad one for the enslaved.

Then, several miracles later, we are on the way to establishing not an Israelite state, but a Jewish state.

We had to do a little ethnic cleansing to protect ourselves from the unprovoked attacks of the indigenous people who didn’t like the idea of a sudden influx of millions of strange Orientals who spent the day under a cloud and the night following a pillar of fire.

They didn’t like the new ideas we were bringing. We would put an end to human sacrifice, eating pigs and marrying your mother-in-law – three closely related ideas for the Canaanites and other inhabitants.

Much better just to jump us and drive us into the sea. Didn’t we originally come from Mesopotamia, anyway. What right do we have to the Land. Just because we claim our G-d gave us some tablets and promised us ‘from the River to the Sea’. Yada yada.

They didn’t believe that our forefathers (which is confusing because there are only three of them) lived here, sheared sheep here, did a lot of stuff with wells here, spent quality time with angels here – all that counts for nothing with these guys.

All they want to do is fight and kill and build cities and worship trees and stuff, whereas, we just want enough space for a few million people to live and settle down so we never have to eat manna again (boring) or spend days at the bottom of a mountain with nothing to do except make graven images.

We said to them: look, we can live here together. Didn’t your Mum ever tell you anything about ‘sharing’? We can make this place thrive. We are good at things you are not, like keeping accurate accounts, hygiene, debating, and driving hard bargains – what more do you want! You are good at making and fixing stuff and carrying heavy loads and so on – we’ve had enough of that. We can do the intellectual stuff, you provide the brawn and we can have one land for two (or more) peoples.

And if that doesn’t work, I’m sure we can divide things up equitably. We’ll even take the swamps and the crappy land that no-one else wants. We can work if we have to. We can build cities too – we did Pitom and Rammses – two of our best works. Never got paid, though. Still rankles.

So whilst you are mulling it over – and here we have to warn you – our G-d is very, very powerful, so I know you’ll make the right decision – it’s time for our annual commemoration of our leaving Egypt and remembering the bad stuff that happens to people that mess with Jews. It also reminds us why so many Jews are dentists and doctors.

So , ‘Next Year in Jerusalem’ – and the year after and the one after that and so on, forever and ever – OMAYN!

By the way. Could someone tell me how much, exactly, two zuzim is? Doesn’t sound enough for one kid, to me – not even a small one.

Hélas in Gaza and other stories

You may have though not much has been going on in Gaza recently. That is, if you stick to the mainstream media.

When it comes to the BBC, my headline could have been ‘Clueless in Gaza’. Apologies to both John Milton and Aldous Huxley.

BBCWatch is running with a story which perfectly illustrates how propaganda against Israel works. First the lie, then the apology, or the short footnote hidden away on a page of a daily newspaper, or Goldstone saying if he knew then what he knows now, or a cartoonist saying ‘but I didn’t realise it was offensive’, or Ha’aretz issuing a ‘correction’.

The story I am referring to is about Omar Mashrawi. I’m sure you recall the heart-rending scenes as Jihad Mashrawi, a BBC employee at the time,  paraded the dead body of his son Omar through Gaza City during Operation Pillar of Cloud, Israel’s operation to stop rocket fire from Gaza.

John Donnison, the BBC correspondent on the ground wrote how the boy had been killed by a shell fired by the Israelis. Despite the evidence at the scene appearing to contradict this claim, or at least causing severe doubt, nevertheless, yet another Palestinian dead baby story was attributed to the Israelis.

Three months later we find the probable truth via no less than the UN HRC as the BBCWatch article tells us, and I quote extensively because I cannot improve on it:

On March 6th 2013 the UN HRC issued an advance version of its report on the November 2012 hostilities and blogger Elder of Ziyon bothered to read the whole thing. The report states on page 14 that a UN investigation found that:

“On 14 November, a woman, her 11-month-old infant, and an 18-year-old adult in Al-Zaitoun were killed by what appeared to be a Palestinian rocket that fell short of Israel.” [emphasis added]

A footnote adds that the UN investigated the incident itself.

Omar Masharawi was the only 11 month-old infant killed on November 14th in the Zaitoun neighbourhood (although the woman killed at the same time was not in fact his mother as the UN report states, but his father’s brother’s wife; Hiba). 

The BBC used the story of Omar Masharawi to advance the narrative of Israel as a ruthless killer of innocent children. It did so in unusually gory detail which etched the story in audiences’ minds, but without checking the facts, and with no regard whatsoever for its obligations to accuracy and impartiality. BBC reporters and editors  – including Jon Donnison, Paul Danahar and the many others who distributed the story via Twitter – rushed to spread as far and wide as possible a story they could not validate, but which fit in with their own narrative.

