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Thursday, 24 October 2013

Why Most Jews Still Stand Alone

It was back to regular business in Israel after an uncommonly early month of Jewish New Year festivities. The main story for news outlets during the week ending Friday 04 October was at the United Nations' General Assembly where  Premier Benjamin Netanyahu warned that “Israel will not allow Iran to get nuclear weapons. If Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone”, he maintained.

Hot on his heels was Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who first remonstrated with young Israelis for moving to Berlin for economic reasons and then reminded delegates at a  conference in Budapest that “antisemitism has reared its ugly head in Hungary again ... we cannot discard it, we cannot let it grow. Hatred”, he said, “is not disappearing”.

Most striking was that both men veered from their main subjects to speak with quiet eloquence about their forebears’ courageous escapes from anti-Jewish oppression.

Even as Lapid recalled that in 1945 his late father Tommy had avoided being murdered with thousands of other Jews on the banks of the River Danube, Netanyahu related how in the 19th century, his grandfather had made his way to Palestine from Europe after being beaten and left for dead by anti-Jewish hoodlums.

Ed.MilibandMeanwhile in the UK., it became clear that  although Labour Party leader, Ed Miliband may live as a ‘non-Jewish’ Jew, his own filial affections run as deeply devout as those of Lapid and Netanyahu. But it became obvious also, that some family allegiances may be misconstrued as disloyalty to Britain.

For quite suddenly, the Israeli politicians’ remarks became a stark backdrop to one of the nastiest pieces of journalism I have seen in a British newspaper for some years: Even as they spoke, readers of the Daily Mail were being treated to a series of features about Ed’s father, Ralph which were vicious enough to be roundly condemned even by the Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron and his Liberal-Democrat deputy, Nick Clegg.

Ralph Miliband was a Jewish refugee from Nazi Europe who fled to Britain and served in the Royal Navy. He was also an atheist and a Marxist socialist. But everyone who spoke out against the Mail’s campaign to destroy his son’s credibility as Labour leader by impugning Ralph’s loyalty to Britain, agreed that it  went far beyond the bounds of common decency. If the allegations had not been so wickedly untrue they would hardly have been worthy of reply.

However matters became worse. Those with long memories recalled the Mail’s brief pre-war flirtation with Fascism. Then its wholly independent sister newspaper, the Mail On Sunday also played dirty. A reporter covertly attended a private memorial service at Guy’s Hospital, London for Mr Miliband’s uncle, Professor Harry Keen,.in order to speak to relatives about the on-going controversy.

Like most people, I am furious about the Mail’s behaviour – both for personal and professional reasons. First it has further discredited an industry still suffering as a result of the News International phone hacking scandal.   But my personal reason is partly because, as I have outlined previously, a couple of my relatives enjoyed a warm acquaintance with Miliband Senior, Professor Eric Hobsbawm and their circle. One of them however, Professor Avrom Saltman, was strictly Orthodox and eccentrically,  his expertise was not Marxism but Medieval Christianity!

Yet there’s much more. Many Jewish people agree that the Mail’s actions were not anti-Jewish. But  others, including The Guardian newspaper’s Jonathan Freedland and me, believe that an unpleasant odour lingers there.

My contention is thus: If the Mail did not intend to pander to anti-Jewish feeling, it has done so unintentionally as the Miliband fracas is just the latest in a list of recent stories which have fed traditional prejudices about Jewish wealth, power, influence and prestige. I have decided not mention them individually or to name the people who featured in them here. Ralph.Miliband

Let us reflect merely “plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose” and say that the Mail’s initial story was written by a Jew, not only because he was probably well apprised of Miliband’s background but almost certainly to deflect accusations of anti-Jewish sentiment. I suggest the same could be said of those Jews who write for Israel’s chief enemies in the British media – The Independent and indeed, The Guardian.

Much of this is a matter of personal opinion and perception – just like the continuing arguments about the use of the word '’Yid’ or attitudes towards antisemitic figures in great literature. It’s a matter of tone and context:  What is painfully objectionable to an individual on a particular occasion may barely register with another sometime else. 

No matter. I am convinced that the Mail’s tirade against the late Ralph Miliband is part of a growing, sickening trend in British society, bred partly by poverty, which in turn causes envy and fear. I am glad I need bear it no longer.

Mark.UlyseasThis article first appeared in the November 2013 edition of Live Encounters magazine ( edited by Mark Ulyseas, a faithful supporter of Israel and all matters Jewish.



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