The Chakrabarti Inquiry: Evidence that it ignores antisemitism

This was my submission to the Chakrabarti Inquiry:

As a concerned Jew I am writing to ask for your response to the following two questions about the Inquiry into the Labour Party which you will shortly be chairing:

  1. Can you confirm that you will not be applying double standards by on the one hand dismissing the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) and Pickles governmental definitions of antisemitism, and on the other hand giving weight to accusations of Islamophobia made against those who merely wish to protest the incitement of violence?
  2. Can you confirm that you will not be perversely standing Macpherson on its head by accepting the testimony of those Jews who categorise such statements as “the creation of Israel as a Jewish State was a crime” and “Jews of all people should have learnt from the Holocaust to turn the other cheek ” as fair comment, and not the antisemitism that they are?

The following excerpts from the Inquiry prove that the response to my concerns is a resounding “No!”

[page 4]: “…  it  is incredibly important that whilst individual testimonies are acknowledged, universal principles are then applied. So for example Islamophobia, antisemitism and Afriphobia are all equally vile forms of racism.”

This was meant to be an inquiry into antisemitism. Islamophobia and hatred of people of African descent are serious problems, but of different origin and merit different treatment in a separate inquiry

[page 6]: “  In  1987  Diane Abbott, Paul Boateng, Bernie Grant and Keith Vaz were elected to the House of   Commons..”

All four of those MPs are egregious in their attacks on Israel. It is an insult to Jews for their names to be included in this inquiry.

“  The  Iraq War (to be  discussed  in  the  long-awaited  report  of   another  inquiry),  as  well  as  stop and search without suspicion, punishment without charge or  trial and the domestic extremism agenda left many British Muslims feeling suspect and alienated in their natural political home.”

The Iraq war was against the regime of Saddam Hussein which rained Scud missiles down on Israel. How on earth is this comment helpful to an inquiry into antisemitism?

[page 14]: “I  am in no way suggesting that bad taste metaphors and comparisons should ever be a matter for the criminal law any more than say ill-judged and incendiary cartoons.  I am told that they are frequently used in Israel. However, they are all too capable, not only of bringing the Labour Party into disrepute, but of actively undermining the cause of peace, justice and statehood for the Palestinian people which forms part of Labour’s current “two-state” foreign policy and which so many Jewish people (including in the Labour Party) actively support.”

This paragraph implies that insults used by Jew against Jew are fine for Gentiles to use against Jews. It also implies that the only Jews whose opinion is worth taking into consideration are those who support a Palestinian state.

[page 15]: “Crucially, I have heard testimony and heard for myself first-hand, the way in which the word “Zionist” has been used personally, abusively or as a euphemism for “Jew”, even in relation to some people with no  stated  position  or even a critical position  on  the  historic  formation  or  development  of  modern Israel. This has clearly happened so often over a number of years as to raise some alarm bells in Jewish communities, including amongst  highly orthodox  people  who,  whilst  perhaps  most “visibly Jewish” (e.g. in dress and or  observance), would never see themselves as Zionists.”

“A  further  complexity   comes  from  left-wing British  Jewry, including, but  not  exclusively,  young people becoming increasingly  critical of, and disenchanted  with Israeli Government  policy  in  relation  to settlements in the West Bank and the bombardment of Gaza in particular. This has led to some people personally redefining their Zionism in ways that appear to grant less support to the State of Israel and more solidarity to fellow Jewish people the world over.”

This clearly references Neturei Karta, Jews for Justice for Palestinians and their ilk. So these two tiny minorities are to be given as much weight when considering antisemitism as the vast majority of Jews who support Israel?

“ But  surely  it  is  better  to  use  the  modern  universal language  of  human  rights,  be  it  of dispossession,  discrimination,  segregation,  occupation  or persecution and to leave  Hitler,  the  Nazis and the Holocaust out of   it?”

This language is not universal but “When did you stop beating your wife?” It takes as a given that the Palestinian Arabs are dispossessed,  discriminated,  segregated,  occupatied  and persecuted.

 [page 16]: “What I cannot do is legislate for which causes activists within the Party spend their time and energies ,or require that people only highlight issues relating to one country or  government if they spend equal time  on  infractions or injustices elsewhere.  No doubt  my  many  years  as  a  domestic  human  rights campaigner may  have  led  some  people  (not  least  in  past  Labour  Governments)  to  question  my preoccupation with abuses by the British State when there was so much worse in North Korea, Saudi Arabia,  Syria,  Russia  and  elsewhere.  No doubt some people suspected my motives or my loyalty to Britain.  In truth it was my background, experience and a view that Britain should lead the world that informed my choice of activism.”

This is itself the antisemitic accusation of ‘whataboutery’ and comes straight out of the PSC playbook.

“ It is especially pernicious,  in  my  view,  to  blame  those who share  platforms with people who  went on (often some considerable time later) to say and do things with which we profoundly disagree and even abhor.”

“Sharing a platform or having a meeting around some kind of problem or injustice never has meant, does not and never will mean, sharing any or all of the views (past, present or future) of everyone in the room.  It is instead the business of peace-building and of the promotion of fundamental human rights.”

Far from being pernicious, this is shining a spotlight on a disingenuous protestation, here shamelessly repeated.

[page 19]: “Some care should also be taken to identify and record the identity of complainants. This would allow and facilitate genuine sensitive communication and “aftercare” in relation e.g. to a Labour Party member who has been targeted or upset unpleasantly by a fellow member.  However, it would also create an important distinction between such a complainant and a hostile journalist or political rival conducting a trawling exercise or fishing expedition in relation to a particular person or group of people  within the Labour Party.  I am not going so far to say that a politically motivated complaint should always be disregarded, just that motivation may have relevance, as will context. I also recognise that the Party’s elected structures (Leader, the NEC etc.) should be able to raise concerns of their own volition about a member in danger of   bringing the  Party into disrepute.  However, if  an  investigation arises  via this  route,  that  should  be  also  clearly recorded.  Further, subjects of complaint should normally be informed both of  its  substance  and  author  at  the  earliest  opportunity unless there is a clear and pressing reason for protecting the identity of a complainant.”

“Submissions to my Inquiry reveal a level  of concern and confusion (in  some  quarters) about the “Macpherson”  definition  of  a  racist  incident.  This is of course a reference to the famous Report of   1999 into the Metropolitan Police after its appalling mishandling of Stephen Lawrence’s murder.  The principle  that  an  incident should be recorded as “racist” when perceived that way by a victim may indeed  have  some  useful  application  outside  the  policing  context,  and  even  here  in  the  world  of   Labour Party discipline. However the purpose of   the approach is to ensure that investigators handle a complaint with particular sensitivity towards the victim.  It is to suggest the seriousness  with which  a complaint must be handled, but in no way to determine its outcome.  If I complain to the police that I have been the victim of a racist attack on the street, I should expect my complaint to be so recorded. However investigation and due process must of course then follow and it is perfectly possible that an investigator, prosecutor or magistrate will subsequently find either that no attack took place at all, or that its motivation was something other than racism.  In the present context, my complaint that I have been subject to racist or other personal abuse by a fellow Party Member should be so recorded, taken seriously and handled sensitively. However it will be for the investigation and any subsequent process to determine whether my complaint was ultimately well-founded.”

I am reminded of George Colman’s famous phrase: “Love and a cottage! Eh, Fanny! Ah, give me indifference and a coach and six!” Here, ladies and gentlemen, is Ms. Chakrabarti caught in the act of driving that indifferent coach and six through the spirit of the Macpherson Report. Macpherson clearly concluded that the accusation of prejudice is indeed in the gift of the victim: it is not for authority, and above all not for the perpetrator, to decide.

