Archive for December, 2010

Following my 2010: A round-up post, I would like to add one more name to my ‘Cool people I met for the first time’ list. I met Zahava Raymond on the Gilad Shalit vigil and then at the Israeli Embassy event I spoke at. Trust me, despite being a Spurs fan she’s very cool and lovely.

I won’t be blogging again until next week. Happy New Year everyone.

This is a guest post from Israelinurse

I know, I know; it’s cold, grey and damp outside. The footpaths are treacherous and the sky laden with yet more snow. The sodden vegetation smells musty and your hallway has been invaded by dripping umbrellas and soaking boots.

So imagine for a moment that it’s August in Israel and you’re looking for a place to escape from the obstinate rays of a relentless sun and a temperature higher than that of your own blood. Where would you go? My first choice would be the cool caverns of Rosh Hanikra high up on the Lebanese-Israeli border.

There you can enjoy a view of the coastline as far south as Haifa before taking the short cable car ride down to the entrance to the caves formed by the sea’s etching away of the soft limestone over millions of years.

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My heroes of the year: The soldiers of Shayetet 13 who intercepted the Mavi Marmara

Ice cream that I began the year hooked on and ended the year sick of: Ben & Jerry’s Fairly Nuts

Cool people I met for the first time part one: Martin Amis, Gilad Shalit’s father Noam, Lt Col Avital Leibovich of the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Israeli Ambassador Ron Prossor, the legendary Joel Weiner

Person I saw in the flesh but was too scared to approach: Tony Blair.

Person I saw in the flesh and assertively demanded a photograph with: George Osborne.

Person I thought I saw in the flesh but it turned out not to be him: Rudy Giuliani

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It’s been a busy and successful year for me and my celebrity biographies. I’m amused and touched that Chris arranged for voiceover man Peter Dickson (“off of the X Factor”) to record this Christmas message for me.

Christmas Message

In July, Christina Patterson wrote a spectacularly unpleasant column about Hasidic Jews in Stamford Hill. Her hate-driven and narcissistic column caused widespread offence. I think Jewish Chronicle editor Stephen Pollard put it best when he wrote that Patterson’s article was “pure, unrelenting unadulterated anti-Jewish bigotry”.

A passage from Patterson’s column was recently selected by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre for inclusion in its ‘Top 10 Anti-Semitic Slurs of 2010′ list. Had her column not been sinisterly motivated she might at  this point have paused for thought and perhaps even reconsidered her words.

Instead, she has embarked on a follow-up article that is just as hateful and embarrassingly egotistical as her July effort. In her fury that the Jewish community has held her to account for her words, she employs some breathtakingly ill-judged attempts at defence:

1) Using the ‘but some of my best friends Jewish’ line

2) Pretending her article only attacked  people “who happen to be Jewish” when the opposite is clearly true

3) Mocking the Simon Wiesenthal Center

4) Making cheap Holocaust gags

5) Tossing in some half-baked distortions about Israel

Poor Christina Patterson, so much hate and so little self-awareness. I am going to recommend she reads one of my favourite books, The Light And Fire Of The Baal Shem Tov. In it, she can read about the beautiful roots of the Hasidic movement and also see how wonderful it is to bring light, rather than darkness, to the world.

(See also Robyn Rosen’s blog.)

This is my latest column for Jewish News:

I’m normally an even-keeled, optimistic and positive person. But two events during the summer set me on a rollercoaster of emotions. In terms of Israel-related matters, it is these two episodes that defined 2010 for me. Fortunately, I was left on a pleasantly ascendant curve.

I had an early-morning radio slot on BBC radio on May 31st, so I followed the breaking news about the flotilla confrontation on my iPhone as I travelled into the capital. I quickly became astounded at how many people were feverishly condemning Israel before even a handful of facts had become clear. Things got far worse as the day progressed. The poison directed at Israel increased by the hour. This was groundless hatred: people were still in the dark about the full story. It was obvious that this was not an incident many were going to wait for facts about before drawing their own conclusions.

An unpleasant irony developed: the IHH members onboard the Mavi Marmara had failed in their attempted lynch of the Israeli commandos, but in the wider world a lynch mob had formed and it was hitting Israel with everything it could. Even as the truth of what happened emerged, supported by powerful video evidence, many of that mob refused to change their tune.

I became more upset than ever that week. I had witnessed anti-Israel hatred before, not least during the 2006 Hezbollah war and then Operation Cast Lead. But I had resisted the temptation to jump to extreme interpretations of what motivated people to be so uniquely and bitterly hostile to Israel. I liked to believe such people were usually not antisemitic. I believed they were simply misguided and ill-informed – a quick lesson away from a fairer approach.

