Getting off the hamster wheel

Getting off the hamster wheel

Column JN issue June 3 2016 by Jenni Frazer

A friend was telling me what has become a sadly common experience, that of getting caught up in nonsensical and repetitive bureaucracy.

She was advised that her credit card was about to expire, but a new one failed to arrive. Cue one of those intensely irritating conversations with her bank in which the bank refused to acknowledge that she was the account holder — and demanded as proof of her identity the last three numbers on the new credit card, which she did not have.

That hamster-on-a-wheel sensation — and we’ve all been there, having endless rows with faceless bureaucrats who can’t or won’t deviate from their script — could so easily apply to some of the events of the last week or so, both in Israel and here at home.

Both the loop effect and the tiresome repetitiveness are evident in so many stories of pressing interest to JN readers: there is the bizarre political situation in Israel in which Benjamin Netanyahu now holds something like eight portfolios of state in a desperate game of musical chairs, promising something to everyone in an increasingly insane bid to hold on to power.

Or there is the inevitable knuckle-dragging of those who surround the Labour leadership and the hot potato of antisemitism with which no-one wants to deal. I have said before in this space that the reason Corbyn’s Labour is not “managing” its antisemitism problem is because Jeremy Corbyn himself doesn’t care over much about how the Jewish community feels.

Oh, sure, he pays lip service to opposing antisemitism and those writing about him feel obliged to repeat the mantra that he doesn’t have an antisemitic bone in his body. Personally I feel no such obligation; I’d feel a lot more in tune with Mr Corbyn if he and his team had had the courtesy to respond to the invitation of the Israeli Labour leader, Isaac Herzog, for him to visit Yad Vashem.

I don’t know why anyone is surprised that the Corbynistas didn’t respond. The entire team comes from the school of “if-we-don’t answer-it-might-go-away-la-la-la” — and I am perfectly certain that they hoped that everyone had forgotten the invitation, or that if they crossed their fingers behind Corbyn’s back it wouldn’t count.
Similarly, what are we to make of the reinstatement of Jackie Walker, vice-chair of the Corbyn-supporting Momentum group, only weeks after being suspended from the Labour Party for Facebook comments relating to Jews as “chief financiers of the slave trade”?

No explanation — at the time of writing — has been given for Walker’s reinstatement and it makes one tremble for the outcome of the already controversial Shami Chakrabarti inquiry. No-one will be less shocked than me if the whole wretched ragtaggle of suspendees, from Ken Livingstone to the bilious Tony Greenstein, are reinstated, their temporary absence from the party being deemed punishment enough.

Ironically the one person who appears to “get” the gnawing anxiety between the Jewish community and the Labour Party is the woman who kicked all this furore off, Naz Shah, MP for Bradford West.

Ms Shah has come a long way since the summer of 2014 when she and a bunch of Bradford-based boycotters were lying on the ground “playing dead” as though they had been shot by Israeli troops. It was Ms Shah’s disgraceful comments about Israel and its possible relocation to the United States which bust open the antisemitism row, following the resignation of the co-chair of Oxford University Labour Club, Alex Chalmers.

But Ms Shah, who was suspended from the party, not only understood that what was required was a fulsome apology — which she made in Parliament — but some sort of rapprochement with the Jewish community. Accordingly the MP, who, unlike her leader does know how to respond to invitations, accepted the offer to speak to Leeds Jews on Sunday, in a meeting held under the auspices of the Leeds Jewish Representative Council.

It does not exactly cover our community in glory that the meeting had to be moved from Beth Hamedrash Hagadol to Sinai Reform after, allegedly, threats of violence — from Jews — if the meeting went ahead.

I don’t expect Ms Shah to turn into a philosemite overnight and I daresay that anyone who is representing a constituency such as hers must have had to buy in to a great deal of the vile anti-Israel narrative that passes for political debate in some communities. But at least Ms Shah is trying, and that ought to be welcomed.

You might say that she is departing from the script, and refusing to stay a hamster, giving the same old tired responses, over and over again. A few less hamsters in public life, and the inevitable need not be so inevitable.

  • 2 June, 2016