[page 27]: “I explained earlier why the trigger of antisemitism notwithstanding ,I believed that it was right that my terms of reference embrace all forms of racism. I also explained that it is not enough to avoid being clearly, expressly or deliberately racist in the Labour Party if anyone feels excluded from their instinctive political home. That is why the idea of ensuring “Labour is a welcoming environment for members of all communities “constitutes the fundamental underpinning of my task. The journey of this Inquiry has reinforced the importance of this, not just in principle, but sadly in practice as well.”

“ I believe it right, natural and wholly positive for the Labour Movement, that so many new-comers to Britain, their children and grandchildren have gravitated to the party of social justice since its origins and inception. There is nothing inherently suspect about this tendency, and it should be welcomed and positively encouraged by all in the Party.”

Having had the chutzpah to trample Macpherson underfoot, Ms. Chakrabarti compounds it by arrogating to herself the decision as to who is fit to join the Labour Movement. You do not have to be a social justice warrior to support Labour. If they expel the Blairite New Labour Centrists for good, then Labour will never again have the chance to form a government.

‘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?

UK General Election – Rejoice!

There is so much to be grateful for in the results of this General Election:

  • We have a majority government which can make decisions and carry them through
  • Nobody can say that politics is boring. A two-thirds turn-out provides a legitimate mandate, but the one-third who didn’t bother can see by the stats how they could have really made a difference. But they just couldn’t be arsed.
  • George Galloway and David Ward have been chucked out. A heartfelt thank-you to the decent citizens of Bradford, and good riddance to two loathsome, bigoted oxygen thieves.
  • Only 1,667 people voted BNP. As against  3,898 who voted Monster Raving Loony. The BNP vote is down to less than 4% of their peak.
  • Labour’s executive wanted to get away from Blairite centrism and return to Socialist Kinnock/Foot ideological purity. We’ve just seen how that worked out.
  • I don’t like the LibDems because they’re the most anti-Israel of the main parties. The British people seem to have massacred them because they’re hypocrites. I’m slightly stunned, but in a good way…
  • Portsmouth is re-united under the Conservative colours. In fact, with the exception of Southampton Test, Exeter, Brighton and Hove, the whole of the ancient Kingdoms of Cornwall, Wessex, and Kent are unbroken Conservative dominions.
  • Scotland may not yet have arisen as a nation, but as in the 18th century it is leading a revival of passionate, heartfelt politics comparable with post-apartheid South Africa. This really puts the pressure on David Cameron to achieve his goal of reforming the EU to conform with Churchill’s vision. Otherwise England will vote to get out of it in 2017 – and then Scotland will vote to get out of UK and back into EU.
  • Still in Scotland , we have the first MP (Mhairi Black) aged under 21. Ever. Well, since the 17th century when a grandee could have made his cat an MP if he’d wanted.
  • And the number of female MPs has increased by one-third to 191. We may yet hear the death-knell of the testosterone-fuelled bearpit that is PMQ.

As a great person once said: “Rejoice!”

Cooper’s Column 1995 to 1999

From 1995 to 2010 I wrote an opinion column for our bi-monthly local Jewish community newsletter. Here’s the first five years’ worth.

COOPER’S COLUMN March 1995

The spate of attacks by Islamic fundamentalists culminating in the horrendous suicide bomb at Netanya has made many of us despair of the peace process. For heaven’s sake, these attacks were made inside the Green Line, inside the territory which is accepted as Israel proper even by the U.N! It is obvious, runs the argument, that these fundamentalists will accept nothing less than the overthrow of the Jewish state and its replacement with an Islamic one on the lines of Iran, in which the Jews are, at best, second-class citizens (dhimmi, as we were called in the Ottoman Empire), and at worst persecuted until the last of us leaves, converts to Islam – or is killed. The peace process is a con trick perpetrated upon us by Arafat and his henchman: its sole purpose is to weaken the resolve of the Israeli people. So we must accept that we are surrounded by enemies, and return to the concept of Fortress Israel: in order to survive, every Jew must be in a constant state of armed vigilance against every Arab. We are on Red Alert for ever.

I believe there is an alternative. We should take a tip from Ireland. They’ve still got a long way to go there, but there is one area where real progress has been made. The Irish government has IRA prisoners in its gaols. It is willing to co-operate with the British government in hunting and imprisoning convicted terrorists. We can use this example to test Arafat.

If he is willing to order his henchmen to help the Israeli authorities to catch those who have perpetrated outrages after the peace agreement – an important dividing line -then peace has a chance. It will enable us to make the distinction which is so urgently needed: between the Irredentist terrorists, whom both sides have a stake in tracking down and neutralising, and those Arabs with whom we can do business; those who may yearn for Al Quds, but will settle for Nablus; those to whom an olive tree is worth more than jihad. Let us pray that the latter are in the majority.

If, on the other hand, we get no such co-operation, then we know that the peace process was a sham. So far, it’s looking grim: I haven’t heard a word from Arafat condemning the bombing. But he should be given the chance. His weaselly attempts at diplomacy may be unpleasant: but the alternative is worse. R.A.C.

 

 

COOPER’S COLUMN May 1995

The renewed interest in the split between the Masorti movement and mainstream Orthodoxy must be puzzling a lot of people, particularly those Jews whose attachment is at best peripheral. It’s easy to tell the difference between Reform and Orthodox: to be Orthodox requires one to accept all the traditional teachings of Torah and Talmud as true and binding, while the Reform seeks a synthesis between tradition and modern knowledge, which changes all the time as our knowledge advances.

But the Masorti movement also acknowledges all the traditional teachings. The only difference appears to be one of claimed origins. Traditional Orthodoxy holds that the Torah is binding upon us because it is the word of the Almighty. As this is the highest authority possible, no further justification is required. Masorti holds that we should obey the Torah because it contains the best rules for human conduct: some of it may be direct from the Almighty, but the compulsion to obedience derives from its sense rather than its source.

Why should that make a difference? To answer that, we must turn to human nature rather than logic. If there is a rule, human nature is to rebel against it or find a way round it, regardless of whether the rule is bad or good. Schoolchildren at puberty will break the rules by smok­ing, drinking, and (if possible) having sex: if the teachers give in to those tendencies by allowing such activities, the children will rebel by doing hard drugs and perverted sex. It’s only natural: that doesn’t mean it’s good.

So with Judaism. We’ll all break the rules when we’re young and headstrong. That doesn’t mean that the rules should be abandoned. Nobody could keep the 613 mitzvahs: that’s the whole idea, so that we can commit the odd trivial naughtiness and satisfy our need for rebellion. But if you make the power behind the rules Humanist rather than Heavenly, then they are all equally open to question. Thus the strength of religion becomes debased: if you want to apply logic, the logical move is from Masorti to Reform to Liberal to Humanism, where you have nothing to back up your morality but your own inner convictions. If you want to keep Judaism alive, it is better to rebel against Orthodoxy whilst acknowledging its authority than to move the goalposts until you find a church broad enough for you to be comfortable with.  R.A.C.

 

COOPER’S COLUMN July 1995

I expect you’re all fed up to the back teeth with the world and his wife banging on about the 50th anniversary of V.E. day, many of whom, you might think, have no right to comment. You might include me in that number, as I’m a mere child, born after the war. Yet as a Jew, and one who has some knowledge of history, for me the memory of that war burns perhaps more brightly than for non-Jews of my generation. The current emphasis is on the common European homeland that we share with the Germans, as do all British subjects. I have even heard World War Two referred to as an European civil war, and there is much loose talk about forgive and forget. This is dangerous nonsense. The young adults whose voices are beginning to be heard, particularly in Germany, are the grandchildren of those who fought in the war. For them it is ancient history, nothing to do with them: unlike my generation of Germans, most of whom tried to atone for their parents’ deeds with an exaggerated pacifism, these grandchildren see no reason why they should not be as proud of their country as an Englishman or Frenchman is of his. They want to draw a line under the past, and start again with a clean slate. I am reminded of two quotes. George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” And Sir Winston Churchill: “The Hun is either at your feet or at your throat.” We must not blame these young Germans for what their grandparents did. But we must not forget that thirty million Germans voted National Socialist in 1933, in free, democratic elections. Even when it was no longer possible for them to turn a blind eye to what was happening in the camps, there was no mass German revulsion.

