Tuesday 20 December 2016

2016: The Tiring Year

I'm so tired. Of so many things.

I'm tired of people calling racists and anti-Semites the 'alt-right' when they are neo-Nazis. I'm tired of hearing that Trump won't be as bad as his campaign as if that makes it okay. I'm tired of Brexit and being told to get over it. I'm tired of Nigel Farage's fucking smug face appearing everywhere. I'm tired of the fact it gets dark at 4pm. I'm tired of our apathy towards Syria. I'm tired of our society's rejection of refugees. I'm tired of Labour's anti-Semitism problem. I'm tired of Ken Livingstone mentioning Hitler. I'm tired of the fact my cables take any opportunity to become hopelessly tangled. I'm tired of the UK government tip-toeing around Saudi Arabia's war crimes in Yemen. I'm tired of reading about terrorist attacks in European cities. I'm tired of reading about the seemingly unabetted march of fascism. I'm tired of fighting social battles over feminism, racism, homophobia and the like that we should have won years ago.

I think, like many, I am tired of 2016. All the people whose lives it has claimed, whether they be Syrians we have knowingly and callously abandoned or much-loved celebrities whose talents we never thought we would be without. All the political tragedies. (Yes tragedies, Brexit still upsets me, go away.) Life might not be one damned thing after another as Elbert Hubbard quipped, but 2016 at least has certainly seemed like one damned thing after another.

So when a friend sent me something on Stevie Wonder from slate.com I was excited. They describe 2016 as a year of almost unbearable loss, rather than one of unbearable tiredness, but the sentiment is the same. The opportunity, therefore, to celebrate, rather than mourn, a true great was one I was delighted to take. I have not been disappointed. If you, like me, have much love for Stevie; if he makes you smile like few others can, then head over to Slate. You are in for a treat. If you have not yet been exposed to his genius then your 2016 is about to improve immeasurably when you click this link to your Stevie starter kit. And for some gentle humour and Stevie Wonder actually calling someone to sing I Just Called To Say I Love You, you want to go here.

It is difficult to pick my favourite Stevie songs; his songs are so varied, his talent for so many different styles of music so vast. Here is a list of just five.

1. Ribbon in the Sky

This was my Dad's favourite when I was growing up, so I suppose there is some sentimental value to this choice. For a long time, it was also the only one of his songs that I actually knew was by him. The tune is beautiful, the lyrics majestic and the imagery superb. I will just leave it here for you to enjoy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zO2-kIqsGL4

2. As

I was initially torn on the part of this song where Stevie, as my Dad puts it, shouts. (Slate have the far better description of fozzie bear voice) I have grown to love it along with the rest of the song. There are plenty of rip-offs of this song, which is the basis of many declarations of love I have made. My favourite moment is towards the end when Stevie squeezes in four 'eights' when singing that he'll love you as long as 8x8x8x8 is four. The back-up singers only manage three. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GYQfWJNWe3I

3. Superstition

Is any list of Stevie songs complete without this one? No words necessary. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0CFuCYNx-1g

4. Evil

It is impossible to write about Stevie without mentioning at least one of his many political songs. A passionate campaigner for a plethora of worthwhile causes, not least the one to have Martin Luther King Jr's birthday recognised as a national holiday in the United States, Evil is a stark reminder of this side of Stevie's work. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gZi4iruQcv4

5. My Cherie Amour

The second song of his that I ever heard, it is just a wonderfully simple, beautifully happy song. I have left off a huge number of songs of his that I love to include this in this list of five, which should give an indication of just how happy it makes me. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0Gu-CyE-NQ

2016 has been a trying, tiring year. Stevie Wonder does not make it all better, but it is perhaps the best we have on cold, dark December evenings. And he even has a Christmas album, which is a perfect snapshot into Stevie with a festive twist. One Little Christmas Tree and Someday at Christmas are my favourites of another brilliantly put together album.

If 2016 has been difficult then let Stevie try and help; he is helping me.

Sunday 30 October 2016

We Need to Talk About Anti-Semitism

It's almost impossible to talk about anti-Semitism nowadays. Or rather, it is almost impossible to suggest that it exists or, whisper it quietly, that it remains a problem, a serious problem and, whisper it even quieter, is, in fact, on the rise. The instinct when accusations of anti-Semitism are made is to dismiss them. It's to try and explain them away. Reference Israel. Sweep it under the carpet. Condemn anti-Semitism, but deny that it could possibly have occurred in this case. If all else fails, suggest that Jews devalue a very real and serious problem in anti-Semitism when we make such accusations too easily. As if the problem is not anti-Semitism but actually Jews watering down the definition. As if you are so unbelievably concerned by anti-Semitism that you just wish Jews would stop crying wolf because eventually, no one will believe us when actual anti-Semitism happens. As if somehow if only Jews stopped complaining about anti-Semitism, people would not need to be anti-Semitic and claim Jews complain about anti-Semitism too much. That's the sort of perverse logic that fills debates on anti-Semitism. It's our fault. You'll tell me next that if only the damn Jews did not exist. Then no one would have to be anti-Semitic.

