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Archive for November, 2010

The Hebrew edition of my Justin Bieber biography has now arrived on the shelves in Israel. My wonderful friend Hadar has just sent me this photograph of it.

I’ll be doing interviews with the Israeli media this week to promote the book. The Israeli blogosphere is already starting to buzz.

Meanwhile, the book sold to three more countries yesterday: France, Holland and Italy. I’ve also just received the Latvian edition of my Michael Jackson biography. As I’m half-Latvian, I was proud (and amused by the translation of my name: Čess Ņūkijs-Bērdens).

Good times. I’m so happy to have a book of mine in Hebrew on sale in Israel.

(For my Jewish News column on ‘Justin Bubbeleh’, click here.)

The number of Israeli soldiers in the West Bank is now at its lowest level for more than 20 years. This is further proof that the security measures introduced by Israel in recent times are working – to the benefit of everyone who wants peace.

Without these security measures – including the fence and checkpoints – Palestinian suicide bombers would still be attacking Israeli schoolbuses, restaurants and nightclubs. Bad enough in itself, and the result of such attacks would be increased peril for West Bank civilians as Israel launched understandable responses.

Who wants to go back to those days?

Next time someone, from the comfort of the West, tells you the security fence must be immediately torn down, ask them who would benefit from such a development. Israeli kids sitting on a bus on the way to school? Palestinian civilians thrown into the line of fire by terrorists when the response is launched?

All decent people hope and pray for a day when the fence will no longer be needed. In the meantime, all decent people understand why it must remain.

This Sunday the X Factor results show will be like a get-together of people I have written books about. Obviously Simon Cowell and Dannii Minogue will be there. Also in the house will be The Wanted and Justin Bieber.

Speaking of Bieber, I wrote last month about the Israeli edition of my biography of him. Here is the cover – very excited about this. Amusingly, if you use Google to auto-translate the publicity page for the Hebrew edition it translates my name as ‘Charles So-Gnocchi Borden’!

This is my latest column for Jewish News:

This time last year I wrote of my admiration for the loveable X Factor contestant Stacey Solomon. I described her as a ‘heron-like wonder’. This year, while Stacey toughs it out in the jungle, it is another female contestant who has captured my heart in the X Factor – the much-discussed Katie Waissel.

Katie is an intriguing bunch of people, don’t you think? She’s glamorous, quirky, painfully vulnerable yet frighteningly steely and determined. She has reinvented her image week-by-week. I find the overall package very charismatic and I also adore her ambition.

She is a consistently entertaining performer. So why do some people hate her?

Katie has been a target from the off. It all started when it was revealed that she has already recorded some music in America. This upset some views, but I don’t see the problem. Countless contestants – including the lovely Leona Lewis – had previous musical ventures on their CVs. It sort of comes with the territory, doesn’t it? A bit naive to expect the contestants’ musical ambitions to have magically appeared out of the ether the day they happened to queue up to audition.

People again turned on Katie when Cheryl Cole chose her for the live shows but not the popular Gamu. How this decision  can be deemed Katie’s responsibility rather than Cole’s is a mystery, but by this stage the pack had sniffed blood and were rolling up their sleeves. Then the word was put round that Katie is a ‘bit of a diva’ back-stage. Well, I’d hope so – this is showbiz, darlings. Soon people – who had never met her – were accusing Katie of being a ‘fake’.

During the live shows, the judges have controversially saved Katie from being booted out after sing-offs. Again she is blamed for decisions taken by other people. The anger that these decisions have prompted is staggering. It is easy to kick someone when they’re down, and some X Factor viewers take delight in doing it. The fact they can do so from behind the anonymity of the internet only adds to the appeal. I suspect they would struggle to muster any genuine criticism of Katie were they asked to do so to her face.

In fairness, everyone who enters the X Factor is voluntarily putting themselves forward to be judged by the media and public. Katie will have known that when she signed-up. But what she is facing goes far beyond anything we have seen before. The hatred is, frankly, obscene. I’ve no doubt that those who are behind it are acting out of issues they have with themselves, not with the lovely Katie. No wonder her mother Diana predicts that Katie might be better off continuing her singing career in America. There is something so English about the way her proudly-stated ambition has been disapproved of.

Let’s be clear: all the finalists share Katie’s level of ambition, it’s just some of them hide it more than others. It has always been the case: Will Young spun us the bumbling ‘posho’ role, Leona Lewis played the sweet unassuming role. But both were desperate to win and both did win. The public doesn’t mind contestants being ambitious as long as they pretend not to be.

Or, to put it another way, the issue Katie’s critics have with her is not that she is a fake, rather that she is not fake enough.

More fool them. I adore her. It would not surprise me if the lovely Katie went on to become every bit as successful as whoever eventually wins this year. The fact she might have to move to America to do so says disappointing things about England where ambition is mocked but envy is alive and kicking.

You can read Jewish News online here. You can read about my best-selling biography of Simon Cowell here. Find out why this Sunday’s results show is special to me here.

I wrote in March about how much I admire Richard Millett and his wonderful blog. Richard’s is such an original blog and his every post is a gem. He makes very important points in a calm, engaging and therefore powerful way.

If you haven’t taken a look at his blog then I recommend you do so right now. It is my favourite blog of all.

Did you hear the one about the Rabbi, the Ambassador, the former Prime Minister and the Goy?

The Board of Deputies’ 250th Anniversary Gala Dinner was a wonderful evening.  It was lovely to see so many people, including OyVaGoy readers, who I have never met before.

The speeches were mostly great, too.

You can read Chancellor George Osborne’s speech here. It was an interesting speech, though I found this passage a little baffling:

“There are very few Jews, anywhere in the world, whose lives, through their families, haven’t been touched by the politics of totalitarians and the crimes of dictators.  This country’s proudest boast is that here, in Britain, in our land, refugees found a home. Here they lived in peace. Here they rebuilt their lives.”

