Be careful what you wish for

[Crossposted from the Jerusalem Post, here.]

It was June 1973. As part of the school English syllabus, I and my fellow Eastwood High School pupils had been dragged along to the Citizens Theater in Glasgow, forced to see the play, The Cheviot, The Stag, and the Black, Black Oil.

John McGrath’s groundbreaking musical and political drama sent shockwaves in all directions. One of those waves must have hit me, because that was the only explanation. I didn’t like the theater. I especially didn’t like musicals. They were all boring. So why had I been glued to my seat? Why had I laughed along with the crowd at the political jokes – that in truth, I probably did not understand? Why did I feel – yes, really feel – something special in the air?

I left that performance, giddy with the after effects of the play. However, I do remember, on the pavement outside the theater, greedily grabbing and devouring the literature that savvy members of the then tiny Scottish National Party were handing out.

That was my introduction to the SNP. That was the start of my belief in the idea of an independent Scotland. Then it was a dream. Recently, that dream has turned into a nightmare.

Let me explain.

I made Aliyah from Glasgow in the summer of 2009. I still have family, friends, and acquaintances in the Jewish community there, and have made visits for smachot, and to recharge my Irn Bru* taste buds. Inevitably, the topic of the referendum has surfaced in polite conversation.

Generally, my impression is that most members of the community are opposed to Scottish independence; there are some pockets of SNP support, but they are in a minority.

If you had asked me six months ago about the effects of an independent Scotland on the Jewish community, I would have (perhaps naively) answered that I would not have expected any material change. Things would continue, as they have for other small diaspora communities, with people largely free to follow their religion without interference or harassment.

However, then came the recent Gaza war.

Part of that war was fought out in the arena of social media. There, many of the pro-independence groups lined up, resolutely and completely, with the Palestinians. They were not all Hamas supporters, but there was little sympathy or understanding for the position of Israel and its citizens.

That’s being polite.

A less restrained version of events would be that the conflict unleashed a veritable online tsunami of bigotry, hate, and defamation towards, Israel, the idea of a Jewish state, and Jews. It was as if the poison had been bubbling away, hidden below the surface, waiting for the right moment to be pumped into the world outside.

Incidentally, I ventured into that sewer a few times and asked how a people struggling for their own state of independence – the Scots – could deny the right of the Jewish people to the same. The replies were full of delusional, incoherent, hate, and personal insults. It’s worth noting that it was clear many of the haters were ignorant about the most basic facts concerning Israel.

My memories of Scotland and the Scottish people did not include such vicious hatred. Sure, I had witnessed and experienced instances of out and out anti-Semitism. However, they were far from commonplace. And all the time I lived in Scotland, I never felt threatened or at risk.

But it appears the last Gaza conflict has sparked a real change.

For example, for as long as I can remember, on most weekends pro-Palestinian campaigners used to have a token presence – a table and chairs and tatty leaflets available for distribution – outside the Argyle Street, Glasgow branch of Marks and Spencers. But few noticed, they were mostly ignored, and I don’t recall any trouble.

Recently however, the Boycott Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement has surfaced for real. In Glasgow and Edinburgh it has launched what appear to be picket like activities, brimming with intimidation and bullying behavior, directed at stalls in shopping centers selling Israeli products, and their potential customers.

As another example, take the enforced cancellation of performances at the Edinburgh Festival by the Jerusalem-based Incubator Theater, after Palestinian agitators held intimidating public protests. With their safety at risk, it was no surprise the Ben Gurion University student dancers withdrew from the Festival.

As yet another example, take the decision of some Scottish Local Authorities to fly the Palestinian flag in solidarity with the people of Gaza. Despite some cogent representations from the Jewish community and other parties, noting the divisiveness of such action, the authorities could not be persuaded otherwise. No authority was willing to fly the Israeli flag.

All such cases and others adversely affect the lives of Jews in Scotland. They create an atmosphere in which people are fearful of identifying as being Jewish or as having connections to Israel.

And that’s before independence.

This sea change in the political arena in Scotland has ended my belief in the idea of an independent Scotland. I no longer see it as something to strive for. Quite the opposite.
Much as it pains me, I fear for the welfare of the Jewish community in an independent Scotland.

I expect those in political power to make all the right noises about protecting minorities, and respecting opposing opinions.

But at the same time, I would expect certain actions to follow independence.

For example, during the Gaza conflict, the Scottish External Affairs Minister Humza Yousaf made an offer to treat wounded Gazans. Personally, it looked to me like political posturing rather than any serious attempt to do some good. After independence, there would surely be more of the same, but probably going beyond gesture politics.

