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Archive for April, 2010

I think Frankie Boyle is perhaps Britain’s most talented comedian. I’ve seen him live and he was outrageous, hilarious and sharp all night.  I gave him the benefit of the doubt when he made jokes about Israel, because he also managed to be offensive on other topics, including Islamic terrorism, so I assumed he had no agenda other than to universally shock.

However, after the BBC Trust recently apologised about two of Boyle’s Israel jokes he has lashed out with a ludicrous open letter:

‘I think the problem here is that the show’s producers will have thought that Israel, an aggressive, terrorist state with a nuclear arsenal was an appropriate target for satire.’

Aggressive? Terrorist? He shows no evidence for these outrageous descriptions. Like many of Israel’s critics he believes that if he throws around enough inflammatory adjectives that nobody will notice he has no evidence.

His next thoughts are – pardon the pun – a complete joke.

‘The Trust’s ruling is essentially a note from their line managers. It says that if you imagine that a state busily going about the destruction of an entire people is fair game, you are mistaken. Israel is out of bounds.’

So let’s get this straight. Israel is, according to Boyle, intent on the destruction of an entire people. But he has also told us it is an aggressive, nuclear-armed terrorist state. So why hasn’t it managed to destroy that entire people?

Why, in fact, has the opposite happened with, for instance, life expectancy increasing in the West Bank since the Israeli ‘occupation’ began? Why does Israel – at huge risk to its doctors – treat sick Gazans in Israeli hospitals? The destruction of an entire people? Don’t be so ridiculous.

Then we begin to see his true colours.

‘The BBC refused to broadcast a humanitarian appeal in 2009 to help residents of Gaza rebuild their homes. It’s tragic for such a great institution but it is now cravenly afraid of giving offence and vulnerable to any kind of well drilled lobbying.’

Ah, the old ‘lobby’ chestnut.

‘The situation in Palestine seems to be, in essence, apartheid. I grew up with the anti apartheid thing being a huge focus of debate.’

‘Seems to be’ indeed. Again, there is no evidence backing up his claim about the apartheid ‘thing’ applying to Israel. He then turns to a film he once watched including a scene in a Palestinian hospital involving a ‘UN dignitary of some kind’ which made him cry. It’s all very vague and he doesn’t seem to have quite understood what he saw or what factors contributed to the situation portrayed in the scene.

The lazy, ill-informed approach Boyle has taken to forming his views on the Middle East is clear throughout his open letter. So I hold my hands up: I was wrong to assume Boyle had no agenda with his Israel jokes.

Some of you have been asking me what’s the latest news on my friend Tal, who started IDF service last year and who I have hung out with in London and Israel. I’ll be speaking with her properly this weekend so will update here next week. In the meantime she has been moved under a new commander. The commander’s name? Tal.

On Sunday I did a slot on BBC Radio Berkshire with the famous Debbie McGee and discovered she is very deserving of her “the lovely” tag. Yesterday I was interviewed by Reuters New York about Great Email Disasters. Today I am doing interviews with 10 BBC Radio stations about the paperback edition of my Simon Cowell biography. On Friday I am at BBC Radio London doing my regular newspaper review slot with Gaby Roslin & Paul Ross. In the midst of all this I shall also be dining on shawarma in north London and writing my Jewish News column, which I will post here tomorrow. I bet you can’t guess which of the three party leaders it is about…

Good luck to everyone running the London Marathon tomorrow. Running a marathon is an amazing experience. I’d dreamt of doing it since I was a kid and I am so glad I finally got round to fulfilling the dream in 2005, when I ran my first marathon. I did it in 4hrs3mins, which remains my fastest time.

The following year I ran a second marathon and chose the Progeria Research Foundation (PRF) as my charity. The PRF works to raise awareness and find a cure for the Progeria Syndrome which is a rare, fatal genetic condition characterized by an appearance of accelerated aging in children. The Syndrome’s rarity is of little comfort to those who suffer from it, of course. Children with Progeria suffer strokes and heart attacks as early as five years of age and die of heart disease at an average age of just 13 years.

Below is a video of me finishing that second marathon. That’s me coming over the line in a light blue t-shirt and white shorts (purchased in Tel Aviv the previous month incidentally!) on 46 seconds and 54 seconds.

In other news keep an ear out for me on radio over the next week. I’m doing the round promoting the paperback edition of my Simon Cowell biography

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After a marathon trip including 36 hours of frustrating waits in airports, I can confirm that Israelinurse finally got home yesterday. Of all the wonderful things that have come to me from running this blog I have to say that getting to know Israelinurse has probably been the greatest. I look forward to seeing her again soon. It’s not so much next year in Jerusalem but ASAP in the Golan.