It is impossible to undo the extensive damage done by the BBC with this story. No apology or correction can now erase it from the internet or from the memories of the countless people who read it or heard it. Nevertheless, the people responsible for the fact that the unverified story was allowed to run – and that it was deliberately given such exceptionally extensive coverage – must be held accountable for their failure to even try to uphold the standards to which the BBC professes to adhere. 

Thus, Israel is demonised. And it is not only western journalists who do it, but Israeli ones too.

Ha’aretz published a story about how Ethiopian women entering Israel were given contraceptive injections. The point being that Israel, which insists it is not a racist, apartheid state, is trying to limit the birth rate of Africans because it is racist. Even at the time the story was rebutted by many sources.The explanation was that these were not long-lasting contraceptive jabs but reversible short-term ones and made at the request of the women for whom more conventional forms of contraception are taboo.

As a result the practice was stopped as being inappropriate.

Nevertheless, what do we find? yes, a plethora of reports telling the world how nasty those Israelis are to let black people into the country and then limit their fertility. The whole idea is nonsense anyway. If Israel were that racist, why spend so much time and effort bringing Ethiopian Jews into Israel in the first place?

And now Ha’aretz has not only given context to its story but has highlighted how its own journalism was hijacked by those with anti-Israel agendas.

 But the story has taken on a life of its own internationally. The words “forced” and “coercion” are being thrown around in the international coverage. Images of Mengele-level persecution of clueless, helpless victims being marched by force from camps to clinics to receive their injections have been conjured up, as the story has travelled from the Israeli media to the national mainstream media, to international and niche publications. The headlines run from the oversimplified to deliberately twisted:

Israel admits forcing birth control shots on Ethiopian women

Israel: Discrimination against Ethiopian Jews

Israel coerced Ethiopian women into taking contraceptive jabs

Israel Admits “Shameful” Birth Control Drug Injected in “Unaware” Ethiopian Jews

The most hostile coverage refers inaccurately to “sterilization” – conveniently ignoring the fact that Depo-Provera is a three-month birth control injection, for which women must voluntarily go to a clinic to receive the shots. It is insulting to the intelligence of Ethiopian women to believe that they did this for years at a time against their will. Certainly, if there was a nefarious plot to stop them from having babies, there would have been a more efficient way to do it.

Back in Gaza, if you recall, our blessed Prime Minister, David Cameron, once characterised Gaza as a prison camp whilst he was endearing himself to Turkish Islamist leader Recep Erdogan.

William Hague, our Foreign Secretary called on Israel to end the blockade.

So, no doubt they will both be much affected by the following facts:

COGAT (Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories) regularly reports on the number of truckloads of goods entering Gaza which continued even under rocket fire. http://www.cogat.idf.il/894-en/Matpash.aspx?Sad Our noble leaders will see that the Gaza prison camp received 400 truckloads of goods and 170 tons of gas this Thursday alone.

On Tuesday 144,310 flowers were exported from Gaza through Israel.

The people of Gaza should be reaping the reward of the quiet which has descended since their government stopped bombarding Israel. Yet, Messrs Hague and Cameron should also note the following:

On the 4th March the Kerem Shalom crossing into Gaza, a major route for goods, was closed, not by Israel but by Hamas. http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/HumanitarianAid/Palestinians/Hamas_closes_Kerem_Shalom_crossing_4-Mar-2013.htm

Over 70 trucks laden with food and other goods are currently waiting on the Israeli side of the Kerem Shalom crossing for their Palestinian counterparts.

The crossing is currently not operating, as the Palestinian contractor responsible for the Palestinian side decided not to open the crossing today.

His decision stems from attempts by Hamas to replace the current contractor with one of their choosing. Hamas has been actively trying to push the Palestinian Authority out and take charge of the management of Kerem Shalom so that they may collect revenue from goods that enter Gaza.

These actions by Hamas endanger the current security arrangements and threaten the operability of the crossing.

If Gaza were so desperate for goods, why would Hamas close one of its lifelines in attempt to take control of the crossing replacing the Palestinian Authority contractor? Answer? it wants a kick-back for Hamas by operating it.

And there’s more bad news for those who find Israel solely responsible for the welfare of Palestinians whose government is determined to destroy the country that is most responsible for sustaining it. Egypt is destroying smuggling tunnels.

Yes, Islamist, revolutionary, Hamas-loving, Jew-hating Egypt is destroying the tunnels used for years by Gazans to smuggle everything from couscous to Mercedes and missiles.

