Monday, 3 September 2018

The Jewish community has a problem with Muslims

Whisper it quietly, but the Jewish community has a racism problem of its own. Recently, I was expelled from the Facebook group Jewish Britain. My 'crime'? Arguing that the Jewish community should not be a home for Muslim haters. Arguing that it is possible to call Jeremy Corbyn and his Labour party out for antisemitism without resorting to Islamophobia. Essentially, my crime is that I do not hate Muslims and I don't think you should either.

Unfortunately, this is not a view shared by at least a noisy minority in the community and what seemed like the vast majority of the Facebook group. Certainly, its admins were Islamophobes and/or tolerant of it. And then there are the justifications. I don't hate Muslims, but Islamophobia is a term created by the PC media to prevent criticism of Islamic extremism. Or, I cannot be an Islamophobe, I am not scared of Islam and/or the fear is rational. Or, but Islam is not a race, so I am not racist. Or, there is a serious problem with Islamic extremism so it is not Islamophobic to say that Muslims are dangerous. And so on, and so forth. The excuses are as plentiful as they are pitiful. Then there is the 'other'-ing. Defines Muslims as some sort of different species but denying this can be Islamophobic. It is in some way justified.

And where have we heard all this before? Oh yes, the Labour Party. Jeremy Corbyn is an antisemite. The majority of his top team are antisemites, the NEC is populated with antisemites. And then there are the MPs that are antisemites and the noisy minority (we are repeatedly told its a minority, but it feels, as a Jew, to be a scary majority) of the party's members. Sound familiar? What about the excuses? It isn't antisemitism, it's a smear because Jeremy is pro-Palestine and/or, what counts as antisemitism is merely fair criticism of Israel that you're trying to shut down. Jews aren't a race, so it can't be racism. Jews aren't the only Semitic people so I cannot be an antisemite. Israel does terrible things, so this is not antisemitism. And on and on and on and on.

There have been some wonderful things coming out of social media. Rabbis and Imaans standing together against the hatred targetting their respective communities. Jews condemning the Tory Party's Islamophobia problem and Muslims condemning the Labour Party's antisemitism problem. It's heartwarming and we need more of it because we are stronger together. Hatred against one community, discrimination against one community undermines our democracy entirely and must, absolutely must, be considered hatred and discrimination against all. You cannot claim to be anti-racist if discrimination against one community is ignored or okay. If you're Islamophobic, you may as well be an antisemite for all I care. Jews, then, need to face up to what is happening in our community. It is absolutely correct that Labour is a cesspit of antisemitism and we correct to be scared. Jews have seen this before. We know where this goes. Don't tell us we're being dramatic or exaggerating. It is instilled in our DNA. Jew hatred, wherever it has manifest has led to dreadful, dreadful things for Jews.

But that means we must be more vigilant when it comes to discrimination against Muslims and other communities. Precisely because we know how it feels to be demonised and othered and attacked just for being Jewish. We know better than anyone else where it leads. So it pains me when I see Jews so easily being Islamophobic as if it is somehow different. It destroys my soul when I read Jews attacking Islam and claiming not to be racist using excuses that Corbyn and his cronies use when they are antisemitic. It sickens me when Jews use rhetoric against Islam that the Nazis used against Jews in the 1930's and that Labour now uses in a painful throwback. It upsets me when I call people out on Islamophobia and receive hatred in return as if I am somehow less of a Jew for believing that antisemitism and Islamophobia are both wrong. And it disgusts me when I get removed from a group for calling out its admins for tolerating Islamophobia, being Islamophobic themselves or endorsing Islamophobes.

But it strengthens my resolve because I refuse to let us disgrace our values and traditions. We disgrace the memory of the relatives we lost in the Holocaust when we are Islamophobic. We disgrace the memory of never again, we undermine its meaning every time we defend or justify what is a blind and disgraceful hatred of Muslims. Just because the Labour Party is doing its best to recover the rhetoric that the Nazis used does not mean we have to stoop to their level. Just because Jeremy Corbyn refuses to accept that he is an antisemite that endorses Jew-hatred and supports the genocidal maniacs that wish to see all Jews across the world dead, does not mean we need to reject another community's struggle against discrimination. Just because the Labour Party has become a safe space for antisemites; racists; conspiratory theorists; terrorist, Iran, Putin, genocidal Jew-hater and Assad apologists does not mean we should deny Islamophobia. Just because the Labour Party has undermined its values, destroyed the party and lost its soul does not mean we need to do the same.