It’s been a good week for Nick Clegg after he scored well in the first televised leadership debate. Personally I think he’s an intellectually weak man whose spin is all too transparent. His ‘plague on both your houses’ tactic might be superficially seductive, but it only works for him because the Liberal Democrats have never had to deal with problems in office.

But that’s just my opinion. What is beyond doubt is that he has a shameful record when it comes to Israel and dealing with antisemitism:

* He has called for Israel to stop being armed.

* He has also called for an immediate end to what he calls the “blockade” of Gaza, but offers no suggestion as to how to ensure Israel’s security under such a scenario.

* He has claimed most of those killed in Operation Cast Lead were civilians, when even Hamas admits this is not the case.

* He has claimed that “all sides of the conflict” – including Hamas – want a peaceful two-state solution, ignoring that Hamas openly do not want that.

* He repeatedly failed to keep his promise to deal with Jenny Tonge’s antisemitism and only after repeat offences and much pressure did he deal with her in the most minimal way he could get away with.

* Last year he asked: “Is the idea of Israel as a Jewish state something new?”

* He is obsessed with claiming that the fact he is “married to a Spaniard” makes his party’s terrible track record on Israel and antisemitism all right.

When you enter the polling booth next month ask yourself if you want a man with that sort of record to end up with any influence on the Foreign Office of a coalition government…

I’m mentioned on page nine of today’s Independent On Sunday in a news story about Simon Cowell. It relates to a radio interview Cowell gave in America in 2004 which I dug up while researching my biography of him. In it he spoke out firmly against allowing children to enter television talent shows, saying he feared it could do them “serious damage” and even leave them as messed up as Michael Jackson.

Since then he has routinely allowed children to enter Britain’s Got Talent and has also auditioned 14-year-olds on The X Factor. Indeed, he even auditions a four-year-old Michael Jackson impersonator on the new series of Britain’s Got Talent. Cynics would say it is no coincidence that his change of heart came about when he moved from the Idol franchise (in which he was a hired judge) to the Talent and X Factor franchises in which he has a higher financial stake. I personally think he just changed his mind and that there’s nothing wrong with that. Given how opinionated and outspoken Cowell is he has been remarkably consistent in the main.

All the same, his quotes from 2004 make for interesting reading. The US Fox Network had just made a spin-off of American Idol called American Juniors, which featured child contestants. The programme-makers offered Cowell a lucrative package to sign as an executive producer but he turned it down because of his concerns about putting kids under the spotlight, as he explained to American radio interviewer Terry Gross.

Asked about the morals of putting children on a television talent show, Cowell said: “I have a problem with that, I really do. I even have a problem with people entering at 16. They’re just not ready for it. I go into [American Idol] as a grown-up and I like to treat people like grown-ups. I find it very difficult sometimes saying to a 16 year old what I really think because they’re just not mature enough to deal with it. I don’t think it benefits anybody: me, them, the audience at home.

“They’re just too young. They’ve got to be of an age to deal with this, I think. Look at Michael Jackson – take somebody in at an early age and see what happens. You lose your growing-up period. This is what happens when you go into the music industry at such an early age.

“You say that to an 11 year old and they’re never going to listen to you because they want to be rich and famous. But when you deprive someone of that age of their normal growing up you really can do them serious damage in my opinion.”

Asked what he thought of the entertainment quality of American Juniors, he replied: “Dreadful, absolutely dreadful. What’s the point? No one at the age of 11 can really sing, there’s nothing you can say to them because you can’t criticise a 10 year old. The whole thing was just ghastly. I didn’t want anything to do with it.”

My bestselling biography of Simon Cowell is now out in paperback. I am currently putting the finishing touches to this book.

This is a guest post from Israelinurse

I’ve spent the last two months or so putting our plans to move back to Israel into operation. Sorting out status and the appropriate paperwork, selecting a removal company, packing our furniture and belongings into cardboard boxes in spare moments during the day and by night dreaming that they wouldn’t all fit in the 20’x8’x8’ container, or if they did, that the ship sank in a stormy Bay of Biscay. In mid-March my daughter flew back to commence her search for a flat in the Gush Dan area, so I was left  to deal with the bulk of the packing up and the dispersal of anything designated ‘not going’ to charity shops or recycling. The removal men finally came on Erev Pessach; not the typical choice of slot for a Jewish mum, but the only one I could get. One of them cheerfully informed me that moving, especially abroad, is as stressful as divorce; he didn’t know the half of it.

We’re putting our house here in the UK up for sale, and I had decided that it would be considerably easier to give it the much needed ‘Changing Rooms’-style makeover after the furniture had gone, so the minute the movers had driven off, I began a top to bottom redecorating campaign of our ‘delightful Victorian terraced cottage with quirky original features’ (that’s Estate Agent speak for stairs of differing heights and those oak beams I always hit my head on). With a lot of help from family, that took just over two weeks and I finished painting the last bit of skirting board the evening before my 10 a.m. flight. In among the decorating I’ve also been cancelling direct debits, paying final bills, dealing with Estate Agents, closing bank accounts and cutting off the phone and broadband: in short, everything one does when one is leaving a place for good, including giving away the fridge and freezer and the most complex of all: trying to convince the TV Licensing body that they cannot continue taking money from me if I’m not going to be in the UK and trying to persuade HMRC to take money from me even though the tax year has only just ended.

