Of stunts and bad behaviour

Of stunts and bad behaviour

Jewish News issue March 13 2015 by Jenni Frazer

Jonathan Kalmus, a reporter whom I much admire, decided to see what would happen if he followed in the footsteps of Zvika Klein, the Israeli journalist who was abused in Paris when he spent 10 hours walking around wearing his kippah in public.

The stunt – for this was what it was – drew admiring editorials worldwide as Klein walked his walk of anti-Semitic abuse in the wake of the Copenhagen and Paris atrocities.

Kalmus, who is based in Manchester, and is observant, decided to see if the same would happen in the UK. He spent time walking around armpit areas of Greater Manchester, such as Longsight, where Jews are rarely, if ever, spotted, and then went to “Israel-free” Bradford. Unsurprisingly, and all too sadly, Kalmus was spat at, even stalked, and verbally abused. And equally unsurprisingly, all the usual kneejerk reactions have fallen into place with council leaders wringing their hands and politicians higher up the food chain saying how unacceptable it was.

And of course it is unacceptable. But while Lucy Powell, MP for Manchester Central, was right up-front in her denunciation, so far there has been no word from either of Bradford’s two MPs, Liberal Democrat David Ward and the Respect MP George Galloway.

Both men have repeatedly insisted that they don’t have a problem with Jews, but with Israel’s foreign policy. Mr Galloway, indeed, has had a busy couple of weeks issuing legal letters against those who have, he believes, accused him on Twitter of anti-Semitism. His lawyers have demanded, from each alleged offender, £5,000 plus VAT for “legal expenses” before anything has even come to court, a course of action which has now been reported to the Solicitors Regulatory Authority.

It remains to be seen whether any of these cases will reach an English courtroom and what might be offered as the measure of anti-semitism in English law. Following the murder of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence, the Macpherson Report offered a new definition of racism for police to use: “Any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person [who might witness the incident].”

So, if Jonathan Kalmus walks down a Bradford street, dressed casually, minding his own business, and wearing a kippah, then attracts unwarranted verbal and physical abuse – is that not racism? I’d like to think that Messrs Ward and Galloway would denounce such behaviour, but I’m not holding my breath.

What Kalmus did was a stunt, but it brought some lowlife skunks out from under their stones. It’s a bit tree in the forest stuff, this: if he hadn’t walked around Bradford city centre, would his abusers be any less anti-Semitic?

And so on to other perceptions of bad behaviour, some actual, some anticipated.
What are we to make of Transport for London’s decision to ban posters for the hit play, “Bad Jews”, on the underground, on the grounds that “adverts will not be approved if they may cause widespread or serious offence”?

If anyone seriously believes that this is the reason TfL banned the posters, they are living in a dream world. It’s extremely unlikely that it was because TfL was nervous about upsetting Jews; much more probable that it was nervous that the posters would be defaced and scrawled over by the same kind of creatures that spat at Kalmus and Klein in Bradford and Paris.

And in the same vein, I’m afraid, I must put the Advertising Standards Authority’s most recent ruling on an Israel Government Tourist Office (IGTO) brochure which had the temerity to include a picture of the Old City of Jerusalem with the highly “contentious” text: “Everyone falls for the Old City, with its narrow (and car-free alleys, teeming pilgrims and bazaar-like buzz. Here you can see many of the religious sites, including the Western (Wailing) Wall and Stations of the Cross.”

Just one complainant approached the ASA saying that they “understood the Old City of Jerusalem was in the Occupied Territories, [and] challenged whether the ad misleadingly implied the Old City of Jerusalem was internationally recognised as part of Israel.”

Though IGTO put forward a perfectly reasonable and coherent response, the ASA ruled against it and said that the advert must not reappear in its current form. It considered, it said, “that the presentation of the ad would mislead consumers into believing that the Old City of Jerusalem was part of Israel and into taking a transactional decision that they would otherwise not have taken.”

Difficult to think quite how the consumers would access the Old City without putting their delicate feet into Israel, but this needn’t trouble the ASA.

Yes, it’s a minefield out there, where innocent politicians can’t open their mouths without being accused of anti-Semitism, where posters and adverts are banned for fear of causing offence, and where Jews can’t walk the streets without being spat on. As Claude Rains so rightly declares in Casablanca: “Round up the usual suspects!”

  • 16 March, 2015