The smuggling tunnels linking the Gaza Strip to Egypt are a security threat and must be destroyed, a Cairo court ruled on Tuesday, responding to a petition brought by a group of lawyers and activists in the wake of a cross-border attack that killed 16 Egyptian border guards in August.

The Egyptians even flooded the tunnels recently.

So Messrs Cameron and Hague, where are your complaints to the Egyptians and to Hamas about the way they are turning Gaza into a prison camp, cutting off its routes for import and export?

No, we must only hear about what measures Israel takes to feed and sustain its enemies. All countries do that, don’t they? Supply their sworn enemies with food and power? Assad does it in Syria, yes? What? He doesn’t? Oh. So other countries across the world sustain the non-combatant populations of enemy countries and entities like the Sri Lankans looked after the Tamils in areas controlled by the Tigers?

Oh, I see, only Israelis have to be so generous or else it is a war crime and collective punishment. I understand.

I understand completely.

A Horse, a Horse, My Lasagna for a Horse

Two big stories here in the UK were the confirmation of the discovery of the remains of King Richard III and the horse meat scandal where several major food retailers have been found to have horse meat in their beef products, including lasagne.

If you are about to correct my Italian in the title – don’t. Lasagne is the plural of lasagna and in Shakespeare’s play, Richard III called for just one horse, not several.

A further disgusting discovery was that Halal meat provided to prisons was found to contain pork.

As a vegetarian, I can say this is a subject to keep well away from.

But as a blogger thinking very hard about how to link my ‘clever’ blog title to my usual theme of Israel. the Jews and the media, I’ll plunge straight in.

‘As a Jew’ (I always wanted to say that) – as a Jew, I am aware that the Jewish dietary laws have kept Jews extremely fastidious about their food over the centuries. Kashrut, the laws governing what is kosher, not only stipulate what we eat, but how it is to be killed and how it is to be processed.

Most Jews, observant or not, would also source their meat from a kosher butcher. Even those that might stray and eat out at non-kosher restaurants, would not bring non-kosher meat into the home. Keeping kosher is a cornerstone of Jewish life. It is what helps us define ourselves as Jews. And it doesn’t just apply to meat.

Kosher meat is supervised from the point of slaughter to the butcher or the kosher food outlet. It has to have a ‘hechsher’ an endorsement from a rabbinical court that this food is strictly in accordance with the laws of kashrut.

This system of supervision makes it very difficult indeed for any contamination by non-kosher products to take place.

A recent case in the US caused huge controversy when an orthodox butcher was found to be selling non-kosher meat as kosher. He received a severe prison sentence. But as far as I know the meat he was purveying was still from kosher animals, it just had not been slaughtered or supervised according to kashrut. I don’t believe any horses or pigs were involved.

Another practice Jews go in for is washing. Orthodox Jews wash their hands a lot; before praying, before eating.

These days, most people observe a level of hygiene that is relatively recent. Jews have been doing this for millennia.

In the middle ages, as plague and disease devastated Europe, Jews were noticeably less affected. The reason: food and personal hygiene.  As the reasons for this were poorly understood, Jews were accused of poisoning wells and being the agents of plague whilst remaining untouched.  Thus, in return for showing the way to reducing contagion, the Jews brought ever greater calumny upon themselves.

So, during the current horse meat controversy, which I am sure will lead to more regulation and more expensive food, Jews have quietly and, yes, smugly, whistled to themselves knowingly.

Jews often complain about the cost of kosher meat. It is more expense because it is supervised. That supervision costs money and the supervisors have to earn a living. Result: kosher meat is much more expensive than non-kosher. That may be about to change.

And what about dear Richard III scion of the House of York?

I watched the Channel 4 programme “The King in the Car Park’. It was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen and I urge all of you who can see this on the Channel 4 Catch Up.

I guess you have to have a certain interest in history, and maybe Shakespeare as well, to understand just how incredible the discovery of Richard III is.

Since the Norman Conquest, only one monarch’s whereabouts was unknown; only one king died in battle: Richard III.

The story of how one middle-aged woman’s obsession with rehabilitating Richard’s reputation, and finding him, led to the discovery is one I will leave to the documentary makers.

The question for me was why I, too, found this story so moving. It was truly like a film script designed to be sensational and completely unlikely. Yet, it is true, due to luck, determination and amazing forensic archaeology we are as sure as we can be that the bones are those of Richard and they tell a gruesome story of his last moments.

I was always pro Richard. When politicians of the 15th and 16th centuries needed to confirm the legitimacy of the new king, Henry VII, they did so by attacking Richard’s reputation, turning him into a monster and exaggerating his physical characteristics to support their demonisation of the man.