Perhaps it’s not unrealistic to expect the establishment of a PLO office in Scotland, to be greeted with continuing exchanges of fraternal greetings and joint condemnation of Israel.

For sure, the country’s foreign policy – laughably touted as being ‘ethical’ – will be hostile to Israel.

And I would expect BDS to be adopted as official government policy.

The referendum has succeeded in getting more people more involved in the political process than has been the case for a while. If there is independence, I expect some of that involvement to be used by anti-Israel interest groups outside the mainstream, to campaign for positions which are even more radical and anti-Israel. (Might an independent Scotland end up, unwillingly, mimicking Venezuela?)

I am hoping that outright acts of anti-Semitism will continue to be rare and isolated. But I fear that independence will bring about a drip-drip effect of measures that will increase the discomfort of the Jewish community.

I should say that the Jewish community has not been taking things lying down. There have been a number of grass roots and communal initiatives that have impressed me with their fervor and energy. They are fighting a much better resourced and numerous enemy. But they are putting up a good fight.

Unfortunately, while I hope I am proven wrong, the future does not look good. The bottom line is that, eventually, I expect the community – or those parts that are able – to get up and leave. It would be a sad ending for a community that has enriched Scotland with substantial contributions in the arts, sciences, medicine, the law, commerce, and elsewhere. But the realization of my dream of an independent Scotland, one that started with the swish of the curtain going up on The Cheviot, The Stag, and the Black, Black Oil, may ironically also signal the curtain coming down on the Jewish community in Scotland. Now that would be a nightmare.

[*Note: Irn Bru is a bestselling Scottish soft drink, often described as "Scotland's other national drink" (after Scotch whisky). It is not readily available in Israel.]

Scotland’s day of destiny

Today’s referendum on Scottish independence is a day that has been a long time coming, and may take a lot longer to forget. Ever since the 1979 referendum, when the establishment lied about North Sea oil deposits, and added an extra hurdle of a minimum percentage of the electorate voting, to fend off even devolution, the clock has been ticking towards a real and final showdown. In other words, a full and free vote on independence was inevitable.

And the ‘full’ part is particularly notable. This referendum has energized the electorate. Everyone is talking about it. Good or bad, everyone feels involved with something at risk. My concern is that part of the interest is driven by a young electorate too ready to spout slogans, high on emotion, with little regard for facts, facts, or facts. Some of the manifestations of this have looked like football supporters, cheering on their team to victory, with all the bad connotations associated with that hostile environment. Think Rangers v Celtic, without the restraint.

If the vote is ‘No’, those who lose out are likely to harbor a grudge for a while. Because this is probably a once in a generation opportunity. And if the vote is ‘Yes’ those who lose out may not hang around to find out if a wing and a prayer are sufficient capital for a new country.

Whichever way the vote goes, expect recriminations, analysis, and ongoing political fallout. Fascinating – but only if you are watching from the sidelines.

Right now, all I am going to do is offer my prayers that whatever happens, it turns out to be for the best for the people of Scotland. Every single one of them.

Today’s contribution to road safety

This is a true story, sadly.

Setting: Ra’anana, late afternoon, today. A suburban style side road, with cars parked on each side. There is traffic in both directions, but not too heavy. Not much room to move.

Action: I am driving on this road.

Question: What do I see coming towards me, on my side of the road?

Answer: A cyclist.

Question: Does he have a helmet?

Answer: No, but he does have a beard, payot, a kipa, and tzitzit.

Question: Anything else about him?

Answer: Yes.

Question: What?

Answer: You will never believe it. He is cycling one handed.

Question: What is in the other hand?

Answer: A baby. A real live baby. Maybe a year old. He is cycling, one handed, without a helmet, the wrong way down the street, against the traffic, carrying a baby in his other hand. OMG…

When I came home, I had to go for a lie down.

They lie, lie, and lie again

And gullible or lazy media in the west (especially) listen and repeat the lies.

Like the one about the power plant in Gaza.

Remember, the one that Israel ‘destroyed’?

Check out this stunning post by the Elder of Ziyon.

It’s a miracle. It will also be a miracle if there is any reporting – accurate, critical, and self searching – by the same media that positively rushed to embrace all information from the Hamas Ministry of Truth.

The Palestinian leadership, of all hues, lies, lies, and lies again. With no consequences. Why are they given a free pass? When will this end? Who will get into the international media arena and fight for honesty, truth, and real human rights? We cannot rely on Amnesty, or HRW. We cannot rely on anyone in the Arab world. Who will be a real champion?

