Extracts from the Oct 2012 Journal
The distinguished historian Bernard Wasserstein, son of a Jewish professor of classics who fled from Germany to Britain and himself now a professor at the University of Chicago, made his name with his early study Britain and the Jews of Europe, 1939-1945, followed by a steady stream of publications on Jewish subjects and the Middle East. His latest book, On the Eve: The Jews of Europe Before the Second World War (London: Profile Books, 2012), is a sweeping and often magisterial historical overview of the Jews of Europe between the First and Second World Wars, ranging across the entire continent, from France to Poland, Lithuania and the Soviet Union, from Holland to Slovakia, Romania and Greece. [more...]
Among the relatively few refugees from Hitler to have achieved prominence as a journalist in Britain is John Izbicki, who for 18 years, from 1969, covered education for the Daily Telegraph with notable intelligence and flair. Now Izbicki has written a characteristically readable and entertaining autobiography: Life Between the Lines (London: Umbria Press, 2012, 359 pp., £12.95). Speaking as a regular reader of Izbicki’s, I was surprised to learn that he was born Horst Izbicki in 1930, the son of Jewish parents from Berlin who arrived in Britain by boat on the night of 2-3 September 1939. (How he came to change his first name to John on the advice of an Oxford policeman is just one of many amusing reminiscences from an eventful life.) [more...]
Shakespeare lovers should visit the British Museum’s excellent exhibition Shakespeare: Staging the World (until 25 November), launched in time for the 2012 Olympics. It offers some rousing videos and voice-overs by the Royal Shakespeare Company, such as Sir Ian McKellan’s dazzling Prospero soliloquy, Sir Antony Sher’s poignant Shylock ‘Hath not a Jew eyes?’ appeal, and Harriet Walter’s emotive rendition of Cleopatra’s suicide speech. [more...]
A seminar entitled ‘German and Austrian Jewish Refugees: Their Impact and Legacy’ took place on 12-13 September 2012 at the London Jewish Cultural Centre (LJCC). It was held jointly by the LJCC, the University of Sussex’s Centre for German-Jewish Studies, and the AJR. [more...]
When Israel’s leading theatrical company, Habima, was invited to perform Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice in Hebrew at the Globe Theatre in London last summer, a flurry of opposing voices erupted. The usual vociferous pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel suspects trotted out their tried-and-tested arguments denigrating Israel’s government. It seemed perfectly logical for them to call for the cancellation, or at least boycott, of a performance by Israeli actors. They threatened to demonstrate against the performance and disrupt it if it went ahead.
To their credit, the organisers of the festival, who had invited theatrical companies from all over the world to perform in London, did not heed the threats, merely putting precautionary measures in place (extra security and additional ushers). The protesters demonstrated outside the theatre, as was their right, and were confronted by a counter-demonstration by Israel’s supporters. The show went on, and by all accounts was a great success, and those who tried to disturb the performance were quickly removed from the auditorium.
But, as has been pointed out before, the campaign against Habima was just one aspect of the ongoing endeavour by various groups in England and elsewhere to delegitimise Israel and deny its right to exist. This campaign has now been extended to the sphere of artistic endeavour, so that any Israeli artist who seeks to appear on a stage in England does so at the risk of having his or her performance interrupted by calls to ‘Free Palestine’ and for Israel to cease practising ‘apartheid’. The facts on the ground - namely that Israel seeks peace and defensible borders - are of no relevance to these people, led by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, who seem to be motivated by little less than blind hatred of Israel and all it stands for.
Perhaps it’s time to remind ourselves that Israel was founded on the basis of the legitimate right of the Jewish people to a homeland, as set out by the British government in the Balfour Declaration of 1917. The UN Partition Resolution of 1947 was rejected by the Arabs, who took up arms to prevent its implementation. The outcome of the ensuing war, Israel’s War of Independence, was that Israel was established and Jordan, Egypt and Syria appropriated the areas that had been designated for the Palestinian state. The Palestinians have recently adopted the term Naqba for that event (something like Tisha b’Av, which commemorates the destruction of the Temple and the Romans’ expulsion of the Jews from their land in 70 CE).
Israel has stated that it is prepared to cede land in return for peace and acceptance of its existence as a Jewish state. No such undertaking has been forthcoming from the Palestinians. Moreover, a few years ago Israel pulled out of the Gaza Strip and uprooted its settlers hoping for peace with the Palestinians there. The result? Almost daily rocket bombardments of civilian areas from close range. Would anyone in their right mind take that risk again?
It is also worth recalling that in the Six Day War of 1967 Israel fended off three invading Arab armies and conquered the areas that its Arab neighbours had taken over in 1948. Since the Arab countries refused to recognise Israel’s existence or negotiate peace terms, the areas thus acquired became ‘occupied’. Opinions within Israel and outside it are divided as to the legitimacy and/or advisability of Israel’s remaining in those areas, and certainly as to its right to build and settle there, but, until a viable partner for peace negotiations comes along, the situation remains fluid and certain elements within Israel take advantage of this.
But logic has no meaning when anti-Zionism is simply anti-Semitism in another guise.