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Archive for July, 2009

In the 1930s, a girl called Margaret Roberts (later Thatcher) was growing up in Grantham, Lincolnshire. Margaret’s big sister Muriel had an Austrian Jewish pen-friend called Edith. When Hitler’s German army occupied Austria, Edith’s worried father asked Margaret and Muriel’s parents if the Roberts family would look after his daughter.

They agreed. Young Edith escaped the tightening grip of the Nazis and went to Grantham to stay with the Roberts. Margaret remembers Edith and the accounts she gave of her life. “She told us what it was like to live as a Jew under an anti-Semitic regime. One thing Edith reported particularly stuck in my mind: the Jews, she said, were being made to scrub the streets.” (Edith eventually moved to build a new life in South America.)

Later, as Thatcher rose to the leadership of the Conservative Party, she continued to earn a reputation as a friend of the Jewish people. She was a popular MP among her constituents in Finchley (which had a high Jewish population) and was a member of the Anglo-Israel Friendship League of Finchley and the Conservative Friends of Israel. She joined in the singing of Hatikvah at a local event in 1975.

When she took the leadership of the party, Foreign Office mandarins feared her Jewish connections and support for Israel would see her viewed as “a prisoner of the Zionists” by the Arab world. Once PM, her cabinets and behind-the-scenes teams often included many Jewish politicians, prompting Harold Macmillan to quip that she had “more Estonians than Etonians”. (Not the most sensitive of punchlines, but it should be noted that Macmillan too had given shelter to Jewish refugees in the 1930s and 40s.)

Thatcher became the first serving British Prime Minister to visit Israel when she spent three days there in May 1986. (She had visited twice prior to becoming PM.) While respecting her for her symbolic trip, I find the fact it took Britain nearly 40 years to send a serving PM to Israel astonishing.

It was not an entirely rosy relationship between Thatcher and Israel. She described Israel’s bombing of the Iraqi nuclear plant in 1981 as “a grave breach of international law” and a “matter of great grief”. (Then US President Ronald Reagan also condemned it incidentally – so much for the American/Israel conspiracy.)

In 1987 she had a less than harmonious dawn summit with Yitzhak Rabin, which he later described as “the shortest breakfast meeting he ever had”. (Her ‘Iron Lady’ tag is thought to have been inherited from Israeli PM Golda Meir.) She also imposed an arms embargo on Israel during the Lebanon war.

However, the number of Jewish Conservative MPs rose under her reign, and dwarfed the number on the Labour benches. As PM, Thatcher had a very healthy relationship with the then Chief Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits. One of my favourite political books is Sir Martin Gilbert’s Churchill And The Jews. I wonder if a similar tone could one day be written about Thatcher’s relationship with the Chosen People?

George Galloway is on Question Time on BBC1 tonight.

Dream question: “Would the panel like…meeee….to be… the cat?”


Here is the aforementioned film Home Game – in full.

Home Game is a captivating film that encapsulates the surreal story of normal teenagers trying to continue an annual basketball tournament during a very abnormal summer in Israel – the summer of 2005 and the disengagement from Gaza. This emotional film follows the journey of these teenagers and their determination to win against all odds, both on and off the court. Home Game tells part of the untold human story to a piece of Jewish history that was overshadowed by politics.

Please visit and show some love to The Friends Of Gush Katif.

You can contact the Home Game Production team here.

The countdown to Home Game continues. Here is the trailer for the film, which I’ll be hosting here later this week. Stay tuned.

Long-term readers may remember my post about the former residents of Gush Katif and also Home Game, the brilliant film that follows Gush Katif teenagers as they face up to the reality of the 2005 disengagement, while trying to continue – and to win – the annual basketball tournament.

To commemorate fourth anniversary of the disengagement, Home Game will be made available online for free during the traditional calendar period called ‘The Nine Days’, which begins on July 22nd and ends with the close of the fast day of the month of Av that falls out on July 30th.

I will be hosting the movie on Oy Va Goy and during the run-up I’ll post shorter, introductory videos, starting today with an interview with producer Avi Abelow.

This blog was launched last summer (originally under a different name). So, as we’re a year on*, I thought I’d thank some of the wonderful people who have helped me.

