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Archive for January, 2010

The Windsor branch of Waterstones has put up a shelf of books chosen by me as a local author. I was asked to choose two of my own books and four by other authors.

Of my own titles I chose my Simon Cowell biography and Not In My Name. For the other four I selected The Old Devils by Kingsley Amis, Cheryl by Sean Smith, Israel: A History by Sir Martin Gilbert and The Diary Of A Young Girl by Anne Frank. I had a heavy cold when I made the latter four choices and they certainly constitute an eclectic line-up.

Still, an honour to be asked. I might pop in next week, take a photograph of the shelf and post it here.

Update: here is a photograph of the shelf.

Interesting to see the Liberal Democrat peer Jenny Tonge on Question Time last night. Well done to the marvellous Douglas Murray for putting her in her place. Tonge has a long track record of antisemitic remarks and of expressing support for antisemitic terrorism. In 2004, an era when Hamas suicide bombers were blowing up schoolbuses, pizza parlours and a Passover seder attended by Holocaust survivors, she said of the bombers:  “If I had to live in that situation — and I say that advisedly — I might just consider becoming one myself.” Two years later she said: “The pro-Israeli lobby has got its grips on the Western world, its financial grips. I think they have probably got a certain grip on our party.”

The above remarks were made before Nick Clegg became Liberal Democrat leader in 2007. Since then Mr Clegg has promised that he would discipline Tonge if she repeated such behaviour “on my watch”. In 2008 Tonge ranted at the IslamExpo about “the Jewish lobby” and asked: “How can we stop antisemitism if they [Israel] keep treating the Palestinians like this?” Last year she met Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal and described him as “shrewd, plausible and actually very likeable”. She also had a meeting with Ramadan Shalah, head of Islamic Jihad.

So has Mr Clegg kept true to his ‘not on my watch’ promise? No. He refuses to deal with Tonge and erupted when questioned about this by the Jewish Chronicle’s Martin Bright. Clegg’s angry, defensive tone in that interview is familiar. Last year I saw him speak at an event organised by Jewish News. It was mostly a gentle, friendly evening but in the rare moments when Mr Clegg was properly grilled on his and his party’s shameful record on Israel, he was visibly uncomfortable and furious. Like many Liberal Democrats he wants to have it both ways: he wants to victimise and demonise Israel, but then pretend that he’s a friend of Israel too.

You can read a decent compilation of Clegg’s shameful record on Israel at the beginning and end of this CifWatch post by the wonderful Israelinurse. Most revealing is his cowardly U-turn on Jenny Tonge. He can raise his voice and (irrelevantly) remind us that he’s “married to a Spaniard” all he likes, but actions speak louder than words. If Nick Clegg doesn’t even have the balls or the will to deal with antisemitism and support for terrorism within his own party, why on earth should we believe he is in any way ready to be a leader of the country?

This contains some upsetting scenes, but is an ultimately uplifting short film.

This is my latest column for Jewish News…

BBC executives at a corporation seminar were once asked to rule on a theoretical broadcasting dilemma. They were asked how they would react if a guest on BBC2′s Room 101 show nominated the following items to consign to the dustbin of history: some kosher food, the Archbishop of Canterbury, a Bible and the Koran. The response from the executives was that all the items would be allowed with the exception of the Koran, for fear of offending Muslims. This is ironic because their verdict is actually offensive to Muslims, suggesting as it does that Jews and Christians can take a joke but Muslims cannot.

Comedy is a funny world – and not always in the way it intends to be. I grew up as a wave of so-called ‘alternative comedians’ vowed to sweep away the old-school comics and truly shake up the establishment. Naturally, as their waistlines expanded their rebelliousness withered away. Many of them were soon parking their considerable behinds on the primetime television schedules and becoming fully paid-up members of the establishment. Fair enough. The only guaranteed way to avoid selling out is have something nobody wants to buy.

For the current comedy generation though the aim is often not to follow the ‘right-on’ humour of the 1980s, but rather to shock and offend. I’m not worried about offensive humour per se, but I’m sick of jokes about the Holocaust. It’s always wrong, all the more so given the younger generation’s regularly revealed ignorance of the issue (one in six British schoolchildren recently polled thought Auschwitz is a theme park). Jimmy Carr cracked an inappropriate joke about the Holocaust live on stage, prompting roars of laughter. But the memorable part was not the joke, nor the laughter itself but the round of applause that followed the laughter. It felt unsettling.

