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Sunday, 23 April 2017

Playing Consequences

There’s ‘no such thing as co-incidence’

So we must suppose, for example, that as the outrage caused by the US Trump administration’s tough anti-illegal immigration policies highlighted the large number of Muslim countries that ban Jews, so the consequent embarrassment has forced Pakistan to allow Fischel (ne Faisal) Benkhald to register officially as a Jew.

Benkhald (29), born to a Muslim father and a Jewish mother, describes himself ‘the last Jew in Pakistan’. But it is believed there may be hundreds of Jews who have decided to live secretly in Pakistan due to the steep rise in antisemitism there following the partition from India in 1947.

Benkhald, whose Muslim siblings distance themselves from his activities, has done much to restore the Jewish cemetery in Karachi, where a community of largely Iraqi and Indian immigrants once lived. He says he hopes to travel abroad "to a free country" to study Hebrew and Judaism but until then, he will continue his activism in Pakistan.


There’s ‘no such thing as co-incidence’.

So it must have been a fluke that caused The Guardian newspaper to feature the worst excesses of the Nazi film industry barely hours after it was the subject of a screening and discussion for the Anglo community in Karmiel, Israel.

In her newspaper feature, historian and film-maker Karen Liebreich covered several of the same movies as those discussed during the local event led by US-Israeli Marc Milzman.

Both, for example, highlighted Jud Süss (Süss the Jew), generally considered to be the most dangerously antisemitic film ever produced. It was seen by about 20 million people throughout Europe by 1943 and is thought to have been the direct cause of many pogroms as well having helped to enthuse SS troops and concentration guards to perform their evil work.

It is painfully clear from Liebreich’s interview with the actress, Kristina Söderbaum (whom she dubs ‘the Nazi Marilyn Munroe’) that even aged eighty and many years after the war, Söderbaum harboured the same hypocritical prejudices she held when she had played the story’s ravished heroine, Dorothea Sturm.

In her autobiography the actress said that Jud Süss had “burnt a wound in my soul, and whenever it seems nearly healed over, it is ripped open once more. I know it will never heal. That is my fate, I must live with it.”

However, when interviewed by Liebreich, she claimed the movie was not anti-Jewish; that everyone felt sympathy for the anti-hero and insisted that she had had no choice but to appear in it as it was directed by her husband, Veit Harlan.

Post-war, Harlan was tried (but acquitted) for crimes against humanity. As for Söderbaum, in her autobiography she wrote that Jud Süss “burnt a wound in my soul, and whenever it seems nearly healed over, it is ripped open once more. I know it will never heal. That is my fate, I must live with it.”

And so must we.

© Natalie Wood (23 April 2017)

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Sticking the Knife In!

Well. Here’s a thing.

This time major international news sites – most especially the BBC – have jumped to report a murder in the ongoing Palestinian knife intifada aimed at Jewish Israelis.

Hannah BladonMost happily for the po-faced, hand-wringing hacks at the BBC, Sky News, et al, the victim was not Jewish. She was not even an Israeli, but a British national. So they may describe Hannah Bladon’s terrible death with all due ceremony.

Indeed 20-year-old Hannah, from Burton, Staffordshire, was on Jerusalem’s light railway (‘tram’) on Good Friday when she was stabbed several times in the chest. She was studying at the University of Birmingham and was in Israel on an exchange programme based at the Hebrew University.

This time, the Middle East pages on the BBC’s website have been assiduously updated to ensure that readers may view tributes from both universities; condolences from Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin and an image of the murder weapon  – a long-bladed kitchen knife - posted originally on Twitter by Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.

Even here  hatemongers have tried to make mischief but have been slapped down by  others pointing out that the picture was published to show the length of Jerusalem Murder Weapon.14.04.17the blade.

This flurry of activity is a world away from what usually happens after such attacks.  They are mostly ignored by the international media because of  skewed, prejudiced editorial policies.

I am writing about this now as Ms Bladon’s murder occurred barely days after Hadar Sela of BBC Watch looked back at a terrorist attack of December 2014.

Ayala Shapira and her father, Avner were driving home near Ma’ale Shomron in Samaria when their car was set ablaze by a petrol bomb.

Ayala, then aged 11 and now 13, suffered life-threatening third degree burns to much of her body and face and  must continue to wear a facial pressure mask for the foreseeable future.

Ms Sela wrote: “Ayala’s story is one of hundreds of which BBC audiences have no knowledge because non-fatal terror attacks – however devastating for the victims and their families – are for the most part not reported by the BBC and certainly do not receive any follow-up coverage.

“During 2016, for example, the BBC News website reported all the terror attacks against Israelis that resulted in fatalities, but those attacks were a small proportion of the total number of incidents and audiences were not provided with the crucial context of the scale of attacks as a whole.