Even in Israel

The Scottish referendum has arrived in the news here. From today’s Israel HaYom:


The main headline says:

“A historic week for Scotland”

And underneath that:

“Four days to a referendum on independence from the United Kingdom, surveys show that the result will be in suspense until the end. Businesses operating in Scotland: if you separate from the British, we will leave the country and costs will rise.”

At the bottom right of the page, the smaller headline says:

“Survey: Scottish men are for independence; women against.”

As to the rest of the text, you are on your own!

Some of the Scots (or Brits) resident in the UK may find a foreign perspective on the referendum interesting, if only to see how the story is covered. There was a poor opinion piece in Times of Israel (here). And back in May, Haaretz featured the Scottish Herald story that the first person to register as an official campaigner in the referendum, is a Holocaust denier (here). But not much else.

Sadly, what I noticed was that during the last Gaza war, many of the pro independence sites featured a harsh one-sided anti-Israel stance. Even more sadly, many of these places featured the most vile material you could imagine. In short, the full range of bigotry against Israel and the Jews was on display. And it inspired the previously silent BDS crew into action against Dead Sea Products stalls in Glasgow and Edinburgh shopping malls.

What next?

Five for Friday

Friday again. Time to cast off the working week and recharge the batteries. And my wee contribution to your relaxation is the following set of links. Enjoy.

Ok, I know you want a bonus or two. Here are two of the best from the Elder of Ziyon:

Shabbat Shalom!

Indyk’s connections

By way of follow up to this post (which is severely critical of one Martin Indyk), check out this story from the Jerusalem Post:

“Israeli government officials on Sunday questioned the impartiality of the prestigious Brookings Institution, the past and present employer of former US Middle East envoy Martin Indyk, following a New York Times report Sunday revealing that Qatar is a major contributor to that think tank.”

Qatar? The backer of Hamas? (And other terrorist organizations.) Yes, Qatar.

On the one hand it funds thugs with guns, and on the other hand it funds thugs with an axe to grind, judging by Indyk’s behavior.

Although the Jerusalem Post goes on about the effect on the apparent – ha! – impartiality of the Brookings Institution, to my mind it’s more important as a clue about the driving force behind Indyk. Looks like we are well rid of him. Looks like Obama has a problem.

One law

Let me make this crystal clear. Whoever is involved in these so-called price tag attacks – whether directly perpetrating them, or supporting or inciting them or even just turning a blind eye to the acts and the actors – should be punished to the full extent of the law.  For a recent example, see here.

It is not part of any Judaism I know or recognize. It is vandalism, thuggery, and the start of a slippy journey towards mob rule. It is wrong.

By words and deeds:

  • The head of each household must make it plain that such conduct is unacceptable.
  • The head of each community must make it plain that such conduct is unacceptable.
  • The rabbonim must make it plain that such conduct is unacceptable.

Failure to do so should amount to ostracism and exclusion. And since we know that these places are under the sway of rabbinic leadership, in the main, this is a test of such leadership. They could make it all stop.

Over to the rabbonim.


Five for Friday

It is, indeed, that time of week already. For me, it’s that time of year already: another year older. If the weeks fly past, so do the years. What is it they say? Life is what happens while you are making plans? We have just got to do the best we can. While all around us, strange and wonderful – and sometimes bad – things happen. This week’s links are presented by way of confirmation of that statement.

This week’s bonuses are a couple of crackers:

Shabbat Shalom!

About those civilian casualties

The incomparable Elder of Ziyon reports:

The IDF held a briefing for reporters on Tuesday giving new details about Operation Protective Edge. The briefing was wide-ranging, covering Hamas’ professionalism, its rocket fire, the number of militants likely killed, and many other topics.

That briefing led Die Welt to publish this:

Not only Israel was said to have been in the crosshairs of Hamas [rockets]: A total of 875 [rockets] fired during the war and an unknown number of mortar shells fell in Gaza itself down. Many of them were duds – the weapons are chronically inaccurate.

Others were aimed at Israeli troop concentrations in Gaza itself. But a large part “were in my opinion deliberately fired by Hamas on densely populated areas in Gaza,” said the Israeli officer. Otherwise he could not explain their trajectory.

Yes, you read that correctly. Hamas fired its rockets at its own people. Check the Elder’s post with details, here.

I knew Hamas’ rockets sometimes fell short. But to see evidence that they deliberately targeted their own people, is something truly shocking. And where’s the coverage? Muted? It’s almost non existent.  Funnily enough, I have yet to see this on either the BBC or the Guardian websites.