It may be unfashionable to talk about such things; but there is something in the German national character which predisposes towards blind obedience, even when this offends against moral decency. Just as we have no right to blame young Germans for what their grandfathers did, so I believe we have no right to forgive the perpetrators. This is where the clear distinction should be drawn. Every citizen of Hitler’s Reich who is still alive should bear the burden of that guilt to their graves. I do not say that they should be punished: particularly for those who lived in the former East Germany, life has been hard

enough. But we should not pretend that the Nazi years never happened. Hitler did not spring out of a vacuum, and there is still fertile soil, in Germany and elsewhere, ready to receive the seed of vicious petty nationalism. The only people who have the right to forgive the deeds of the Germans under Hitler are the victims. Can you hear their voices? Their graves are on the

wind.  R.A.C.

 

COOPER’S COLUMN September 1995

Szymon Serafimowicz – crazy name, crazy guy. Most English-born people probably can’t even pronounce his name, let alone spell it. What the hell are we going to do with the old monster? For make no mistake, that is what he is. In the aftermath of World War Two thousands of men escaped to Britain from the wreck of the Thousand Year Reich. Scores of them were involved, whether as active participants or complacent bystanders, in a horror so deep and terrible that its shadow will truly be a thousand year legacy. Of that number, a few have been investigated by the Crown Prosecution Service (a body notorious for dropping cases that the layman might consider open & shut for lack of cast-iron evidence) and deemed to have sufficient evidence against them. The strongest evidence is against Serafimowicz.

So we try him. But all my English contemporaries – those born after the war, for whom the Holocaust is history and the State of Israel an undisputed fact – see is a frail old man who, whatever he might have done in the past, now couldn’t hurt a fly. What’s the point?

It might be instructive to compare this with the case of a man accused of child abuse thirty years ago, which only now has come to light. Many might say, firstly, that this happened so long ago, the children have grown into middle-aged adults, untraumatised, and the culprit has not re-offended in twenty years-, secondly, it has been shown that involving an uncomprehending child in a court case, especially if there is a danger of acquittal for lack of evidence, does more harm to a child than the abuse itself. And yet such trials are still deemed necessary for justice to be seen to be done. How much more so, therefore, should a man who has probably committed mass torture & murder be fairly tried?

There is a further good that will come out of this. Unlike most other combatants, the British were on the side of good throughout the war. Afterwards, the tale gets a bit grubbier. Thousands of SS auxiliaries from anti-Soviet Eastern Europe were helped to find new lives in Britain straight after the war, when by rights they should have been on trial for war crimes. Why? Well, who’s going to be the best anti-Russian cold warrior? An ex-SS man, of course – no longer a threat to the West, he can be safely put to use by MI5. Paradoxically, the only time such people were given a fitting punishment was when Brigadier Toby Low, under Harold Macmillan’s orders, sent thousands of them back to Russia, to the tender mercies of Stalin. And a good thing too.

All this should come out in the trial. And this will be its true virtue. Not to exact an Old Testament style vengeance, however justified. Not to punish a now feeble old man for the evil of his youth, however merited. But to bring to the notice of the British people how their government only made a token effort to bring the perpetrators of the Holocaust to trial, and sacrificed justice to expediency. This should neither be forgiven nor

forgotten.        R.A.C.

 

COOPER’S COLUMN November 1995

How many of you watched “It’s A Boy!” on Thursday 21 September? Could you bear to watch it all the way through? I have a pretty strong stomach: I’ve seen scores of horror films, and in real life seen animals disembowelled and smelled gangrene. But I have to confess that I felt physically sick during that programme; I came close to fainting, and at one point had to close my eyes. I have never seen anything as horrifying since that Muslim woman showed slide after slide of mutilated organs.

In the face of this, the natural response is revulsion and rejection. I am sure that hundreds of parents, after seeing this, will be determined not to go through with their son’s bris. After such a stunning indictment, can there be any justification for inflicting on our children such a barbarity?

In 1945 there were fewer than 11 million Jews in the world, after the depradations of the Shoah. Now there are more than 14 million. In 1985 the world Islamic population numbered about 600 million. Now there are about 900 million. While a significant proportion of the increase in Muslims can be accounted for by conversion, that of the Jews can only come from sex.

Both Jews and Muslims are circumcised well before puberty, as indeed are most boys where circumcision is practised. Where the operation has gone wrong, the boy, when adult, will find intercourse too painful to achieve, and probably physiologically impossible. So, if this was common, we would see cultures that practise circumcision dying out or remaining static. They could not increase. By the way, the Tuareg circumcise their men on their wedding day! In spite of this, they seem to be able to produce more Tuareg.

It cannot be denied that circumcision, like any operation, is fraught with danger and can go horribly wrong. But what are the odds? No statistics were given on that programme: but I would put the number of botched operations at less that 1 in 10,000, possibly only 1 in 100,000. The likelihood of disease in later life from leaving the wretched thing on is far greater.

The British royal family and aristocracy have practiced circumcision for generations. No group of people value their ability to produce sons more. Shall we value our sons any less?       R.A.C.

 

Issue No. 7     7

COOPER’S COLUMN Jan 1996

I remember my thoughts when the peace process started. The only real problem will come from the hard-line Arabs, so I reckoned. The right-wing settlers in Judea & Samaria will puff and blow; some will scream and shout; some will thump Israeli soldiers who move them out; maybe a few stones will be thrown. But when push comes to shove, they’ll go without serious violence: for no Jew, least of all a religious one, would kill another Jew.

Never in my worst nightmares did I dream that not just a soldier, but a general, a war hero, the Prime Minister himself, would be assassinated by a so-called religious Jew, claiming a mandate from the Almighty to boot. How could we all have got it so horribly wrong?

The only clue I can think of is in the character of the settler communities. Since the intifada, I’ve noticed what I can only describe as a Jewish supremacist tendency coming to the fore. This has been denied strenuously by the communities concerned but it is apparent nonetheless. In the USA, white supremacist groups like Aryan Nation and their black counterparts like Nation of Islam have gained strength. In a grotesque form of me-tooism, many American Jews think that Eretz Yisrocl is for them alone.

The paradox is that such an attitude could only arise in a culture like the USA, where respect for all human rights is so embedded in society that even the Jews can kid themselves that homage will be paid to their ethnic self-assertion. It cannot be stressed too often that where Jew turns against Jew, not in natural familial bickering but in physical violence, one side automatically finds itself allied with anti-Semites. The supremacist settlers could destroy the state of Israel where the might of Araby has failed.  R.A.C.

 

COOPER’S COLUMN March 1996

I’m addicted to statistics. When your mind’s fermisht, there’s something ever so soothing about those solid black-and-white figures marching down the page. How close to the truth they are, of course, is another matter: but they’re a classic example of man’s attempt to create order out of the chaos of existence so he can understand it.

This meditation was prompted by ‘Where Are They Now?’ in a previous WJN. I can answer most of the author’s questions. Britain was indeed `Judenrein’ between 1290 and 1656, although a few secret, non-practising Jews survived in London, and possibly in Bristol. My own dear Portsmouth is still going strong, albeit mainly elderly. The Jewish Year Books register 500 in 1908; 800 in 1937 (the peak year not only for Portsmouth and Britain (350,000), but, alas. the world (16,500,000); 300 in 1989; 385 in 1994. For Bournemouth, the corresponding figures are -1908, nil (sorry!); 1937, nil (I don’t believe this!); 1989, 3,500; 1994, 3,000. Brighton – 1908, 450; 1937, 1,575; 1989, 12,000; 1994, 10,000.