“Untold stories such as that of Ayala Shapira are no less important than the fatal attacks which do make BBC headlines in helping audiences to understand Israel’s policies, counter-terrorism measures and the concerns of the Israeli people.

“The fact that such stories are ignored also means that when Israel is obliged to respond to rising terrorism, audiences and BBC journalists alike are unable to put events into their appropriate context and thus arrive at uninformed and inaccurate conclusions.”

© Natalie Wood (15 April 2017)



Thursday, 13 April 2017

Ruffling a Few Feathers!

THE BLACK PEACOCK CLUBThe Black Peacock Club ** is a cross-genre thriller set among the criminal underclass of Thatcher’s Britain.

Much of the story unfolds in Brighton, a popular, if vaguely raffish south coast resort, legendary as a bolthole for those seeking a ‘dirty’ weekend.

And while David (‘D A’) Crossman’s fast-paced, often absorbing story offers plenty of sex and an absurd amount of coarse language, when I note that the denouement takes place against the background of the October 1984 IRA bombing of the Conservative Party Conference at the city’s Grand Hotel, readers will start to guess where a fraction of his complex plot leads.

The first half of Crossman’s story is slick and well-crafted but as the plot unfolds, it becomes slipshod and hackneyed by comparison. So while I did not lose interest, it became much more difficult to follow and then a chore to complete. DAVID (D A) CROSSMAN

Further, while I acknowledge that all of the story’s characters are deeply unpleasant, I began to wonder why three of them are Jewish and one of those is gay. What sort of people did South African-born Crossman meet when he lived in Israel? No-one like I know. That’s for sure!

** The Black Peacock Club is available on Kindle @ $2.99 and in paperback @ $8.18.

© Natalie Wood (13 April 2017)

Monday, 10 April 2017

Boycott: A Shrill, Silly Act of Self-Harm?

Of the creation and banning of much artistic endeavour there is no end.

Even members of the Jewish community – who should know better - often shout shrilly for the boycott and silencing those who hate Jews and the State of Israel.

Only last summer, the release of Steven Spielberg’s film, The BFG (Big Friendly Giant), was swiftly followed by a slew of hoary arguments from the Jewish cognoscenti as to why we should neither read nor help to reproduce Roald Dahl’s work in any form as the children’s author had been a gleefully vicious, wholly unrepentant antisemite.

Such debates occur cyclically and whenever they come round, the same points and counter-claims are made, whether they refer to anti-Jewish writers; musicians ranging from Richard Wagner to Roger Waters (although Waters insists he is not anti-Jewish) and even a visual artist like Edgar Degas.

Now, as Anglo-Jewish Labour MP Ivan Lewis has declared that it would be ‘totally wrong’ for him to leave the party because of the row over former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone, many Jewish people are renewing calls to boycott the work of anti-Israel film director, Ken Loach who defended Livingstone during a heated LBC radio interview.

Loach said: "To talk about expelling someone for interpreting [Hitler's] actions 70 years, 80 years later is very dubious and I think, in the general discussion, there hasn't been this precise examination of what was said and the different interpretations of that.

"What I'm appalled by, is this, what smacks of a witch hunt.

"Ken Livingstone did more for good race relations during his time as mayor as anyone else has ever done ... I wouldn't rush to judge, to condemn him."

Loach’s politics and actions away from the studio are reprehensible. But he is a first-class film-maker and to boycott his work would be counter-productive as proven by the hostile, hate-filled social media response posted beneath the text of the interview.

The last time I looked at this subject in any depth was – remarkably – five years ago to the date on Monday 09 April 2012! – when I published a ‘flash’ story, Much Ado About Israel.

I used it to examine a proposed artists’ boycott of the Israeli Habimah Theatre Company’s participation in that year’s ‘Globe to Globe’ Shakespeare Festival with a Hebrew language performance of The Merchant of Venice.

In it, I quoted the opinion of novelist Howard Jacobson who had written thus in The Observer newspaper the previous Sunday:

“If there is one justification for art – for its creation and its performance – it is that art proceeds from and addresses our unaligned humanity. Whoever would go to art with a mind already made up, on any subject, misses what art is for. So to censor it in the name of a political or religious conviction, no matter how sincerely held, is to tear out its very heart.

“For artists themselves to do such a thing to art is not only treasonable; it is an act of self-harm. One could almost laugh about it, so Kafkaesque is the reasoning: The Merchant of Venice, acted in Hebrew, a troubling work of great moral complexity (and therefore one that we should welcome every new interpretation of), to be banned not by virtue of itself, but because of where the theatre company performing it had also performed.