On the contrary, it's incredibly easy to be an anti-Semite these days. Anti-Semites are, for some reason, absolved of any moral agency when it comes to their actions. So long as you pin the blame on Israel, it's a free pass. So long as you can plausibly claim to be just an anti-Zionist or, even better, just critical of the Israeli policy of being a bunch of Nazis. Extra points if you can mention that there are Jews that agree with you. Yes, Jew-hatred is perfectly understandable in the context of Israeli policy. Heck, Jew-hatred is perfectly legitimate in the context of being merely critical of Israeli policy. I'm not an anti-Semite, I just think Israel is worse than Hitler and the Israelis really ought to know better than to keep Gazans in a concentration camp worse than Auschwitz. And if you call me an anti-Semite, you're actually completely misunderstanding anti-Semitism, which is this terrible terrible thing that never ever happens but if it did, believe me, it would be terrible. Suddenly, so long as you're just anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, anti-Israeli policy, you could not possibly be an anti-Semite.

The latest in not-anti-Semitism-but-anti-Israel incidents are the events at the UCL event attended by Hen Mazzig. Maybe this isn't anti-Semitism at all. Maybe it is just anti-Israel. As if that makes it any better. As if hating a country is any better than hating a people. Forgive the cliché, but as if hate of any kind is okay. This is a university society filled with such unbelievable hatred that they are willing to storm a room filled with Jews who want to listen to another Jew talk about his humanitarian work in the West Bank. Imagine being so filled with hate that you feel the need to violently assault reporters. Imagine being so afraid of a differing opinion that you feel the need to shout down anyone you disagree with. Imagine being the sort of people that leave fellow students in a position where they are told their safety cannot be guaranteed without police protection. Just imagine for a moment being that person, so driven by blind, irrational hatred and then tell me that it matters whether we define this as anti-Semitism or not.

Whether or not they are anti-Semites must be considered irrelevant. Since when was the bar for being a decent person being able to provide an intellectual argument against you being an anti-Semite? So maybe they aren't anti-Semites. Maybe a lot of what Jews call anti-Semitism is not anti-Semitism but a different hatred. Maybe. But it makes little difference. The anti-Semites of the past were driven to violence against Jews. They may be able to self-identify as a more accepted hatred now, but they are still driven to violence against Jews. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Saturday 24 September 2016

Labour does not care about antisemitism anymore

It's official. As of 24th September 2016, 62% of those eligible to vote in the Labour Party's leadership election do not care about antisemitism. Approximately 50% of those will read that sentence and, ironically, accuse me of a smear campaign against Jeremy Corbyn. They will not ask me why I feel this way. Instead, they will tell me Jeremy Corbyn is a thoroughly decent man. They will probably tell me that he is just pro-Palestinian, even though I have not mentioned Israel. And finally, they will tell me that there is no antisemitism problem in Labour. Because, apparently, I am just an embittered Blairite or a right-wing conspiracy theorist out to cause trouble and lie about Corbyn.

Supporting Jeremy Corbyn does not automatically make one an antisemite. Dismissing his supporters as such is unhelpful and wrong. It is to misunderstand his considerable appeal completely. I have friends, ones that I know for a fact are not antisemitic, that support Corbyn and I think it is easy to see why. They, like me, have left university with thousands of pounds worth of debt they see saddled on them by this Tory government. They, like me, care about the environment. They, like me, think that spending billions on a nuclear deterrent that we will never use is madness when we have record numbers at food-banks. They, like me, are tired of the same old politics and politicians. Rightly or wrongly, Jeremy Corbyn is seen as the answer to many of the issues they care about. He is seen as the opposite of your normal politician. Principled and decent. Nevermind this is all nonsense. That's another article for another time. I get his appeal. Truly I do. But I could never support him or a Labour Party under his leadership.