What’s going on here? Okay, there are a few mistakes (I know the Bournemouth Hebrew Congregation was founded in 1905!), but we can deduce a pattern. Again, starting from what I know: most of the Portsmouth community are from families like mine who’ve been here since the 1890’s.But their own children, the under-fifties like me, have with few exceptions left either the area or the faith. Contrast Brighton and Bournemouth: generalising wildly, most Brighton Jews were born in London, most Bournemouth Jews used to come here on holiday from Manchester, Leeds or Liverpool, and have wisely chosen to spend their retirement in one of the pleasantest towns in the British Isles!

What about Chichester? Officially there’s never been a Jewish community there. But there’s a Kosher section in the Chichester Sainsbury’s! The Jewish people is characterized by its mobility. Our co-religionists are out there, somewhere nearby: our challenge is to find them! R.A.C.

 

 

COOPER’S COLUMN July 1996

Last Weekend I was staying with some friends in Oxfordshire and we went to visit an artificial rainforest habitat. While I was there, I discovered a type of plant that I didn’t know existed. They are called epiphytes.

For those of you who share my lack of knowledge, the curious thing about an epiphyte is its source of nourishment. Most plants have roots and leaves, feeding off the moisture and minerals in the soil through the former, and off the air and sunlight through the latter. Some plants are parasitic, attaching themselves to a host plant, off which they feed. A few are saprophytic, feeding off dead plant life, and some are symbiotic, giving as much to their host as they receive.

An epiphyte, although commonly found on or hanging from another plant, is not connected to it in any way, and can grow just as happily on a stone or metal rod. It is quite free-living, and draws all the nourishment it needs from the moisture in the air. One of the most common epiphytes is Spanish moss.

 

 Many Jews of my generation, particularly those of us living in small communities or alone, are Jewish epiphytes.

They may be atheists and keep no mitzvahs, dietary or otherwise, never setting foot in a shul or donning a kappel. They may never mix socially with or see another Jew from one year’s end to the next, not even their own family. And yet they refuse, stubbornly, even irrationally, to lose themselves in the mainstream of their host society. Keeping nothing and believing nothing, they are Jews in spite of themselves…. As Martin Luther (no friend of Jewry, but a handy man with an epithet) said: “Here I stand; I can do no other.”

These are the future of the Jewish people, not the few Baalim Teshuvah. To persuade them to become involved in the Jewish community is Jewish Continuity’s biggest challenge.

P.S. In addition to the general editorial disclaimer, I should like to make it clear that: –

1. This column expresses the opinion of its author as a private individual. It is nothing to do with the Editor, nor does it reflect the opinion of any other body or organisation.

 2. I welcome corrections on matters of fact. However, my opinion is as valid as that of anyone else. There is a difference!            R.A.C.

 

COOPER’S COLUMN September 1996

The other day I was sent a flyer for a Klezmer concert. Here are some extracts: ‘KIezmer … had by 1980 developed from the folk idiom into a form of early jazz which had largely concentrated itself in the seedy Moldavanka quarter of Odessa. Here, amongst the bars, cafes, dance halls and dens an earthy improvised music was played … During the years of Prohibition (1919-29) the Jewish Gangster Chiefs, many of whom had heralded from Odessa… set up the dives … with the creation of the Jewish manned ‘Murder Incorporated’ … mirrored in the outpourings of jazz and gangster films of the 1930s.’

And this gig was held in an Orthodox Shul! My mind went back to when, as a child, I had asked my grandmother about my grandfather’s family. He had died tragically young, when my father was himself only a toddler.

“They came from Odessa”, she snapped back, “and you should keep well clear of them!” My further probing over the years could elicit nothing more, although I still cherish the fantasy that his untimely death was due not to T.B., but ‘lead poisoning’!

Meanwhile my other grandmother’s family was doing its best to transcend and conceal its humble immigrant origins. I remember her telling me of her visits to her uncle Max, who by the 1920s was the master of Botleigh Grange, near Southampton (now an exclusive country club). In the kitchen was a big notice saying: ‘English Only Spoken Here’ – a constant reminder of the family’s duty to lose the mamaloishen and turn themselves into little English ladies and gentlemen.

Great-uncle Max would turn in his grave to hear of the current revival of interest in yiddishkeit – let alone the celebration of the dodgy origins of Klezmer! Yet to me this is an indication of how far we have come. Each one of our immigrant ancestors was a person of tremendous courage and enterprise, leaving their ancestral homelands for an uncertain future in the West. Of course they, and their children, needed to re-invent themselves to fit in with British society, and we should not lose sight of the fact that we owe our comfortable English lives to their efforts. But, three generations on, we ought to have the courage ourselves to take an open pride in the culture from which they sprang – warts and all.        R.A.C.

 

 

 

Issue No. 12   11

COOPER’S COLUMN November 1996

£4,600 million – £20,000 million – £65,000 million. The figure grows in the telling. Who can say how much wealth, hard-earned by our murdered cousins on the Continent, has been gathering dust and interest in secret vaults in Switzerland over the past half-century? And now we’d like it back, please.

But let us consider for a moment the ramifications of this just and reasonable request. First, how did the money get there? Some of it was deposited by German and Austrian Jews during the 1930’s. when the shadow first appeared over a Germany that was still free; some of them (or their children) escaped: most did not. Most of the wealth, however, was deposited by the Nazis who had stolen it from the Jews.

Secondly, to whom does the money belong? Contrary to natural justice, there is a strong legal case for saying it belongs to the depositors and their heirs. Repellent though this idea may be, it is likely to be brought up as a challenge if moves are made to transfer this money to its rightful home – Eretz Yisroel. For this plunder to be handed over to the children of leading Nazis would be worse than if it had been left undisturbed.

Thirdly, what would be the effect of such a massive transfer of assets? A loss of £4 ½ billion would have an appreciable effect even on a system as wealthy as the banks of Switzerland: £65 billion would cripple any nation, perhaps irrevocably. I am put in mind of the reparations that Germany was made to pay to the Allies after World War 1, which fuelled the resentment that helped Hitler’s rise to power. Furthermore, is the money even there? Who could resist the temptation to ‘borrow’ such vast and, to all intents and purposes, owner-less funds?

The more I think about it, the more I’m tempted to pass the buck. How much money have the USA and, to a lesser extent, other Western governments given to Israel in aid since her birth? Let them have the Nazi gold in repayment, and good luck to them – if they can get their hands on it! R.A.C.

 

Issue No. 13   13

COOPER’S COLUMN January 1997

At the beginning of December I went to an all-day seminar in London entitled ‘Encounter Conference: Judaism Faces Modernity’. Organised by the United Synagogue and sanctioned by the Beth Din, this was to be the Orthodox establishment’s rival to Limmud, the annual Jewish educational conference over the Xmas period which is open to all Jews but in practice is dominated by the Reform.

The event was efficiently organised and very well-attended, with nearly two thousand there. With 4 different programme streams spread over 6 sessions, we could keep on the go from 10 am to 7 pm and still only experience a fraction of what was on offer. The speakers, drawn from the highest intellectual levels of Orthodoxy in Britain, America and Israel, were uniformly interesting and challenging.

And yet, and yet…….            Rabbi Dr. David Gottleib dismissed his title, ‘The Chosen People – Are We Racist?’, as it were, with the soup. Seven-eighths of his talk focused on how we could make ourselves better Jews by practising something analogous to medieval knightly gallantry. Dr. Joseph Spitzer, on ‘Is Circumcision Barbaric?’ stripped away (!) the popular medical and hygiene arguments in favour, saying that all we as Jews need to know is that it is a categorical imperative from the Almighty. In fact, if it were not compulsory, it would be forbidden, as is all mutilation of healthy flesh!

