Thursday, April 16, 2009

Anti-Semitism on the march among the British Left

The heading I have put above on this article is not the original but it is accurate. The original heading was: "Pox Britannica. English anti-Semitism on the march". It was written by Howard Jacobson and appeared in "The New Republic". It was illustrated by a picture of a City gent (i.e. a man in a Bowler hat) with a Hitler moustache. And I am perfectly confident from what I read elsewhere that much of what Jacobson describes below is accurate. What he failed to mention directly (but can be seen in the sources quoted) is that the phenomena described occur almost exclusively on the British Left -- joined by some Muslims on occasions. Maybe his own narrow social circle makes the author believe that the Left intelligentsia is the whole of England. It is not. The cartoonist's implication that City gents (financial district workers) are the source of the antisemitism really is ludicrous.

The failure to mention the Leftist culpability is more or less to be expected from where the article was published -- the ludicrous and Left-leaning "New Republic". I can find nowhere on their site anything about their editor these days but last I heard "TNR" was edited by young Franklin (now "Frank") Foer. Has "Frank" ever apologized for the blatant and thoroughly discredited lies he published about the troops in Iraq? Nope. He just ducked and weaved. Still, it is interesting to hear about Leftist antisemitism from a Leftist source

'England's made a Jew of me in only eight weeks," says Nathan Zuckerman on the last page of Philip Roth's The Counterlife. It is not meant to be a compliment. What makes a Jew of Zuckerman is the "strong sense of difference" the English induce in him, a "latent and pervasive" anti-Semitism, rarely rampantly expressed except for a "peculiarly immoderate, un-English-like Israel-loathing."

At the time--The Counterlife was published in England in 1987--Zuckerman's account of Anglo-Jewish relations struck an English-born Jew like me as a mite thin-skinned. It was possible that an American Jew detected what we did not, but more likely that he detected what was not there. Whatever the truth of it, a comfortable existence was better served by assuming the latter. We all had our own tales of anti-Semitism to tell--my grandmother's headstone, for example, had just been defaced with a swastika in a skinhead raid on a Jewish cemetery in Manchester--but mainly they were isolated, low-level acts of idle vandalism or reflexes of minor intolerance, more comic than alarming, and not personal, however you viewed them. Apart, that is, from the Israel-loathing, but then that wasn't--was it?--to be confused with anti-Semitism.

Twenty years on, it is difficult to imagine Nathan Zuckerman lasting eight days in England, let alone eight weeks. There is something in the air here, something you can smell, but also, in a number of cases, something more immediately affronting to Jews. It is important not to exaggerate. Most English Jews walk safely through their streets, express themselves freely, enjoy the friendship of non-Jews, and feel no less confidently a part of English life than they ever have. Organizations monitoring anti-Jewish incidents in England have reported a dramatic increase after Gaza: the daubing of slogans such as "kill the jews" on walls and bus shelters in Jewish neighborhoods, abuse of Jewish children on school playgrounds, arson attacks on synagogues, physical assaults on Jews conspicuous by their yarmulkes or shtreimels. But, while these incidents ought not to be treated blithely, they are still exceptional occurrences.

And yet, in the tone of the debate, in the spirit of the national conversation about Israel, in the slow seepage of familiar anti-Semitic calumnies into the conversation--there, it seems to me, one can find growing reason for English Jews to be concerned. Mindless acts of vandalism come and go; but what takes root in the intellectual life of a nation is harder to identify and remove. Was it anti-Semitic of the Labour politician Tam Dalyell to talk of Jewish advisers excessively influencing Tony Blair's foreign policy? Was it anti-Semitic of the Liberal Democrat Baroness Tonge to refer to the "financial grips" that the pro-Israel lobby exerts on the world? Such allusions to a pro-Israel conspiracy of influence and wealth, usually accompanied by protestations of innocence in regard to Jews themselves--"I am sick of being accused of anti-Semitism," Baroness Tonge has said, "when what I am doing is criticizing Israel"--have become the commonplaces of anti-Israel discourse in the years since Philip Roth wrote The Counterlife. And, whatever their intention, their gradual effect has been to normalize, under cover of criticism of Israel, assumptions that 50 years ago would have been exclusively the property of overt Jew-haters. The peculiarly immoderate Israel-loathing that Roth remarked upon in 1987 is now a deranged revulsion, intemperate and unconcealed, which nothing Israel itself has done could justify or explain were it ten times the barbaric apartheid state it figures as in the English imagination.

