On the opening page of the novel The Source, a man is looking out from a ship towards the dock at Haifa, in Israel.

He sees the ‘white Muslim mosque of Akko, the golden dome of the Bahai temple, and the brown battlements of the Catholic Carmelites’.

‘Just like the Jews,’ he says. ‘Denied religious liberty by all, they extend it to everyone.’

Happy weekend.

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‘All of the negative traits that you spot in others are merely a reflection of your own negative traits. Only by fixing yourself can you change others.’

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The quote is taken from The Power of Kabbalah, by Yehuda Berg.Thanks to Louisa for the image.

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I’m the Guest Speaker at Wizo’s Rebecca Sieff day on June 18. I’ll also be speaking at the Reading branch of Wizo on June 17.

I’ll be discussing, among other things, my recent trip to Israel with the charity. I always enjoy seeing the lovelies of Wizo!

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As I walked in for breakfast on my first morning at the Daniel hotel in Herzliya, one of the waiters ran up to me, all excited.

‘We hear you love shakshuka – so we are going to make you shakshuka!’ he told me.

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I thought I’d write about a song that changed my life when I was a student.

The Pogues’ Streets of Sorrow/ Birmingham Six is technically two songs tied together, but the first need not detain us long. A short, mournful acoustic piece from Terry Woods, Streets of Sorrow is pleasant but, in itself, forgettable.

But I’ll never forget the thundering fury of Birmingham Six. Shane MacGowan arrives like a feral dog from hell, spitting angry lyrics about the real-life injustice suffered by the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four, who were wrongly imprisoned in the 1970s after being framed for IRA pub bombings. 

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At dinner that night, they met Yoni Peres, the son of Israeli President Shimon Peres. “Wizo is a wonderful organisation for Israel,” he told them, adding that he had a particular British interest: “I support Chelsea.” 

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Aww come on, you didn’t really think I’d forgotten about the NaNachs, did you? 

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This is my latest column for the Jewish Chronicle.

It’s a familiar cycle. A politician makes an incendiary allegation against Israel. Pro-Israel advocates rush to issue defensive rebuttals. An almighty scrap develops, few give any ground, but the original allegation is repeated by both sides as the controversy drags on.

At least we stood up to them and challenged the haters, right? We showed we won’t be pushed around! Well, I used to think that way. I have done a bit of rebutting myself. But I’m no longer sure it’s always the wisest response. In fact, I wonder if mindless, knee-jerk rebuttal of every accusation Israel faces could be doing our cause more damage than good.

For boorish activists, careerist climbers and others obsessively involved on either side of this cultic debate, it is easy to forget that most people in Britain are not interested in Israel and the Palestinians. Why would they be? They are too busy making ends meet, fixing up their homes and looking after their kids to worry about a conflict thousands of miles away.

So when Israel-bashers shriek about “war crimes”, “apartheid”, and “organ harvesting”, their audience is usually marginal. They are more or less shrieking into a vacuum, save for a handful of committed cranks.

Then we get involved. When we challenge their lies, the first thing we do is repeat them to a wider audience. We shouldn’t flatter ourselves: the minutiae of our case for the defence is less memorable than the fact that we, too, have placed the name “Israel” in the same sentence as “war crimes”, “apartheid”, and “organ harvesting”. The “not” gets forgotten, but the allegation lingers in the collective memory of those who overhear the bickering.

Before he started ranting about Israel, Liberal Democrat David Ward was an obscure Bradford MP in a crumbling political party. Now, he knows which button to press to get in the headlines. He cannot believe his luck. The same goes for Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters. He was just a wrinkled rocker, remembered only by air-guitar-toting men of a certain age, before he started obsessively playing the anti-Israel card.

It’s not just the anti-Israel card that Waters and his ilk play – it’s us, too. They know their statements will provoke howls of outrage and rebuttal from Israel supporters. Another anti-Israel argument gets aired, and the name of its proponent gets plastered far and wide.