Not that Carr is alone in making such jokes. David Mitchell made one about Anne Frank, so too have Ricky Gervais and Russell Howard. Perhaps I’m a wimp but I don’t like it. And in my experience many of the comedians who like to push the boundaries of humour by making such quips prove less courageous when it comes to other sensitive areas, particularly extremist Islam. But then if you offend the Jewish community the worst that will happen to you is a few letters of complaint and perhaps a statement of condemnation from the Board Of Deputies. No bloodcurdling mobs, death threats or worse.

Not that I’m suggesting the latter response would be a good idea. But I do think that comedians should stop kidding themselves that they’re being brave by joking about the Holocaust or even Israel, when their comedic courage is so selective. The only comedian I can think of who will ‘go in studs-up’ consistently is Frankie Boyle. He’s made tasteless jokes at Israel’s expense but also at the expense of militant Islam and a range of other targets. You might think that being universally offensive is a bad thing, but at least he’s consistent and he’s actually very funny.

Which is more than you can say for the likes of Jeremy Hardy, with his egotistical film ‘Jeremy Hardy vs The Israeli Army’. Plenty of comedians make repeated quips at Israel, Bush, Blair and the war on terror but rarely speak about Hamas, the Taliban or Saddam Hussein. It’s easy to sneer at Blair in a London television studio, would any of them would be brave enough to stand on a street corner in Kandahar or Baghdad and poke fun at the extremists that our troops are bravely fighting?

If comics want to carry on slamming Israel and sniggering at Anne Frank then they can prove how taboo-breaking they are by fearlessly tackling some other sensitive areas like Islamic extremism. Until they’re willing to do that their jokes about the Holocaust and Israel will be doubly contemptible.

You can visit the Jewish News website here.

There has been controversy about the line-up chosen by Gordon Brown to form the panel for the Chilcot inquiry. Some of this has been tinged with antisemitism, such as Richard Ingrams’ disappointment that the panel included ‘two Jewish historians’. (His complaint was no surprise: Ingrams believes that Jewish and indeed gay writers should declare their ethnicity or sexuality if they are writing about Israel or gay rights issues. How does he want this to work? A yellow star or pink triangle next to their byline?)

Anyway, George Galloway has now had his say on Chilcot. On his Comment show last night the whiskered-wonder asked: ‘Why wasn’t I put on the panel?’ Good question, George. I suppose those grovelling salutations to Saddam Hussein worked against you. The way you publicly handed money to Hamas probably didn’t help, you know how sensitive people can get about antisemitic terrorism. I doubt your cat impersonations helped much either. The whole business is complicated enough without them having to install flea powder and litter trays at the Conference Centre. Meow!

Shabbat shalom to all my Jewish readers – and a happy weekend to everyone.

I’ve written before about some of the loons who leave comments on my blog. I never approve for publication any antisemitic or anti-Muslim comments.

One of the latest charmers to swing by went on a long rant about the Holocaust before suggesting that I visit my “thieving relatives in Israel” whereupon he hopes that Iran would “blow your hooked nose off”.

Someone needs to have a word and tell him what a goy is.

I am currently reading The Road by Cormac McCarthy and I’m planning to go and watch the big-screen adaptation of it next week. All this post-apocalyptic drama reminds me of the life-changing drama-documentary the BBC made in the 1980s called Threads, which depicted a nuclear attack on Britian through the experiences of ordinary Sheffield folk.

That description might make it sound like Coronation Street with a mushroom cloud. But it was a truly shocking film which terrified and politicised me in all manner of ways. I was 12 when I watched it. Some years later I looked back on it in an article for the men’s magazine Loaded. This is that article:

Great Moments In Fright Nuclear TV Drama – By Chas Newkey-Burden

Nuclear missiles were never feted for their subtlety or charm, but when I sat down as a 12-year-old lad to watch a film about them, I wasn’t expecting the visual and emotional onslaught I received. Threads was a life-changing moment for a generation of youngsters and the peak of a decade of nuclear paranoia.

The 1980s had begun with the government distributing a public information booklet called Protect And Survive. It instructed the great British populace in the fine art of building nuclear bomb shelters from an ingenious combination of books, doors, towels and Lego. All very Blue Peter. It also assured us: “When you hear the all-clear, this means there is no longer an immediate danger from air attack and you may resume normal activities.”

For those of us in any doubt at all about what exactly constituted ‘normal activities’ in the aftermath of a nuclear strike, Threads offered a graphic account. A comprehensive destruction of society, diseased survivors fighting over the right to eat dead, plutonium-rich sheep, casualties having limbs sawn off without anaesthetic in makeshift hospitals. Not forgetting, of course, the stillborn babies, burning cats, formation vomiting and those mutilated characters tilling a barren earth under a nuclear winter sky. This was truly horrific television, even more terrifying than Grange Hill bully Gripper or those uncompromising Don’t Play With Fireworks ads.