But the laughter dies in our throats. With last week's letter to The Guardian, McCarthyism came to Britain. You could hear the minds of people in whom we vest our sense of creative freedom snapping shut. And now we might all be guilty by association: of being in the wrong place or talking to the wrong people or reading the wrong book. Thus does an idée fixe make dangerous fools of the best of us.”

I rest my case. For now!

© Natalie Wood (9-10 April 2017)

Monday, 3 April 2017

A Tale of Creative Accounting!

MICHAL HARTSTEINThe idea of separating semantic and episodic memory was devised as recently as the early 1970s.

Now the concept has been used most adroitly by Israeli novelist, Michal Hartstein in her third novel, Déjà Vu **.

Hartstein, who hails from a modern Orthodox Jewish background, is a gifted accountant who tossed aside potential career prospects in favour of writing as a source of comfort after experiencing difficulty in conception and pregnancy.

No wonder she views her books as her offspring. Still less startling is the psychology behind this story where, I venture, the notion of ‘déjà vu (a feeling of having previously experienced a situation) replaces the double entry system of accounting, in which a company’s transactions involve two accounts or more!

While the story makes absorbing ‘chick-cum-mummy- lit’ beach reading, it is spoilt by being handled by too many people and their rough stitching sometimes stretches the fabric of the story too thin.

Despite, or perhaps because of input from Yuval Gilad (editor), Julie Phelps (editor), Kristie Stramaski (editor) and Michal Fridman (translator) there are occasional embarrassing errors like the description of Jewish brides walking ‘to the altar’ instead of under the wedding canopy when they are married.

DEJA VUFurther,  the sickly, simpering front cover image does nothing to tell the story.

Last, while I champion a fellow writer – and a remarkably successful one like Hartstein - I must ask how she may describe herself as a winner (with accompanying judges’ praise) of   the Israeli version  of  the  annual National Novel Writing Month contest.

I checked and doubled checked the guidelines and I am sure there are no ‘winners’ or indeed ‘judges’ as stated on the rear cover of her book.

The idea, as I’ve always understood it,  is for entrants to beat the clock by completing the first 50,000-word draft of a novel from November 1 – 30 in any year. This feat is achieved by thousands of aspiring writers worldwide and I take my hat off to them.

** Deja Vu is available from Amazon on Kindle @ $3.99  and in paperback @ $9.99.

© Natalie Wood (03 April 2017)

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Yes! She Had a Banana …

BANANA FRONT COVERWhat’s this?” shrieked something behind Aviva Brackman.

“I was here first!” it rasped, poking Miss Brackman’s back so hard, she almost keeled over.

Aviva Brackman and her foe, Mira Donner were pre-Sabbath shoppers at the Megazol Supermarket in Ashkelon. Both were at the check-out and desperate to get home.


“The basket you’ve just pushed away is mine - and this is my banana,” added Mrs Donner, still screaming. “I  left  it  to mark my  place in  the  queue.”                                                                                                       


The citizens who inhabit the world of The Importance of Having a Banana ** are quirky, snarky and think most darkly.  The pick of the crop will be on view soon.

It’s important to a have a banana.

Do YOU?  

** My collection of flash tales, The Importance of Having a Banana and other Bites of Bendy Flash will be available as an e-book soon.

© Natalie Wood (19 March 2017)

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Is This Why Amazon Loves Israel x Ten?

On Tuesday 28 February I was among those complaining that the US electronic commerce and cloud computing giant, Amazon was profiting “‘from the trade in titles promoting Holocaust denial and antisemitic conspiracy myths.”

The trouble was, I pointed out,  that the company wields the biggest clout possible in the international booktrade - probably more pro rata even than Facebook on social media. What's more, because so many founding and other senior Facebook personnel are Jewish, when questioned about online hate, the company falls back on the tame excuse of needing to be even-handed.

However, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos may offer no such reason; needs no such excuse. Too many people (including me) need Amazon much more than it needs individual customers. So for the present, until internet anti-hate laws are tightened, Bezos and his ilk may tell me to take a hike”.

But I now believe I may written too hastily and that Bezos has been forced to make a 180 degree turn.

Today I received an email message from the Israel Gives charity site advising me:

“ …today, March 16, Amazon will donate 5% (10 times the usual donation rate) of the price of your Amazon purchases to Israel!”

Israel Gives adds: “Make a purchase anytime today up to 11:59 p.m. as a donation from Amazon. We'll then allocate this donation to any non-profit organisation in Israel that you choose (just let us know by email after you've made your purchase).

“All the best,
Yonatan Ben-Dor, IsraelGives and America Gives, Inc.”

This has to be GENUINELY GOOD news!

© Natalie Wood (16 March 2017)