By Rabbi Natan Levy
Dog-fouling in Brent must wait till item two. Last night, before it was deemed illegal at the 11th hour by its own legal team, the Brent Council proposed a motion to boycott Veolia as the very first order of business.
Veolia is inherently evil-to paraphrase the aborted motion- because it employs the drivers for the Jerusalem tram and a few bus lines. The tram itself is evil because it operates indiscriminately across the ’67 armistice lines, zipping into both East and West Jerusalem.
And when Veolia hired its tram-workers, management placed an emphasis on Hebrew fluency and army or civil service. This, argued the motion, revealed bias against Palestinians.
Coupled with the fact that Veolia runs a bus service in the West bank for Israelis and Palestinians, all adds up to the obvious conclusion that Veolia supports illegal settlements. Therefore, concluded the motion, Veolia has “committed an act of grave professional misconduct” and must be rejected from any future contract with the Borough of Brent. So it goes in Brent.
Last month, the UK border agency informed my wife, and four small children (three of them born in this country) that our visa to remain in this green isle was at risk, and after nearly eight years of waiting and over £5,000 in governmental fees, we received a short letter asking us kindly to pack our bags and get the hell out. Too bad, there is a UK Border Agency office in the town hall in Wembley, (just where that Veolia debate was meant to take place,).
They could have taken the pictures of my children had we got those visas.
So it goes in Brent.
Last winter, a women who spoke very bad English but very good Farsi was crying in a test centre in Neasdon. At first, she sat docily amongst us at this ‘Life in the UK’ test – the first cull in separating potential immigrant candidates from those deemed too un-British to remain here for long.
The test is – of course – only administered in English. Down the row from me, the woman began sobbing. Quietly at first, but as she got louder, the test handler came rushing past us. The handler was not pleased: “You will have to speak in English if you wish me to understand you!”
The testing lady yelled loudly, in the way that some people think that anyone who does not speak English must also be deaf. But our sobbing woman was far beyond English, and tried to hold the test-takers hand whilst speaking in rapid Farsi (my sister-in-law taught me enough to know it when I hear it). “You will now have to leave,” said the test lady, quickly severing the hand contact. Eventually two guards were needed to pull her from her seat. All of us, turned quietly back to our own test-screens.
Each ‘Life in the UK’ test costs £50, whether one passes, fails, or is escorted out mid-exam by guards. The Farsi woman was sitting on a bench outside the centre, still weeping, as we filed out (Maazarat mikhaham, ‘I am sorry’, I mumbled). She told me she had been cleaning night shifts in an office for two weeks to save up. So it goes in Brent.
Last year, a nurse I know who works in the Northwick Park Hospital HIV clinic, found out that one of her patients, a young Ghanian boy, with full-blown AIDS, was put in a government van with his sisters and his mother, than ushered onto a plane at Heathrow with enough meds for a few weeks of treatment, and sent back to Ghana .
The family lost their final appeals case seeking asylum in this country. The mother had come for HIV treatment for herself and her children, and to escape an abusive marriage from the man who knowingly transmitted his HIV virus to her.
The Border Agency, backed by expert medical testimony from the hospital, claimed that medical care and anti-viral drugs in Africa were ‘available’, The border agency won the case, the family got a one-way ticket. So it goes in Brent.
If the council of Brent is looking for an organisation to boycott – an organisation that knowingly colludes with a government that uses language as tool of discrimination, draconian entry laws to keep out the undesirables, and courts where refugee children have no voice, may I suggest the Brent council boycotts itself.
Rabbi Israel Salanter famously said: “When I was young, I tried to change the world, and the world resisted my efforts. When I reached adulthood, I tried only to change my country, still my country stymied me. When I reached middle age, again I tried to change my town, yet my town was stubborn. Now that I am old, I am simply trying to change myself.”
Before Brent council changes Middle East politics, perhaps it should simply try to change Brent.