Yet here they were, watching videos of a mob trying to club Jews to death and the reaction was… to condemn the Jews. My optimism diminished as I found it hard to not conclude this was Jew-hatred, pure and simple. I feared for Israel and I feared for Britain. If someone would have told me that less than two months later I would find renewed hope for both countries I would have struggled to believe them.

In July I spent several days on a vigil outside Downing Street. It was organised by the magnificent Federation of Zionist Youth (FZY) to draw attention to the continued captivity of Gilad Shalit. The brief of the organisers for those attending was that we should actively engage with passers-by and inform them of Gilad’s plight. I took up this challenge with trepidation, but I was pleasantly stunned by the positive responses I mostly received from the great British public.

I particularly remember the lovely posh old lady from Southampton who I spoke with. She had never heard of Gilad but as I told her about what has happened to him she was appalled and upset. A tear ran down her face. However, she was no defeatist. Her sadness soon turned to steel. She asked for a broad handful of leaflets and told me was going to hand them out back home in Southampton.

With that she marched off to the train station, a new convert to the cause of not just Gilad, but Israel. Her reaction was mirrored by most of those I spoke to that week. There are more of these ‘fair play’ folk than you might think. Specifically, I believe there are more non-Jewish people who are sympathetic to Israel than some of us might think. The problem is that for the most part such people exist quietly and haven’t been mobilised, while the opposite is true of those who hate Israel. Groups like the PSC energetically recruit and then encourage supporters to make noise far beyond their number.

So my quest for 2011 is to find more of these quiet, decent people and add their voices to the chorus of support for Israel. I recently joined the Advisory Board of StandWithUs UK, so that group will be my vehicle for that search.

StandWithUs is exactly the sort of organisation that this country has been crying out for. For too long the pro-Israel movement in Britain has been misdirected and ineffectual. If you want to start changing that then please stay tuned for some important ventures in 2011.

In 2008, singer Annie Lennox complained that watching news about Operation Cast Lead on television ruined her Xmas. I think we all felt terrible for her.

I’m mindful that various tensions are simmering across the world, including in the Ivory Coast, North Korea, southern Sudan, Kenya and along the Gaza border. Come on guys, think of Annie and play nicely over the next week or so.

In 2000, journalist Charles Onians boldly predicted that climate change would quickly mean the end of snow in Britain, in his article headlined: “Snowfalls are now just a thing of the past”.

“Snow is starting to disappear from our lives,” he wrote. “Sledges, snowmen, snowballs and the excitement of waking to find that the stuff has settled outside are all a rapidly diminishing part of Britain’s culture, as warmer winters – which scientists are attributing to global climate change – produce not only fewer white Christmases, but fewer white Januaries and Februaries.”

He quoted various climate change ‘experts’, including Dr David Viner, a senior research scientist at the climatic research unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia. “Children just aren’t going to know what snow is,” said Dr Viner. Another ‘expert’ said that British children would only be able to witness snow via photographs on the internet.

As my dear Mother would say: “Gosh, how embarrassing!”

PS – Here is a photograph I took in my village the other day.

Some extracts from a speech given by Noam Shalit, Gilad’s father, in Tel Aviv this morning:

“The government of Israel has abandoned my son, there are no words …to describe this.”

“The government of Israel and the head of the government do not have the courage to admit in their failure to release Gilad through alternate options, and on the other hand do not reveal the integrity that is required in paying the price necessary today for an IDF solider who is still alive, in so far as it does not stand behind its responsibility to bring a captive home.”

“A country that forfeits her citizens – in the end will be forfeited; a country that abandons its citizens – in the end will be abandoned. This is true on the battlefield and also in other areas involving risk and disaster.”

“I am standing in front of you and crying out the cry of Gilad, the mute cry from the darkness of the hole where he has been held for the past four years.  Stand in front of Hamas and say: ‘One soldier of ours is worth thousands of yours, because that is our strength.’”

This is a slightly random affair, but I hope you enjoy it…

January

Israel surpassed itself in its humanitarian reaction to the Haiti earthquake

I sang the praises of El Al

I bought District 9 on DVD and it was immediately installed as one of my favourite films ever. Those sneaky fookin’ prawns…

I included Sir Martin Gilbert and Cheryl Cole in the same post

February

I popped to Israel for a bit

I was all sarcastic and mean to Menzies Campbell

March

My biography of Twilight author Stephenie Meyer was published

Michael Foot died, my reaction to the news being: “Really? I assumed he died years ago.”

I finally got published by Penguin, fulfilling a long-term dream

I proposed a reality television programme for Pesach

All the cool people fell in love with Richard Millett’s blog

The UJS upset Douglas Murray, Douglas Murray upset the UJS and then the UJS upset Douglas Murray

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