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Archive for March, 2012

This is my latest column for the Jewish Chronicle

Perceptions of Israel’s supporters are often negative. We are thought to hold tremulous politicians in a vice-like grip, to be brainlessly unquestioning in our support of any Israeli policy, and to be guilty of other horrors, including Islamophobia.

In my opinion it is some of my fellow gentile supporters of Israel that have earned us these bad names. Throughout history, the flow of recriminatory traffic has generally seen gentiles unfairly blaming Jews for various ills. In this case, Jews could justifiably blame the goyim for tainting the name of a fine cause.

Take America, where a “Jewish lobby” is said to “run foreign policy” – an accusation that has been aired afresh in the wake of Obama’s friendly Aipac conference speech. The perception of this imperious “lobby” dominating election years provokes resentment across the world.

Unfortunately, there is no such lobby: Jewish people constitute just 2.1 per cent of the American population and research shows Israel is seldom a key factor in their voting habits. The American Jewish Committee found that just three percent of respondents in a major survey named Israel as the most important factor in deciding how they vote.

Research conducted by a range of organisations keeps delivering approximately the same results. A 2010 survey that found that just seven percent of America’s Jews listed Israel as one of the top two factors deciding their vote for congress. So much for the “Jewish lobby”.

However, there is no question that Israel is considered an important issue by many American politicians. Why so? Because of a genuinely powerful electoral force – America’s 70 million-odd Christian Zionists. It is they who wield noteworthy influence in key states, and they who mobilise mass fury at any politician or broadcaster who fails to live-up to their crazy, entirely self-centred wishes on the disputed territories.

So it is not that a Jewish lobby has a grip on congress – it’s more that a Christian lobby has a grip on America’s Israel movement. A state of affairs in which Jewish people are taking the rap for something that gentiles are guilty of – where have we heard that before? No, where have we not heard that before?

Here in Europe a vocal minority of non-Jewish Israel “supporters” give the Zionist movement a bad name, from the thugs of the English Defence League who wave the Israeli flag purely to infuriate Muslims, to the hideous Geert Wilders, who so inaccurately but successfully co-brands Israel advocacy with Islamophobia. In England we have our own Wilders equivalents among the commentariat who muddy our name by linking their obsessive hate-mongering against Muslims with support for Israel.

The issue becomes clearer than ever on the Iranian nuclear question. Almost all the Jewish people I know, believe, as I do, that Israel has not just a right but a duty to do what she must to defend herself against the threat of nuclear aggression from the hideous Iranian regime. But, a few robotic activists aside, they are mindful of the sensitive complexities of the issue.

Quite a contrast to the many Western gentiles who are noisily chomping at the bit for Israel to unleash the dogs of war, safe in the knowledge that no relative of theirs would be in the crossfire of any immediate Iranian or Iranian-proxy response.

I suppose it’s easy to cry for a war to be launched by a country that in truth you consider not a friend but the enemy of your enemy. Indeed, some of these folk slam Israel’s enemies in one breath only to then damn Israel for not being hardline enough to satisfy their safely-distant bloodlust.

Well, they might just have to continue their armchair damnations a bit longer, as a recent poll showed that Israeli public opinion is more nuanced than theirs. The poll showed that 19 per cent of Israelis support an attack on Iran without American backing, 42 per cent endorse an attack only with American support, while 32 per cent oppose an attack under any circumstances. Not what some Western armchair generals wanted to hear.

Of course, many non-Jewish supporters of Israel are sincere. I suppose we just need to keep reminding ourselves that, as Israel and the Jewish people do not lack for tireless enemies, those of us who support from outside the community must be extra vigilant not to damage the name of this beautiful cause.

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One of my friends, Ben Kaye, is running the London Marathon to raise funds for a good Jewish charity. Well, I say he is one of my friends – I’ve actually only met him three times. But of all the people I have met only three times – a that group includes David Beckham, Tom from McFly, Rachel Stevens, Ron Prossor and countless Israelis! – Ben is my clear favourite. (Probably Tom second.)

Ben has always dreamt of running a marathon and next month his dream will come true. He is raising funds for Nightingale. Based in London, Nightingale is a care home for older Jewish people, where physical, emotional, intellectual, cultural, religious, spiritual, social and creative needs are catered for with sensitivity on an individual basis.

As Ben writes: ‘Nightingale holds a very special place in my heart. It is where my two beautiful grandmas lived the last days of their lives. Nightingale gave them so much happiness, love, warmth and a sense of being. Don’t be mistaken, Nightingale is not a sad or depressing place. It is a happy, fun, wonderful place to visit, and I feel blessed that it came in to my life. My grandmothers would have ended their days in sadness if it wouldn’t have been for Nightingale.’

