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Archive for November, 2009

As some of you already know, I now have a fortnightly column in Jewish News. Here is the latest…

You always remember your first time: biting through the rye bread into the juicy heap of greasy, tender, peppery pastrami…and here comes that mustard kick – wonderful. There are few joys in life as glorious as the hot pastrami sandwich of the American Jewish deli. It’s little wonder that Meg Ryan so noisily enjoyed hers in When Harry Met Sally, prompting a fellow diner to quip “I’ll have what she’s having.”

I know just what she means. Some of the happiest moments of my life have come while noshing away in such Stateside establishments. From the famous Carnegie and Katz in New York, to the under-rated Sam LaGrassas in Boston and the starry Canters of Los Angeles I have pumped my veins full of cholesterol and lived to tell the story. Along with the sandwiches and the soup, the hefty side order of Jewish wisdom and humour that the staff of these establishments routinely serve up are music to the ears of this philosemite. “My food will kill you,” was the memorable – and strangely tempting – boast of one of Manhattan’s most famous deli owners.

The banter is part of the menu. Which is I was why bitterly disappointed when – contrary to reputation – not a single member of staff at Stage Deli in New York was rude to me, however long I deliberately lingered and stuttered over my order when I visited last year. I’ve replayed the visit in my head many times and I still don’t know what I did wrong to not get ticked off. What am I? Chopped liver?

My pastrami passion extends to my bookshelf. One of my favourite books is How To Feed Friends And Influence People, which is the story of the Carnegie Deli, and more recently I have been devouring the excellent Save The Deli by David Sax. I even own a copy of the 2nd Avenue Deli Cookbook, though the less said about my efforts to reproduce its dishes in my Berkshire kitchen the better. As a friend who sampled my efforts put it: “This is a day that will live in infamy”.

As you might have guessed, I am obsessed with these delis and I’m far from alone. Visitors to the States flock to such establishments, queueing with  the locals for a sandwich, some soup or a knish. But why do we even need to fly thousands of miles for the pleasure? It puzzles me why nobody in the UK has cashed in on this popularity and opened such a place here. It seems a glaring omission from our culinary scene.

True, there are outlets selling pretty decent salt beef sarnies, including Blooms on Golders Green Road, Gaby’s on Charing Cross Road and Birley’s in Canary Wharf, but I’ve never found anywhere in Britain that does anything remotely like the gargantuan, juicy joy that is the Carnegie hot pastrami sandwich. We have every other ethnic food stuff represented on our high streets: Indian, Thai, Chinese, Sushi, Ethiopian, burgers, Italian, Greek, Lebanese – isn’t there room for one New York-style Jewish deli in the whole of London?

It would surely be a popular venture for both locals and American ex-pats. If nobody opens one soon I’ll do it myself. I can see the newspaper headlines as my clear-eyed business vision is vindicated by mile-long queues outside the UK’s first proper New York-style deli: “Brits go barmy for Chas’s Pastrami” (The Mirror); “Cheryl Cole balloons after just one sandwich”(Daily Mail); “Thousands suspected dead in Zionist catering massacre” (The Guardian).

Dear readers, you’ll all be very welcome to look in for a freebie. Jackie Mason said: ‘A sandwich to a Jew is just as important as a country to a gentile.’ Only you can tell me if he’s right but if he is – count me in.

If you are not in the newspaper’s catchment area you can read it in full online here.

This is a guest post by Alex Dwek.

The year 2009 has been a challenging time to be a student. We are in more debt than ever before and facing the worst job crisis for almost 20 years.

Jewish students are no different in that they are facing these same difficulties, but they also have the additional task of preserving their Jewish identity.  For some this involves balancing student life with keeping kosher, observing Shabbat whilst for others this involves more of a cultural element or their own personal ties towards Israel.

Jewish Societies on campus are there to help fill this void. They seek provide a range of educational, cultural and social events along with opportunities to be involved in political campaigns. The Union of Jewish Students (UJS) plays a dual role in providing funding as well as linking these 43 Jewish societies around the country through a series of nationwide initiatives.

