Instead of Excessive Apology

To all those, especially my fellow-Jews, who say that we Jews should be held to, and indeed hold ourselves to, higher moral standards than anybody else: please take the time to read these three passages that flash with tongues of fire.

Before the State of Israel, before the Holocaust, there was one modern prophet who saw with clear eyes what was facing the Jewish people, and what we would have to do to survive:

Instead of Excessive Apology

Ze’ev Jabotinsky (1911)

Jabotinsky in uniform young

We constantly and very loudly apologize… Instead of turning our backs to the accusers, as there is nothing to apologize for, and nobody to apologize to, we swear again and again that it is not our fault… Isn’t it long overdue to respond to all these and all future accusations, reproaches, suspicions, slanders and denunciations by simply folding our arms and loudly, clearly, coldly and calmly answer with the only argument that is understandable and accessible to this public: ‘Go to Hell!’?

Who are we, to make excuses to them; who are they to interrogate us? What is the purpose of this mock trial over the entire people where the sentence is known in advance? Our habit of constantly and zealously answering to any rabble has already done us a lot of harm and will do much more. … The situation that has been created as a result, tragically confirms a well known saying: “Qui s’excuse s’accuse.” We ourselves have acquainted our neighbours with the thought that for every embezzling Jew it is possible to drag the entire ancient people to answer, a people that was already legislating at the time when the neighbours had not even invented a bast shoe. Every accusation causes among us such a commotion that people unwittingly think, ‘why are they so afraid of everything?’ Apparently their conscience is not clear.’ Exactly because we are ready at every minute to stand at attention, there develops among the people an inescapable view about us, as of some specific thievish tribe. We think that our constant readiness to undergo a search without hesitation and to turn out our pockets, will eventually convince mankind of our nobility; look what gentlemen we are–we do not have anything to hide! This is a terrible mistake. The real gentlemen are the people that will not allow anyone for any reason to search their apartment, their pockets or their soul. Only a person under surveillance is ready for a search at every moment…. This is the only one inevitable conclusion from our maniac reaction to every reproach–to accept responsibility as a people for every action of a Jew, and to make excuses in front of everybody including hell knows who. I consider this system to be false to its very root. We are hated not because we are blamed for everything, but we are blamed for everything because we are not loved… We may apologize only in rare, unique and extremely important moments when we are completely confident that the Areopagus in front of us really has just intentions and proper competence. We do not have to apologize for anything. We are a people as all other peoples; we do not have any intentions to be better than the rest. As one of the first conditions for equality we demand the right to have our own villains, exactly as other people have them. Yes, we do have provocateurs and draft dodgers, and it is even strange that we have so few of them under current conditions. Other people have also these kind of “good,” and, in addition, they have embezzlers, and pogrom-makers, and torturers–so what– the neighbours live and are not ashamed…. Do our neighbours blush for the Christians in Kishinev who hammered nails into Jewish babies’ eyes?” Not in the least,– they walk with head raised high and look everybody in the face; they are absolutely right, and this is how it must be, as the persona of a people is royal, and not responsible and is not obliged to apologize…

We do not have to account to anybody, we are not to sit for anybody’s examination and nobody is old enough to call on us to answer. We came before them and will leave after them. We are what we are, we are good for ourselves, we will not change and we do not want to.

Then there was the heir to Jabotinsky, the unconquerable warrior who made peace with Israel’s greatest enemy:

The Lessons of the Holocaust

Menachem Begin (1981)

Menachem Begin-Sadat-1978-resize

First, if an enemy of our people says he seeks to destroy us, believe him. Don’t doubt him for a moment. Don’t make light of it. Do all in your power to deny him the means of carrying out his satanic intent.

Second, when a Jew anywhere is threatened, or under attack, do all in your power to come to his aid. Never pause to wonder what the world will think or say. The world will never pity slaughtered Jews. The world may not necessarily like the fighting Jew, but the world will have to take account of him.

Third, a Jew must learn to defend himself. He must forever be prepared for whenever threat looms.