Sounds wonderful. Good on you, Ben. I remember when we stood together at a pro-Israel demonstration. As you waved your Israel flag you also sang, absolutely belting out the words to Am Yisrael Chai. I wrote this post about the two Marathons I’ve run, but some better advice would be that if you approach your Marathon with the same gusto as you did your singing you’ll romp through it!

You can support Nightingale’s work by sponsoring Ben here.

This is a guest post from Ed Fordham

I still remember the day in 2009 when our canvass team came back from a night out on the doorsteps and asked me: “Who is Jenny Tonge? We have just been canvassing and had the most awful time over this person who apparently is a Liberal Democrat…”

I explained calmly and with a wry smile that Jenny was former MP and member of the House of Lords, and that she held strong views and was not afraid to voice them. “But this was real fear,” said one of the canvassers, “these residents were not going to vote Liberal Democrat because of the views she articulates.” It was not a one-off incident.

So how does someone go from being a passionate and thoughtful campaigner, through to being an MP, a member of the House of Lords and then become a poster figure of fear and hatred on a topic as controversial as Israel/Palestine?

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I remember being in Tel Aviv during the run-up to Purim in 2010. There were quite some sights in and around the Dizengoff Center, I can tell you.

A thought: as some Jewish people get uncharacteristically drunk on Purim, should antisemites have a special day on which they get uncharacteristically sober?

Have a good one, anyway!

It is World Book Day today. To mark it, I’ve chosen five highlights of my five years as a full-time author.

5) ‘And you’re quite good at scoring goals…’
When I was a full-time football magazine journalist in the late 1990s I interviewed over 100 footballers, but I never got to interview one of my favourites – Ian Wright. Let’s fast forward to 2007, when I was doing radio interviews to promote my book, The All-New Official Arsenal Miscellany. As I left the studio at TalkSport having been interviewed on the Hawksbee and Jacobs show, I saw Ian, (who presented a different show on the station). I marched up and introduced myself. He replied: ‘Yeah, I just heard you on-air – you’re very good on radio.’ So I replied: ‘Thank you – and you’re quite good at scoring goals’. He asked for a copy of my book and then asked me to sign it. Yes, he asked me for my autograph!

4) ‘But Mum, I wrote it!’
Occasionally I write books under ‘pen names’. Earlier this week, as I was having lunch with my Mum, she said: ‘I’ve got a present for you’ and proudly handed me a parcel. It felt like a book, so I was excited as I unwrapped it. It turned out to be a copy of one of the books I’ve written under a pen name – my Mum had no idea I’d written it!

3) ‘Ere, what about book about modern hypocrisy?’
When I was in my mid-20s, one of my favourite parts of the week was Saturday morning when I’d take The Guardian to a local cafe and eat a huge breakfast while reading Julie Burchill’s column. I loved how brilliantly she wound-up the paper’s core readership. Some years later I was sent to interview her for a magazine and we instantly hit it off. There followed regular, hysterical and gloriously hedonistic get-togethers at her place in Brighton during which we talked about our love of Israel and reality television.  One day, she turned to me and said: ‘Ere, what about book about modern hypocrisy?’ So we wrote one. It is called Not In My Name: A Compendium of Modern Hypocrisy. Nick Cohen described it as ‘a spirited attack’ in The Observer, the Daily Mail called it: ‘Waspish and witty’. My favourite review was in the Jewish Chronicle, where Francesca Segal wrote: ‘And where has Newkey-Burden been all my life? His essay on Israel haters made me ache with gratitude. I had tears streaming down my face as I turned the pages. Because he’s right, of course.’ Thanks, Francesca!

2) Justin Bieber in Israel
My 2010 biography of Justin Bieber has been a best-seller in several countries having been translated into 12 languages including French, Indonesian, Japanese…and Hebrew. I was beyond excited to have my work translated into Hebrew but nothing could prepare me for this video from Israeli TV of excited Israelis buying my book on the day of publication. Emotional!

1) ‘You might as well be top of it…’
When my biography of Simon Cowell was published in 2009 it reached number two in the WH Smiths bestsellers chart. I enjoyed the moment but was left aching for a number one. I finally achieved that last Christmas, when my biography of Adele reached number one in the HMV book chart. Noel Gallagher once said: ‘If there’s a chart you might as well be top of it.’ Well, absolutely. Here’s to the next five years!

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