Column for Jewish News May 20 2016
I’ve seen them all, this past few weeks. Every single type of Jew, from the “Jew-ish” who can’t tell the difference between “the one with apple and honey and the one where you don’t eat”, the liberal secular ones who know what they’re not keeping, the “AsaJews” — copyright Howard Jacobson — who have felt moved to write to the Guardian to point out that they have been smugly in opposition to Israel all along, so nobody need think that this present furore over antisemitism has anything to do with THEM, thank you very much.
My grandfathers, on both sides, were in tailoring, one rather richer than the other, but they both subscribed to the school of “Here’s a button, make me a suit”. And I can’t help but feel part of a giant cut-out-and-keep sewing pattern as the row about antisemitism in the Labour Party — and beyond — has ebbed and flowed. Quick, quick, the Daily Mail wants an observant Jew, preferably right-wing, to talk about antisemitism. Here you are. But look, the Observer wants a non-observant Jew from the Left to write about it, too, and she’s just as wounded. Allegedly.
Don’t worry, we seem to be saying to the wider public, who, I dare say, are thoroughly sick of reading about antisemitism and its concomitant partners of twisted history (copyright Livingstone, K) and esoteric discussions about whether Israel should ever have been created. Don’t worry, because if there is an angle, or an argument, or some utterly reprehensible point of view, we Jews will provide the appropriate non-role model.
Ya want self-hating? We got’ em. Ya want self-righteous? We got those, too. We have comic Jews and deeply unfunny Jews. We have Jews who never had an original thought in their lives — not that this would ever prevent them from expressing these banalities. Basically, any kind of Jew who will comply with your level of bias and/or prejudice, we can offer you, made-to-measure, bespoke fittings.
The only kind of Jew we don’t seem to have too many of are the ones who are currently quivering below the radar, wishing fervently that their fellow Jews would just SHUT UP.
Because, frankly, there are only so many ways that we can talk about antisemitism before people stop listening. I am not suggesting for a minute that we row back on delivering important and central messages about the Holocaust and its lessons for future generations. But I am getting really, really, fed up with finding any Jew with an arm or a leg ready to contribute their two shekels-worth about the extraordinary existential-ness of their Jewish condition, and how nothing really happened to them in the school playground — or at university — or, well, nothing, actually.
There are some genuinely vile examples of hideous antisemitism out there — and a shaken Rhea Wolfson, about to stand for the Labour NEC in place of the reviled Livingstone — is discovering them to her cost. Most Jews do not need to have avowed racists explain to them exactly what antisemitism is. Unfortunately we have a keenly developed sense of the issue, honed in our collective folk memory over generations.
But, oh my paws and whiskers, the deluge of teeth-gnashing, of mopping and mowing, of weeping and wailing.
We would all, I think, learn a useful lesson from the unrivalled joie de vivre of the survivors among us, who are the ones who truly understand what anti-Jewish racism means. A week or so ago I watched the molten energy of the 45 Aid Society as they celebrated life at their 71st reunion event. If you could have bottled what they had and sold it on the market, you’d be a millionaire.
A friend, who is the son of a survivor, is all too aware of their determination to make the most of what they have when so much was taken away from them. With great affection, he said: “They always have a wonderful time. They could hold that event in a field, and they’d be happy.”
I think he’s right. Being with the survivors is a poignant and perfect antidote to the outpouring of “Me, Me, Me” which has adorned screens and newspapers in the past weeks. I am thrilled for the Jews who have suddenly remembered who they are, thanks to the likes of Livingstone et al. But, dear Lord, enough already!