Although his involvement with the Princes in the Tower and their disappearance is problematical, nothing is proved. We just don’t know if they were killed or by who and by whose orders if they were. Certainly Richard was no worse than many a late mediaeval prince.

We also now know that he was disabled with scoliosis hence his reputation as a ‘hunchback’ and was somewhat feminine in appearance. Yet, he was a warrior king who recklessly imperilled his own life and fought bravely to the last.

The portrait we have of him shows quite a handsome man. The reconstruction of his face I believe is too youthful and too fleshy but is even more handsome.

The romance of finding the much-maligned king under a municipal car park in Leicester, and for his remains to confirm so much we know only from history, makes this king, for me, one of our greatest. He reigned for two years only. The people of Yorkshire are documented as believing him to be a good prince who cared for his people. His local reputation has remained intact across the centuries.

So how can I relate good King Richard to my usual subject?

The idea of an individual being demonised across the centuries, his physical features exaggerated to a grotesque caricature, his motives questioned, his becoming the personification of evil, all has resonance with what is happening and has happened to Jews and Israel. Far-fetched linkage? Maybe.

The Tudors were politically motivated to paint Richard as black and as dastardly as possible. The more negatively he was portrayed to a gullible public and subsequent generations, the more noble and legitimate they appeared

Yet Henry Tudor’s claim to the throne was tenuous compared to Richard. Who was the usurper? The Tudor dynasty lasted a hundred years or so, and what an assortment they turned out to be. Once you get the people to believe the Big Lie, it is very hard to overturn it or to persuade anyone of the opposing view. Such is human nature that we quite like our demons and our hate-objects.

So a warning from history; be careful who you hate and examine your motives. No person or group is perfect, but no person or group is totally irredeemably evil either. With some rare exceptions.

I hope that the discovery of Richard will lead to a better understanding and a fairer assessment of his reign. If he does prove to be a murderer, I fear I shall still find him a much more attractive figure than many who succeeded him.

Why I’m not buying the Sunday Times This Week

Normally, by now, I am relaxing after a brisk walk to the local shops and reading my Sunday Times.

Recently, I was reading some old diaries and discovered that I was doing the Sunday Times crossword in 1969. I remember well when my association with that newspaper begun. They ran a series on the Kennedy assassination, something that has fascinated me all my life, and it began with that Sunday Times series of articles.

So for more than 40 years, on and off, I have read the Sunday Tomes. I like the News Review where, religiously, I do the crosswords, puzzles, chess problem and even try the bridge problem. It’s what Sundays are about.

Every week in the main paper there is a Gerald Scarfe cartoon. These are usually hard-hitting critiques of a political nature.

Last week, as I’m sure we all know by now, Scarfe and the Sunday Times editorial team presented us with this:Sunday Times Netanyahu cartoon larger 270113

 

So before I recall all the reaction to this cartoon, let may say that I am only now writing about it because such incidents are sometimes best contemplated once the response and counter-response has taken place because it can be very instructive where Israel and the Jews are concerned.

It took about one second for my first gut reaction. This was not a considered analysis of the politics or the fairness of the cartoon, my initial reaction was: “I think this may be anti-Semitic”. I did not say those words to myself. I felt it in my gut. All I could see was the world’s most prominent Jew with an evil expression and a sharp implement dripping blood and Palestinians dead or dying. My gut and my Jewish radar told me: “Blood Libel”.

Then this was followed by disbelief. Just a minute. This is Gerald Scarfe. He’s not anti-Semitic. The Sunday Times is not anti-Semitic. Am I reading this wrong? Am I too sensitive?

Then I read the words at the bottom. “Will cementing peace continue?”.  I didn’t understand. What was he saying? Is this the separation barrier? Is it a settlement being built? Then my gut reaction to the clear similarity with Nazi Jew-hate propaganda as seen the Der Stuermer, in 19th century Russian images and, sadly, today in the Arab and Iranian press, was reinforced by the unfairness of the cartoon. if this was the separation barrier, then it has saved thousands of lives. If it is a settlement then why show Palestinians being bricked up in it.

Then I realised that this cartoon followed on immediately from David Ward MP’s remarks equating Israel with Nazis on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day. This image, echoing the blood libel and depicting Netanyahu as a murderous demonic figure was a further kick in the gut.

An immediate farrago ensued. What I had not even considered was that last Sunday was Holocaust Memorial Day, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. This was irrelevant to me. Didn’t enter my head when I looked at this cartoon, but, I guess, it was there in the background creating a feeling of general antipathy to Israel which was spilling over into casual and unthinking anti-Semitism.

So, Rupert Murdoch weighed in with an apology. The Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council met with Martin Ivens, the acting editor of the newspaper and, before very long, an abject apology was issued.