I was waiting for him to acknowledge the other side of the coin – that Britain was in fact the final country in western Europe to accept Jewish immigrants, and the first to expel Jewish people. You can read Melanie Phillips’ thoughtful response to his speech here.

More positively, he said that there will be “legislation published very shortly” to end the obscenity of universal jurisdiction. “We have waited long enough, politicians have talked long enough, it is time to act. And act we will.” I will believe it when I see it. So far David ‘Prison Camp’ Cameron and William ‘Disproportionate’ Hague have been a massive disappointment when it comes to Israeli matters.

A man who has been nothing short of magnificent on such matters is the former Prime Minister Tony Blair. I was overjoyed to hear him speak at the Dinner, as he is a major hero of mine. His speech was witty, wonderful and powerful. The stand-out moment for me came when he said “People often refer to me as a friend of Israel. It’s not always meant as a compliment, but I take it as a compliment”.

I know just what he means!

Other oratorical highlights of the evening included my friend’s Simon Sacerdoti’s speech of thanks to George Osborne. As Simon returned to our table having given the speech I did my best to bask in the reflected glory. Then it was time to mingle…

Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks has long been an inspiration to me. He’s such a magnificent writer, speaker and thinker. I find his reflections powerful, thought-provoking and guiding. So I was delighted to meet him. I loved how excited he got about the fact that I am, like he, an Arsenal fan.

Then it was time to meet his excellency, Mr Ron Prossor, the Israeli ambassador to Britain. I use the full description out of respect but I was delighted to find that, just like Lord Sacks, he could not be more friendly and down to earth. In fact, he is a really cool dude is Ron!

And here I am, listening to my hero Tony Blair – look how close we were. What a wonderful man. Britain, the Middle East and the whole world needs another leader like him. I hope we one day see his like again.

I had been meaning to get some new eye cream, bath salts and other skincare shizzle. Thanks to the ISM for reminding me to buy them from Ahava.

I’ve just put my order in. You too can buy from Ahava here. I’ve added the Ahava website to my blogroll, too. If you visit the Ahava website you can buy products from Ahava.

Do I make myself clear? ;)

This is a guest post by Emma Nagli of the Federation of Zionist Youth (FZY)

FZY Year Course is a post secondary school gap year programme that immerses participants in Israeli society, blending together community volunteering, Jerusalem studies, an Israel experience, touring, hiking and fun.  Year Course is a professionally run, exciting and challenging full-time programme, which is designed to give participants an in-depth understanding of the complexities that make up modern Israel

Most parents and families see the immense value in a programme such as FZY Year Course. A recent survey found that 96% of Year Course graduates had married someone Jewish, 89% reported that Year Course strengthened their Jewish Identity and 67% had held a leadership position in the Jewish community.

Francesca Wolfe, FZY Mazkira, commented, “More and more employers are recommending a gap year such as FZY Year Course as it gives transferrable life skills that enhance employment opportunities. FZY Year Course is an investment in the future of the participant’s personal and Jewish development. FZY Year Course graduates form the basis of the future leadership of the Jewish Community. We are incredibly proud of our role”

Whilst the issues of education cuts and the rise in tuition fees are being discussed, we are hopeful that the government will allow those taking a gap year to be exempt from the rise in tuition fees. Such a clause has been in government legislation on every previous occasion that University funding has changed. FZY is actively lobbying the current government alongside other Jewish and non Jewish gap year providers.

With the UK government focus on volunteerism and contributing to society, FZY Year Course, and the movement as a whole, has a key role to play in UK society.

Working alongside our partners in Young Judaea and the Tsofim, we are confident that we will send a large group to Israel in 2011 on Year Course, and in turn producing lay leaders for the community.

We are concerned about anything that may affect the ability of people to join Year Course – the evidence of the influence it has on the individual and on the community are overwhelming. It is a concerning issue that tuition fees are increasing, however it is important to realise that students will not have to start paying off their student loan debt until they are earning over £21,000, instead of the current £15,000.

I think that going on Year Course is a benefit that is independent of University and we are also in a fortunate position that with the support of the UJIA, The Friends of FZY and MASA we have significant bursaries available to allow people to join the Year Course programme. We are determined to not let finances stand in the way of an individual wishing to spend their gap year in Israel.

As for costs, we are always striving to keep costs down and our price for Year Course 2011 is the same price as that of 2010! Year Course includes everything – accommodation, meals, flights and an educational and enrichment programme that is second to none.

Read more about Year Course here.

This week the United Nations voted to remove a reference to sexual orientation from its resolution against extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

So the United Nations is now effectively saying it is acceptable to execute men or women because of their sexuality. This is more than a symbolic development, given that 76 countries around the world criminalize homosexuality and five consider it an executable offence.

Among those that voted for the removal were: China, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, Yemen and Zimbabwe.

Among those that voted against were: Australia, Brazil, Canada, India, all of Europe including the United Kingdom, United States and…Israel.

(You can read my 2006 article about gay life in Israel here.)

Last night my good friend Jonathan Sacerdoti and I had an epic adventure. We swept heroically across north London consuming everything that got in our way. These included platefuls of shawarma, hummus and falafel at our beloved White House Express, and two helpings of frozen yoghurt (one of which was at our culinary NBF Blu Cherry). Naturally, we also paid a visit to good old Starbucks, where I had my first ever Chai Tea Latte and Jonathan had his first ever Toffee Nut Latte.

So much food and drink. And yes, that was me jogging round east Berkshire at 5am this morning, burning off the calories and the guilt. Speaking of food, check out this wonderful t-shirt that Jonathan brought me back from Israel. I love it, and frankly I’m lucky it still fits me after last night.

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