1 left there more shaken than stirred. and thoroughly fermisht. I come from an Orthodox background, and although extremely slack in my observance, would like to be less so and am open to persuasion. But I am a rational sceptic by training and a deep cynic by instinct. There must be powerful and cogent arguments for Orthodoxy with which I could be presented, and perhaps persuaded. But I did not hear them at the conference. A hundred generations of Jewish ancestors prevent me from abandoning Orthodoxy. But not everyone feels the way I do. We deserve an intellectual justification for our faith, and have a right to expect it from our spiritual leaders. Come on Orthodoxy – you can do better!   R.A.C.

 

Issue No. 14   15

COOPER’S COLUMN March 1997

`The X-Files’, ‘Independence Day’, Dark Skies’, ‘Fortean Times’, and now ‘Fortean TV’; it seems as though our TV screens, cinema screens, bookshelves and magazine racks are being supersaturated with stories of insidious alien invasions that are covered up by sinister, shadowy government forces. Furthermore, fact is mixed in with fiction and speculation masquerades as fact until, as Peter Cook once remarked in his persona of E.L. Wisty, “you could confuse a stupid person”!

I used to think this was harmless amusement, and indeed my mother was quite an aficionado of all this. Then one day she showed me a book by David Icke called ‘The Robots’ Rebellion’, and warning bells started to ring in both our minds. You see, Icke refers to the notorious Tsarist forgery, `The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’. He maintains that it is not the Jews, but the secret controllers of government called the Illuminati, who are behind it; but he quotes from it nonetheless, singling out phrases such as “goy cattle” which are calculated to inspire revulsion.

After that, many things started to fall into place. In all the stories above, the aliens inveigle their way into human society, outwardly identical to us but with a hidden agenda, at the same time, they appear in strength in their true forms to world leaders and force them to do their bidding. Add `Jew’ and/or ‘immigrant’ to ‘alien’ and you have the substance of most anti-Semitic propaganda, from the USA to Japan, from today’s Column 88 right back to the ‘Protocols’ themselves in the 1880’s.

If people believe in Susan Carter from ‘The Archers’ and Elsie Tanner from ‘Coronation Street’, they will believe this dangerous nonsense. However, an even more Machiavellian thought crosses my mind. The Tsarist government used our ancestors as scapegoats for the hardships that they themselves were inflicting on the populace, in an inept attempt at social engineering. Who is to say that what is blamed by the Forteans on aliens, which is most likely to be transferred in peoples’ minds on to Jews, homosexuals, Pakistanis etc., is not in fact truly being perpetrated by government all along? Sometimes the best way of disguising something is to put it where everyone can see it, but nobody will look at it.        R.A.C.

Issue no. 15    15

COOPER’S COLUMN May 1997

Well, I suppose it was inevitable sooner or later. Dr. Jonathan Sacks is our first Chief Rabbi to be not merely a member but a product of the post-war western liberal intellectual school. Remember, before he was a rabbi he was a graduate in Philosophy. I too have a degree in Philosophy; and I can tell you that the mathematical logic that is part of philosophical training chops down the basis for all religions (except possibly the most abstruse form of Buddhism) in very short order.

And yet a man from this background becomes a rabbi, and is fired with such genuine faith and enthusiasm that he is chosen, by people sharp enough to spot any dissembling, to lead Anglo-Jewry. What’s going on?

In a paradoxical sort of way, the leaked letter to Dayan Padwa gives us a clue. Both natural decency and common sense drove the Chief Rabbi to honour the late Hugo Gryn; yet ruthless logic, once started from a Jewish rather than an absolutely axiomatic basis, dictated that such an act would be the thin end of the wedge. Honour Hugo Gryn as a spiritual leader and you validate Reform as an acceptable alternative to Orthodoxy for all Jews; fail to honour him as a person and you reveal yourself to be bereft of decency, especially as, in the minds of Jew and Gentile alike, Hugo Gryn was the paradigm of the noblest type of Holocaust survivor. What is the right thing to do?

Here we see the Chief Rabbi’s strength. He suffers neither from the blinkered traditionalism of the ultra-orthodox nor the anarchic non-judgmentalism of the progressive. He is clever enough to understand both, and sensitive enough to sympathise; yet he is mentally strong enough to hold in his mind both the ideals of liberal democracy and of religious orthodoxy without being swept away by either. His is the most difficult path; but it is the only one possible if Klal Yisroel is not to fragment. He deserves all our support. R.A.C.

 

 

COOPER’S COLUMN July 1997

When my great-grandmother was on tier death-bed, she sent for my grandmother, who was her youngest daughter, to see her one last time. Great-grandma Gitel was born in dire poverty in Galicia (now southern Poland); she and my great-grandfather Soilig came to England in the 1880’s and struggled hard all their lives to make a living. They brought their faith with them, and Gitel kept a kosher home all her life as her ancestors had done for generations. Now enfeebled, widowed, blind, she called my grandmother close to her.

“All that frumkeit”, she said, “all that koshering …. Naarishkeit. Pointless. A waste of time.” She died soon afterwards.

How are we to react to this overwhelming disillusionment, born of a life of disappointments great and small? Logic is on Gitel’s side. The only absolute truth about being Jewish is that we are chosen to be persecuted, and never more so than in the period 1933-45, when to be a Jew in Continental Europe had only one meaning – that you would be selected for death. All other aspects of being Jewish exist in our own minds only.

Yet there is something positive that can be set against this dreadful nihilism. Even from the Shoah, the horror beyond all horrors, there were survivors. And maybe this is the word that we can seize upon to give us a reason for bothering with observance. How is it that we have survived as a people for forty centuries, for most of that time without a physical defence against an overwhelmingly hostile world? Why have we kept faith with the Almighty, though he appears time and again, and never more so than in those dark war years, to have broken faith with us?

These are among the most difficult questions that can be posed. But perhaps part of the answer lies in the unbroken continuum of our survival. Even if we do not believe, we can still observe; even without faith, we can still pray. And paradoxically, in defiance of all reason, faith can come from prayer, belief from observance. The sheer chronological weight and rootedness of doing what our ancestors have done for centuries can have the power to re-kindle an extinguished flame. Nisht naarishkeit: but faith beyond reason, which is something altogether more rich and strange.     R.A.C.

 

COOPER’S COLUMN September 1997

Ho-hum. Here we are again. An­other month, another suicide bomb in Israel, ripping apart scores of men, women and children whose only crime, as far as I can see, is to breathe the air that Palestinian Arabs think should be reserved for them alone. An atrocity of this nature prompted my first ‘Cooper’s Column’ two and a half years ago. I imagine most non-Jewish people, who do not have children, brothers, cousins in Israel, must be fed up with hearing about it all. Is there any hope for progress towards peace?

In order to work towards an answer, one must first understand the question. I am now going to be very boring and tell you a number of things you know already: but I think they need to be kept in the forefront of the mind if one is going to address the problem correctly.

The first is that Israelis and Palestinians do not share the same universe of discourse in the way that (say) British and Argentineans do. Judaeo-Christo-Hellenic liberal democracy and morality has no place in the Islamic oriental tradi­tion. This makes it almost impos­sible to find common ground from which to start genuine negotiations: one side is trying to box, the other to wrestle, as it were.

Next one must take into account the differing attitudes toward lying. Our diplomats talk around sticky topics and try to omit small but crucial details, hoping the other side won’t spot them: if caught out, they apologise, concede gracefully and try something else. In the orient however, the lie is considered an acceptable tool of diplomacy, no matter how blatant: like the Mar­tians in ‘Mars Attacks!’ shouting, “Do not run: we are your friends!” while actually in the middle of gunning down the population.

Also, one must acknowledge that Hamas, like the IRA and the Vietcong, enjoy a large measure of public support. If this were not so, they would be turned in by a war-weary populace. Merely saying that they are misguided will not change their minds: they need somehow to be persuaded.