Has this been successful?

In the past two years UJS has transformed into a professional and efficient organisation. It has more than doubled the amount of Jewish societies it supports and has created a series of flagship events ranging from a nationwide football tournament to social action days where Jsocs give back to their local communities.

These changes have without doubt revitalised the core membership of the Union. But there are still thousands of Jewish students on campus who are not being provided for.

To simply dismiss these students as apathetic is wrong. There has without doubt been a decline in participation over the last five years.  Young peoples’ attitudes have changed and organisations such as UJS need to adapt to their market.

I believe that one of the ways UJS can widen its appeal is by providing online interactive services for Jewish students focusing on careers, accommodation and travel.

Hosting career seminars with top industry leaders, and having job and internship listings will help ease fears of unemployment. Providing students with an online list of legal housing rights and frequently asked questions will protect them from dodgy landlords. Creating an online interactive Jewish student travel guide, where people can access a list of Kosher places to eat and points of contact all around the world.

What makes these different to the current events on offer is that it appeals to almost every Jewish student regardless of their interests or level of observance. It doesn’t rely on high attendance levels or vast amounts of money being spent, but can be accessed by everyone.

Student services are just the first phase of increasing participation in Jewish student life. Once UJS becomes students’ first point of contact, I believe that attendance levels for other events such as education and culture will increase dramatically. Until UJS has access to this wider audience, it can create all the events it wants but it will still face the problem that students don’t know about the organisation and most importantly, what it can do for them.

Student organisations like UJS are in the unique position that their members are not adverse to new approaches and ideas. I believe that if UJS gets this right then it can create a model that can be used by a whole range of other communal organisations facing the very same problems.

Alex Dwek is a third year Economics and Politics Student at the University of Manchester and is running to be Chair of the Union of Jewish Students. Elections take place across the country between 29th Nov- 3rd Dec. For more information about Alex’s campaign visit his Facebook election page or the Union of Jewish Students website.

You can read previous guest posts by Alex Dwek here, here and here.

Here is the second and final part of my collection of memorable posts for the benefit of new readers. Back to business as usual* from tomorrow onwards.

I Don’t Understand The Issue…But You’re Wrong (September)

Good Luck Tal! (October)

Join The Applause (October)

Gilad Shalit: Still Not Home (November)

Jewish News Column: Bring Back Blair! (November)

* No, it’s not a business Mr Oborne. That’s just a saying.

Visitor numbers have soared in the past week so I’d like to extend a warm welcome to all new readers. To give you a flavour of the blog, I’ve collected some past posts which were particularly popular or memorable. Here is part one, I’ll post part two tomorrow.

Coronation Street Is A Zionist Plot (February)

All Roads Lead To The Same Place (February)

Ahmadinejad At Durban (April – guest post by Alex Dwek)

An Interview With Daniel Gordis (May)

Jonathan Hoffman’s speech at Durham (May)

Jewish News Column about loony commenters (June)

Why Blame The Settlers? (August)

I am genuinely honoured to be mentioned in the latest dispatch by the magnificent and influential Tom Gross. If you haven’t read any of his dispatches I recommend you visit the archive here. They are clear-eyed, succinct and invaluable to anyone who wishes to support Israel, or even just gain a greater understanding of the world.

They are also free of charge which is great. I hope therefore you’ll join me in showing some love and support to Tom for the tireless way he shines a light in this world. Kol Hakavod, Mr Gross!

I’m very excited about the new Martin Amis novel The Pregnant Widow – due next February. He spoke about it at a festival recently, as reported in the Telegraph today:

‘Set among a group of bright young things having a party in an Italian castle, he described the book as “rather like a country house mystery, except it’s not whether the butler did it but who’s going to have sex with whom.”‘

Sounds like it might have similarities with his second novel, Dead Babies. Well that sounds good to me, I still think his first three books – The Rachel Papers, Dead Babies and Success – are his best works, along with his memoir Experience. I’ve never understood the fuss about Money (due to be adapted by the BBC next year) which I think is totally overrated.