We should know better. We do know better. Let's be better.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

The Positive Spin

Having something stolen from you is never fun. One's phone is one of the more inconvenient things that can be stolen, given so much of our lives are centred around our phones. So, to force me to look at my phone's permanent holiday to pastures new more positively, I have decided to list a few things I have learnt in an attempt to deflect from the annoyance of it all with (albeit poor) attempts at humour.

1. Radio stations really don't play much music, do they?

On the drive back home to borrow my Dad's old phone, I had to endure one of humanity's greatest (trivial) stains: the radio show. Who do these Radio DJs think they are? Shut up and play some bloody music, I don't care what you were thinking about this morning. Although, given the quality of the music that is played when they eventually tire of the sound of their own voices perhaps I should have gone with the total silence option. There must be a gap in the market for a radio station funded by exclusively good radio adverts (the dearth of which is a sad indictment on the quality of our advertising industry. At least in America, the adverts are so utterly ridiculous so to be quite amusing) that actually plays decent music.

2. My Dad's own humour also knows no bounds.

Here is an excerpt from our email exchange:

Raphael: My phone has been stolen.

My Dad: Have you reported it to the police?

Raphael: How?

Dad: Ring them.

Har har, bloody har.

3. We really do rely on our phones for a lot, don't we?

As I went to cancel my sim, I realised I had no idea where the nearest 3 store was. I reached into my pocket to nothingness and it hit me how much I take my phone for granted. As I spent the walk trying to figure out what I had really lost beyond the material value of the phone that I was sure the insurance would cover, it struck me. Reminders, calendar events, email, communicating, music, checking if things are Kosher and, of course, google maps to name but a few things. They really are a wonderful creation. We should be grateful. It's a barren wasteland without them. I exaggerate but you get the point.

4. I truly am an idiot.

I was fooled by two guys trying to sell me Mother's Day cards. Good luck to them.

5. Sometimes, it's nice to have a break

I spent the walk back to my room undistracted by music and messaging and checking Facebook. The barren wasteland is remarkably pretty and exciting, especially in the sun.

6. iCloud is bloody brilliant, isn't it?

The main stress, for me, was that I was now going to have to replace my phone and its contents and given 3 above, this is particularly annoying. You'd think, but no. I plugged in my Dad's old phone, hit restore from iCloud backup and 10 minutes later everything was back on my phone down to the reminder to book a Chinese for Sunday. The order of my apps was the same, I had all my texts and whatsapps and emails and photos - even the weird photo with my Dad that I can never even find in my photo library was my lock-screen. It was almost as if nothing had changed.

7. People suck but it's okay.

Whether it be the two guys that repossessed my phone or the cyclist (truly the bastians of morality of our age) who felt the need to follow me and ask if it "was okay if he submitted [to whom I still don't know] the footage of me driving forwards at the red light when that lady was trying to cross." First, I have little to no idea what he is talking about. Second, I fully intend on suing him if he 'submits' this footage of me given he does not have my consent to do so. The bastard. Anyway, back to my point. Some people suck, but perhaps we can see it as an opportunity to think a little bit about why they might do and empathise or respond without anger or blame. It won't change the situation - indeed, nothing will - so we may as well try and use it to our own benefit, to improve our empathy. As Tim Minchin says here, compassion is intuitive but it is also something that can be taught and learnt. I'm not giving a time reference because the whole video is worth watching.

Why did those two feel the need to steal my phone? Have they got children to feed? Are they really just petty criminals, bad to their core or are they driven by a need for money, out of desperation and poverty? Their need is, probably, far greater than mine and if I spend time being grateful for that, maybe I can learn a valuable lesson. My phone will be replaced. It's inconvenient and unideal but I am more concerned about the two guys driven to walking around coffee shops pretending to sell Mother's Day cards months after I bought one for my Mother in the hope they might steal something worth selling. Perhaps I have the luxury of that opinion - which I am further grateful for - but it must be more productive than sitting here fuming.