A lot of questions, and no answers. Perhaps the best we can do is to avoid the mistakes of the past. It is hard to know what to suggest when only one side wants a lasting peace.

R.A.C.

 

COOPER’S COLUMN November 1997

Earlier this summer I read a startling article in the ‘Jewish Chronicle’. It told of a movement among some Orthodox pundits in the United States to spurn the traditional linkage between Jews and the secular, liberal, western democratic establishment, and ally themselves more closely with the growing right-wing Christian fundamentalist movement.

The rationale for this was that, according to these pundits, true Orthodox Judaism, as a religion rooted in the Chumash and bound by the many rules and prescriptions of Torah and Talmud, has more in common with the simi­larly rooted and disciplined fundamentalist Christianity than with rootless and unfettered liberal democracy.

This is the sort of dangerous nonsense that can only spring from minds with a flawed grasp of religious philosophy and a deep ignorance of history. Until the late eighteenth century Jews had no civil rights whatsoever. It was Napoleon, founder of the first non-Christian stable regime in Europe since the Roman empire, who first enshrined Jews’ equal rights in law at the same time as he removed all political power from the Catholic clergy. Since then, the Church has been without overt power, and has had to exercise its influence by persuasion rather than the force of ecclesiastical law. Thus clerics today are epitomised by the gentle priest or vicar rather than the militant crusader or inquisitor.

But make no mistake: it is only in a fundamentally secular, pluralistic society that Judaism, which will always be a minority religion, will be allowed to flourish. Christianity, like Islam, is at bottom an evangelising religion. Any common cause that fundamentalist Christians feign to make with Jews is nothing more than a tactic: a cloak con­cealing their ultimate aim, which is the conversion of all Jews to Christianity. A Christian must believe that his is the one true religion, and it is his duty to the souls of all to convert them to Christianity. We as Jews believe that, although our faith brings us closest to fulfilling the Almighty’s wishes, other people have a right to worship or not – in their own way. This is a crucial difference.

We may despair of the values, or lack of them, of the society in which we live: but better such moral anarchy than an iron theocracy which would crush us completely.

R.A.C.

 

COOPER’S COLUMN January 1998

 

“Education, education and education!” – that was Tony Blair’s battle cry as lie stormed towards victory in the general election. And it is one that has found resonance among all sectors of the Jewish community. Whilst education for children and scholars has been embeddedin the Jewish way of life from earliest times, we are now seeing the approach to it take an almost evangelising turn: what is now called ‘outreach’.

The Reform have been doing it for years with Limmud, their star-studded, event-packed anti-Christmas; on the ultra-Orthodox front, Lubavitch have their Project Seed. Last year, the dear old United Synagogue finally woke up to the fact that there was a market for this sort of thing and, to their credit, organised an ‘Orthodoxy Meets Modernity’ Encounter Day which was as stellar and stimulating as Limmud, and was repeated with even greater success this year

Now all this activity is thoroughly laudable and promising, furthermore, it is unreservedly a good end in itself. But is it enough? I am minded of the stories of two people I know. Cheder, a Jewish school, regular Shul attendance and Shabbat and the festivals observed at home. What happens? When he grows up he meets and falls in love with a non-Jewish girl; they marry, she brings up the children as Christians and lie is lost to Judaism forever.

The other is an elderly lady, born Christian in the 1880s, who fell in love with a Jewish man and converted. This was no Hollywood dunk-in-the-ocean-and-hop-the-broomstick: This was a full-blown Orthodox conversion according to Halacha. So they married and raised a Jewish family. After many decades of marriage, the husband died of old age. Within a year, the wife had returned to the bosom of her mother church. Her children have either died unwed or married out.

This does not belittle the value of education: What I am saying is that it alone is not enough. Education is the sun, the rain, the fertile soil: But all are barren without the seed. That seed is the conviction that we are born Jews, and cannot be anything else, even if we want to. No encouragement can create that: But no threat can destroy it.

R.A.C.

 

COOPER’S COLUMN March 1998

 

So here we are on the brink of what at best will be a costly and pointless military adventure, and at worst (admittedly this came from Yeltsin after he must have necked a bottle of vodka in one), World War Three, and what is on the lips of the West’s media pundits? That wonky-conked terrorist in Bill Clinton’s underpants!

Of course all this promiscuity is not very nice, and in an ideal world our political leaders would not be men behaving badly: but ‘pillar of moral rectitude’ is not part of the job description of the President of the USA. In this respect, the people are wiser than the pundits: a recent poll put Clinton’s popularity higher than that of Reagan at his height, and he struck a chord when he appealed to the nation to “just let him get on with the job he waselected to do.”

I sometimes think that our level of civilisation is in inverse proportion to the respect which we accord our leaders. Only confident, mature liberal democracies provide a secure enough backdrop from which to take the mickey out of the likes of Clinton, Major and Netanyahu, as for the leaders of Norway, the Netherlands and New Zealand, they are almost ignored as petty functionaries, which I suppose makes those countries even more civilised. Conversely, just how far do you think anyone would get who tried to satirise Saddam Hussein, Hafez el-Assad, Muammar Gadaffi? Or, come to that, the leaders of most Asian, African or South American countries? This is not just sense of humour failure on the part of tyrants: what would happen to the fledgling democracy of South Africa, for example, if Nelson Mandela were held up to ridicule’?

So it is all the more remarkable that Israel, which this year (p.g.) celebrates a mere fifty years of existence (hopefully without an obligato of Iraqui fireworks),evinces a degree of political sophistication greater than that of, say, France or Mexico. In any group of schnecking and kibitzing Jews, pomposity or self-aggrandisement has a half-life of about one second. Civilisation’? Shah! We were there already!

One final thought: look at Bill Clinton, Boris Yeltsin and Helmut Kohl greeting each other. What does it remind you of? Eh-oh Big Hug! Wouldn’t life be so much easier if our leaders turned into Teletubbies!                                                       R.A.C.

 

COOPER’S COLUMN May 1998

 

For the past few weeks I’ve been putting in the odd afternoon as a book-shop steward at the Anne Frank Exhibition in Portsmouth Dockyard. It has been a fascinating experience: very enjoyable and at times humbling.

I’m always a bit dubious about these projects that try to show Jewish life to the wider community. I suppose it’s the old ghetto mentality: keep your head down, don’t rub in the fact that you’re different and the Gentiles will leave you alone. But I needn’t have worried: not only were the Dockyard staff tremendously keen to make the exhibition a success, but they were also possessed of a great curiosity about Jewish life and history, both past and present.

The real surprise – and it was that rarest of things, a pleasant one – was the attitude of the general public. I had steeled my­self for the casual indifference and larking about that one usu­ally finds in shops and other public places: but it didn’t hap­pen. Everyone who came in, even groups of schoolchildren, seemed serious and subdued. Reading the comments in the visitors’ book, I was struck by their similarity: ‘Sad’, ‘Well presented but so sad’, ‘It made me feel sad – it must never happen again!’

Credit for this must go to two sources. Firstly, the Anne Frank Educational Trust, which has put together an exhibition which has got across its message by combining powerful imagery with a linkage to modern-day racial prejudice that gives it relevance and immediacy. Secondly, the setters of the national curriculum, which teaches all children about the Holocaust: in my day, I was actually taught the history of World War Two from a textbook that didn’t mention it at all!

Having said that, there is still much that needs to be done, particularly in the former Axis countries. My biggest shock was to be approached by a German schoolgirl, aged about fif­teen, with the words: “Excuse please, who exactly was this Anne Frank?”         R.A.C.