Because I, unlike them, care about antisemitism. They can't care about antisemitism, because if they did, they'd be appalled by Jeremy Corbyn. They'd be appalled by Diane Abbott and John McDonnell. They'd be appalled by Ken Livingstone and the fact he remains in the party. They'd be appalled by the Chakrabarti report and her peerage. They'd be appalled by the video Corbyn released where his supporters make it clear they think anti-Semitism is not a problem and do not care even if it were because it was the Tories who were really anti-Semitic 70 years ago. They'd be appalled by any claims (from, for example, Len McCluksey and Diane Abbott) that antisemitism accusations are a slur against Labour. They'd be appalled that Corbyn himself dismisses the allegations, demonstrating a remarkable arrogance and an ignorance and apathy towards antisemitism. They'd be appalled that instead of rooting out and expelling members who express antisemitic views, Corbyn and McDonnell appear alongside them and endorse them. They'd be appalled by Corbyn's association with Holocaust deniers. They'd be appalled by the fact Jewish MPs now require protection. They'd be appalled by the abuse directed at Jewish MPs in Corbyn's name. They'd be appalled that Ruth Smeeth left the event launching the antisemitism report in tears, rather than dismissing her as a CIA agent.

But they aren't. Because they do not care about antisemitism. If that upsets you as a Corbyn supporter, then it should. You should be deeply upset that you have chosen to ignore the vast majority of the Jewish population in this country and tell us that you care about all forms of discrimination apart from discrimination against us. You should be deeply upset that you have decided to either ignore the crisis of antisemitism in Labour or, worse, dismiss it as a smear against the dear leader. You should be deeply upset that you have not asked Jews like me (and the 92% of the Jewish Labour Movement that endorsed Owen Smith) why we feel there is a problem in the Labour Party and with Jeremy Corbyn (see above and here). You should be deeply upset that the Labour Party Conference 2016 has been riddled with antisemitism. You should be deeply upset that Momentum calls for the expulsion of the Jewish Labour Movement, an affiliate since 1920. You should be deeply upset that instead, you have simply dismissed our concerns. And you should be deeply upset that your response to this article won't be to consider for the briefest of moments that you might be wrong. That maybe, just maybe, glorious, infallible Jeremy Corbyn might have a glaring, despicable flaw that you missed despite the thousands of Jewish and non-Jewish voices trying to point it out.

And personally, I do not know what upsets me more. The antisemitism in Labour or the fact so many people, both friends and people I do not know, care so little about antisemitism. But it's fine, you can just dismiss me as a member of the worldwide Zionist conspiracy. After all, the allegations are just invented. That's a lot easier than facing up to the fact that you, the self-confessed anti-racist and self-appointed moral authority, do not care about antisemitism. You do not care even a little bit.

This article was updated on 25th September 2016 to reflect the antisemitism that has occurred at the Labour Party Conference 2016. 

This article was further updated on 19th September 2017 to correct the spelling of antisemitism and antisemitic.

Tuesday 20 September 2016

The Refugee Problem

Douglas Adams once said, "Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experiences of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so."

And how right he was. A little over 70 years ago, the Nazis took it upon themselves to rid the world of Jews (this is Ken Livingstone's working definition of the word 'Zionist'). They nearly succeeded in part because the rest of the world turned a blind eye to what was going on, more concerned with bogus fears over national security than stopping the world's greatest crime from happening. Anne Frank, perhaps the most famous victim of the Holocaust, was just 15 years old when she died. Had her asylum application to the United States not been denied she may very well be still alive, 87 years young. Who knows what she, and many others, could have...no, would have achieved, but for irrational fear, selfishness and apathy.

We are faced with a situation not too dissimilar today. Instead of learning from our mistakes, the world is becoming increasingly hostile and isolationist. Instead of embracing those who need our support the most, we are turning our backs, sticking our fingers in our ears and saying it is not our problem. Others, such as MP David Davies, have said we should force refugees to undergo dental checks. Heaven forbid we save a 19-year-old posing as a 17-year-old. The son of the GOP's presidential candidate has compared deciding whether to help the most vulnerable to deciding whether we would eat a handful of skittles. The correct answer, by the way, is that we never eat skittles because skittles are vile but we do help refugees because we can; because they are human beings; because humanity, if it means anything at all, must mean helping the helpless, protecting the vulnerable and supporting the weak.

The Jewish story is inextricably linked with fleeing persecution and hatred and attempting to make a life in a new and scary country. It is also inextricably linked with succeeding in those countries. Israel, a country with a huge refugee population succeeds primarily because of its diversity and demographic. To turn our back on refugees now is to refuse to learn the lessons of history. Just as we look back at the Holocaust and wonder how it was allowed to happen (yes allowed to happen) on our watch; how the world sat back and let the Nazis murder 6 million Jews for being Jews, so too will future generations look back at our failures to respond effectively to this refugee crisis with shock and disbelief.

Anne Frank and so many other Jews might yet be alive today with we displayed just a smidge of humanity. Surely we cannot make the same mistakes again. As she once said, "How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world."

