Saturday, 2 November 2019

To be or not to be an antisemite

Oh dear, am I an antisemite?
Why do I ask?
Well, first read this anecdote by the British columnist Rod Liddle who was on holiday in Israel and, besides telling everybody what a great place it is, made a joke about Orthodox Jews.

"Last week I was in Israel on holiday – a good destination if you want a safe and beautiful resort in the Med and where the locals still like us.
On the Monday I was sitting by the pool and people kept coming up to me and asking for a light for their cigarettes.
What’s going on, I wondered? Israel run out of Bic lighters?
No – it was a Jewish holiday. And the Orthodox Jews were not allowed to use a lighter themselves. The same day, we were told that we couldn’t have coffee because the staff weren’t allowed to push the buttons on the machine.
But they were allowed to push the buttons on their cash registers, I noticed. You can’t beat Orthodox religious belief for providing a good laugh."

Liddle has now been accused by all and sundry in the British Jewish community of rampant antisemitism for these remarks. Even the Muslim mayor of London got into the act.
Mike Katz of the Jewish Labour Movement (Liddle derides the current Labour Party) said he should be fired for his “rancid views and racism”.
Jonathan Goldstein, the chairman of the Jewish Leadership Council was shocked by the "abhorrent" views.

Liberal Judaism's rabbi Charley Baginsky also waded in. 
According to her, "Liberal Judaism unequivocally, and will always, condemn this language and hatred."
Charley Baginsky is the rabbi who unequivocally refused to condemn the members of her community who said Kaddish for Hamas.

So, Liddle is a Jew-hater?
He does write scurrilous and provocative articles for right–wing media, but he has never been associated with antisemitism. In fact, quite the opposite, he usually lambastes the antisemites of the Corbyn cult and BDS-supporters.
No, he has never been considered to be a Jew-hater, but someone who criticizes all forms of orthodox religion; usually Orthodox Islam, this time it was Orthodox Judaism.

Still, if the bigwigs of the British Jewish community think he is an antisemite, he must be an antisemite.
We Diaspora Jews always follow our leaders.

What is then my problem?
If he met people who could smoke but not light their own cigarettes, could not press the buttons of a coffee machine but could push the buttons on their cash registers, I do not think that is funny. I think it is religious hypocrisy.
According to the reading of the Diaspora bigwigs, I must be an even bigger antisemite.
A Zionist self-hating Jew?

Friday, 1 November 2019

Better than the rest

In my youth, my friends and I defined ourselves literarily. We always had a copy of a personal thin paperback with us.
I remember one friend who was into James Joyce. His carrier book was “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”. He would have preferred “Ulysses”, but that was too thick and heavy to always lug around with you.
My taste was the Collected Essays of George Orwell.

We also used to trash popular television series. The kind of series my sister liked.
These were some of the ways we positioned ourselves as not being part of the low-brow herd.
No, we were not cultural snobs, we were just better than the rest.

Nowadays some of this television trash of yesteryear is viewed fondly. The series are seen as examples of earlier British culture.

Nowadays I always have a copy of my medicine list, not a paperback, with me.

Wednesday, 28 August 2019

Holocaust, a dog and a tape recorder

Holocaust survivors usually did not like dogs.
During the Holocaust, the Nazis not only used dogs to guard Jews. They were also used to attack and kill them.

Ronnie and Michaela, a Belgium couple from my garin (group), arrived at the kibbutz with a small, friendly dog. The Romanian Holocaust survivors on the kibbutz were upset about this, but it was not forbidden.
It was not a major ideological problem like Danny’s tape recorder.

Danny and Judith were a brother and sister from a rich, left-wing Swiss Jewish family.
Judith arrived first. She was a bit too fancy for the Marxist-Zionist kibbutz. It was rumoured that she trimmed her pubic hair.
I never had the inclination to find out if the rumour was true or false. My friend Tzvi from Austria said it was true.

Danny arrived later with a (big) tape recorder, which he wanted to keep for himself because he could not live without his music.
This was a direct attack on the principle of equality in our garin.
We did not even have radios and we were still living in huts. Yet he refused to give up the tape recorder.
A solution was found.
He gave the tape recorder to the kibbutz library but kept it in his room, as he was allowed to borrow it indefinitely.

A solution was also found for Ronnie and Michaela’s small dog.
Someone poisoned it.
I remember seeing them distraught in the communal dining room after the poisoning. They were crying and shouting that the kibbutz had killed their dog. They did not get much sympathy.

Ronnie and Michaela left the kibbutz, as did Judith.
Her brother Danny is still there. He is quite important nowadays; sits on the Board of a number of peace organizations.

The kibbutz must be doing well, it even has a listing on the Bloomberg site.
"The Company's line of business includes the manufacturing of synthetic resins, plastics materials, and nonvulcanizable elastomers". It has 250 employees.
According to the site of the "company", it is the largest international manufacturer of solar swimming pool heating systems, with wholly-owned subsidiaries in the USA and Germany.

The kibbutz, like the country, has changed. The Holocaust is an ever dimming memory and I do not think they worry about dogs and tape recorders any more.