The apology, although I am convinced was genuine, was a little ambiguous:

“I’m grateful so many community leaders could come together at such short notice. You will know that the Sunday Times abhors anti-Semitism and would never set out to cause offence to the Jewish people – or any other ethnic or religious group. That was not the intention last Sunday. Everyone knows that Gerald Scarfe is consistently brutal and bloody in his depictions, but last weekend – by his own admission – he crossed a line. The timing – on Holocaust Memorial Day – was inexcusable. The associations on this occasion were grotesque and on behalf of the paper I’d like to apologise unreservedly for the offence we clearly caused. This was a terrible mistake.”

He appears to be apologising for the timing of the cartoon. He believes this is what gave offence. This is, perhaps, even worse because it is saying: “Sorry for depicting Jews as murderous Nazis on Holocaust Memorial Day, we should have waited a week and depicted them as murderous Nazis next week”.

Of course, it is not ‘the Jews’ being depicted, but Binyamin Netanyahu. Scarfe aimed his venom at him, not Jews generally. However, when you depict a Jew using anti-Semitic imagery, then your political point has gone beyond the person and extends to a whole people.

Scarfe also apologised saying he was unaware of the date the cartoon would appear and that he was ignorant of the Blood Libel. Never heard of it, he said.

This is what I wrote to local community leaders in an email last week which I have edited here to avoid repetition:

Scarfe’s response is interesting. Although I find it hard to believe that he is unaware of the blood libel I am inclined to believe him. I’ve never seen Scarfe as an anti-Semite or even anti Israel.

The interesting bit is that he is a well-educated man in his 70’s and he has never seen anything about the blood libel or understands Jewish sensitivity to blood (his apology was for the timing not content. Perhaps prompted by Ivens).

Yet his image so closely recalls and even references images from the 30’s and 40’s that he must, somehow, have subliminally stored away these images and inadvertently reproduced their tone right down to the demonic look and the dripping sharp instrument.

There must have been studies of how the Jew in European culture plugs in to folk memory. Many German cartoons were folklorish in nature. The Jew as a character from Grimm’s fairytales. This is how, I believe, someone like Scarfe can blithely reproduce anti-Semitic imagery whilst remaining, apparently, un-anti-Semitic.

….

I think we were right to object and the apology, although missing the point a little, is well-received. I shall be buying the ST again, but maybe not this weekend – maybe I’ll check the Scarfe cartoon first.

I should also note that there was much debate in the Jewish community in the UK and in Israel, Ha’aretz reporter Anshel Pfeffer denied it was anti-Semitic.

The reaction from Israel haters and an assembly of pro-Palestinian groups was also instructive. They generally missed the point accusing the Jewish Lobby of playing the anti-Semitism card to close down debate. They supported Scarfe and David Ward saying they were brave or righteous to point out Israel’s ethnic cleansing, genocide etc.

Others could not see the relation to Nazi imagery. Usually these people were not Jewish and did not have Jewish sensitivities. They not only could not experience my gut feeling – and I trust my gut when it comes to anti-Semitism – but they also missed the important point that not one member of the Jewish community said the cartoon should not be published or that criticism of Israel or its politicians in political cartoons was inadmissible.

It’s not the first time Israel supporters have cried ‘anti-Semitic’. Steve Bell of the Guardian also came in for heavy criticism.

Yes, cartoonists have the right to offend. Often that offence is deliberate and aimed at politicians at home and abroad. Judging the fairness of the image depends on your politics. It also depends on your experience. If you inhabit my world where Israel is being vilified disproportionately, where Israel is subject to obsessive UN criticism, where Jews and Judaism are under attack daily across Europe, then your skin’s thickness is subject to a thinning process to the point where if you prick us, we certainly do bleed.

The best thing I can say about this cartoon was the reaction of the Jewish community. It was in part over the top hysterical, as is often the case with certain elements of the community who will jump in and on anything vaguely anti-Semitic that moves. The leadership, though, did the right thing; they expressed dismay whilst expressing the right to publish and to free speech.

No-one died as a result of this cartoon. There were no demos across London or the world calling for Scarfe to be killed. No-one burned down the Sunday Times offices. Scarfe can sleep safe in his bed at night. He does not have to skulk from safe house to safe house with a police armed guard. No embassies were attacked or diplomats killed.

Cartoonists and journalists should be aware of  the sensitivities of all communities. This does not change their right to say and depict as they wish within the law.

I’ll be buying the Sunday Times next week. This week, I’ll register my own personal protest and deprive them of my £2.50.

As I See It – Israel, Zionism and the Media