Column for Jewish News December 17 2015 by Jenni Frazer
Today’s sermon, o best beloveds. is about protest and counter-protest – when to do it and when, frankly, you might as well not bother.
On Sunday, a somewhat bizarre protest took place in New York. As far as I can gather – and it has taken some disentangling – a group of ex-IDF officers was protesting against President Reuven Rivlin during his visit to north America. The protest, it turns out, was because the president was taking part in a seminar organised by the Ha’aretz newspaper and during the day, some other ex-IDF officers – except, this time, from the group, Breaking the Silence – were due to give a presentation.
No matter, apparently, that the president and the Breaking the Silence lot weren’t scheduled to be anywhere near each other at the same time, nor that the president wasn’t participating in the Breaking the Silence session at all. Just breathing the same air in the same building was fault enough. On the protest-o-meter: one out of five.
It was an excuse which found a weird echo in last week’s refusal of the Arab MK Ayman Odeh to enter the New York offices of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organisations, because the Conference of Presidents, as it is known for short (catchy titles, some of these American outfits have) had the temerity to share a building with the Jewish Agency and other Zionist groups.
Mr Odeh heads the Joint Arab List in the Knesset and I have to say that if he objects so strongly to entering the Conference of Presidents’ offices on the grounds that he might be inadvertently giving comfort to the enemy, then he must find it difficult, not to say impossible, walking into the Knesset building every day. I expect he goes in through the kitchens and wears an isolation suit to protect himself if an evil Zionist walks anywhere near him. Protest-o-meter rating: again, one out of five.
Come to think of it, entering through the kitchens was just the method employed by Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn in order to attend last Friday night’s celebration dinner of the Stop the War Coalition, of which he was a founder and chaired until he found himself on track to higher things.
Someone in the Stop the War offices – I imagine a lowly minion – has been busily employed for much of this week in removing from the StW website some of its most objectionable material. But fortunately various enterprising sorts have assembled, on therealstopthewar.wordpress.com, all the truly repellent antisemitic filth which once upon a time decorated the coalition’s website. Do pay it a visit; this is certainly a protest in which it is worth engaging. Mr Corbyn appears to think that turning up in Islington Green for a grip-and-grin photograph in front of the local menorah for Chanukah lighting is sufficient to distance himself from what Stop the War stands for. It isn’t.
And now to a protest which, in my opinion, is thoroughly counter-productive. It is the reporting to the police of the actions of retired Jewish academic Marsha Levine, who infamously refused to help a 13-year-old Israeli schoolgirl with a project about horses.
Dr Levine’s comments were rightly condemned in every quarter, and even the Jews for Justice for Palestinians – in whose cause she said she was rejecting 13-year-old Shachar Rabinovitch’s request – have distanced themselves from her response. Dr Levine’s comparison of Jews with Nazis is what has drawn some people – notably those from the Campaign Against Antisemitism – to make her remarks a police matter.
Honestly? This is a waste of time and energy. It is a waste of police time because a prosecution is unlikely to ensue. Its effect, surely, is only to reinforce in Dr Levine’s mind all the stereotypes she already believes about the evils of Zionists and pro-Israelis. What does it achieve? Perhaps it makes some people feel better in a “rah-rah, we will not let one antisemitic action stand” sort of way, but I doubt it’s going to make Dr Levine feel any more charitable towards Israel or Zionists.
By the way, some protesters appear to have missed a trick last week when Sir Gerald Kaufman allegedly turned up at the Board of Deputies’ Chanukah party. More front than Blackpool, some people.