COOPER’S COLUMN July 1998

Thirteen per cent: nine per cent. To the outside observer, the difference must seem negligible: infinitesimal dots in a country itself (lie size of a postage stamp. Yet each dot is of tremendous importance: the result of a long drawn-out and agonised attempt to square the impossible circle that is Judea and Samaria, the West Bank. Thehistory of the land of Israel for the past centuryhas been that of lines endlessly drawn and re-drawn on the map, in a vain attempt to find the least bad territorial solution, that has always ended in pleasing no-one.

The fact is that here we have a land that is home to over five million Jews and nearly three million Arabs, all of whom want the right to live in any part of it. This should be possible in theory: there is nothing to stop all these Arabs from taking up Israeli citizenship. But they won’t do it. Never mind about the West Bank: a depressing number of Arabs still hunger for Jaffa and the Old City of Jerusalem! What is to be done?

There are no quick fixes in a situation such as this, where prejudices are so deeply entrenched. But there has to be some kind of a way forward, however slow. From the Israeli side, it looks as though the Jews are being required to give and give while receiving nothing in return except a vague promise of peace. You give me some of your land, and I’ll try to stop my people killing yours: where’s the equity in that? Would it be so difficult for the PLO to agree to say, six months, in advance of any land hand-over, during Much they would actively prevent all attacks by Palestinians of whatever stripe on Israelis?

On the Israeli side, are there no peace-mongers among the Arabs whom they can cultivate and promote? Is it beyond the wit of Mossad to find denizens of Gaza and the West Bank who are as doveish as the ‘Peace Now!’ Israelis, and back them to the hilt? Also, could there not be something for Israeli Arabs to mirror the Law of Return, nothing as all-embracing, but some law to give Palestinian Arabs security and equal rights for themselves and their families, inalienably, once they have accepted the sovereignty of the State of Israel?

Where will we find a Palestinian leader who values human life more than hegemony? R.A.C.

COOPER’S COLUMN September 1998

 

The Brighton and Hove Hebrew Congregation – no, no, stop, I mustn’t, I got into enough trouble with the Dee case, two years ago, and there I had both the right and the duty to speak out about something that was black and white, and here I have neither the right nor duty and it is all shades of grey. Let’s talk about something else.

Back to my old friend, good, dry, dull statistics. According to the Board of Deputies, there are now only 285,000 Jews in Britain, down front some 450,000 in the 1950s. As we have the great good fortune to live in a liberal democracy where a man’s religion and ethnicity are his own business, this figure only includes those who wish to identify as Jews: they are derived from births, marriages and deaths conducted under the auspices of the Jewish religion. So is this truly a great decline and cause for concern’?

If you were to ask certain charedim, they would say that by their standards – i.e. living and worshipping as 100% Orthodox Jews the number is only some 20,000. At the other extreme, according to Hitler’s Nuremberg definition – one Jewish grandparent – I reckon the number to be between 1.000,000 and 1,500,000. Take your pick.

Since the Babylonian exile there have been Jews who wanted to stop being Jewish. Ironically, this fanned the flames of racist anti-Semitism: Jew-haters fear the Jew who ‘masquerades’ as a member of the host population more than the ‘out’ Jew in caftan and payes. But only re­cently, as Emma Klein points out in her book ‘Lost Jews’, have there been large numbers of Gentiles who want to become Jews: and this being, for better or worse, the era of `having it all’, most of them balk at the rigours of an Orthodox conversion. What are we to make of them?

Look, the Jewish people is, as it has been throughout his­tory, surrounded by enemies. Real ones: ones whose great­est pleasure would be to blow my cousins in Tel Aviv into mincemeat. Yes, there are a lot of frivolous converts for whom Judaism is just a fad: but you can’t compare die two.

The great tragedy of the Jewish people is our propensity to schismatise and snipe at each other, because it’s easier than uniting against our real enemies. By any measure, we Jews are so few, so pitifully few. I don’t trust people either: but I keep a sense of proportion.       R.A.C.

 

 

COOPER’S COLUMN November 1998

 

Due to the exigencies of journalistic deadlines, although you may be reading this (I hope you bought your own copy!) at the beginning of November, I am writing it at the end of September: on the Sunday between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, to be precise. So my wish to you all of happy 5759 and well over the fast is out of date, no matter how sincere; but I offer it nonetheless.

I was listening to the Jewish programme on Spectrum radio the other day (yes, you can get it in Gosport!), and there was a man talking about how much he enjoyed the Rosh Hashanah service he went to last year in the USA; a shul in Los Angeles, I think. The rabbi not only acknowledged that this was probably the first time that most of the congregants had been to shul since the previous Yom Kippur, but recommended (not sarcastically) that they should take time to greet each other if they had not met for such a long period. Furthermore, after the service, he offered an informal session of talking them through the main points of Yom Kippur so they wouldn’t feel at sea on the big day.

What a contrast with all too many of our own ministers! Granted a captive audience ten times the size of their usual Shabbes crowd, do they seize this golden opportunity and use alltheir powers of persuasion to sweetly coax, cajole and flatter them into coming just a little more often? Do they make it an experience to look forward to? Do they heck as like! No, we are berated for our rare attendance, sneered at for our sociability, and tongue-lashed for our inability to follow the service!

And what of our children, our precious and increasingly rare children, on whom the future of Judaism and the Jewish people depend? Stop running around! Stop giggling! Shut up! Sit down! Heaven forfend you should break great-uncle Reuben’s concentration!

Great-uncle Reuben should stand up and thank the Almighty that there still are Jewish children to laugh and scamper about in shul. To my mind, one of Judaism’s great virtues is its contrast with Christianity. An Anglican Church service is solemn, reverent, distant and cold. But we are the firstborn children of the Almighty: we have suffered enough – I am sure it gladdens His heart to see us gossip and muck about.       R.A.C.

 

COOPER’S COLUMN January 1999

 

So the old monster is caught at bay at last. General Pinochet is lying in his hospital bed at the mercy of our own Jack Straw. The Law Lords have ruled that there is nothing to stop him be­ing extradited to Spain to face charges of torturing people to death. On the face of it, this is a clear-cut case of the triumph of natural justice. It is nothing short of monstrous that this old murderer should be free to enjoy his twilight years in luxury and security. But there is another dimension to this case.

One of the greatest achievements of Western civilisation at the end of the 20th century, to my mind, is the extraordinary num­ber of dictators who have relinquished power of their own free will, allowing the fragile shoots of what is often the first demo­cracy their countries have experienced to flourish in their place. Franco groomed the grandson of the king he overthrew to head a constitutional monarchy after his death. De Klerk and Gor­bachev easily could have fought to the death against the demo­cratic forces of Mandela and Yeltsin, bringing their countries to bloody civil war with its attendant massive loss of life and ruin. But they handed over the reins of power peacefully, as did Stroessner and Pinochet.

However, there was a price to pay. and it is one that encapsu­lates one of the great moral dilemmas of our time. In return for their peaceful co-operation they demanded immunity from prosecution for whatever they had done while running the country. Is it acceptable for evil to go unpunished in return for a peaceful and well-ordered society? Supposing a small extremist group threatens to bomb and terrorise the country into a condi­tion where law and order breaks down: are the authorities justi­fied in fighting terror with terror and getting information out of suspects by torturing them and their families?

It is a tempting argument – but not to a moral person, and cer­tainly not to us as Jews. To their great credit, the Law Lords came to the right decision. Lord Nicholls drew our attention to the fact that, if Pinochet were above the law as Head of State, so too would have been Hitler; and Lord Hoffman, a credit to our people, as senior Lords gave the deciding vote. As Lord Justice Mansfield said two hundred years ago: “Let justice be done though the heavens fall”.      R.A.C.