Fourth, Jewish dignity and honor must be protected in all circumstances. The seeds of Jewish destruction lie in passively enabling the enemy to humiliate us. Only when the enemy succeeds in turning the spirit of the Jew into dust and ashes in life, can he turn the Jew into dust and ashes in death. During the Holocaust it was after the enemy had humiliated the Jews, trampled them underfoot, divided them, deceived them, afflicted them, drove brother against brother, only then could he lead them, almost without resistance, to the gates of Auschwitz. Therefore, at all times and whatever the cost, safeguard the dignity and honor of the Jewish people.

Fifth, stand united in face of the enemy. We Jews love life, for life is holy. But there are things in life more precious than life itself. There are times when one must risk life for the sake of rescuing the lives of others. And when the few risk their own lives for the sake of the many, then they, too, stand the chance of saving themselves.

Sixth, there is a pattern to Jewish history. In our long annals as a nation, we rise, we fall, we return, we are exiled, we are enslaved, we rebel, we liberate ourselves, we are oppressed once more, we rebuild, and again we suffer destruction, climaxing in our own lifetime in the calamity of calamities, the Holocaust, followed by the rebirth of the Jewish State.

So, yes, we have come full circle, and with God’s help, with the rebirth of sovereign Israel we have finally broken the historic cycle: no more destruction and no more defeats, and no more oppression – only Jewish liberty, with dignity and honor. These, I believe, are the underlying lessons to be learned from the unspeakable tragedy of the Holocaust.

 

And finally there was the uncompromising feminist, who was never afraid to voice the most painful truths:

Take No Prisoners (Interview in ‘The Guardian’)

Andrea Dworkin (2000)

Andrea-Dworkin Protesting_1538

“Pacifism was dead, killed by the Nazis along with the six million. There would be no more feminised, gentle, Jewish males, no more ‘Yid’.”

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The Horseshoe Theory

There has been a lot of talk recently about the Horseshoe theory of politics: how Alt-Right and Antifa have more in common with each other than with Centrists. According to Wikipedia, “The earliest use of the term appears to be from Jean-Pierre Faye‘s 2002 book Le Siècle des idéologies.” But the theory itself is far older. Read ‘West Coast Story by Jack Davis & Frank Jacobs from ‘MAD’ magazine, April 1971 and judge for yourself: and consider how many echoes there are of Nixon in today’s incumbent.

Mad Magazine West Coast Story April 1971 (1)Mad Magazine West Coast Story April 1971 (2)Mad Magazine West Coast Story April 1971 (3)Mad Magazine West Coast Story April 1971 (4)Mad Magazine West Coast Story April 1971 (5)Mad Magazine West Coast Story April 1971 (6)Mad Magazine West Coast Story April 1971 (7)Mad Magazine West Coast Story April 1971 (8)Mad Magazine West Coast Story April 1971 (9)

A Different Yom Kippur

On October 6th 1973, while the country was occupied with the prayers of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, the combined armies of nine Arab countries caught Israel napping with a devastating attack on all sides. The Arabs had learnt from their humiliation in the Six-Day War, and this time they were successful. The Israeli armed forces were overwhelmed by an army three times their size, and the country was quickly overrun. Estimates of the death toll in the chaos that followed cannot be verified, but by the end of the year the only Jews left in the country now partitioned between Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon had been forcibly converted to Islam.
About a million Israeli Jews had managed to flee, mainly by air and sea as any caught crossing the land borders were slaughtered out of hand. But where could they go? As in 1939 the face of the world was turned against them. Canada repeated Frederick Blair’s infamous decree: “None is too many”, and the whole of Europe and the Americas followed suit.
As in 1941, only one country opened its doors to the defenceless Jews. The Soviet Union, having emboldened the Arabs to destroy Israel, now invited the remnant of the Jewish people back to the country whose pogroms their grandparents had fled two generations before. But of course there was a catch. They had to prove themselves dedicated to International Communism: and for those whose dedication was found to be lacking the gulags of Siberia awaited.
Now the Jews of Israel were safely murdered, rendered dumb by conversion to Islam or imprisoned thousands of miles away in Siberia, needless to say the progressive social justice warriors of the West rose up as one to protest against their treatment, led by such principled luminaries as Tony Benn, Ken Livingstone, Desmond Tutu, Tariq Ali, Edward Said, Noam Chomsky, Roger Waters, and Jeremy Corbyn.
How they loved those wailing masses of tortured, helpless, impotent Jews. How right and proper their position seemed to be. And how furious they would have been if, against all the odds, those Jews of Israel had managed to turn the tables and, impossibly, had won that war in 1973?

