Saturday, 29 April 2017

Liberal antisemitism

I must admit, the recent report about antisemitism within the Liberal Democrat party made my blood run cold. As many reading this blog will know, antisemitism is one of the things which makes me almost apoplectic with rage. I don't understand it on any level. I don't understand how anyone could feel threatened or wary of a group who don't even proselytise. And yet I hear casual antisemitism all the time, almost exclusively in relation to Palestine. Israel and Israelis, it seems, can do nothing right, and Jewish people around the world somehow have to take responsibility for what's going on over there. Obviously this is in no way a view that I share, but it's one which has become incredibly entrenched in certain arenas.

It was no surprise therefore to learn that the Lib Dem antisemitism row was born out of the subject of Israel. Former Bradford East MP, David Ward, apparently wrote in a blog that he was "saddened that the Jews, who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust, could within a few years of liberation from the death camps be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians." Unacceptable. Clearly. He also, we're told, suggested that he would fire rockets into Israel himself if he lived on the Gaza Strip. Nice. Tim Farron moved quickly and sacked him, effectively ruining his chances of standing as a Liberal Democrat in the seat which he lost in 2015 and may well have won in this snap election.

So here's my worry. I'm not altogether sure that we get anywhere with these knee-jerk sackings. In my view they almost always back fire in some way. I, of all people, know that we are all capable of writing stuff which can be interpreted as offensive or bigoted, particularly when taken out of context. I'm pretty sure that David Ward is largely a good man, who would see himself very clearly as anti-Israel rather than antisemitic, and my worry is actually that if we go in heavy-handedly, we run the risk of turning figures like Ward into martyrs, shot down and silenced by the Liberal elite for citing arguments that many secretly agree with. People don't know what they're allowed to say any more because we're all in such a rush to be mortally offended - usually on someone else's behalf. My friend Tara wrote on Facebook today that she'd been criticised for describing the weather as "bikini-wearing weather." She was so non-plussed that she took to social media to find out what could possibly have been offensive about her remark.

Obviously, there's a big gulf between this, and the dreadful comments that David Ward made, but even they are nothing I haven't heard expressed a million times at dinner parties in Islington. The worrying thing is that these views exist at all and I think a large amount of education needs to be done to show people that using the Jewish holocaust to make a point about the behaviour of Israeli leaders is utterly and profoundly unacceptable, however angry you feel about the situation over there.

Yes, of course you could argue that by blanket sacking everyone who makes these sorts of statements you're educating people to stop doing it, but I've always believed in second chances and never believed that you can punish a view out of someone. Besides, surely, it's far more satisfying find someone who says "my views on this subject have changed. I was wrong. I made mistakes and I want others to learn from my mistakes." For this reason I'm often somewhat heartened when I see people I grew up with on Facebook, who brutalised me at school for being gay, proudly flying rainbow flags on their Facebook feeds after events like the Orlando shooting. People can change. That's the joy of people.

The problem these days is that we don't ALLOW politicians to change their views. Changing one's mind is seen as a sign of weakness rather than as an indication of seeing the light, because we're all somehow expected to be enlightened from birth. Yes, it may, of course, be true that Ward's views are entrenched, and that instead of learning from the incident, he'd puff himself up and become desperately arrogant and unrepentant on the subject as the ghastly Ken Livingstone so recently did. That, genuinely, is the time when you have to say goodbye.

I don't know if I'm being idealistic, over simplistic or over forgiving in my old age. Ward might simply be a tit who's had plenty of warnings, but in this media age, as we get used to the new order, people write all sorts of things that come into their heads which have the habit of following them around like a bad smell. And I think that's a shame.

I spent the day yesterday in Hove, writing. I went to my favourite little seafront cafe in the morning and then a Starbucks next to Palmeira Square in the afternoon, finishing up at about 5pm, thrilled to have completed yet another song.

I met up with Hilary and Mez in the evening who'd come across from Lewes. We walked down to the seafront and then to the end of the pier where we spent ages playing shove ha'penny, in an attempt to win ourselves a little key ring which, somewhat bizarrely, was attached to the plastic figure of a goat standing on a guitar. The goat was riding on the two pence pieces very close to the edge and we became obsessed with the notion of getting it out. We won! The little plastic-made-in-China key ring was ours.

Mezza wanted to go on a ride at the end of the pier and opted for some awful thing which went round in circles and then upside down. As the Polish bloke strapped me into the seat, my life flashed before me. What a terrible way to die, I thought: Thrown into the English Channel and unable to escape from the metal casing of the ride. The moment the ride kicked off I knew I was going to hate it. It was raining and we were the only two customers, so I worried it was going to last forever, as once happened to me on a waltzer in an empty fair. My keys, of course, fell out of my pocket whilst I was hanging upside down. Fortunately they dropped onto the metal floor of the ride, rather than, for example, the sea. The ride made me feel sick for the next two hours.

We ate at Bill's. Macaroni cheese. I refuse to call it Mac n cheese. That's too American. The girls ate halloumi burgers. I felt a little envious.

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