Column for Jewish News January 20 2022
It won’t come as any great surprise to Jewish News readers that every so often there is a call for Israel to get its hasbara act together, in which diaspora Jews (mainly) deplore the inability of the country to distil its public image with wit and wisdom.
We frequently point to intellectual and technological achievements by Israel, which in those fields undoubtedly punches above its weight in the world’s boxing ring. So why are there episodes of idiocy that make the heart sink?
The latest manifestation comes from Danny Danon, a man whom, summoning my inner British nanny, I was once forced to tell off during an interview, in which he paid more attention to his mobile phone than to the questions being asked. (Public service announcement to politicians of all stripes — appearing to ignore the question is not a good look).
Danon, once Israel’s ambassador to the UN and now chairman of World Likud, decided, for reasons best known to himself, to accuse the Harry Potter actress Emma Watson of antisemitism.
Watson’s “crime” was to post an Instagram image showing a pro-Palestinian protest, featuring a banner with the somewhat ungrammatical declaration, “Solidarity is a verb”.
Well, not only is solidarity not a verb, but even if it were, it’s a hell of a long stretch between showing a picture of a pro-Palestinian rally and espousing antisemitism. I have no reason to believe that Watson does any such thing; apart from anything else she has apparently given over control of her Instagram account to a feminist collective, so it may not even have been her own posting.
But Danny Danon thought he would be incisive and witty, two words not normally associated with him, and thus posted a Twitter comment: “10 points from Gryffindor for being an antisemite”. (Gryffindor being the name of one of the school houses in Harry Potter). Oh, Lord, I thought, when I saw this. If Emma Watson had no negative thoughts about Israel and Jews before now, this remark is unlikely to help.
And, indeed, despite numerous rebuttals from smart Jews – including the Community Security Trust’s Dave Rich, a man in a position to know antisemitism when he sees it – the lunacy was off and running.
Inevitably, those wishing to defend Watson and express “solidarity” – how I am beginning to hate that word – gathered round and put their names to a letter, organised by Artists for Palestine UK.
And the signatories include people whose views on Israel and antisemitism I really did not want to know, people who have been drawn into this foolish conversation. So we have people such as Susan Sarandon, Mark Ruffalo, Peter Capaldi and Charles Dance signing up.
Certainly there are the usual suspects among the signatories, including Maxine Peake, Ken Loach and Miriam Margolyes. But this was so unnecessary. If only Danon had shut up and people had ignored Watson’s social media outing. Emma Watson is not Wiley, the rapper kicked off Twitter for hardcore antisemitism, and nor should she be put in the same category.
There’s a lot of talk just now about Nachman Shai, currently Israel’s diaspora affairs minister and said to be about to throw his hat into the ring to become chair of the Jewish Agency, succeeding Isaac Herzog, now Israel’s president. It can’t, surely, be beyond the wit of people like Shai to pay a bit of attention to Israel’s public image and make sure there is damage limitation in place.
We have more serious battles to fight than this – as we all know.