Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Blood Libels and Antisemitism in the UK

This is the top half of a cartoon by Gerald Scarfe that was printed in the Sunday Times newspaper last weekend, 27th January. The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is pictured building a wall that imprisons people - presumably Palestinians - between the bricks. The mortar he is using appears to be made from blood. The caption at the bottom read, "Will cementing the peace continue?"

This is a country that still believes in freedom of the press, and one doesn't have to agree with Scarfe's perspective. However, to have published this on International Holocaust Memorial Day seems at best utterly bad taste. At worst some have accused him of antisemitism. News International mogul Rupert Murdoch apologised via his Twitter account saying that a "major apology for grotesque, offensive cartoon" was owed. Scarfe apologised for the "very unfortunate timing" of the publication, and insisted that he was not antisemitic. In an interview with the Jewish Chronicle, he said that his drawing "was a criticism of Netanyahu, and not of the Jewish people:  there was no slight whatsoever intended against them."

I am inclined to believe that this is what he believes. I do think, however, that there is a bit of a problem with the imagery he used. The bloody mortar evokes imagery of the blood libel that has haunted Jewish communities across the world since medieval times. It originated with the false claim of Jewish guilt for the crucifixion of Jesus; and developed into the even more false belief that Jews used the blood of murdered Xians (especially children) in their rituals, e.g., that it is a vital part of the recipe for Passover matzah or the filling for the hamantaschen pastries eaten at the festival of Purim. This blood libel has been the excuse for premeditated physical attacks on Jewish communities for centuries, and is thus a somewhat sensitive subject. To use blood imagery and expect it to be seen outside that context is ingenuous. Nevertheless, this does not automatically make it antisemitic.

Roy Greenslade has a good article in today's Evening Standard where while arguing for freedom of the press he also reminds us of the responsibilities of the author and the editors. He writes about Scarfe and Steve Bell of the Guardian:

"Though I doubt whether the cartoonists meant to be anti-semitic, complainants would surely say this is the point - unintentional racism is as unacceptable (arguably worse), than intentional racism. It was undoubtedly thoughtless and neither man can plead naivety. They are veterans in a craft that exists in order to offend."
(The rest of Greenslade's article is here.)

In the end, I would say that what happened was thoughtless, but not antisemitic. In the Guardian, Anshel Pfeffer points out that:

"There is absolutely nothing in the cartoon which identifies its subject as a Jew. No Star of David or kippa, and though some commentators have claimed Netanyahu's nose in the cartoon is over-sized, at most this is in line with Scarfe's style (and that of cartoonists) of slightly exaggerating physical features."
(the rest of the Guardian article is here)

There are enough people in the world who hate others and promote that hatred - we do not need to increase their number by adding Gerald Scarfe to their cabal.

Killer Cats

A Science reporter on the BBC website reports this week that

"Cats are one of the top threats to US wildlife, killing billions of animals each year ... they are responsible for the deaths of between 1.4 and 3.7 billion birds and 6.9-20.7 billion mammals annually"

Stray and feral cats are mostly responsible, but pet cats do their part also. In fact, domestic cats are currently blamed for the global extinction of 33 species.

Read more about these utterly vicious killing machines here. As for me, if I were to consider writing an article about a dangerous creature currently threatening the existence of hundreds of species on the earth, I think I might focus on

                                                                                                                        homo sapiens ...

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Duelling Elmoes

It's Monday. It's cold and icy outside. It's nowhere near going-home-time. I think we need to get some love from the red furry beast itself. (thanks to SLynn for being the other hand).


The Duelling Brandos


The SNL Dueling Brandos
(close your eyes and listen)

Monday, January 14, 2013

Anger and its consequences: Julie Burchill in the Guardian

Julie Burchill has been published in the media since my teenage years. While I do not always agree with her, I have found her writing to be thought-provoking on issues that are important to me. She is currently in the news for being accused of transphobia. Her close friend Suzanne Moore was attacked for a comment made in an essay about women's anger. Ms. Burchill has used the Guardian page 'Comment is Free' to defend her friend. This is loyal.  This is also very angry. There may be a noble ambition behind the piece, but there is much to question about the way it was done. For example, she wrote:

"To have your c0ck cut off and then plead special privileges as women - above natural-born women, who don't know the meaning of suffering, apparently - is a bit like the old definition of chutzpah:  the boy who killed his parents and then asked the jury for clemency on the grounds he was an orphan."

Read the rest of it for yourself here.

My first question, actually, is for the editor:  was this piece not proofed before publication? If it was, then presumably the Guardian considers the language and imagery used to be beyond reproach? If so, I'd like to know your definition of 'transphobic'.

My second question is for Ms. Burchill:  why did you not use your considerable journalistic experience to write a piece without such clumsy, obvious and insulting jabs at the general trans community. You are smart and witty enough to demonstrate your support for your friend without resorting to name-calling. Not to mention that the resulting furore has drowned out any valid points you might have made about the original response to Suzanne Moore's essay. I'm sadly disappointed in you, Julie.

here are some current links to various responses to the situation:

A poll in the Independent - did JB go too far?
Tim Stanley in the Telegraph - liberals being illiberal
Roz Kaveney Trans people response also in the Guardian via 'Comment is Free'
Daily Mail puts its own particular spin on the story
Pink News reports the story
HuffPostUK highlights Lynne Featherstone comment
Paris Lees writes a response in Diva magazine

Parshat Vaeira

Here are a few thoughts from last week's Liberal Judaism Thought for the Week about the Torah portion:

Parshat Vaeira

But Moses spoke before the Lord, saying, “Behold, the Children of Israel did not hearken to me. How then will Pharaoh hearken to me, seeing that I am of uncircumcised lips?” (Exodus 6:12)

The time has come for Moses to take his place as leader of his people. God tells him to go to Pharaoh and ask for the freedom of the Children of Israel.  They should be released from bondage and allowed to leave the land of Egypt. Initially, Moses chooses not to accept his mission. The excuse he gives is that since he was unable to persuade the Children of Israel to listen to him, what chance would he have of convincing Pharaoh? He claims he has a physical disability, he cannot speak.