Thanks to those who house permanent links here, especially Harry’s Place, Ed West and Elder Of Ziyon. Particular gratitude goes to the heroic David Toube of Harry’s Place for hosting OyVaGoy guest posts. Others who have helped spread the word about this blog include Monique Lester, Damian Schogger and Israel National News.

For giving me interviews I am thankful to Daniel Gordis, Andrew Sanger and Nick Cohen. Thanks to Alex Dwek and Jonathan Sacerdoti for their brilliant and popular guest posts. Jonathan Hoffman of the Zionist Federation has been a kind, encouraging and entertaining ally. Melanie Phillips’ blog is fantastic and her kind words about one or two of my posts have been so encouraging. Ashley Perry and Avi Abelow have been supportive. I’m grateful to those who comment on my posts, including regulars like the two Jonathans, Shmuel, Israelinurse and Lynne.

Given the nature of this blog, there have also been some less than kind comments at times, but one learns to laugh at the cranks.

Thanks to Chris for finally persuading – after some badgering – me to start blogging.

And mostly thanks to you for reading. It would be rather pointless without you.

Looking back over the archives, I was tempted to name this post as my favourite, not just because I think it’s funny and has a great title, but because I love Brian Smith’s comment at the foot of it. However, in truth the greatest post to date had nothing to do with me. It was the text of the breathtaking speech Jonathan Hoffman gave at Durham University in May. Incredible.

Thanks everyone. Here’s to the next 12 months.

*Okay, so the anniversary is not exact. It’s my blog and I’ll forget its birthday if I want to!

Next week there is a by-election in the Norwich North seat, triggered by the resignation of Labour MP Ian Gibson after he was deselected over his expenses claims. The views of one of the 12 candidates – the Green Party’s Rupert Read – have been discussed feverishly at Harry’s Place this week at the foot of fellow Green Party member Peter Tatchell’s enthusiastic endorsement of Read.

To be clear, Read disputes some of the views and behaviour that have been attributed to him in the comments on Harry’s Place.

But he cannot deny that just days after the July 7 bombings, as the bereaved were still burying their loved ones, he wrote in The Independent that “we in Britain have quite simply had this coming”, nor that he made a similar comment about the Madrid bombing. There can also be no denying that he has a history of unpleasant views on terrorism, an obsessive, aggressive focus on Israel and made a very dodgy allusion to the Nazi holocaust.

The normally courageous Peter Tatchell refuses to withdraw his support from Read in the light of this week’s revelations. It’s such a shame. Is Tatchell ignoring Read’s views out of sheer ambition…or something worse?

Earlier this year, Tatchell repeated the libel that Israel ‘indiscriminately’ bombed Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, a propaganda claim that has been expertly disproved. Tatchell also repeated his call for a boycott of the Jewish state, an agenda he has been pushing for decades.

Admirably, he has often demonstrated against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s oppression of the Iranian people. However, in relation to Israel he ludicrously described Ahmadinejad as “progressive” and “basically right” to say that “the key to peace in the Middle East is concessions from the occupying power”[Israel]. Wondering why the media was ignoring this, Tatchell suggested a “pro-Israel agenda” as one explanation.

He was a founding member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, whose logo is a map of ‘Palestine’ with Israel eradicated. Just months ago he expressed his sympathy for “a one-state solution – a unified democratic, secular state of Palestine-Israel”, the clear effect of which would be that the Jewish people would lose statehood forever.

There is a history of antisemitism, conspiracy theory and homophobia among Green Party parliamentary candidates. One former Green Party parliamentary candidate left the Party to join the BNP. Across Europe, the Greens have associations with the far-right.

Tatchell’s track-record on Israel is disagreeable to say the least, but there’s so much to admire about him. It’s a shame he endorses a man like Read and supports a party like the Greens.

Based in the UK? Please ask your MP to sign this Early Day Motion for Gilad Shalit:

That this House notes that 25 June 2009 was the third anniversary of the kidnap of Israeli serviceman Gilad Shalit; is concerned that he is being held a hostage, incommunicado, and is neither permitted to send or receive messages from his family, nor receive visits from the Red Cross or similar organisations; and calls on the Government to redouble its efforts to secure the release from captivity of Gilad Shalit and of other Israeli service personnel who are being held as hostages.

You can find the Early Day Motion here and it could hardly be easier to contact your MP.

As ever, thoughts and prayers are with Gilad and his family.

I hope my Jewish readers have a peaceful Shabbat.


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