This article has been updated once on 28th October 2016 to include comments made by MP David Davies

Sunday 4 September 2016

An Inconvenient Truth

You would not know it if you looked at me. Or my sister. You would not know it if you looked at my Mother. Or any of her siblings. Unless I told you, you would have absolutely no inkling that I am the grandson of refugees, driven out of a country where they had lived peacefully for decades, centuries perhaps, over 60 years ago now. Neither of my Mum's parents are alive today, but she has an elder brother, who was maybe six years old at the time, himself a refugee, who fled Iraq all those years ago. You wouldn't know that either.

And why should you? We, my family, have done well for ourselves. New citizens of a country barely four years old, my grandparents set about creating a life for themselves through a building company, my Mum tells me. My Uncle, shortly after, opened a bakery that is still there, still serving the world's best bagels. My Mum, a basketball player and spokeswomen for the Environment Minister in the Israeli Knesset, left for England, first to study Law, then design, where eventually she met my Dad, himself the grandchild of Jews that left their home country to pastures new. They started a life together, a business, a family. The opticians, David Paul Opticians, uses my Dad's middle name because Levy was too obviously Jewish for a town with, at the time, prevalent anti-Semitism is still there, over 20 years later. A small shop. Walk past too briskly and you'd probably miss it if it weren't for the striking window that my Mum keeps updated, as she does for a number of other opticians.

So no, you would not have any idea that I am the grandson of refugees on one side, the great-grandson of Jews who, though not refugees, still arrived in a new country without all that much. A large majority of Jews have this story. Families that fled war and anti-Semitism, whether it be in Europe or further afield but found sanctuary and relative safety, often in the UK, the US and, of course Israel. Families that now have very few, if any, obvious signs of that troubled past. And this is exactly what leads to modern anti-Semitism.

The anti-Semitism that looks at me, ostensibly a white middle-class male and says there is no way you can suffer from discrimination. Except for the Kippah, which has meant that I have suffered from discrimination, you would be partly correct. Without it, I would not suffer from lived anti-Semitism directed at me. And where I have, or where anyone has, obviously that would be lamentable and terrible but, and this is where anti-Semitism begins, there is always a but. More on that later. For now, it is important to note that lived discrimination is not the only kind of discrimination. There is an anti-Semitism that might not be directed at me in the street and make me feel vulnerable. An anti-Semitism that perhaps does not corner me on a tube and hurl violent abuse at me for daring to be Muslim or, indeed, look Muslim. An anti-Semitism that probably never looks at me and feels scared because of my religion or assumed religion. An anti-Semitism, however, that tells me that I cannot suffer anti-Semitism. An anti-Semitism that tries to define anti-Semitism for me. An anti-Semitism tells me I have an unhelpful habit of shutting down debate on Israel by crying wolf about anti-Semitism, even when Israel was not even part of the discussion. An anti-Semitism that, for example, tells us that our views on Malia Bouattia are racist, rather than borne out of genuine concern, or that Labour does not have an anti-Semitism problem despite Jews across the political spectrum expressing concern that it does.

The truth is, Jews do not look like victims. In fact, we appear to be the exact opposite. And this, perhaps, is the greatest driver of the nuanced anti-Semitism that Jews face every single day. We are (pretty much) white. Often middle-class. Western and capitalist. Israel, a powerful, developed, Western democracy is the product and very much a part of a capitalist system that has left so many, usually more obvious 'Others' and an American Foreign Policy that many look at as having wrecked havoc across the world. Historically, discrimination against Jews has been because of the view we had too much power, influence, control and wealth. So no, Jews do not fit the stereotype of an ethnic minority that needs protection from discrimination.

Which means we do not get it. Those who normally call themselves fighters for equality and an end to racism are strangely quiet on anti-Semitism. They are normally those who shout loudest that anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism. They are normally those that are quickest to accuse us of silencing genuine debate on Israel by incorrectly labelling something as anti-Semitism. Their commitment to (some) human rights abuses can be doubted no more than their moral hypocrisy. It is never that anti-Semitism does not exist, to claim as much would be ridiculous even for them, but it is that either this, specifically is not anti-Semitism (despite Jews telling them that it is) or, where it must be conceded it is anti-Semitism, a but always follows. A but that would (and should) never follow a sentence like "I am not saying the women is to blame..." or "That racist act is not justified but..." In those cases it is clearly victim blaming. A rape victim is, obviously, a victim. A victim of racism is, obviously, a victim. A Jew, however, is not a victim. We do not look like victims. Israel definitely does not look like a victim. That is why sentences like: "Hamas is terrible but..." or "Hitler was not a Zionist but..." or "Anti-Semitism is terrible but..." are allowed. Imagine the equivalent: "Rape is terrible but..." Nothing good can follow that but. Jews are not afforded the same protection.

