By Joe Millis
At the very end of this Parliament, Conservative MP Charles Walker – chairman of the Commons procedure committee – railed against a bid by his own party’s front bench to introduce secret ballots to elect Mr Speaker.
Everyone knew this was a “grubby” and vindictive attempt to get at John Bercow, who was hated by the government because he was effective in giving backbenchers a voice.
In one of the most emotional speeches I have heard in Parliament, Mr Walker said “Mr Speaker, I have been played as a fool. And when I go home tonight I will see an honourable fool looking back at me. And I would much rather be an honourable fool, Mr Speaker – in this and any other matter – than a clever man.”
I know how he feels.
I think we in the progressive/liberal wings of British – and probably world – Jewry have been played for fools.
We always come running when there’s a crisis involving Israel – and when, how convenient, isn’t there? And so it was when Yachad, the New Israel Fund, the Reform and Liberal movements as well as their and other progressive youth movements attended We Believe In Israel.
How can we believe in a country where not only are our rabbis not allowed to conduct life-cycle ceremonies such as marriages or britot, but if they do conduct weddings, they and the happy couple could face criminal prosecution?
Imagine the gnashing of teeth if Britain or France or Germany decided that rabbis couldn’t conduct Jewish wedding ceremonies. We’d all be up in arms. Justifiably. But when it comes to Israel? Nada. Our Judaism isn’t even considered Jewish enough for our rabbis to conduct conversions. That’s in the national homeland of the Jewish people – which apparently doesn’t accept the Judaism of the majority of world Jewry.
Even at Judaism’s most holy prayer site, the Western Wall, we are basically relegated to out of sight and out of mind with a little bit of the Kotel at our disposal.
Heaven forfend the main plaza would be split three ways. That, apparently would offend the sensibilities of the Orthodox. Progressives, it seems, have no sensibilities worth offending.
How can we believe in a country where the prime minister, in a desperate bid to cling on to power, urges his supporters to vote because “the Arabs are voting in droves and the rule of the right is in danger”?
What do you think the communal reaction here would be if David Cameron, come 7 May, urged his supporters out to vote because “the Jews are voting in droves in Golders Green and Hendon and my government is in danger”.
Anti-Semitism, innit? You betcha, it is.
Even before We Believe In Israel, there have been instances which must have given every liberal or progressive Jew pause.
Take Israel’s offensive in Gaza in November 2012. Communal organisations, including MRJ, of which I am a member, and even the Liberal Movement, wrote a letter in support of the Israeli government.
Not in support of the Israeli people in their time of need, mind you. That would be understandable, but in support of – and expressing pride in – the Israeli military and political leadership. What was that all about?
I can understand the right of the community accepting blindly and parroting the Israeli line.
They believe that only the Jews have national rights to Israel (and the Occupied Palestinian Territories). They also believe that documents framed by diplomats in the dying days of European empire and colonialism have any relevance today. After all, Balfour, Sykes-Picot and San Remo were bids to carve up the Middle East for France and Britain – not for the indigenous populations.
But liberals and progressives who believe in inclusion and not exceptionalism? For me, this does not compute.
And there’s the rub. The progressives appear to me to be scared. Not of anti-Semitism, but of what the “hush… schtill… don’t rock the boat” organisations might say and do.
Some in our community always want to see Israel as the “scapegoat” being victimised by the British media, too, because it means that they don’t have to think too hard about why Israel is criticised.
It’s always someone else’s fault (and in that they are no different from those who uncritically support the Palestinians).
Unfortunately, and I write this with great sadness, this uncritical attitude has trickled down to the supposedly more progressive elements in the community.
It means that Israel is being indulged both publicly and privately – and no one appears to have the courage to speak truth to power.