Why exactly does the cyclist feel the need to cycle up to me and tap on my window to create drama? What's going on in his life that prompts such a reaction? Maybe he needs a cuddle or someone to tell him it is going to be alright. I am not sure, but who knows. I don't know his life story and what prompts him to get involved. The fact he chose to without knowing my head was a little all over the place worrying about my bank account being hacked or barristers' chambers I've applied to being emailed with rude messages to sabotage my career says more about him than it does about my driving.

Monday, 23 October 2017

Greg Miliband does Movember

The world, it seems, continues to go down the proverbial plughole. The President of the United States is not fit to lead us out of a plastic bag; Theresa May could not negotiate the sale of coats to the Eskimos; actual Nazis are in parliament in Germany again; #MeToo is dominating social media because basically every single woman I know has a personal story about sexual harassment and/or abuse; an EU member state is brutally repressing an independence movement; North Korea could, at any moment throw its toys out the pram and launch a nuclear strike; and the majority of Puerto Ricans still do not have power and there are severe drinking water and food shortages. As if that was not enough, it's getting darker, climate change means our weather is becoming more volatile and stupid people still have access to social media.

It really isn't going well, let's be honest. Which is why we need a saviour. Someone who can turn this all around and make it better. Someone who has plenty of actual work to be doing and therefore plenty of procrastinating to do. The hero we need. The hero we deserve. Someone with a striking similarity to Ed Miliband but who would never get caught eating a bacon sandwich and lose a bloody election that basically led to Brexit and Trump (don't @ me). That's right, we need everyone's favourite Miliband brother, Greg. Greg cannot solve all the world's problems but after his unsuccessful election campaign (still won as many UK parliamentary elections as Nigel Farage) he's back. And he has a plan.

In order to bring a little bit of joy to the world, I am going to be doing Movember this year. To give you a little bit of context, I will be starting Movember this Wednesday, a week early, because, frankly, I need the headstart. I cannot promise that you will be able to tell the difference but either I will look comical with my awful "beard" or my distinct lack of facial hair will be relatively amusing. I can promise not to constantly post photos of my unshaven face though I may post my justgiving link every so often.

Please donate if you can.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Antisemitism has gone mainstream

There was one major difference between the Labour conference in 2016 and the Labour conference in 2017. If you heard that the Jewish Labour Movement's amendment aimed at tackling antisemitism and other forms of discrimination passed through the conference, you could be forgiven for thinking that the difference was the amount of antisemitism at the conference. You would, of course, be wrong. It was a lot worse. The only difference this year is the antisemitism is mainstream. It is not on the fringes anymore (well, not only on the fringes), it is now in the main conference hall. And what's worse? Having discovered that rampant antisemitism is not as unelectable as they feared, the so-called moderates have embraced Jeremy Corbyn and the hard left's grip on their party. For example, Tom Watson, who last year made Corbyn gloriously uncomfortable when he pointed at a heckler, looked back at his leader and proclaimed, "I don't think she got the unity memo Jeremy," could not have crawled further up his backside this year. 

The passing of this amendment should have been a watershed moment. Instead, the head of the Holocaust Educational Trust has been forced to write another op-ed in the Times to confirm the Holocaust did, in fact, actually happen and no Ken Loach, it is not up for historical debate. Instead, Ken Livingstone took back to the airwaves to, and I promise I am not making this up, claim that being offensive to Jews is not antisemitism. In a year of events where you have to laugh because otherwise, you would cry, Ken has outdone himself and everyone else. Somehow. Instead, the head of the Unite Union, Len McCluskey has decided that Jews make up antisemitism claims for political gain. Someone called for the Jewish Labour Movement to be expelled and to allow Holocaust denial under free speech. Jews were accused of running to the newspapers to make up antisemitism claims. I could go on. I do not want to, it's too depressing. 