I can’t wait for Pregnant Widow. Are you an Amis fan? Which of his books did you love or hate?

On June 4, 2008 as he campaigned for office, Barack Obama said: “Jerusalem will remain Israel’s capital, and no one should want or expect it to be re-divided.” Quite right too, but he has been wriggling from this position ever since.

The following month he said: “You know, the truth is that this was an example where we had some poor phrasing in the speech. The point we were simply making was, is that we don’t want barbed wire running through Jerusalem, similar to the way it was prior to the ’67 war, that it is possible for us to create a Jerusalem that is cohesive and coherent… I was not trying to predetermine what are essentially final status issues.”

Then this week, speaking about the Gilo apartment construction, he said: “I think that additional settlement building does not contribute to Israel’s security, I think it makes it harder for them to make peace with their neighbours. I think it embitters the Palestinians in a way that could end up being very dangerous.”

The Gilo apartments have nothing whatsoever to do with settlement building. Gilo is a Jewish neighbourhood that lies within the borders of Israel as anticipated by the Clinton parameters and the Geneva Accords. If Jerusalem is to “remain Israel’s capital” and will never be “re-divided” then Israel has every right to build whatever it wants there. So why doesn’t President Obama grow a pair and confront something that really could end up being very dangerous.

There is a touching memorial on the brilliant Chabad website to Rabbi Gavriel and Rivkah Holtzberg, who were killed in the terrorist attack in Mumbai last year:

“In the course of their short lives, Rabbi Gavriel and Rivkah Holtzberg, Chabad emissaries in Mumbai, India, radiated love, kindness and inspiration to their surroundings. With their cruel murder by forces of darkness, their light exploded into a million points of light that now illuminate across the globe.”

I recommend you visit the memorial page, and watch the inspiring video.

The visceral hatred Peter Oborne demonstrated in his shoddy documentary Inside Britain’s Israel Lobby did not, unsurprisingly, come out of nowhere. What is surprising is just how obsessive he is in his demonisation of the Jewish state. To cover all he has written on the subject down the years would therefore be an onerous task. Here is a selection.

On September 23, 2001 as the dead of the 9/11 attacks were still being buried he drew an analogy between Al-Qaeda’s genocidal terrorism and the government of Israel. “The thought of the West taking reprisals against bin Laden without demanding major concessions from Israel makes the blood run cold,” he wrote in The Observer. This was no isolated incident. On May 10 2004, he wrote about “US support for state terrorism in Israel” in the Evening Standard. In November of the same year, writing in The Spectator, he called for President Bush to put “renewed pressure on Israel to press forward for a settlement with Palestine”, as if it was Israeli intransigence – rather than the complete opposite – that has prevented a conclusion to the conflict.

To his credit, in February 2005 he said Ken Livingstone was “unfit to be Mayor of London” following his controversial “concentration camp” jibe to a Jewish reporter. Perhaps controversially he added: “I simply cannot understand how Nicky Gavron [who is Jewish] can remain Ken Livingstone’s deputy following his astonishing failure to withdraw his disgusting remarks.” One can see Oborne’s point, but were there not others more suitably placed to make it?

The following year Oborne interviewed government minister John Denham for The Spectator. It was a wide-ranging interview, but it was headlined ‘Israel’s actions affect our security’ despite Israel being only mentioned very briefly in passing in the article. Then in 2006, as Israel defended itself against the rockets of Hezbollah, Oborne sank even lower. On July 24 he wrote of “Israeli barbarism over the weekend” and placed himself firmly in the camp of “those of us who find Israeli actions detestable”. The following week he wrote of an “atrocity” at Qana, describing it as part of a “murderous campaign” by Israel. I can find no sign of him retracting his description of the Qana incident, despite the subsequent evidence that contradicts what he wrote.