Demonstrators against Israel's operation in Gaza carried placards demanding an end to the "massacre" and the "slaughter." There was no contesting this rhetoric of wanton destruction versus helpless innocence. Hamas rockets counted for nothing, Hamas's record of endangering its own civilian population counted for nothing, Amnesty reports were cited when they incriminated Israel but ignored when they incriminated others. Whatever was not massacre was not news, nor was it germane. The distinguished British film director Ken Loach dismissed a report on the rise of anti-Semitism across Europe as designed merely to "distract attention" from Israel's military crimes. An increase in anti-Semitism is "perfectly understandable," Loach said, "because Israel feeds feelings of anti-Semitism." Scrupulously refusing the Holocaust-Gaza analogy, Robert Fisk, writing in The Independent a few weeks ago, nonetheless argued that "a Palestinian woman and her child are as worthy of life as a Jewish woman and her child on the back of a lorry in Auschwitz"--at a stroke reinstating the analogy while implying that Jews need to be reminded that not only Jewish lives are precious. And a columnist for the populist newspaper The Daily Mirror has taken this imputation of callousness a stage further, writing of the "1,314 dead Palestinians temporarily sat[ing] Tel Aviv's bloodlust."

Coincidentally, or not, a ten-minute play by Caryl Churchill--accusing Jews of the same addiction to blood-spilling--has recently enjoyed a two-week run at the Royal Court Theatre in London and three performances at Dublin's Abbey Theatre. Seven Jewish Children declares itself to be a fund-raiser for Gazans. Anyone can produce it without paying its author a fee, so long as the seats are free and there is a collection for the beleaguered population of Gaza after the performance.

Think of it as 1960s agitprop--the buckets await you in the foyer and you make your contribution or you don't--and it is no more than the persuaded speaking to the persuaded. But propaganda turns sinister when it pretends to be art. Offering insight into how Jews have got to this murderous pass--the answer is the Holocaust: we do to others what others did to us--Seven Jewish Children finishes almost before it begins in a grotesque tableau of blood-soaked triumphalism: Jews reveling in the deaths of Palestinians, laughing at dying Palestinian policemen, rejoicing in the slaughter of Palestinian babies.

Churchill has expressed surprise that anyone should accuse her of invoking the blood libel, but, even if one takes her surprise at face value, it only demonstrates how unquestioningly integral to English leftist thinking the bloodlust of the Israeli has become. Add to this Churchill's decision to have her murder-mad Israelis justify their actions in the name of "the chosen people"--as though any Jew ever yet interpreted the burden of "chosenness" as an injunction to kill--and we are back on old and terrifying territory. And this not in the brute hinterland of English life, where swastikas are drawn the wrong way round and "Jew" is not always spelled correctly, but at the highest level of English culture.

Again it is important not to exaggerate. Seven Jewish Children has not by any means received universal acclaim. Parodies of it seem to turn up on the Internet almost every day. But there is no postulate so far-fetched that it can't smuggle itself into even the best newspapers as truth. The eminent Guardian theater critic Michael Billington, for example, took Churchill's words in the spirit in which they were uttered, believing that she "shows us how Jewish children are bred to believe in the 'otherness' of Palestinians." Jewish children, note. But then it's Jewish children whom Caryl Churchill paints as brainwashed into barbarity. Without, I believe, any intention to speak ill of Jews, and innocently deaf to the odiousness of the word "bred" in this context, Billington demonstrates how easily language can sleepwalk us into bigotry.

The premise of Seven Jewish Children is a fine piece of fashionable psychobabble that understands Zionism as the collective nervous breakdown of the Jewish people; instead of learning the humanizing lesson of the Holocaust--whatever that might be, and whatever the even greater obligation on non-Jews to learn it too--Jews vent their instability on the Palestinians in imitation of what the Nazis vented on them. This is a theory that assumes what it offers to prove, namely how like Nazis Israelis have become. Furthermore, it dispossesses Jews of their own history, turning the Holocaust into a sort of retrospective retribution, Jews being made to pay the price then for what Israelis are doing now. Clearly, this exists at a more extreme end of the continuum of willed forgetting than Holocaust denial itself, its ultimate object being to break the Jew-Holocaust nexus altogether. Let us no longer deny the Holocaust, let us rather redistribute the pity. If there is a victim of the Holocaust today, it is the people of Gaza.