Is Kevin Myers Antisemitic?

The furore over Kevin Myers’ article in the Irish edition of the ‘Sunday Times’ on 30 July 2017 (Sorry ladies, equal pay has to be earned) has split the UK Jewish community in half.

Because so many people found it objectionable the Sunday Times has withdrawn it from their website. It achieved the twin goals of being insulting to both women and Jews: but from a Jewish perspective this was the salient passage:

“I note that two of the best paid women presenters in the BBC – Claudia Winkleman and Vanessa Feltz, with whose, no doubt, sterling work I am tragically unacquainted – are Jewish. Good for them. Jews are not generally noted for their insistence on selling their talent for the lowest possible price, which is the most useful measure there is of inveterate, lost-with-all-hands stupidity.”

Lest there be any doubt that Myers likes to sail as close to the wind as possible in his remarks about Jews, he wrote a deliberately provocative clever-silly piece about the Holocaust for the ‘Belfast Telegraph’ on 6 March 2009. This too has been pulled, but fortunately captured by another website:

http://archive.is/2017.07.30-135449/http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/opinion/there-was-no-holocaust-kevin-myers-28473646.html

The salient extracts:

“There was no holocaust…six million Jews were not murdered by the Third Reich…For efficient though the Nazis were, they were not so clinically precise as to kill six million Jews — not a Jew more, or not a Jew less…Moreover, there certainly was no holocaust. For if the word is to have any literal validity at all, it must be related to its actual meaning, which comes from the Greek words holos, ‘whole’, and caust, ‘fire’…Any one of us should be able to declare any old counter-factual and even offensive nonsense, without being sent to jail, provided we preach hatred for no one…[but] imams regularly preach hatred for Jews, and where the holocaust is routinely denied. Which member-state of the EU will pursue such conveyors of hate, or seek the extradition of an imam who says that the holocaust was a Zionist hoax? None of them…If Bishop [Richard] Williamson has an agenda, it is so bonkers as to rank alongside that of The Lunar Cheese Society.”

Vanessa Feltz has said on BBC Radio London that the Sunday Times article was “so obviously racist it’s surprisingly hurtful”. The Sunday Times responded by sacking Kevin Myers, who made a fashionably half-arsed apology: “I am issuing an apology for no other reason than contrition of the hurt I have caused them.” Jaw-droppingly, he continued: “I didn’t know Jews were living human beings. I thought they belonged to the Bible.”

One might have thought that this would be the end of it. But surprisingly, a number of Jews – three of whom, including a dear family member, I know to be among the bravest and staunchest supporters of Israel in Britain today, constantly putting themselves in real physical danger to counter antisemitic lies – have spoken out in defence of Myers. Here is what a past President of the Jewish Representative Council of Ireland had to say:

“It is an awful pity that you all had to jump in without first consulting the Irish-Jewish community. The Jewish Representative of Council of Ireland are well able to look after our own local affairs without the interference of the so-called “do-gooders” from the UK and elsewhere….I know Kevin Myers, and I, among others, have personally offered him support. He is suffering from what he wrote. He has never been anything other than supportive to Judaism and Israel…” Another senior figure: “Try being a leader of a small community in a hostile environment.” “In the Irish media there were only about six writers sympathetic to Jews and Israel. Now there are only five.”