This is the greatest anti-Semitism. Sure our Synagogues remain targets and often require constant protection. Sure our graves are targeted. Sure abuse gets hurled at those who are more obviously Jewish. This is undeniable and a discrimination that far too many suffer, whether it be Jews or women or Muslims or black people. Only, however, in the Jewish case is it explained away or is there an excuse. And beyond that, beyond the obvious lived discrimination, Jews are unable to define anti-Semitism. Only in the Jewish case is there a debate over what counts as anti-Semitism to the point where it seems almost impossible for it to exist. It's the white-male Ken Livingstone assertion that anti-Semites don't just hate Jews in Israel but Jews in Golders Green as well that sets the bar for anti-Semitism so unbelievably high that whilst it may exist in theory, it simply does not in practice.

And ironically, in doing this, in setting impossible standards for anti-Semitism, you yourself are an anti-Semite, though you may not hate me or any other Jew, and you are part of the world's most inconvenient truth: anti-Semitism is not just alive and well, it is thriving, accepted and mostly ignored.

Tuesday 30 August 2016

June 23rd, The Day British Democracy Stopped

"Brexit means Brexit" has been the tautological, trivial cry from Theresa May in an attempt to appease sudden ardent supporters of our democracy who claim that the referendum vote is absolutely final and that, basically, is that. Aside from the fact that one of the fundamentals of a democracy is that we can discuss, criticise and, indeed, even challenge democratic votes, this insistence that Britain must absolutely leave the EU no questions asked because 52% of 72.2% of those eligible to vote, voted to leave (without it being in the slightest clear what) just smacks of stupidity. It just seems that everyone who supported Leave has decided to stick their fingers in their ears, close their eyes and scream "BREXIT MEANS BREXIT" until all the nasty people who disagree with them shut-up.

To begin with, what does Brexit even mean? Aside from Brexit because everything means itself. Except literally, which now means the opposite of literally. Literally. So what does Brexit mean? Does anyone know? Anyone? Obviously, it means, to some degree, leaving the European Union but it is not as simple as that. Does no one think someone, whether it be MPs or the public again, should have a vote on whatever deal is agreed? Would that not be the sensible thing to do? What if the Brexit deal is not Brexit-y enough? What then? Our democracy does not stop just because we had one vote on a vague question with many possible permutations and answers. Nor should it. It would be somewhat ironic if the Brexit deal negotiated is not to the taste of the majority of Brexiteers in Parliament but gets pushed through because they all threw their toys out the pram and decided that absolutely no one should ever vote on the EU issue again in response to some people daring suggest that this vote did not mean we blindly accept any Brexit deal. Indeed, that would be the worst of both worlds. We leave the EU, which 48% of those who voted did not want to do in the first place and end up with a deal that the other 52%, or indeed any percentage thereof, do not like anyway. The maths is quite simple: If just 4% of those who voted leave think the Brexit deal reached is worse than staying, we force through a Brexit deal the majority of those who voted (making the fair assumption that all Remainers oppose it) oppose.

Which brings us to a second reason why this blind insistence on sticking to the vague referendum is ridiculous. It actually harms, rather than serves, our democracy. To begin with, should there be a general election in October because Theresa May decides that beating Jeremy Corbyn would be quite fun and we return a majority of MPs who support remain and then hold a parliamentary vote on triggering Article 50 that fails, that remains democratic. And ironically, just because it gives you the result you do not like Brexiteers, does not mean it is not democratic. Challenging a democratic vote (the referendum) is not arguing it is not democratic. It is simply exercising our democratic right to challenge our democracy. However, more importantly, our democracy does not stop with one referendum. That is not how it works. Given no one can decide what Brexit means, given it is not even agreed yet what it means, would it not be prudent to have a vote on whether we like what Brexit looks like? Just because we've agreed to go to a restaurant does not mean we have to eat there if we subsequently look at the menu and decide what we already had at home was better and we'd rather stick with that.

Finally, and perhaps most ironically, Brexiteers seem to have forgotten what they argued this referendum was about. Alongside their racist nonsense about immigration and ignorant nonsense about regulations, it was about parliamentary sovereignty and taking back control, whatever the hell that means. Yes, that's right, it was about the sovereignty of the parliament Brexiteers want to ignore with the triggering of Article 50, and indeed any deal and it was about taking back control to the British people but giving them absolutely no say, whether via their MPs or directly, on what that control looks like.

It seems, therefore, that we do know what Brexit means. It means blindly following a referendum vote regardless of consequences; implementing a deal irrespective of what that deal is, ignoring virtually everyone's views; and that once we had the EU referendum vote, our democracy ceased to exist.