Monday, 5 August 2019

Diversity and Cultural Divide

Nieuwe Zakelijkheid, translated as New Objectivity or New Pragmatism, is a Dutch period of modernist architecture that started in the 1920s and continued into the 1930s.
I have a distinct antipathy towards this form of architecture.

I live across the road to a synagogue building that is a prime example of Nieuwe Zakelijkheid. It is now used as an auction hall.
The actual synagogue is in a small annex that is not an example of any form of architecture.

Opposite the annex lives an old homosexual couple.
Their yellow roses are in bloom.
One of the men dresses like an old professor, the other like a young man from the 1950s.
The old professor type told us his partner’s legs were bad and he could not walk very far, but he wanted to keep up appearances by dressing like a young man.

Next door lives an older woman who used to be the madam of a brothel. 
Her red roses are in bloom.
She is a nice, chatty person who changes the colour of her hair every month. She once told me she had an invalid husband who she looks after, but I have never seen him.
There is always another old lady with her. I wonder if this is a sister, a friend or a lover.
I also wonder if she has a past with her homosexual neighbours.

My Dutch wife says I should stop wondering and ask her. This illustrates the cultural divide between us.
One does not ask these things, one speculates.

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

The shtetl Jews of Amsterdam

"The 'Nieuw Israƫlietisch Weekblad' (Dutch for New Israelite Weekly), in short NIW, is the only Jewish weekly and the oldest functioning news magazine in the Netherlands.
Founded on August 4, 1865, it has tried to inform the Jewish community on issues concerning Jews and Judaism in the Netherlands and in the world."

It is also quite good, much better than English-language Jewish newspapers like The Forward and the Jewish Chronicle.
The NIW journalists can actually write.

The NIW was a newspaper of and for progressive "shtetl" Jews in the progressive city of Amsterdam. Most Dutch Jews live there.
"Shtetl" in the sense that they kept their heads down and relied on their contacts with people in power to resolve problems for the Jewish community.

Amsterdam used to be a fine city for Jews. The Dutch Labour party, where Jews often held prominent positions, had been in power there since the end of the Second World War.
Amsterdam mayors, who always came from this party, were usually Jewish. 

However, from the 1980s onward, Amsterdam began to change demographically.
The indigenous Dutch workers started moving to the small towns outside the city.
The guest workers from Morocco and Turkey stayed. They sent for their families. Waves of new immigrants came after them. 

Most of the immigrants were Muslims. The progressive Jews welcomed them enthusiastically.
There were those who warned that many of these migrants had been fed a diet of Jew and Israel hatred in the countries they came from.
This was dismissed as right-wing bigotry.
Job Cohen, one of Amsterdam's Jewish mayors, invoked the history of his family in the Holocaust to justify his identification with the Muslim immigrants.

The demographic changes led to changes in institutions of the city, like the political parties, civil service and police.
The city was no longer pro-Jewish and pro-Israel.
Instead, virulent hatred of Israel and anybody who supported Israel was growing at an alarming rate.
The shtetl leaders did not seem to notice.

Small antisemitic demonstrations started appearing regularly on Dam Square in the center of Amsterdam.
A group of Jewish activists who had no connection to the shtetl dignitaries staged counter demonstrations.
The NIW was furious.
The Jewish weekly demonized the activists in acrimonious articles. They framed the activists as irresponsible and right-wing.

Eventually the prominent Jews of Amsterdam did realize what was going on, in June 2015.
The mayor of Amsterdam had proposed a twinning agreement with Tel Aviv.
This was greeted with an enormous negative backlash on social media and from the "new" citizens of Amsterdam. The majority of the city council opposed the agreement and the mayor rescinded his proposal.

Jewish dignitaries took to Facebook, Twitter and articles in newspapers to express their shock at what had happened.
Their greatest shock was at the betrayal of the Labour party, who had also voted against the twinning.

There are now many more and much larger antisemitic demonstrations on Dam Square. The police only intervene to arrest people who protest the antisemitism.
The new mayor from the Green Left party and the new city council are not interested in the Jewish entreaties.

However, the Jewish activists do still turn up to protest.
The NIW now supports the activists (it used to demonize).
Unfortunately, it is too little, too late.

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

The Age of the Simpleton

I can remember the forlorn, solitary figures with sandwich boards around their necks who walked the streets of London in all weathers. The message on their boards was simple: "the end is nigh".
Sometimes the presence of these figures annoyed me. I thought: simpletons, why don't you just piss off.
Other times I felt sorry for them.

The advent of the computer and internet changed their lives completely.
They could now come in from the cold, communicate with each other and, as a group, spread their simple message with a keyboard.
The forlorn, solitary figures formed pressure groups and later political parties. 

Nowadays, they walk the corridors of power. No longer forlorn and solitary, but esteemed and worshiped.
Their message is still the simple: "the end is nigh".

And yes, they are right. When simpletons take over, the end is nigh.

Friday, 24 May 2019

Brexit Blues

The politicians are not to blame. They are representative of the people. And the people are suffering from a Dissociative Identity Disorder.
The people want to leave I am told, and they want to remain I am told.
They are willing to revolt and fight for the right to leave and to remain.

If you represent the real will of the people you cannot compromise, because that would be a betrayal of the people.

All hail the revolting people with mental health issues.