Leo Baeck 1


Feb 2002 Journal

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English-speaking (dis)union

'Two countries divided by a common language' was George Bernard Shaw's description of England and America. Others called England the Greece to America's Rome - meaning that the former had wisdom, and the latter power.

Alas, nowadays this country is less wise than the US. The run-up to the Gulf War did not see American politicians of the eminence of Edward Heath or Tony Benn pay court to Saddam Hussain. Ten years on, British media pundits - unlike their US counterparts - exuded defeatism from every pore. Some asserted with absolute conviction that the the Afghan fighters' ferocity, and the mountainous terrain, made the war unwinnable. Others issued dire warnings about the counterproductive effect the continuation of bombing raids into Ramadan would have on the world's billion Muslims.

The fact that none of their dire predictions came true does not fill the prophets of doom with anything resembling contrition. The least contrite is Will Self, bile-spewing peacenik and counsel for the prosecution of the 'warmonger' Tony Blair. Having had to abandon the moral high ground over Afghanistan, Self has reheated the bubbling cauldron of his indignation on the fires of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In a BBC TV Question Time clash on this issue, he discomfited that doughty fighter for the Jewish cause, Melanie Phillips, by declaring himself a Jew. (Warning to readers: do not confuse the handful of self-hating Jews - e.g. Harold Pinter, Alexis Sayle, Michael Rosen - with the mass of Self-hating Jews!) In sitting in stern judgment on Israel, ex-druggie Self was joined by ex-Health-Minister-turned-tobacco-salesman Ken Clark, and Diane Abbot, the MP who once famously complained about the culture shock inflicted on black patients in Hackney hospitals by the recruitment of blonde, blue-eyed Finnish nurses. More immediately relevant is the fact that Abbot (whose constituency contains a sizeable Jewish minority) has a defective grasp of Middle Eastern history. She referred to the Irgun as the shadow Israeli government in pre-independence days. In fact, the leader of the Yishuv was the Labour Zionist David Ben-Gurion, who actually deployed armed force against the Irgun in the Altalena gun-running incident of September 1948.

Abbot's two Labour colleagues with junior Foreign Office portfolios, Peter Hain and Ben Bradshaw, also deserve dishonourable mention in this connection. Counselling the Israelis to imitate the UK - which refrained from missile strikes on Catholic-populated areas in the aftermath of the Omagh bombing - combines casuistry with hobnailed insensitivity. To the UK the Omagh outrage - however sickening - is peripheral, while to Israel bombs exploding in Jerusalem are stabs to the heart. Nor is the Real IRA bent on the destruction of mainland Britain as Hamas is on that of Israel. Last, but not least, Irish terrorists - unlike their Palestinian counterparts - have not descended to the lowest level of bestiality represented by suicide bombings.

Just as no US newspaper reporter would file the tendentiously slanted copy of a Robert Fisk or John Pilger, so no assistant to Colin Powell at the State Department would indulge in the ill-thought-out admonitions of Israel that trip off the tongues of Messrs Hain and Bradshaw. Does Prime Minister Blair, who gained global stature during the Kosovo and Afghan crises, realise what his appointees are saying?

And apart from politicians, what about laying down rules of conduct for other opinion-formers? The literature pundit Tom Paulin, a semi-permanent panellist on BBC 2's Arts Review, recently stepped right outside the confines of a purportedly cultural programme by dubbing Ariel Sharon a 'war criminal'. This sort of allegation, unsubstantiated by the findings of a court of law, helps muddy the waters as perniciously as equating Israel with the Nazis.
Richard Grunberger

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