We are their unpaid foot soldiers. They do not win despite our defence – they win because of our defence. We’re so quick to put them and their bigotry centre-stage. That’s why Israel-bashing has become so fashionable. More than any other cause, it’s a no-brainer for the publicity-hungry, and we have helped make it so.

For robotic rebutters, madcap monitors and profiteers of doom, the race to respond is a sacred cow. Rebuttal fills their otherwise empty days with the electric glow of self-righteousness. Do the rest of us want to follow the path of the defensive activist, who responds to everything without thought, or the shrewd politician, who knows that some lies you challenge, some you let wither?

It is a tricky one to call. But before we rush to challenge – and therefore repeat – a particular anti-Israel slander, we should ask ourselves whether we are helping Israel, or whether we are actually becoming unwitting puppets for her bitterest enemies.

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I am a big fan of Martin Amis. He is my favourite living author, and my second favourite author of all time (behind Jerome K Jerome).

Quite a while back I noticed that in interviews and speeches he often describes things as ‘sort of everything and nothing’. He seems to love describing things that way.

Well, I interviewed him once. It was agreed as a brisk, 15-minute interview about nuclear war in literature. I really hoped that he would use the phrase. The opening sentence of his first answer was: ‘Nuclear weapons – they’re sort of everything and nothing.’ 

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Last summer, on my 40th birthday, two significant things happened. I started studying Zohar, and I found out I’d been nominated for an award. I didn’t realise at the time how connected these things were.

The news about the award came out of the blue. I got an email from the charity Wizo, telling me I had been nominated for an award called Commitment to Israel, and that I had been shortlisted as one of three finalists.

A month later Wizo told me I had won. They presented me with the award at a posh gala dinner in London and told me I’d be getting a free trip to Israel as part of the prize.

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I was excited at the prospect of another Israel trip, and I felt so happy and proud to win the award. Then, my ego got to work. I had won an award. I was an award winner. How thrillingly important I must be!

When they took me to Israel, all that came crashing down. In a really good way.

We visited Wizo projects, starting with the Rainbow House in Haifa. For over 40 years the House has helped women from less privileged backgrounds to help themselves launch careers as beauticians.

Two women in particular, an Ethiopian called Goodei Abar and a Holocaust survivor called Ruth Galiliee, blew me away with their stories. Not just the stories. Their smiles made me cry.

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Then we went to the WIZO Ahuzat Yeladim School, which is a therapeutic haven for children who suffer from behavioral or emotional problems. This magnificent institution saves and enhances the lives of vulnerable kids.

We met the project’s manager, Yossi Saragossi, a magnificent man with the wisdom of an elder, the spring (and hair) of a youth, and the love of an angel. He’s a dude, and he’s fifth from the left in this photo.

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And so to Jerusalem, to Wizo’s flagship project, the Rebecca Sief Center for the Family. This phenomenal institution serves thousands of people in a variety of ways including day care for hundreds of toddlers and children, skills training for teenagers, and support for victims of domestic violence.

As we were shown around the building, a group of children smiled at us as they sang and danced to a Purim tune.

The volunteers and staff who run these projects are the ones who show commitment to Israel. I was humbled in the presence of the shiny, smiley faces of these beautiful beacons. They kept repeating the same message: to give is to receive.

Here is the connection. Two of the messages I keep taking from my Zohar study are how vital it is to deflate your ego, and that to give is to receive. How fitting that on the same day I had begun studying Zohar, I received an email about an award that would ultimately whisk me to Israel where my ego would be battered and where I would see, over and over, that to give is to receive. That was the real prize.

And then, having visited these projects, where the Zohar lessons were brought to life, I went to Tzfat, the home of Kabbalah, for the first time. And I felt reborn that day.

So life didn’t so much begin at 40 for me – it restarted. Thank you Wizo. Thank you Israel. Hugs and admiration to you all.

You can find out more about Wizo UK here. The World Wizo website is here.

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© Copyright Chas Newkey-Burden. All Rights Reserved. Thanks to Chris Morris.