Update: A previous version of this post erroneously used the word 'tenants'. This has now been corrected.

Thursday 25 August 2016

Corbyn is not just a liar, he is massively incompetent

All politicians lie. Even the ones that claim never to lie, lie and sometimes, as Jeremy Corbyn discovered, they get found out. Most politicians will, much like he has done, deny ever having lied or justify the lie in the face of overwhelming evidence that they lied. Nothing new about the character of many politicians in the face of train-gate then. They are a bunch of manipulative liars with political agendas and will willingly lie to advance their agenda and when it becomes apparent they have lied, they will deny ever having lied and blame virtually everyone else but themselves. To single Corbyn out is only to single him out as what he is: a stereotypical politician, who is elected to a safe seat with minimal trouble and goes around banging on about how he is going to change everything when really he hasn't a ruddy clue how he is going to do that and spends half the time lying and the other half lying about lying. 

It does not even matter that Corbyn claims to be an honourable man and this proves him to be anything but. It does not matter that this scandal has merely proved him to be just like every politician he claims to be nothing like. Obviously, it smacks of hypocrisy but who amongst us is not somewhat hypocritical. So really, it does not matter that he lied and lied about being honest in the process. What matters, from his perspective, is that his lie smacks of sheer incompetence. We can, and people do, argue all day long about whether the railways should be renationalised or whether there is some other solution to the awful state of the trains in this country. There is a valuable debate to be had on that question. It is clear where Mr Corbyn's opinions lie and he is, of course, free to make his point in any way he chooses. 

However, given the point he is making, did he not think it prudent to be on an actually busy train to make it? What did he expect would happen if he sat on the floor of a train that had empty seats and claimed it was ram-packed? Is he so stupid that he thought he could get away with this publicity stunt? And, of course, in the ultimate irony, he is correct. Having to sit on the floor or stand wedged between three people or take refuge in the toilet because there is no space anywhere else is a problem people face every day. Given that, why did he choose a train that was fairly empty? I'm not an expert, but I am sure if you want to argue trains are busy, you should be on a busy train to make the point. He could have picked a Virgin Train on a match-day at Old Trafford. Or Thameslink any weekday morning or afternoon. Or virtually any other train.

And therein lies the problem. Corbyn is so unbelievably incompetent, so unbelievably stupid, that he managed to pick one of the very few trains in Britain that was not massively overcrowded to make a point about overcrowded trains. So we can argue all day long about how much of a hypocrite this makes him (and it does). We can discuss how this proves him a liar and a manipulative one at that, which it does. We can debate the role of the media in criticising Corbyn and whether it is fair, missing the point of course given he could have chosen not to lie and avoided this criticism, but whatever.  And, of course, we can discuss the trains and how awful they are, which is what we should be doing had Corbyn managed to choose a busy train to film his video on. We can do all of those things but it would massively miss the point. The biggest problem here is not that he is a liar but that Corbyn is so unbelievably useless that he tried to argue the trains were busy on a train that was not busy. And that takes some doing.

Wednesday 10 August 2016

So, where do you stand on Israel-Palestine?

There must be a formula for working out how long it takes between finding out someone is Jewish and asking them about Israel-Palestine. If there is not, might I humbly suggest Levy's Law:

"Once you've found out someone is Jewish, the chance you ask him/her about Israel-Palestine increases exponentially until it becomes virtually certain."

This is not a criticism at all, far from it. Jews, rightly or wrongly, carry an important responsibility in the eyes of others when it comes to Israel. Perhaps not to justify or explain Israel's actions, though one might try, but to justify or explain one's position. And maybe it comes from an internalised anti-Semitism that says Jews cannot be loyal to their country of birth/naturalisation or that their loyalty primarily is to Israel and therefore they have, presumably a positive, opinion on Israel. Both loyalty tropes, of course, are false. I suspect, however, it comes from a genuine desire to gain a better understanding. After all, those with their minds made up would not ask, they would merely tell.

But I do not care what the reason is. What matters is they asked and what matters more, I think, is my response. And my response, perhaps long-winded and convoluted in those discussions, is actually remarkably simple:

"Please remember that for every single news article you read on one side, there is a corresponding one on the other; for every single "fact" thrown at you, there is a corresponding "fact" that disputes it; for every statistic, for every argument, for every claim, for every damn thing you can say about the entire conflict there is a corresponding response."

Perhaps it is even simpler. Perhaps I just mean don't believe anything you read. Such is the way with complicated conflicts that are little to do with what armchair activists will have you believe they are about. We could get into a really nuanced discussion about what Israel and what the Palestinians need to do and believe me it would not get us anywhere. We could prove Israel acts disproportionately or we could prove that Israel does not and believe me, it would not get us anywhere. I could spend the next hour going through everything the questioner has read from "pro-Palestinian" sources and offer the response or, where required, state you cannot defend the indefensible and believe me, yes you guessed it, it would not get us anywhere.

