Take Me to Goldbergs

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

http://www.scotsman.com/news/dani-garavelli-growing-antisemitism-in-scotland-1-3697999 and I got worried.

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.








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21 thoughts on “Take Me to Goldbergs

  1. Well said Derek.

    • Ditto Sam.

      Prejudice is often irrational and tells you more about the person, than it;s victims. Everyone has to fit into a “one size 4 all” category when we are all different in our own ways. Don’t fit , you get labled.

      I see on telly politicians using it to deflect from the real issues and even in pubs and cafe’s , folk stay away from the subjects. It;s taboo , but theres no shortage of bigmouths who think they know more than the rest. You hear them on the terracing each week at the fitba’ etc

      Education works. People are quite happy to see what their ancestors lived.

      As a young guy i watched many films and documentaries about the Jews. many people don;t know that Langshanks himself, ordered the Jews out of England because they had financed his wars in Wales and Scotland and he didn’t want to pay them back. Thousands died. Longshanks also ordered them to wear a Yellow labels on their coats to mark them out. Creepy eh?

      The holocaust programmes were a real eye opener. My grandparents fought in the war but never mentioned the “Camps”. More than the whole amount of folk in Scotland died. Most of my generation were shocked to see this.

      Pop forward a generation and it’s still going on.

      Will we ever learn?

      Banning All religion might help 🙂

      When that happens i will have belief in my fellow man rather than some stone age deity .

      • Sometimes I despair of humanity and its need to pigeonhole or label. God, how much stereotyping did we put up with from the right wing mental set of the media throughout the referendum campaign? Hell, we’re still being tarred by the likes of the Mail, Express, Telegraph et al.

        Why do people find intolerance and hatred so easy, love and tolerance so hard?

        I can only say I’m glad that I don’t .

        Generally speaking I’m very much of the opinion of Steve in the post below. Folk are folk the world over. We awe pull wir troosers oan wan leg at a time. 🙂

  2. Steve Asaneilean

    My life view Derek is even simpler. There are good people and there are people who are less good (or, sometimes, downright bad).

    I choose to spend my life with good people and try to avoid or ignore the bad.

    And for the record I think most people come down on the side of goodness overall.

    But no-one should be blamed or punished for the sins of their fathers (or mothers or grandparents or siblings or extended family or neighbours or friends or communities or governments).

    I have no time for the notion of “Ibsen’s Ghosts”.

  3. How sensible you sound, Derek! Thank you. I am glad that I am not the only one who feels as you do.

  4. When I was 20 something a girl dumped me for not being Jewish, but that was parental pressure. I’ve managed to resist becoming anti Semitic over it.

    Much later I had a long relationship with a Turkish woman. She dumped me too. The only time she’d been in a mosque was to take friends to visit the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. Guess what? I still love the Turks, and Moslems.

    One of my best friends was brought up Moslem in the UK, has lapsed, and she’s now inclined to Buddhism.

    I think I’ve revealed enough for now, but I may write a book when I retire.

  5. Yes Derek I think what you have just said is correct I think life can be hard enough without having to put people into boxes.

  6. Very well said Derek….a man’s a man for a that (woman too).
    However,the Israeli state is fighting over land ownership with the Palestinians and is prepared to do anything to ensure that they can hang onto what they have acquired illegally over the years (a bit like Scottish land owners but without the violence…just lawyers at dawn).
    Jews OK,Israeli state Not.

  7. You took me back there to leaving home for a job in London.

    The elderly lady and her son, who I applied to for a room said it was OK but that they were Jews. They were expecting some reply or reaction but I had no idea what. So I asked ‘Do you only take Jews?’ They hurried to reassure me that I was welcome and I got the room.

    I had to register with a GP and someone at work told me of one nearby, but made a point of telling me they were Jewish. Was that OK? I wasn’t sure why it wouldn’t be, but not sure of the meaningful way they said it I checked with my lovely Jewish landlady. Why would the doctor being a Jew make any difference? Did they do medicine differently? Did they only treat Jews? She reassured me on both counts.

    I asked her why there was this emphasis on being Jewish and she explained that many people hated the Jews. In answer to ‘Why?’ she said Christian’s blamed them for crucifying Christ. So I told her that they hadn’t, that was the Romans. She said the Jews had handed him over to the Romans. So I told her that was only some of them as his disciples and followers were Jews too.

    I have never understood this hatred. I watched ‘All our yesterdays’ on the TV as a child showing the holocaust camps. I heard all the grown ups declare how awful it had been and so wrong.

    I do have big problems with what Israel is doing to the Palestinians as it reminds me so much of a Polish Nazi ghetto. But not everyone of a nation agrees with the actions of their government and I still take people as I find them and listen to their stories.