Given how hard it is to distinguish Jew from Israeli in all this, the mantra "It is not anti-Semitic to be critical of Israel" looks increasingly disingenuous. But there is no challenging it, not even with such eminently reasonable responses as, "That surely depends on the criticism," or "Calling into question an entire nation's right to exist is not exactly 'criticism.'" Nor is the distinction between Israeli and Jew much respected where the graffitists and the baby bullies of the schoolyard do their work. But, in the end, it is frankly immaterial how much of this is Jewhating or not. The inordinacy of English Israel-loathing--ascribing to a country the same disproportionate responsibility for the world's ills that was once ascribed to a people--is toxic enough in itself. The language of extremism has a malarious dynamic of its own, passing effortlessly from the mischievous to the unwary, and from there into the bloodstream of society. And that's what one can smell here. Infection.


The School that runs Britain: An old boy explains why Eton is suddenly cool

When the producers of the acclaimed TV cop show The Wire were looking for an actor to play tough, Irish-American detective Jimmy McNulty, they cast an Old Etonian, Dominic West. When Steven Spielberg, the man behind the classic World War II mini-series Band Of Brothers, was looking for a star to convey the strength, leadership and decency of Major Richard Wynters, a true-life U.S. hero, he chose an Old Etonian, Damian Lewis. And when the time came to find a man to play the grouchy, tortured but brilliant Dr Gregory House in the hit U.S. medical drama House, the role went to Hugh Laurie who is, I need hardly say, an Old Etonian.

They're everywhere these days, the products of Britain's most famous, most powerful public school. Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, is one. Next year, we may well see the election of the 19th Old Etonian Prime Minister, as David Cameron follows in a line that includes Wellington, Gladstone and Macmillan. And, in due course, the nation will crown its first Etonian monarch as Prince William ascends to the throne.

For centuries, Etonians have wielded huge influence in high society. But, as the old Establishment collapsed in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties, it seemed their influence was waning. The aristocracy lost their seats in the House of Lords. The Tory Party produced three successive state-educated PMs in Heath, Thatcher and Major. High finance exchanged the gentleman's club and the old school tie for international meritocracy. And for the past dozen years, the New Labour Government has been obsessed with modernity and anti-elitism.

Old Etonians should have become an irrelevance. Yet they're more powerful, more pervasive than ever. And their influence reaches into the most unlikely aspects of our lives. The country's biggest clubbing and dance-music business, Ministry Of Sound; one of our most successful fashion catalogues, Boden; the travel website; the White Cube gallery that nurtured Brit Art - all were founded by Old Etonians.

So what is the secret of the school's success? Well, one clue comes from the fact that we - for I am an OE myself - don't ever call it Eton. I was there from 1972 until 1976, and to us it has always been just 'school'. Even those of us who have decidedly mixed feelings about the place regard it as unique and, frankly, superior to anywhere else. So it's 'school' because, to Old Etonians, there is only one that counts. But it's also 'school' because you wouldn't necessarily want to say the word 'Eton' out loud. It's a name that has long carried connotations of grotesque privilege, chinless wonders and arrogant young men who deserve a good hiding.

This notion that Etonians are all idiotic twits is the first mistake the school's enemies make. In fact, Eton is a ruthlessly efficient machine for producing tough, super-confident, often arrogant young men who are geared for success and absolutely certain that they can get it.

It begins with the standard of teaching, and the level of expectation imposed on the 1,300 boys by their 135 teachers or 'beaks'. There is no nonsense at Eton about the need to make the little darlings feel good about themselves. Boys are tested weekly and examined every term. Results are public. Any drop in standards results in a summons to your housemaster.

In every sphere of the school's activities, competition is unrelenting. Outside the classroom, the opportunities are endless. If you want to act, the school has a fully equipped 400-seat theatre as good as many a provincial town, and better than most. If you want to row, it owns the 2,000m lake on which the 2012 Olympic rowing regatta will be held.

Above all, it instills the confidence that there is no aspiration so great that an Etonian cannot fulfil it.