So I don't bother with any of that. That anti-Israel activism and opinion so often spills over into anti-Semitism, that modern-day anti-Semites have a more acceptable hate to hide behind requires all of us to stand up and speak out against it. But beyond that, I am sick and tired of this all. Sick and tired of the world's focus on one conflict. Sick and tired of being told that Israel does this or does that. Sick and tired of being told that the Palestinians do this or do that. Sick and tired of the whole damn thing because really, when you look beyond the hate, there are Daniels and Ahmeds; Rivkas and Fatimas; and a whole bunch of others that just want to earn money to buy groceries to feed their families and, ideally, not be shot at by anyone.

And really, it is as simple and, perhaps, as complicated as that.

Tuesday 2 August 2016

The Nice Guy Illusion

If Jeremy Corbyn happened not to be a vile anti-Semite, whose continued leadership of Labour makes it an unsafe place for Jews and justifies anti-Semitism under the classic guise of anti-Zionism, I might just be perfectly happy for his leadership to result in the destruction of Labour. I might be quite happy for the unbroken Tory rule that would almost certainly necessarily follow his likely victory in the upcoming leadership election. I might enjoy the hypocrisy and irony of the serial rebel for whom loyalty seems to have an entirely different definition, suddenly demanding that loyalty he never showed. I would not delight in the damage to our democracy that the lack of an effective opposition would cause, but I wouldn't pretend not to enjoy their demise under his leadership, proving, perhaps, that good things really do not come to anti-Semites.

But he is a vile anti-Semite. So I cannot delight in any of those things, I cannot enjoy Labour's demise and the Tory dominance it will cause. Part of me, of course, mourns for our democracy as Corbyn turns Labour into the ultimate protest group, somehow forgetting that he is meant to lead a Parliamentary Party. But that feeling would surely dissipate once an effective opposition took Labour's place, which it surely would. So no, my overriding feeling watching Labour implode whilst the Tories, quietly and quickly moved on after Brexit and gave us our second female Prime Minister, is one of concern as I watch the hard left gain increasing power and the anti-Semitism, misogyny and bullying it has brought with it.

We heard repeatedly what a nice guy Corbyn was, how principled he was and, whatever you thought of his policies, that he was thoroughly decent. We have learnt, in the past few weeks, none of that to be true. None of it comes as a surprise to Jews, like me, who have long been concerned of his love for Hamas and Hezbollah and his support for Assad and Iran. We saw it plain and clear with his shambolic showing at Labour's sham anti-Semitism inquiry that seemed aimed at establishing not that anti-Semitism was wrong, but rather, just how much anti-Semitism could be tolerated. We saw it made evident with his reaction to a Jew being abused at the presentation of the results of that inquiry. Whether he likes it or not, he has made this situation all about him, turning any criticism of his policies into a personal critique. When you do that, you fire up your supporters to defend you mercilessly, not the party or the party's best interests, and that's when MPs who dare oppose Corbyn get threatened and abused and face death threats. Whether he condemns it or not, he must bear responsibility for the actions made in his name.

Hugo Rifkind asked a question on Twitter. I hope he will forgive me for not searching for the link, for it was a while back, but he asks if Corbyn's supporters ever get the nagging feeling that they and Trump's supporters are the same. They both have a passionate commitment to their Leader rather than the party they are supposed to represent. They both find bullying people they disagree with the solution. They both seem to be vile racist misogynists. I would go one step further. I wonder if Corbyn ever looks at Trump and wonders how on Earth he ended up so like the maverick billionaire when Trump is everything Corbyn claims to stand against. Trump, like Corbyn, is a racist though Trump's racism seems to permeate across far more ethnic groups, rather than being limited to the Jews. Trump, like Corbyn, is causing shockwaves through the party they are supposed to represent, with senior figures refusing to back him. Trump, like Corbyn has proved to be, is a power hungry narcissist. And Trump, like Corbyn, has made it all about him. You may balk at the comparison. You may claim Corbyn stands for much more noble virtues. Perhaps he does. Equally, however, perhaps his anti-Semitism and terrorism apologism means that's all irrelevant. What does standing for noble values even mean if you deny Jews, or any ethnic group, any right to those values?