We have been here before. The ten thousand or so Jews of Iran have one seat in the Majlis reserved for their representative. Siamak Morsadegh has held that seat since 2008, and last year said in an interview with ‘The Independent’:  “The fact is, Iran is a place where Jews feel secure and we are happy to be here…no one forces the Jews to stay here…the actions of Netanyahu and his government, the way they behave towards the Palestinians, cause problems for Jews everywhere.”

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/irans-jews-on-life-inside-israels-enemy-state-we-feel-secure-and-happy-a6934931.html

Are you really saying that Ireland is as anti-Zionist – even as antisemitic – as Iran? If so, isn’t it about time you got the hell out and made aliya while you still can?

So how are we to judge Kevin Myers – for judge him we must? As so often, to my mind the most useful parallel is with the Black community. People make the mistake of thinking that being Jewish is mainly a matter of religion. It is not. It is most particularly nothing like being Muslim. Are there atheist Muslims? There are not. Atheist ex-Muslims, many under sentence of death – yes indeed. But rid our synagogues of the atheist Jews and you’d never get a minyan. Being Jewish is something you’re stuck with, no matter what you believe in. Like your skin colour.

When I was a child one of the most popular TV programmes was ‘The Black and White Minstrel Show’. Fifty years ago, it was quite normal – though already a bit dated – for white people to black up. Fifty years before that, they were unashamedly called ‘Nigger Minstrels’ and at the heart of popular culture. Now if you asked any of the people who blacked up whether they were bigots, they would have been horrified. They would have said that they liked black people, they loved their culture, and they admired their musical and athletic talents. Are you getting echoes of anything here, Kevin Myers?

Before WWII, before the establishment of the State of Israel, there was a sound argument to be made for Jews not to make a fuss about gentiles who pointed out the supposed Jewish qualities of being good with money, musical and endowed with a native shrewdness. At least, so the argument went, they weren’t accusing us of murdering Jesus and baking matzohs with Christian children’s blood, and anyway those comments were a small price to pay for them not siding with Hitler. In Romain Gary’s ‘The Oldest Story Ever Told’  (1965) a Jew helps and conceals the Nazi who tortured him in the camps, because “He’s promised to treat me better the next time!”

It is long past time for Jews to stop being careful and precious about charges of antisemitism. That should have ended in 1945. We are no longer trembling Israelites. On the contrary, it is the Kevin Myers of this world who should be nervous about singling out Jews for special attention. The gentile world – and Europe in particular – has over two millennia of arrears of apologies due to the Jewish people. We Jews, of all people, have a right – even, I would argue, a duty to our children – to stand tall and proud and apologise to no-one. Arrogant? Try saying that to a brigade of the IDF.

Two Meditations

(1) We are all lunatics. One primary function of society, like a well-run asylum, should be to stop the dangerous lunatics from hurting the harmless ones. Unfortunately, human nature is such that the reverse usually applies: the dangerous lunatics are running the joint, and most of the harmless ones seem enthusiastically to support their tyranny.

 
(2) Planet Earth can be likened to a jug of custard with a thick skin on top, but suspended in space so the custard forms a sphere with the skin entirely surrounding it. This skin is in fact in several sheets, like ice floes, butting up against each other and constantly in motion. That skin is what we think of as the world. It is dotted with myriad pinpricks through which the custard wells up: we call these volcanoes. Every 10 million years or so we have a basalt flood, where the skin tears open and molten rock floods a sizeable portion of the world, rendering many species extinct. All the anthropogenic climate change that mankind has every caused or is ever likely to cause is trivial in comparison.

Farewell, Sylvester

We lost Sylvester today. Sylvester is a semi-feral tom cat who first appeared about 3 years ago. Initially he would just dart in through the cat-flap late at night and scarf down the food we’d left for Tigger and other visitors. You couldn’t touch him, but he seemed to like me sitting about six feet away and singing quietly to him. After two years or so of this I thought I’d try to tame him. I started getting closer to him and about six months ago stroked him for the first time. He liked it. After a few weeks of tentative handling he started to follow me & butt his head against my hand. One day I heard a rusty rumble: Sylvester, after perhaps a decade in the wild, had remembered from his kittenhood how to purr.