Three days before my flying date, my partner in Israel got a call from the shipping company’s representatives to say that my container is arriving earlier than expected on this coming Sunday, and that I then have four days in which to complete customs clearance and transport it out of the port. Within those four days falls Independence Day, when everything will be closed, but still, with a bit of luck, it seemed possible. Little did I know that fate had other plans.

On Thursday morning my sister and brother-in-law arrived at 6:30 a.m. to accompany me to Manchester airport telling tales of some Icelandic volcano which had erupted in the night. At that time in the morning, this sounded just too surreal to be true. “Maybe we should phone the airport” my sister suggested. (Note to self: next time you cancel a telephone line, make the cut-off time after your flight leaves.) We set off anyway, listening all the way to the updates on the radio and hoping that my flight would manage to take off before the cloud of ash moved any further south. Upon arrival at check in, things immediately looked suspicious; an uncommonly large number of Jet 2 staff trying to look unusually helpful were milling around in the check-in area. The flight had been cancelled ten minutes previously. All they had to offer was a phone number which was probably constantly engaged, a refund or to stand in a queue with all the other two hundred or so hopefuls in an attempt to secure a spare seat on next week’s flight.

As I was trying to get my head round the implications of all this upon my shipment, the fact that due to the time difference my partner would soon be setting off on the three hour drive to the airport to collect me, that the next flight out of Manchester to Tel Aviv would be at best a week away and that for all intents and purposes I actually no longer exist in the UK, I felt a hand on my arm. “I’m a reporter with GMTV…” No time for that: at this stage not all flights had been cancelled nor the airport officially closed. I rushed to the information desk to try to get a flight out of Manchester to ….well, basically anywhere that would advance me on my journey, but no luck and within minutes it became clear that I wasn’t going to have the pleasure of looking silly in my British winter coat in balmy Tel Aviv anytime soon.

‘Operation Find Another Flight’ commenced as soon as we got to my sister’s house, which fortunately still does have a phone line and an internet connection, but of course thousands of other people were engaged in the same activity, so flights were disappearing at a truly incredible rate. Volcano willing, I’ll fly on Monday night from Heathrow, so if you happen to be at Ben Gurion airport very early on Tuesday morning and notice an exhausted and dishevelled woman who looks as though she’s been wearing the same clothes for the past 24 hours, she will have been. And that ridiculous smile on my face as I pass the Tnuva advert – ‘the cheese with the home’ – on the left going down the marble-paved walkway before passport control will be because it will never have felt so good to finally get home.

Now, if anyone has any suggestions as to how to make my explanation to the Haifa Port customs man – which is going to have to be ‘I was late because of a volcano’ – sound a little less like ‘the dog ate my homework’, I’d be very glad to hear them!

Update: soon after this post was published I received a threatening email from Douglas Murray. I thought it was strange that someone who campaigns against lawfare would use such an intimidating tactic himself. I’ve since learned on this post that Murray has often used such tactics. More on Douglas Murray here.

This is a guest post by Oliver Worth.

How remarkable that after UJS successfully publicly exposed the willingness of FOSIS to allow their speakers to engage in shocking examples of hate speech, Douglas Murray, whose remit is to defeat extremism, chooses to launch an all-out attack.  As Jewish students reveled in the wake a dramatic uncovering of the FOSIS agenda, Murray chose the moment to attack UJS for being “Islamist-cowed” and “alienating”.

UJS did not bow under pressure from FOSIS but made a calculated decision to let nothing prevent this groundbreaking expose, a decision that paid off spectacularly.  The fringe event, in front of a large audience of key figures in the student movement, saw the head of FOSIS come under unprecedented attack and the humiliating defeat of the warped ideals the organisation stands for.

The NUS Annual Conference was an incredible success for the Union of Jewish students at every level. Despite opposition from radical left wing groups, motions were adopted to renew the EUMC definition of anti-Semitism, to maintain disaffiliation from the Israel-bashing Stop the War Coalition and to publish NUS guidelines on hate speech.  In the meantime this AGM represented another year in which UJS was successful in defeating attempts to pass motions one-sidedly attacking Israel.  Whilst our so called ‘friends’ attack UJS, they forget to mention that whilst trade unions across the country have pass resolutions condemning Israel, and some even attempt to boycott the Jewish state, the National Union of Students has maintained an even-handed balanced approached to the conflict, something which can be attributed to the hard working activists of UJS.