The Midrash tells us that as a baby, Moses was tested by Pharaoh to see if he would be a threat to the kingdom. A golden cup and a blazing coal were placed in front of the child. He naturally reached towards the gold, but the angel Gabriel came down and moved his hand towards the coal. Baby Moses picked up the coal, put it in his mouth, and burned his lips. This was the explanation for his problem in later life.

Moses, however, uses an odd phrase to describe his speech impediment:  aral s’fatayim. Orlah is Hebrew for foreskin, an obstruction over the head of the penis. Thus we might understand the phrase as meaning his lips are somehow impeded by a metaphorical flap of skin. Rashi gives several examples in the Tanach of the root ayin, resh, lamed used to mean clogged or closed. This is to make clear to us that the ‘closing of his lips’ meant that Moses definitely had some kind of speech defect.

Other commentators consider this issue from a less literal perspective. Perhaps not wishing to speak is an example of the humility of Moses. Or this one flaw in Moses would prove that any person he persuaded would have been converted by the purity of the message rather than the sophistry of the speaker. Or that since he had not grown up within the slave community, he did not feel that he could speak for them. One thing is certain, though – Moses doubted his ability to say what should be said.

It is clear from myriad explanations through the ages, that understanding this moment in the history of our people always has contemporary relevance. In the Torah, God solved the problem by enlisting Moses’ brother Aaron to be the speaker (Ex. 7:1). Today we do not expect such Divine intervention. Yet one does not have to be a Moses to be faced with a situation when speaking up may make a difference. It could be something as fleeting as a homophobic slur, a racist remark, or a sexist comment made at work, on the Tube, or amongst our circle of friends. However, so often we also hesitate – is it appropriate? Will it make things difficult? Will it make a difference?

What is it that stops us speaking, and how may we overcome those fears and limitations in order to take our part in developing the world in which we live? While God may not provide us with an Aaron, we do have the resources of family and good friends. Their support can help to overcome the demons of self-doubt and uncertainty that stand in our way. Ultimately, though, the key is to find within ourselves the strength to take the chance. Our words may not be elegant or articulate, but they must be spoken. For while we are not obliged to finish the task, neither are we free to neglect it!

Bizarre News from the BBC

Let's see what might be newsworthy this morning:  UK peers suggest the decriminalisation of all illegal drugs ... 8-year-old girl shot dead in Jamaica ... Golden Globes winners ... and what is one of the top stories on the BBC web page?

Puppy thrown at German biker gang

A German student "mooned" a group of Hell's Angels and hurled a puppy at them before escaping on a stolen bulldozer, police have said.

Tha man drove up to a Hell's Angels clubhouse near Munich, wearing only a pair of shorts and carrying a puppy. He dropped his shorts and threw the dog, escaping on a bulldozer from a nearby building site. He was arrested later at home by police. The 26-year-old is said to have stopped taking depression medication.

After making his getaway on the bulldozer, he had driven so slowly that a 5 km tailback built up behind him on the motorway.. After driving about 1 km, he had abandoned the bulldozer in the middle of the motorway, near Allershausen. He continued his journey by hitchhiking.

"What motivated him to throw a puppy at the Hell's Angels is currently unclear," a police spokesman said. The puppy is now being cared for in an animal shelter.

O look, the Telegraph picked it up as well (here).

Monday, January 07, 2013

Did You Think I Wouldn't Mention It?!

My beloved Queens Park Rangers are unbeaten so far in 2013. I might mention that they have actually played some games as well. And I feel bound to refer to a recent match at Stamford Bridge.

Having sat through the Sunday game at home to Liverpool, where we were 0-3 down after 28 minutes, and utterly dire the rest of the time, I decided there was no way I was prepared to spend 60 squid to sit in the rain and watch us be thumped by the auld enemy.

this is a picture of Shaun Wright-Phillips. Throughout the season so far there has been a consensus that he should not be picked for the first team because he brings nothing to it. He only made it onto the Stamford Bridge pitch because Hoillett was injured early on. In this picture, SWP is scoring a goal.

Here is a better view of SWP's first goal for QPR. It turned out, in fact, to be the only goal of the game. This made his team-mates quite happy.

I must admit that when I awoke the next morning, I was pretty sure I had dreamt the whole thing. I'd been at home, happily watching David Attenborough's new programme about Africa. My mind and heart were full of  drongoes and meerkats. I was trying to drown out the inevitable massacre. And then the e-mails began arriving, and the texts, and the Facebook comments. What an incredible high, and so soon after the utter despair of the performance vs Liverpool. It is nights like this that keep us hooked. Come on you R's!

Happy 2013 from the ravaj!

Whether or not you celebrate 1st January as a New Year, it's always good to have an opportunity to clear the decks and start over. If I were to reduce all my hopes and wishes and plans to one central thought, it would be to hold dear and close those I love.

with best wishes for a healthy and fulfilling 2013!