It’s a cold Monday morning and i’m visiting my parents in Yorkshire. I get up early to buy the newspaper but decide to read the news online as I don’t want to tempt frost bite en route to the newsagents.
I enjoy reading a newspaper as you can read it in many more places that you probably shouldn’t be sitting with a laptop. However, reading the news online offers so much more than the traditional paper. For a start it’s free!
Secondly, the news is interactive. Most online news providers will allow you to comment and debate the article with other readers and even the journalist who has written the piece.
Finally, I tend to read a much larger variety of articles online compared to the paper. I am a Guardian reader out of habit. I have developed a routine; whenever I buy the newspaper I drop several sections into the recycling bin and keep the Politics, UK news, International news and Sports sections to the side to read on the tube. However when I read the news online, many more articles catch my eye that I would have previously automatically recycled. I’m talking mainly about lifestyle, travel, culture etc.
A particular article caught my eye on the Guardian online this morning. The article is titled ‘Not Jewish but Jew-ish’ by Jonathan Margolis (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/nov/30/jewish-judaism-jonathan-margolis) The comment section has been disabled for this article, i’m guessing by the author, and I don’t blame him. Most articles that have anything to do with Judaism descend into passionate debates on the origins of Israel and the future of the Middle East. Those debates are only valid in the right context.
On the surface, Jonathan’s article appears to be about the ‘less than kosher’ approach of British Jews towards Judaism. The article description reads ‘Jonathan Margolis explains why you will find him skipping synagogue and munching bacon bagels’. I assumed that the article would focus on the British Jewish community rather than inevitably including a politically charged rant on the state of Israel. I was wrong.
The article starts with Jonathan exploring what the label of ‘Jew’ means in Britain. His style is charming, his issues are familiar as I am also a member of Britain’s ethnic minority groups. I find comfort in his words when he speaks about his experiences of racial bullying, directly as a youngster and indirectly later on in life through snide comments and racist stereotyping.
He goes on to explore another issue which I know so well. I am a Hindu – kind of, but what does that mean? What do I have to adhere to, to be part of the Hindu club? What are the views of my community on my confused way of life? How do I feel about the faith and culture of my community? Is it possible to be a passionate home and away Leeds united fan, a lover of real ale, mixed grills, admirer of multi faith multi ethnic women and still be a middle class British-Punjabi Hindu? Or am I a coconut, brown on the outside and white on this inside. A man with no respect towards our history or cultural values with an inferiority complex towards the old colonialists.
Jonathan argues that he is more Jew-ish than Jewish, ‘We are those cop-out, fair-weather Jews that “real” Jews despise more than they do antisemites: the secular, cultural Jews, the amoral majority, the ones who want to have their bagel and eat it. The ones who, with their marrying out, their going to the pub on Yom Kippur and to the football on Saturdays, and – God forbid – with their ambivalent view of the Middle East, are doing Hitler’s work for him and conspiring in the erosion of the already disappearing UK Jewish community – currently about 250,000 and counting, downwards’.
By this point I am completely captivated by the words on the screen. The author is describing the experiences I have already faced in my short life, and the experiences of many more British ethnic minorities. However, by the end of the article I am thoroughly insulted.
The article looks towards Israel, the tone changes from charming to patronising. He claims that by the time he reached working age, ‘“Jewish” as insult was replaced by the now more fashionable “Zionist”… Even today, when anti-Zionism is so hip, I hear the odd, faint echo of the old-style, non-PC anti-Semitism’.
OK, I accept that Jonathan is not being as Melanie Phillips-esque to directly claim that any criticism of Israel or Zionism is actually a mask for deep hatred of Jews. He goes on to say that ‘we can’t help feeling uncomfortable when people who aren’t Jews criticise the country (Israel); it seems, if only very exceptionally, to be tinged with a little bit of old-fashioned Jew-hating’. In almost a decade of protesting and attending meetings against the occupation of Palestine I am yet to meet a fellow anti Zionist who is anti Semitic thank goodness. Although I dislike the lazy anti Semitic accusations that a proportion of pro Israel supporters make towards those who want to end the suffering of the Palestinian people, I am used to them.
What I find most insulting about the article is the author’s attitude towards student anti-Zionists. I find his comment that ‘anti-Zionism is, at least for the students who aren’t actually Palestinian, a fashion accessory like those chainstore black-and-white keffiyeh scarves’ comment particularly demeaning to a worthy cause.
The authors ignorance stems from an earlier comment where he claims that ‘The reason Israel is singled out for hatred, I like to think, is positive; it’s because the world expects better of Jews’. Maybe he is suggesting that the world expects better of Jews because the Israeli Jews are largely european looking (although I’m sure the BNP would disagree) with American sounding accents and western culture, and therefore should know better. Maybe this is also the reason why the anti apartheid movement was so popular in the UK, as this was another case of a group of people who are culturally similar to people in western Europe persecuting others and after the horrors of the holocaust, we should know better!