The worst part of it all, however, is the only thing standing between this antisemitic rabble and power is a Conservative Party so intent on self-destructing the Jews of this country may as well give up and move. The question has to be asked, once more, at what point do those who are not antisemitic leave the party and distance themselves from this nonsense lest they become part of the problem? Because it shows no signs of changing.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Un-deterring nuclear deterrents

The Guardian is a frequent recipient and an infrequent publisher of my letters. The latest war of words (let's hope it's a war of words) between two world leaders who share both a desire for the destruction of the world and, it seems, a hairdresser has resulted in my latest, which I publish here in case the Guardian decide that I have graced their letter page once too often:


It is good to see, in the wake of North Korea's latest threat, that the USA's vast nuclear deterrent is working beautifully. As the world spirals closer to a nuclear Holocaust, I am sure the residents of Guam are reassured that Trump will blow hundreds of thousands to smithereens should they all be killed. At what point are we able to finally say what we must have known all along: it is not a nuclear deterrent because it does not deter but, rather, is a nuclear retaliatory system that no one would ever actually use.

Raphael Levy"

I have written about the UK's own nuclear deterrence before. In that post, I, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, argue that we do not need a nuclear deterrence because everyone hates the US more than us. My point, however, was a serious one. North Korea's latest string of threats seems to suggest that maybe I was right. They also prove a more important argument I was making: a nuclear deterrence is not a deterrence. It does not deter. North Korea, so far, have not been deterred. They have called Trump's ludicrous bluff - as if threatening a state with nuclear annihilation that you would not follow up on is really a smart move - and continue to threaten with menace. A nuclear deterrent must deter. It is completely useless and utterly barbaric if its role is retaliation.

I also asserted that no one would ever use nuclear weapons in retaliation, but if anyone would it is the bumbling moron currently inhabiting the White House. I fear I may be correct. I look forward to arguing with people about our moral superiority, Western values, that North Korea 'deserved' it and so on as innocent civilians die. I look forward to that solving the problem. I look forward to sitting in the comfort of our armchairs whilst real people have to deal with loved ones dying because we were too arrogant to de-escalate this decades ago. We may be right and North Korea wrong, but nuclear war does not care. It will only determine, as with all war, who is left. None of us benefits from a retaliation to an undeterred North Korea. None of us.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Anger and Criminal Punishment

Whenever I read the statement from the person that Brock Turner sexually assaulted, something inside me burns with rage and I cannot quite stop myself from crying. It is painful to read what she said, to read what she went through. I normally make it to about the bit when she says that she used to freeze spoons to have something to put on her eyes that had puffed up so much from crying all night that she could not see. I cannot help but be filled with anger, an emotion I do not normally feel. Why am I telling you this? Because I just finished my M.Phil thesis on anger and criminal punishment in which I argue, to put it briefly, that anger has no role to play in criminal punishment. Or, at least, it should have no role to play. That I feel angry should be irrelevant. That judge and jury feel angry should be irrelevant. Yet, I most recently read her statement just after I submitted the thesis in which I make that argument as I was procrastinating before my viva and I felt nothing but anger at the injustice of his sentence, at the pain she and her family endured, at the entire damn thing.

I was angry. Upset. Distraught. As I always am when I read it. Angry at I am not quite sure what. At Brock. At the sentence. At the world we live in. That it happened. Everything.

"When I see my sister hurting...when she feels more guilt than you, then I do not forgive you."

And it made me stop and think. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe anger is a worthwhile emotion. Maybe Nussbaum's book on Anger and Forgiveness is all very well and good but is answering a different question. Maybe my entire thesis and its premise was misguided, missed the point. After all, we cannot help getting angry. And, more importantly, things should anger us. We should be angry at what this person went through. Brock Turner's actions, lack of remorse and decision to pursue this in court for a year should make us angry. If you can read her words without anger, then you might be part of the problem. I am not going to lie, for the first time that term, natural stress and self-deprecation aside, I thought I had seriously screwed up and I was concerned. Not because my argument was not good, not because there was no philosophical merit to what I was arguing but because I was...Just. Plain. Wrong. If you are not angry, you're probably not paying attention.

Maybe I was just wrong. But then you carry on reading.

"And now we both have a choice. We can let this destroy us, I can remain angry and hurt and you can be in denial, or we can face it head on, I accept the pain, you accept the punishment, and we move on."

Move on. Or remain angry.

Remain angry. Or move on.

Move on.

I had argued for moving on. That anger was pointless and harmful. It feels natural, sure, but what does it achieve? Where does it get us? And in some ways, it was reassuring to read that she, the victim, the one who understands what it means to actually have to make that choice every day of her life, clearly saw moving on as the better option. Maybe I was not (completely) wrong.

