Friday, 6 February 2015

... about Question Time

This was a ghastly programme from North Finchley last night on BBC1 (5th February 2015 at 10.45pm).

I am truly no fan of George Galloway … quite the opposite, in fact.  I simply can’t bear him but the behaviour of the Jewish members of the studio audience made me squirm with embarrassment.  I’m Jewish and, given the venue of the programme, I was well aware that the subject of anti-semitism would come up.  It is a great pity that some of the members of the audience didn’t comport themselves in a more composed and productive fashion. 

Galloway is horrid – that’s a given but, I agree with him on one thing.  In the wake of the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris last month, a great deal has been said about freedom of speech and, if Galloway was on the Question Time panel, he had as much right to respond to a question without any form of interruption as any of the other panel members.

I think I also have to add that I believe the kid who asked the initial question on anti-semitism asked the WRONG question.  He wondered if Galloway was at all responsible for the very frightening rise in this old, old prejudice in the past 12 months.  Galloway is a symptom of poor media reporting about Israel and Zionism rather than the cause of it.  The better question to have asked would have been “Can the British media be held at all responsible for the rise in anti-semitism in the past year?”.  I fear that the honest answer would be a resounding “Yes”.  But the BBC and other UK broadcasters would never admit to such.

In the past few weeks it has been a total dichotomy to see the dignified and sympathetic way that the Liberation of Auschwitz and Holocaust Memorial Day have been covered but then to have BBC News cocking up really quite badly with the baby-faced Tim Willcox making a complete fool of himself by saying to a Parisian Jewish lady that the attack on the Kosher Supermarket could have been caused by there being Palestinian blood on JEWISH hands.  Jewish hands … not Israeli hands but Jewish hands.  Three soldiers were stabbed in Nice whilst guarding a Jewish building on Tuesday (3rd February 2015).  BBC News editors saw fit to publish this item on its website but both on the 6 and 10 o’clock TV News that day Harry Redknapp’s resignation from QPR took precedence and not a word about the attack was uttered.

I’m fairly sure that BBC News has had its wrists slapped by the mere fact that the findings of The Balen Report were never released.  Jeremy Bowen, Orla Guerin and Lyse Doucet have become somewhat less polemic since the report was completed in 2004 but until there are reporters on the Middle East who aren’t all Arabists the situation is never going to change too much.

I worked at the BBC many years ago and, as an employee, I never experienced even one iota of anti-semitism whilst I was there but I very often felt uncomfortable as a listener and as a viewer during that period and I continue to feel that way as an ex-employee.  I know that when I worked there I had to compartmentalise on many occasions … one of my bosses was the ex-Head of the Arabic Service and my last job at the Corporation was organising seminars for MPs (which were, regardless of the titles, all about securing a larger licence fee).  On one occasion I found myself sandwiched between said ex-boss and an exuberant actor turned MP called Andrew Faulds who was extremely and vociferously pro-Arab.  I was asked how I felt.  My response … “beleaguered” was said with a slightly wry smile on my face. I didn’t feel threatened or afraid and I certainly didn’t dislike my ex-boss nor Mr Faulds.

Only recently, I met with a friend who works at the Corporation and we agreed that it would be better not to discuss the remarks made by Joan Rivers prior to her demise regarding last summer’s war in Gaza.  He’s a nice guy and neither he nor I have any idea how to solve the situation in that part of the Middle East … so why discuss?  I can’t honestly say that I know of ANY Jewish people in the UK who took any pleasure at all in seeing the effects of (a) Palestinians attacking Israel from tunnels with rockets and the kidnapping and murder of Jewish kids, (b) Israel’s response to such and (c) the amount of death and destruction meted out on ordinary Palestinian men, women and children … whether we believe that Hamas placed them in areas of weapons storage or not.

I err on the side of pessimism and I believe anti-semitism is cyclical.  I feel less comfortable in the UK now than I have ever done before and I’m not sure that this is because of Israel’s actions in Gaza.  The current zeitgeist is yet another upsurge in fascism and radicalisation in this country and I believe realistic pessimism is necessary to keep ALL of us alert regardless of whether we’re Jewish, Christian, Indian, Muslim or anything else.

Jewish people who take notice of what is going on the world never do feel entirely comfortable in any country and with good reason.  In the past year there have never been as many anti-semitic attacks since the Community Security Trust started to keep records.  But even before records were kept, Jewish people had to contend with Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts and, prior to that, during the duration of the Second World War, however much Winston Churchill got Britain through the war he would not sanction the bombing of train lines which led only to the Concentration Camps despite knowing exactly what was going on in them.

In 1948, when the UN tabled a vote on whether the area of Palestine (which was, at the time, 70% of Trans-Jordan) should become the Jewish State of Israel, the UK voted in favour and then what did it do?  The British troops armed Arabs living there so they could fight the existing Jewish population and new immigrants who had managed to survive the Holocaust.  How on earth can Jewish people in the Diaspora ever really feel at ease knowing that regardless of most friendly rhetoric we always have been and always will be just tolerated.

It isn’t the George Galloways of this world we have to fear … for heaven’s sake he and his like are laughable.  He is full of it and so are his followers.  Picture him crawling around pretending to be a cat with Rula Lenska on Celebrity Big Brother not so many years ago.

Know that the real enemy is a culture that receives its news in badly phrased sound bites and the diminution of real news having any impact either by not broadcasting it at all or by over-broadcasting it in the rolling news that we are subjected to these days.