As Israel defended itself from eight years of Hamas rockets with Operation Cast Lead, Oborne – by now of the Daily Mail – described Hamas not as terrorists but “militants” and concluded: “Israel has a great deal to learn from the honourable way Britain dealt with Irish terrorism.” There is clearly no parallel between the threats posed by IRA and Hamas. Seven days after that Oborne wrote about the expenses scandal, but managed to work Israel into the story: “Our indolent MPs have not yet debated either the domestic crisis caused by the recession, or — and this is equally shameful — the world crisis that has followed the Israeli invasion of Gaza.” The following week he again wrote about Cast Lead, describing Israel as “bloodthirsty”, instead of recognising Israel’s enormous restraint in not responding years earlier to the continuous launching of thousands of rockets upon civilians over the course of several years.

Perhaps the most ludicrous statement of the lot came in July this year. Having drawn a parallel between Al-Qaeda and Israel eight year earlier, he now tried to do the same with the Iranian regime. “[David] Cameron cannot in good faith criticise the autocratic government in Iran for killing pro-democracy demonstrators in Tehran at the same time as turning a blind eye to Israeli conduct in Gaza,” he wrote. What a strange world he must live in.

A final thought: in December 2007 The Spectator asked several prominent people whether they believed in the virgin birth. Oborne’s response began: “This is a complex issue but luckily I have been able to draw on a formidable body of knowledge.” Oh that he could say the same of his conclusions on Israel.

Channel 4 is an increasingly strange network. Its main news anchor, Jon Snow, showed shocking disdain for Israeli lives when he claimed “nobody gets injured” by the Kassam rockets that murdered, maimed and terrorised the people of southern Israel.

I discussed this with Snow recently but he only dug his heels in. At first he explained that he was unable to check what he said on the broadcast. When I provided a link to a video of his statement and also gave him references to show the many Israeli civilians who were injured and killed by the rockets, his response was: “Stop wasting my time”.

Jewish people have often seen the crimes committed against them denied. It is a tradition that continues to this day. Amazingly, Channel 4 asked the first-Holocaust-denying, second-Holocaust-preparing tyrant Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to deliver its Christmas message last year. The official remit for Channel 4 states that it should “exhibit a distinctive character” and “appeal to the tastes and interests of a culturally diverse society”. Snow’s denial of Hamas’s crimes and Ahmadinejad’s Christmas message appeal to the tastes and interests of only the worst bigots of our society.

Peter Oborne’s Dispatches program this evening, Inside Britain’s Israel Lobby, could only have appealed to the same people. The deliberate conflation of bloody bodies and Jews eating dinner was an early low. Full of familiar innuendos and stereotypes, it was an agenda-driven and unprofessional piece of work from its inception, as the numerous Jewish organisations it has targetted have discovered in recent weeks. Oborne was unable to prop up his prejudices, so he resorted to desperate nudge-nudge wink-wink tactics to try and create an impression of sinister secretiveness where there is none. The overall implication he made was that his failure to find anything genuinely scandalous was because of a fear, rather than because there’s nothing there.

Because where is this all-powerful Israeli lobby? Why did it not manage to convince the UK to veto the Goldstone report at the UN? How did it fail to stop the UK from starting an arms embargo on Israel? How did it allow our Foreign Minister to attack Operation Cast Lead as ‘disproportionate’, or the UK to finance the Breaking The Silence organisation? As for media activism, if the Israeli lobby had the power it is ascribed, it would have stopped the widespread and routine distortions years ago. Oborne couldn’t find an all-powerful lobby, so he tried to create a false impression of one. It’s the same make-believe world Snow inhabits with his “pretty pathetic” Hamas rockets.

Back in the real world, Israel faces hostility and distortion throughout much of British politics and the media. As statistics show, antisemitism is on the rise in Britain and brutal. By any clear-eyed assessment, there are few more powerless causes in Britain than that of Israel, and probably no more embattled group than our Jewish community.

That’s the real scandal – how about a documentary about that?

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