But I still felt angry. And I still felt that was entitled to feel angry and that the last thing I needed was some pompous philosopher who has lived his sheltered life telling me that I should ignore my anger for the greater good. Because what does my anger achieve? Because harsher prison sentences make things worse, not better. Because actually, it's inequality that breeds crime. Yeah, really? Brock Turner had a swimming scholarship to one of the best universities in America. He was not underprivileged. He was not a victim of a system that discriminated against him at every turn. He was, if anything, the beneficiary of a system that discriminated in his favour at every turn.

Every. Damn. Turn.

So I imagine the last thing this person wanted or needed (or much less deserved) was that philosopher telling her that anger won't make it better. That victim statements like hers might actually be damaging. That if only, as Nicola Lacey and Hannah Pickard advocate, we treated Brock with compassion, concern and consideration, as if he were a patient in a clinic, he'd learn his lesson much better.

"I did this thing where I waited until the sun came up and I felt safe enough to sleep. For three months, I went to bed at six o'clock in the morning."

I compromised. Because I had a viva the next day where I was due to defend my thesis that anger is misplaced in criminal punishment. My thesis that anger is an unhelpful backward-looking emotion. My thesis that anger is not only pointless but actively harmful and damaging, both to the victim and the criminal and to society's aims of lowering crime. That I am angry does not mean that the judge can be angry. That anger is a natural response does not mean that it should guide sentencing. That someone is deserving of anger and harsh punishment does not mean that that should be the answer. The question, as I ended my thesis, must be, "How can we make this situation better?" The answer is difficult and complicated.

"The damage is done, no one can undo it."

Nothing can undo it. No punishment, no amount of anger. Nothing. Our commitment, surely, therefore (regardless of what satisfies our intuitions about criminals, about our desire for anger and justice) must be fighting for the world where there is nothing to be undone in the first place. Being angry about it after the fact helps no one.

I remain unconvinced. Though it is completely immaterial now, I still am unsure of my thesis. Not because of the quality of its argument or depth of its research. I just am concerned that I am a little bit wrong. And by a little bit, I mean completely. With a tinge of irony, that makes me a little angry.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

The Great Cambridge Cover Up

I avoid the Jewish Chronicle. This stems back to their ludicrous decision to apologise for an advert they ran during the last Gaza escalation. I blogged about it here. Today, an article that attacked me personally appeared on its pages. An article that is a damaging, offensive and baseless attack on a Jewish Society that I am proud to have served. The article can be found here. Disclaimer: I am not responsible for the nonsense you will read should you click on that link. I recommend you take it with a pinch of salt. I wrote a letter in response. I publish it here in case they decide not to publish it or publish it with edits:


I read Shlomo Roiter-Jesner's article (Cambridge Jewish Society let us down over antisemitism complaint, May 17th) with interest. I was a member of the JSoc leadership (vice-president Lent 2017) that, it is alleged, offered no support in response to this incident but I write, I should emphasise, in a personal capacity.

I can assure you that Cambridge JSoc took the incident seriously. What might be confusing Mr Roiter-Jesner is the fact that he then, in the national press, accused Christ's College of attempting to cover up the incident. This was a serious (and baseless) accusation that hurt his cause and threatened the excellent relationship Jewish students, who benefit from a number of Kosher kitchens, Kosher food at formal and in hall, the provision of ovens and so on across Cambridge colleges, and the University. A number of students and the JSoc leadership at the time took the decision that such an accusation was damaging, needless and false. The victim of antisemitism is obviously to be believed. The individual who accuses an institution (which has already made provisions for its Jewish students) of a cover up is not afforded the same right - with good reason.

It is a shame that the JC decided to further this individual's publicity stunt that has culminated in a horrendous, offensive, serious, damaging and (crucially) categorically false claim against the Jewish Society at Cambridge. Your readers should be reassured that there is a vibrant and flourishing Jewish Society at Cambridge that will do its utmost for its members. I will be sad to leave it at the end of the year and can only hope that this article filled with untruths and misleading nonsense does not deter Jewish A Level students from applying.

Raphael Levy"

The JC should be careful with the nonsense it chooses to publish. Publishing falsehoods attacking Jewish Societies that have a difficult enough job attempting to cater for its immensely diverse membership is not the way forward.