I always wanted to be a writer. I soon discovered that James Bond was created by an Old Etonian. So was 1984 and Brave New World. I dreamed of following in the footsteps of Fleming, Orwell and Huxley. My contemporaries also had big ambitions - and most of them achieved them. Hugh Laurie, Conde Nast managing director Nicholas Coleridge, the writer and satirist Craig Brown, former Telegraph editor Charles Moore are but a few.

Eton is a very big, tough, demanding place. You have to learn to stand on your own two feet and hold your own in any circumstances. Try being 13 years old and walking through Windsor, the nearest town, wearing a tailcoat and stiff collar, while all the locals stare at you and the tourists frantically take photographs. After that, any other form of public appearance is a doddle. But why are those qualities coming to the fore again?

Well, for a start, 40 years of Labour's anti-grammar school bigotry have drastically reduced the competition. Fifty years ago, bright, working-class children could get something close to an Eton education for free. Now they're all, unforgivably, lost to bog-standard mediocrity and the field is that much clearer.

Plus, Etonians are adaptable. Look at all those actors hiding behind American accents on Hollywood TV shows. Look at Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall playing the posh peasant down at River Cottage.

In my day, OEs were more stereotypical Hooray Henrys, much more likely to wear lurid cords and striped shirts, and speak with braying accents. Now they're much better camouflaged. The massive PR boost given by Charles and Diana's decision to send their sons to Eton also helped. So, too, did the prosperity, however bogus, of the past decade.

When people feel well-off, they are much less inclined to resent the wealth of others. But, above all, I think, Etonians owe a massive debt of gratitude to Tony Blair. His underlings may have been rabid egalitarians, but Blair was patently public school. Whatever one may think of his politics, Blair made it OK to be pleasantly posh; he was smart but not off-putting. That kind of easy-going, relaxed charm, however insincere, is right up an Old Etonian's street.

Now that times are hard, and Blair has been replaced by the dour, bitterly class-conscious Brown, you might think Old Etonians will have a tougher time again. But we still have the Cameron card to play. And even if Dave makes an utter hash at No.10, it won't make much difference in the long run. Old Etonians are like cockroaches. They will survive.


Revolving door' for British pupils who misbehave

The number of pupils suspended more than ten times a year has almost tripled in the past four years. Figures indicate that there is now a "revolving door" for the worst behaved, who bounce in and out of school instead of being expelled.

Last year at least 867 pupils were suspended more than ten times each, compared with 310 in 2003-04. The figures, obtained by the Tories under the Freedom of Information Act, from 125 out of 152 councils asked, suggest that up to 1,000 pupils were suspended more than ten times last year.

Ministers' attempts to lower the number of permanent exclusions have forced heads to keep pupils who would have been expelled. Between 1997 and 2007 expulsions fell from 12,300 to 8,600, but this decrease has been matched by an increase in the proportion being suspended numerous times.

Nick Gibb, the Shadow Schools Minister, said: "Teachers want these pupils out of their classroom so other children can learn. Suspending a child over and over again does them no good at all."

Sir Alan Steer will today publish a report calling for traditional methods of discipline such as detentions and suspensions and for more use of parenting contracts for mothers and fathers failing to keep children in line.


Must not tell a woman that she has a big bottom

Seriously! Referring to a beer brand called "Courage":
"For more than 50 years beer drinkers have been urged to "Take Courage" at their local pub, but now the brewers of the famous ale may have to find a new slogan after the advertising watchdog banned posters promoting the brand. The Advertising Standards Authority acted after complaints that the posters - part of a œ2 million campaign - implied that the beer could live up to its name.

One poster depicts a man looking nervous as his full-bottomed partner parades in front of him in a figure-hugging dress. A speech bubble emanating from a large glass of beer states: "Take Courage my friend," suggesting that he should give a truthful answer to the implied question about how the garment reflected the size of the woman's derriŠre.

The advertising authority said in its ruling: "Three members of the public believed the poster implied that the beer would give the man confidence to either make negative comments on the woman's appearance or take advantage of her. "We considered that the combination of the text and the image of the man with an open beer can and half-empty glass of beer was likely to be understood by consumers to carry the clear implication that the beer would give the man enough confidence to tell the woman that the dress was unflattering.


Alcohol does tend to loosen tongues so the advertisement is actually fairly realistic. Apparently that is the problem.

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