As if in sympathy with the radiation stricken cast, I literally threw up with fear while watching Threads. Although my generation was aware of truly catastrophic events, most were well in the past; whereas the events depicted here were in the future, at a date to be arranged – quite possibly next week. Make no mistake about it, as far as we were concerned during the 1980s, it was merely a case of ‘when’ not ‘if’ the bomb dropped. For months afterwards we walked around stiff with fear, every passing plane momentarily inspected before normal breathing rate could be resumed.

I had an ugly row with my family the day after Threads was broadcast. With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps it was reasonable for Dad to want to keep the door on his garage. And I suppose Mum really was too busy cooking the tea to drive up to the builders’ merchants and procure those sandbags. I guess I shouldn’t have been so disappointed that I didn’t finish building that nuclear bomb shelter. It was hardly the end of the world, was it?

You can watch Threads online here. But do you even want to after reading the above? Sicko…

All together now…

This is my latest column for Jewish News…

I travelled to Amsterdam for New Year’s Eve to witness the city’s breathtaking celebrations as the sky is lit up with more fireworks than you can imagine. My trip came just days after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab allegedly tried to pull off an even more spectacular explosion on the Detroit-bound plane that had started its journey from Amsterdam’s Schipol airport. Consequently, I arrived early at Schipol for my journey home, expecting tighter security checks in the wake of the Detroit incident.

Surprisingly, the process was as laid back as usual. No wonder I felt a touch twitchy on the flight home. It always surprises me when people complain about heavy security at airports. It seems a reckless stance to take – and sometimes a hypocritical one. In the weeks after the 9/11 attacks people in England rolled their eyes about how “naive” Americans were about airport security, particularly for internal flights. “It’s scarcely tighter than it is for train journeys in England,” they complained. But when America tightened security many of the same people complained that they were being too rigorous.

You won’t catch me moaning about ‘over-zealous’ vigilance when it comes to air travel – the tighter the better, I say. Indeed, the only times I’ve felt truly safe on a flight is when I’ve flown to Israel on good old El Al. The airline’s stringent safety measures on the ground and in the air are legendary. They are enough to reassure the most neurotic of passengers and are stunningly effective. If the whole world flew El Al-style then the would-be terrorists would soon be hanging up their box-cutter knives, shoe bombs and explosive pants.

My first trip on El Al was great fun. I was sitting next to a stunning Jewess. On learning she was Scottish I attempted a bit of break-the-ice humour. “I suppose,” I said with a bashful smile, “that being Scottish you find it even easier to pronounce words like la’chaim”. Dear reader, never in the history of mankind has a joke fallen more flat. Luckily, we soon hit it off as we sat watching the usual El Al passenger behaviour. (Has the airline ever thought of adopting Bob Marley’s Get Up, Stand Up as its anthem?)

My time in Israel was wonderful, it really is the best country in the world to holiday in. The journey home was fun, too. As I checked in at Ben Gurion, I received a fairly thorough questioning. “Don’t be offended,” they told me. Offended? I loved every moment. I had nothing to hide, and every holiday maker loves to find a captive audience to talk to about their trip. The work that El Al has done to keep its passengers safe is just wonderful. It’s time more airlines and airports looked to the El Al example.

The attempted Detroit attack has come as a shock to some. An Islamic terrorist attacking Obama’s America on Christmas Day: that’s a wake-up call and a half. Or is it? Malcolm Grant is the Provost of University College London, where Abdulmutallab studied and became President of the Islamic Society. In a painfully defensive article in the wake of the incident, Grant wrote of Abdulmutallab: “What induced this behaviour remains a mystery. He has not emerged from a background of deprivation and poverty. He came from one of Nigeria’s wealthiest families.”

This suggests spectacular naiveté about Islamic terrorism on the part of Professor Grant. Speaking of which, the  attempted bombing might also have come as something of a shock to President Barack Obama. You can imagine him shaking his head in despair as he tucked into his Christmas dinner: “What, so you mean prostrating myself in front of our enemies, blaming everything on Israeli settlements and chanting empty self-help slogans isn’t enough to stop terrorists?”

Yes, it’s quite a challenge to keep the skies over America safe, Mr President. If you want some help you could do worse than give El Al a call.

You can visit the Jewish News website here.

This is a short clip from the episode of the popular BBC quiz show The Weakest Link in which one of the questions was about one of my books.

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