I’ve only got half an hour, so just time to solve the Jewish question. Shouldn’t take long…
Jews – an ethnic, religious cohort claiming ancestry from the biblical Israelites?
Jews – People. Humans. Folk.
Question answered…problem solved.
Unless, of course, you insist on sticking on those same people the labels that gratify your own prejudices. Anti-Arab. Anti-Muslim. Militaristic. Money-obsessed or plain old Faganesque sly…
I’m at a loss about the anti-Jewish sentiment that seems to be rising – at least through the media – across the European continent, because I can’t work out what it is I’m supposed to despise.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not without my own prejudices or, should I say, quasi-racial peccadilloes. I won’t go into details but there are certain accents that quite irrationally drive me up the wall; certain dress customs that leave me puzzled, and doubtful abattoir and hygiene issues in premises of ethnic origin that cause me dismay.
I recognise all these as my own problem and something that I really do disapprove of but I don’t go on to despise the human beings responsible for them. And I certainly don’t say everybody of one faith or an entire nationality is therefore to be looked down upon.
I have a troubled past in this regard in that growing up, I didn’t know the Jews were real people as I only learned about them in bible class. Really. Jews wore flowing robes and followed Moses in the desert, if I remember, and they weren’t actual people. Nobody told me about prejudice and all those whispered clues…Goldbergs Store at Tollcross. Fagan in Oliver! Even Mike and Bernie Winters! I didn’t know the Jewish origin of names like Rothschild (to me that’s premiere cru wine), Mendelssohn (Fingal’s Cave), Joel (Uptown Girl), Sasson (favourite poet), Kuenssberg (her off the telly), Silver (Bilko)
It was all a complete bloody mystery to me.
But then so was all the Protestant/Catholic nonsense too. I only learned about Billy and Dan and Bluenose and Tim when I got to Glasgow in 1969. I just hadn’t been exposed to it. I don’t remember mum and dad ever hinting at anti-Jewish attitudes but then there is always denial in a small town. For example there were no homosexuals in Selkirk (pop 5000) and probably still aren’t…
I saw a film on Channel 4 about a Jewish guy who walked through parts of Paris recording the treatment he got – insults, threatening behaviour etc. I read about Netanyahu inviting the diaspora to emigrate to avoid discrimination. I read about security stepped up at a Jewish school in Finchley and think: Who’s going to threaten children?
My only connection to Finchley is lovely Diana Wilkinson, the junior North London Trampoline Champion of 1966 whom I met and flirted with on a school cruise. (Should’ve asked her if she was Jewish…) It didn’t mean anything to me then and it doesn’t now. I couldn’t take my eyes off her and if she’d said on the starboard deck she was a Jew, I’d have converted on board. Judaism here I come…
But then last weekend Dani Garavelli wrote about worries close to home
I know I’ll sound naïve to anti-Semites but I simply don’t connect a person I meet with the actions of the Isreali government and judge them and their entire ethnic or religious affiliated cohort accordingly.
I’ve met the Israeli government indirectly through interviewing its representatives on air; I’ve argued with its censors in Jerusalem who wanted to confiscate my broadcast material (I won); I have challenged an IDF commander in his office over the shooting of a nine-year-old Palestinian boy in a refugee camp and travelled the dangerous back streets of Bethlehem with its soldiers in an armed patrol. I’ve met teenagers in the camps with heartbreaking stories of humiliation and despair (tomorrow’s terrorists-in-making) and heard first hand the weary story of intifada and failed peace.
I know who’s side I’m on when it comes to the politics of the Middle East. I even subscribe to the view that in their treatment of Gazans, the Israelis come dangerously close to mimicking in part the actions of the Nazis and I have broadcast as much on the BBC.
I just don’t hate Jews.
I can hate the actions of the Jewish state and argue furiously with Scottish Jews who support it, but I can’t turn that into hating all Jews. It is utterly irrational. It is exactly the same as Islamophobia.
If you can’t separate the human from the political (or religious), you’re on the road to bigotry.
In 2004 I was sitting in the hotel across the road from the BBC on M Street in Washington DC when a man at the bar asked me who I was. When I told him, he launched into a story about his university career and apologised for George Bush’s foreign policy. ‘It’s terrible,’ he said. ‘You Europeans have to remember we don’t all think that way.’ I reassured him that I got it. I knew lots of Americans who were more vehemently anti-Bush than I was and yet across Europe the demo posters read ‘Down with America’. The whole nation was damned.
It’s illogical to blame citizens of a country for their government’s actions. I’m not responsible for cutting disability benefits in the UK. And even I support it politically, do you write me off, as a man, for my opinions? Equally why should I condemn with personal insult a Scottish Jew who backs Netanyahu?
When I think of Israel, it is of the pain of the Palestinians, I can’t deny. And I know there are many Jews who share that view. When I think of Jewish people it is an overwhelmingly sense of admiration – for a collective cohesiveness, for courage and for genius. But then, if you can’t criticise all the people together, then you can’t praise them all either…No, I think I’ll just have to take each Jew one at a time and do that thing of treating them – imagine – like people…like humans…folk…and like the Scots they are.