 

COOPER’S COLUMN March 1998

Dateline: Jerusalem, 14 Adar 5799

Today His Majesty, King Hamzah of the United Kingdom of Israel, Jordan and Palestine, opened the King Hussein Memorial Hospital in the newly re-developed Bethlehem suburb of the capital. Watched by Her Majesty Queen Noor the Queen Mother, he spoke of how pleased his late father would have been that the cure for cancer had been discovered by a joint Israeli-Jordanian team, collaborating in secret before the 2027 Act of Union. Together with the revolutionary cold fusion plants (another pivotal Israeli invention) which since 2015 have powered the thousands of desalination facilities which supply virtually free fresh water to the whole of the Middle East, this means that the United Kingdom’s hegemony of the fledgling Middle Eastern Economic Community is now unassailable, added the King.

Meanwhile in Parliament the Prime Minister Mr. Netanyahu called for the backing of his ruling Monarchist Likud party in trouncing a call by the recently un-banned Kach party for a return to the old system of proportional representation. He drew attention to the mutually destructive agendas of both Kach and their deadly rivals the Hamas party, pointing out that under PR both would have won up to five seats. forcing either his party or Labour-PLO to ally with them; whereat under the first-past-the-­post system, they have yet to gain a seat. Smiling benignly down on him from the visitors’ gallery was his father Bibi, the former Prime Minister, still standing erect and belying his eighty-plus years with his arm round the waist of former Miss United Kingdom nineteen-year-old Tami, his eighth wife.

Debate still rages over the holographic projections on the ruins of the Temple Mount, levelled by Saddam Hussein in the Second Yom Kippur War, which ended with his death in the nuking of his home town of Tikrit. The Friday, Saturday and Sunday replicas of the Dome of the Rock, the Temple of Solomon and the Cathedral of the Resurrection respectively are universally accepted; but the Monday to Thursday slots are bitterly contested by the other world faiths, who are pushing for Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh and Jain temples, and local historians allied with the Tourist Board, who would like to see a Canaanite temple of Baal, a Roman temple of Diana, and a mothership crewed by little grey aliens.        R.A.C.

COOPER’S COLUMN May 1999

Alas, it is a safe bet that the war in Kosovo will still be raging by the time you read this. I’m writing this on Erev Pesach and mull­ing over an observation made just now by Richard Ford, the presenter of the Jewish programme on Spectrum Radio. He said that we might draw parallels between the Kosovar Albanians, fleeing their homes in great haste with the threat of death at their heels, and our ancestors fleeing Egypt 3,300 years ago.

While it behoves us to sympathise with these oppressed refugees and help if we can, the comparison is dangerously facile. For a start, the Serbs want to drive the Kosovars out, not keep them in bondage. We wanted to go to our Promised Land: they do not want to go to Albania, if indeed that country is willing or able to take them. I should like to make two observations on the complexity of the Balkan situation. Underlying everything is a three-cornered struggle. The Serbs are Orthodox Christians who look to Russia as their ‘Big Brother’; the Croats are Roman Catholics who have a similar allegiance to Germany; and the Muslims (mainly in Bosnia & Kosovo) long for the old days of the Ottoman Empire, perhaps hoping that Iraq, Turkey or Pakistan will weigh in on their side.

The second point is that the Balkan people love to fight. Vuk Draskovic, the Serb deputy Prime Minister, has written a novel called “Me Knife’, in which he says that when a Serb sees his knife, a red mist comes over him and he can see nothing else. In `The Lady of the Shroud’ Bram Stoker (writing in 1909) says that the Balkan man’s handjar (cutlass) is as much a part of him as his arm; and he cannot be parted from his musket.

Unfortunately this war, like so many others this century, is being waged by the cowardly so-called warriors of each side not upon their opponents (attack the KLA? They might fight back!) but upon the civilians: the women, children, elderly, and those few men who are not bloodthirsty savages. Yes. historically Kosovo is the Serbian Samaria; yes, it makes me sick to think of our forces going into battle as allies of Germany. But nobody would want to massacre the Arabs of Shechem and Jericho.

The Balkans cannot be pacified by conventional weaponry. Make no mistake: we are talking Hirohito and Japan in 1945 here. To impose a lasting peace, we would have to evacuate all the Kosovars from Kosovo; then we would have to saturate the entire province with sarin. Or anthrax. Or a dozen atom bombs. Ren­dering the whole land inhabitable is the only way to shock the combatants out of their blood lust.

But of course this would be insane. So the only effective course open to us is to render humanitarian aid and make sure the world knows the truth about what is going on. The only other thing we can do is try to get the Russians on-side. A joint US-Russian ini­tiative would have moral & psychological weight far in excess of its initial physical strength: I think not even a bloodthirsty dictator could stand against it. But could it ever happen?                                              R.A.C.

COOPER’S COLUMN September 1999

So, it’s Ehud Barak then. Not a bad choice: I was impressed by the fact that he had the hocham to keep a low profile during the elections and didn’t say anything too daft. A top general, seen by many as the spiritual heir of Rabin (though smoother), appar­ently lie is a deep intellectual who is fascinated by complex puz­zles. Good: there’s no puzzle more complex than the politics of the Middle East, though the Balkans gives it a run for its money. Also, by electing him, Israel is fitting in with the current Western zeitgeist: Clinton, Blair, Schroder and now Barak can all be seen as a fundamental shift from a complacent, arrogant and sclerotic right to a flexible centre-left, unafraid of new ideas but willing to retain what was good of the old order.

Barak is going to need all his brains, and a good deal of some­one else’s charisma (Sharansky’s?), in order to keep the show on the road. Without, there is the constant pressure from the Arabs. egged on by our shamefully poisonous European Union, to sacrifice hard-won slices of Eretz Yisroel in return for prom­ises made with fingers crossed behind Arafat’s back. Within, there is the unnecessary antagonism between the religious and secular communities. Throwing soiled nappies at mixed prayers at the Western Wall! Choosing a trans-sexual for last year’s song for Europe (and he/she won … )! Oh, how I yearn to bang their silly heads together!

Although weoccupied Eretz Yisroel for some 1,300 years before the fall of Jerusalem. actually we only did so as a strong unified country- for two centuries: firstly under Saul, David & Solomon, and then nearly 800 years later under the Maccabees. Just over half-way through her first century, the modern State of Israel has already fought off her share of Nebuchadnezzars and Pompeys; can she avoid being tom apart by a latter-day Rehoboam or Alexander Janneus?

COOPER’S COLUMN November 1999

Funny, isn’t it, how people forget their roots? Look at Lord Melchett, recently arrested for trashing a field of genetically modified crops: how many people realise that his great-grandfather, the first Baron Melchett, was born Alfred Mond and founded ICI, without whom I suspect there would be no GM crops’?

A lot of dangerous tosh is talked about the benefits of organic farming. We in the rich north of the world, who indulge ourselves with diets and vegetarianism secure in the knowledge that good red meat and plenty of it is both affordable and readily available, have not known famine for generations. What right have we to deny the starving and disease-ridden masses of Asia and Africa the means to raise themselves up to the level that we reached nearly a century ago? It is all very well to talk about intermediate technology- and knowing when to stop, but the real world doesn’t work like that.

Generalising wildly, people can be split into progressives and reactionaries. The progressive strives to improve his lot and that of his fellow man through science, civilisation and whatever means possible to enable him to have a healthier and easier life than that of his forebears. The reactionary fears change: rural, vegetarian, non-driving, non-smoking, advocating unassisted childbirth and preferring animals to people – you make your own list.

As Jews, we have to be progressive. For the two millennia which constitute our history (as opposed to the preceding two which figure in our mythology and liturgy) we have been the underdogs: living in cities not of our making, governed by laws passed to keep us down, for us, literally, things can only get better. We have made the city our natural habitat; given equal rights, we have advanced medicine and law more than any other people. Denied ownership of the soil, we need the infrastructure of civilisation in which to flourish. As for the reactionaries –do I need to remind you of a certain vegetarian teetotal animal-lover with moustache and cowlick?