  8. Ealasaid: If only your story could be published nationally. Well said.

  9. Well said, we’re all human beings, living on a wee blue dot.

  10. It’s all connected to far left politics. For some years now a left wing group in Edinburgh has attempted to disrupt performances of Israeli musicians and theatre productions at the Edinburgh Festival. Then the UCU had a campaign to boycott Israeli universities. Yet cultural and intellectual exchange is liberal, non-political and secular. The thugs who disrupted perfomances and intimidated the audience outside as people queued to go inside reminded me of brownshirts.

    I left UCU and have never rejoined because of its stupid and pointless Israeli boycott.

    This has been going on for years, beefed up by support for Palestinian causes.

  11. Vlad (not that one)

    Agreed, as far as it goes. Yet, there is a difficulty. The state of Israel is a democracy, its leaders have been democratically elected, and thus the nation cannot be absolved from responsibility for actions taken in its name. I am absolutely sure that many Israelis find these deeds as abhorrent as any other right-minded person does, but how can an outsider tell the wolves from the sheep?

  12. Or here:http://www.scotsman.com/news/palestine-group-charged-after-disrupting-concert-by-israelis-1-1271693

    The Scottish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign led by Mick Napier have made a number of protests in Edinburgh in recent years targeting those UK Jewish businesses with associations with Israel. Which as Garivelli’s article makes clear, is most of them. They claim to not be anti-Semitic, but their targetting the Jerusalem Quartet was really ‘off’.

    Like most people the events in Gaza horrify me, but Gazans are led by extremists determined to attack Israel on every occasion that presents itself. They have vowed to destroy Israel. Israel is eventually forced to respond, usually disproportionally, and gets the blame. PR victory to Hamas. SPSC are of the view that if you are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause it is axiomatic that you must harass Jewish businesses and Jewish activities in the UK.

  13. lastchancetoshine

    Interesting to see the article linked (and MBC above) stressing the idea that anti-semitism is a function purely of left wing politics in Scotland.

    While Undoubtedly there are some dipsticks (who without a real understanding, claim to be) of the left, who can’t separate the actions of a state from the religion, I’m sure it’s pretty clear to most of us where any anti-semitisim in Scotland is coming from.

    It’s also a bit disturbing to see the article telling us “It is important not to get these figures out of perspective” while in the very next paragraph clouding the issue, by failing to give us the information to put them in perspective

    “The nature of the attacks, too, is of concern. Some have been online.”

    Leaving out the actual information as to the both the nature of the attacks and the actual split between on line abuse and physical attack leads us (intentionally?) to assume the worst.

    All three physical attacks which are referred to make specific reference to Nazi action or symbolism, yet the article draws the conclusion “they are more likely to be connected to left-wing ideology.”

    This seems to be the scotsman chucking mud at a bit of unease created by what’s happening elsewhere and contributing to the general feeling of distrust and fear that creates tensions in communities in the first place.

  14. I was brought up by two parents who were great supporters of Israel. We’re not Jewish by the way. I still support Israel, and that is because it’s a Democracy with an elected Government, and there will be another Government along in no time, as in every Democracy. I leave it up to the Israeli citizens to decided who their government is, and if I don’t like some of their policies, I can speak my mind, can’t I?
    The Jewish people who live here have made such an enormous contribution to the country that we will be the poorer if they go, and by that I mean the economy. I never heard any of them threatening the state or trying to impose their religion on everyone. I hope they stay.
    Joel is a genius, as is Simon, Garfunkel, King, etc.

  15. Well said, some of the best human rights defenders I have met are Jews who are working for human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

    By the way, there were gay folk in Selkirk even in 1969 🙂

  16. I believe Scotland is the only country in Europe never to have persecuted Jews, which might explain why this kind of bigotry is alien to us. Sadly, we spent most of our history persecuting each other over different interpretations of Christianity, so we have another kind of bigotry to worry about.

  17. dinnatouch – it’s often said ( by Jews ) that the lack of antipathy here is simply that they haven’t been here long enough or in large enough numbers to generate it !

    My friendship with individual Jews would endorse Derek’s position, but this simplifies things since just as alluded to above, humans vary hugely and the ones you mix with are the open minded ones. The question that is invariably fudged is ” what is Semitism ” ? Approach that objectively and you might get to the origins of anti – semitism which has been around for 2000 years, or more.

    For another approach try to integrate with an orthodox group, and of course it is this part of the faith that has maintained diasporic Judaism, not the ones who intermarry. Meanwhile back in Israel look to their approach to real estate. Their rabbis will preach that the Talmud is the law and that, like policemen, they only mete it out. Their Bible says that Israel was given to them by God, and that’s that, no arguing.

    In many ways Islam is identical with the Koran also the law. So to these groups, secular, and often changing, laws are simply inferior. Netanyahu, an American who speaks Hebrew badly, plans to make Israel a ” Jewish ” state, so with Islamic ones nearby, don’t expect peace to break out.

  18. Margaret Brogan

    Yes, we are human beings.

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