But all was not well. Toms get into fights: and about two years ago he lost an ear. After he had become tame – and he was a very affectionate cat, spending a long time each day stretched out with his face pushed into the palm of my hand or rolling over to have his tummy rubbed – Mum & I took turns trying to clean up the remains of his torn-off ear with warm salt water. But it just kept being re-infected. Unlike most cats he couldn’t jump up anywhere – I thought perhaps one back leg, held awkwardly, had broken and healed years ago. Then, a few weeks ago, a swelling started to appear beside the remains of the ear, and his back legs became very doddery. A visit to the vet was called for.

The news was very grim. Sylvester had diabetes. That would have needed two injections a day and an enforced restricted diet – very difficult when Smudge, our little ginger, is so fussy and needs to be coaxed with food. But for better or worse the decision was taken away from us when further investigation revealed a massively swollen kidney and at least one tumour.

Two days at the vet’s without me had turned Sylvester feral again: they said they could barely handle him. This morning I went down there and had a consultation with the vet. He took me into the kennels to see Sylvester. When the cage door was opened he hissed, cringed and spat, but within three minutes some Dreamies, some crooning and a few gentle strokes had reminded him of who I was, and once again he butted up to my hand and purred like a firehouse. I was crying and telling him how good and brave he was.

Andy the vet was very calm and sympathetic as I picked Sylvester up and cradled him in my arms. Sylvester is a big, muscular tom: the sedative took several minutes to take effect, but finally he lay still. Then came the second, lethal injection.

I am glad I had the courage to be with my Sylvester every moment of his final journey. No months of agony in a body resistant to all painkillers; no weeks of agony as nutrition is withdrawn; no days of agony while hydration is withdrawn. I hope to God someone does the same for me when my time comes.

Sylvester 1Sylvester 2Sylvester 3Sylvester 4

‘A Tale of Love and Darkness’ by Amos Oz

I have just finished reading ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness’ by Amos Oz (a bit late in the day, I know – the English translation came out in 2004). What a read! Ostensibly it is the autobiography of the author’s first sixteen years, but it is so much more than that. It chronicles the history of his family from his grandparents’ childhood in the 1880s, and at times flashes forwards to 2001 when the author was writing. Through his family’s eyes, Oz describes the entire Zionist project from Herzl to Netanyahu – a true roman fleuve.

I must admit I embarked on this book out of a sense of duty, thinking that for somebody interested in Jewish thought and Israeli politics it was a worthy-but-dull must-read. But within a couple of chapters I was as lost in the book as the young Amos Klausner (he changed his surname to Oz after going to the kibbutz) was in the books of his childhood. Great credit must go to Prof. Nicholas de Lange’s limpid and fluid translation.

I have often asked myself why so many Israelis, particularly in Jerusalem, when presented with the glorious sunshine, freedom and physical and mental health of Eretz Yisrael, dafka insist on retaining the neurotic, fearful, shrivelled lifestyle of Eastern Europe. My late father used to say: “It was terrible there, and you should thank God your grandfather got out!”. Amos Oz’s family did not thank God they got out. They brought their Eastern European culture with them to Jerusalem, the intellectual pyrotechnics and crippling fears intertwined, and wrapped it around them like a Dementor comfort blanket, branding all those it touched.

But the book makes you sympathise with these people and understand how and why they were this way. Not just (just!) the Shoah, which casts its shadow over every Jew and will continue to do so for who knows how long, but before that, centuries of persecution, of having our feebleness, compared to the majority population, so embedded in our psyche that we believed it ourselves.

The sabras shook this off, and did it so effectively that they forgot how to empathise with their neurotic mishpoche – thus compounding their neurosis.

This book is so compelling that it even dares – to those that have ears to hear – to propose an answer to the question that most of us dare not ask: Why did we go like sheep to the slaughter between 1941 and 1944?