It’s a shame Douglas Murray was not at the fringe, he has shown great courage and determination against the rise of extremism in the UK and his frustration is understandable.  However, when it came down to the wire UJS had a clear judgment call to make; to uninvite Douglas Murray or let the fringe be cancelled.  In the end UJS made the decision that nothing would prevent FOSIS being exposed for what they really were; a decision that paid off with the kind of success even we could not have dreamed of.

Were the event to have flopped then perhaps one could have understood Murray’s reaction, but in a spectacular success FOSIS were successfully exposed on the record for the first time.  FOSIS simply had no answer to accusations of inviting anti-semitic, homophobic hate-speakers onto university campuses. Ultimately the revelations will help Mr Murray in his continued battle against extremism, making his attack even more surreal.

Douglas Murray has played an invaluable and sometimes thankless role in fighting extremism in the United Kingdom, and is to be applauded.  Now is not the time to make enemies of friends and attack someone who has stood steadfast with British Jewry over his entire career.  Nonetheless the point remains, when it comes to student issues, the elected leadership of 9,000 Jewish students knows best.  This judgment call was vindicated, and was just one example in a long history of UJS successes in standing up for Jewish Students on campuses.  We have enough enemies already, without seeing those that stand with us attack us in public.

Douglas Murray’s decision to turn against Jewish students is confusing, and that it follows the most successful unravelling of FOSIS hate speech in memory, truly remarkable.  After another NUS AGM in which extremism was defeated, and Israel was approached in a balanced manner, our activists deserved more than to wake up to an all-out attack from our so-called ‘friends’.

This is my latest column for Jewish News:

With the election campaign underway, we have to hope the BNP does not follow its two seats in the European Parliament with any in our Parliament. I’m encouraged by the Jewish community’s anti-BNP efforts through Hope Not Hate and also by the news that the CST was consulted by interfaith leader Fiyaz Mughal as part of his quest to stop Nick Griffin. I’ve long admired the CST and its brave, invaluable work in countering the multi-faceted brutality that is increasingly surrounding Britain’s Jewish community. Indeed, even though I am not Jewish I have my own personal cause to be thankful to The CST.

In January 2009, as Israel was finally responding to years of rocket attacks from Gaza,  I attended a vigil of solidarity with Israel in London. Even before I arrived at the vigil outside the Israeli Embassy I realised that it was going to be an unpleasant evening.  Pro-Hamas demonstrators were lurking on the walk from High Street Kensington tube to the Embassy and hurling abuse at anyone they perceived to be headed to the vigil, including a group of elderly Jews.

When I arrived I was asked to give an interview to a television crew. As I was speaking, two pro-Hamas demonstrators literally barged into me and started shouting angry slogans about “Israeli murderers” and then started demanding that Israel withdraw from Gaza. “They already did – in 2005,” I reminded them and they eventually waddled off.  Throughout our vigil, pro-Hamas demonstrators hurled abuse and objects in our direction. Some of them tried to break through the barrier to get to us. Thankfully the police had searched a cross-section of people as they arrived because as they quickly discovered, some of the Hamas supporters had turned up with bricks and knives hidden in their coats.

The pro-Hamas demonstrators then took to driving right past our vigil shouting insults, waving Hamas flags and – in one case – spitting at a shy young Jewish boy. Meanwhile, we remained calm and dignified. We sang about peace, and also sang the Israeli and English national anthems. It was after the demonstration finished that the CST came into its own. As we walked to the tube station, the atmosphere was uneasy. Although the police had tried to ensure the two sets of demonstrators walked to different stations, some of the pro-Hamas bunch were lurking on our route in a threatening manner. Were it not for the CST bravely lining the route, I’m almost certain my two female friends and I would not have made it to the station unharmed. Indeed, one orthodox Jew was attacked that evening as he visited some friends who lived not far from the Embassy.

So it astounded me when, in the wake of Yoav Shamir’s  flawed film Defamation which questioned the work of the Anti Defamation League,  I read people suggesting that all is well for Britain’s Jewish community and questioning whether there is a need for the CST. How can the safety of Jewish children as they walk to school in the morning be in question? Or the safety of people walking to synagogue on a Friday night? Also, has it not occurred to the CST’s critics that where antisemitism has been successfully challenged that this will often be precisely because of the efforts of groups like the CST?

Returning to the forthcoming election I would say that another key target must be a bad night for the Liberal Democrats. They are a small party, which makes their high number of Israel-bashers and other creeps disproportionate and unacceptable. Their production in north London of starkly contrasting leaflets to push through the respective doors of Jewish and Muslim voters is horrific, as is the prospect of Nick Clegg having influence in the Foreign Office of any coalition government. That cannot be allowed to happen so we must use our votes wisely.

You can read Jewish News online here. Please rate this post at Jblog here.

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