I have been doing a lot of thinking recently. Why Israel? What is it about the Arab Israeli conflict that stirs up such powerful emotions within me? There are other conflicts raging around the world. There are conflicts closer to the home of my ancestors in India, people are killing each other, enslaving each other, persecuting each other and stealing from each other worldwide so why focus on Israel?
First of all my own identity dictates my views on the situation. I am British –Indian. To me that means that historically I am Indian, I identify strongly with the struggle against colonialism. The massacre at Jalianwalla bagh and other atrocities committed by the British in India are still emotive issues for me as is the Koh-i-noor diamond, India’s most beautiful diamond that is still sitting in the tower of London after it was stolen and given to Queen Victoria.
However I am British, the new British, the Lewis Hamilton British, the Amir Khan British, the Christine Ohouruogu British, the post Windrush British, the post NHS British, cool Britannia not rule Britannia, mini coopers with union jack roof, The Who, Danny Boyle, Guy Ritchie, Frankie Boyle, Peep show, The Inbetweeners, Christmas Crackers, Britain’s got talent, Chicken tikka masala, two pints of lager and a packet of crisps, that’s the kind of Brit I am. Sure our country still commits terrible crimes against others, notably cases such as Diego Garcia in the 1970’s (Wiki it) and illegal invasions of former colonies such as Iraq but away from Westminster, there is vibrant diverse tolerant exciting country with interesting and eccentric beautiful people.
First of all, the Israeli conflict is directly tied to the kind of British I am most at odds with, the colonial British. From the Balfour declaration until now Britain has always had a considerable input at varying levels to the lives and fate of those who live in Palestine and now Israel/ occupied territories. As a new Brit I find it hard to swallow that our foreign policy will still allow Israel to openly break international laws on a frequent basis, particularly with the land it occupied after the 1967 war. In Britain and the EU as a whole, we are a key trading partner to Israel. It is one thing for our government to claim to be disturbed by operation Cast Lead, evictions in Palestinian neighbourhoods such as Sheikh Jarrah, further growth of illegal settlements, construction of wall around the West Bank and Gaza (also judged as illegal) and another to back this up with sanctions such as the ones that helped to defeat the apartheid government.
We exert more influence in Israel than in other countries where atrocities are happening, yet we sit quietly observing the situation that we created. Our government should take more authority in ensuring that Israel behaves responsibly by any means possible. It is the moral obligation of the British people and one that we are failing at. That is why I believe that anti Israel protest groups in the UK should target our government to take action rather than protest at the Israeli embassy.
Secondly, I belong to the 3 M generation, a generation inspired by human rights struggles, a generation that looks to the 3 M’s, Mahatma, Martin Luther King and perhaps most significantly Mandela for guidance. I was entering teenage hood around about the same time that South Africa was holding its first democratic elections. We were learning about the holocaust at school which had struck a chord within me. I was highly sensitive towards the conditions that the Jews had endured in Europe prior to the end of WW2 and right before my eyes on the TV was the unfolding of a fairy tale human rights victory against the apartheid regime, led by the charismatic Mandela. I was inspired by reconciliation and my political views began to take shape at this young age.
It is easy to draw comparisons between the struggle for independence in Palestine and apartheid. ANC members who battled apartheid do it constantly although the apartheid government never went as far to build an illegal wall to imprison the undesirables. Maybe I am waiting for another fairy tale in Israel. The dream is a one state solution where both Jews and Arabs live prosperously together sharing power and celebrating their theological similarities. More realistically I would happily settle for a two state solution with fair borders (not the current green line) and significant compensation for Palestine from Israel for the forced evictions from 1948 to current day, and crimes committed against Palestinians by settlers and the IDF in the occupied territories.
Finally maybe the author does have a valid point when he claims that “the world expects better from Jews”. Israel was arguably founded on the pretext of racism after a declaration by the anti Semite Arthur Balfour, who wanted to create a Jewish homeland to remove the Jews from England. East Africa, possibly Kenya or Uganda was earmarked as a potential place until Britain acquired Palestine after defeating the Ottoman Empire in World War 1. Balfour warned the cabinet that the Jewish people who had settled in England were not ‘to the advantage of the civilization of this country’. He went on to say that although the Jews in England behave like their compatriots and had assimilated they can never be considered English as ‘they are a people apart and not only hold a religion differing from the vast majority of their fellow countrymen but only intermarry amongst themselves’.
Jews also were the subject of tremendous hostility in France and Eastern Europe before Hitler murdered millions of them. So maybe Jews and non Jews alike can be forgiven for our concern that some of those who were treated so badly in our continent have become oppressors in another.
After all, do you have to be Jewish or Arabic to be able to take an interest in the situation? I would be very surprised if Jonathan Margolis hadn’t been against apartheid in South Africa purely on the basis that he isn’t black, Indian or mixed race.