Corbyn claims he will not betray Labour Party democracy, pointing towards an undeniable mandate from Labour Party members. In his blind stubbornness he forgets two crucial things. First, he forgets that he leads a Parliamentary Party, one that aims to secure the principles he claims to support through parliament. Without MPs he simply cannot do that, no matter what Diane Abbott, a woman so odious that I struggle to find the correct words to describe her, might tell him. Second, and more importantly, he forgets that Labour Party democracy is irrelevant when it comes to the democracy we live in. He may have never seen the Labour Party as ideal, nor really bought into its aims or ideals - that much is quite evident - but the millions of people he claims rely on the Labour Party to beat the Tories, if he is right, absolutely do. They rely on Labour to win elections, not to hold mass rallies in Liverpool and claim this proves his electability. They rely on Labour to be an effective opposition when they are in opposition and to be able to defeat the Tories when elections come around. As Labour implodes and the opinion polls show the Tories pulling further away, is it not time he woke up and accepted defeat. Accepted that whatever his aims and intentions - and I do not think them honourable at all, but that's besides the point - he cannot win and he condemns the very people he apparently claims to care about to decades of Tory rule he warns everyone against. Of course, I disagree and look forward to the years of Tory rule he will surely usher in.

My politics differs from Corbyn's but if he believes even a word of what he says, surely it is time he did the first honourable thing he has done in a career littered with disloyalty, support for terrorism, Hamas, Hezbollah, the IRA, Assad, Iran, anti-Semitism and justifications of it and now stubbornness and bullying and stood aside.
Looks perfectly harmless, doesn't he?

Saturday 23 July 2016

The EU Ideal

A month ago, Britain voted to leave the European Union and we have been arguing about what exactly this means ever since. No one seems to have a clue and the vast majority of those who were the face of the campaigns, both Leave and Remain, have disappeared leaving the rest of us to clear up the mess of their making. Which was nice of them. The aftermath has left us squabbling over the latest statistics and figures and therein lies the problem. The campaign to remain in the EU should never have been about the economy; it should never have been about the virtues of immigration or the lies about immigration Leave were telling; it should never have been about the undemocratic nature of the EU or where our Laws are made; it should never have been about EU regulations; and it should never, even, have been about what the EU has done for us such as, for example, flooding money (if you'll pardon the pun) into areas, especially in northern England, impacted by flooding.

No, as I sit here in a Parisian cafe, having popped over on the Eurostar, wandered around the Louvre and enjoyed the sunshine, I realise it should always have been about what Europe represents and means. The economy, believe it or not, is likely to be okay and, regardless, we simply could not have known what would happen. Yes, perhaps that is an argument for staying in and avoiding the unknown, but Remain should never have tried to win the argument on the economy, especially when there are enough people for whom the current situation, whoever is to blame, is not working. It was never going to work. The same goes for immigration and regulations and EU Laws and all the rest of it. The argument that immigration is a good thing was never going to trump the fear posited by Leave. The argument that if we want to trade with the EU our products will have to meet those dastardly EU regulations anyway was never going to trump, "BUT OUR TOASTERS ARE SHIT NOW BECAUSE OF THE EU. LEAVE TO TAKE CONTROL." The argument that only X% of our laws come from Brussels (where X is quite a small number) and our laws are already dictated to us by the City and large corporations anyway and we have the Queen and the House of Lords that are both massively undemocratic but no one seems to care was never going to trump the screaming about how all our laws come from unelected officials in some foreign country.

Those things are neither here nor there. They might be arguments and debates to be had but to place them at centre stage is to completely miss the point of what the EU is all about. The EU, for all its flaws, is, at its heart, about cooperation between countries. Yes that has extended into initiatives on the environment and is about free trade and free movement of people and all the other things that we can argue about all day long but the EU transcends that. The EU, and the argument for remaining, should always have been about being under 26 and wandering into the Louvre free of charge. It should always have been about cheaper flights and free data-roaming across the EU. It should have been about Erasmus and having the opportunity to go and study across Europe and the opportunity to meet all those Europeans who have that same opportunity to come to the UK to study. It is about moving forwards together because we've tried that thing where we colonise and/or invade the Other and we've tried that thing where we close ourselves off from the Other and we discovered neither of them work.

Maybe I am being idealistic and maybe I am being naive, but I genuinely believe it is a shame that an argument based on a fear and hatred of the Other, whether consciously or not, is what we allowed to win. The United Kingdom will be just fine from an economic perspective in or out of the EU. We will have trade deals and export and import products and all the rest of it. We will not be protected from the economic shocks on the continent any better or worse. We will figure out how to ensure all those complicated agreements we have with Europe that no one really fully understood nor, indeed, should have been expected to understand, somehow endure and Brexit will probably be a bit of a fudge. But that's all a bit irrelevant because of what this argument, what this result symbolises. Human history follows a familiar, if depressing, pattern. Throughout it we have been afraid of the Other, those that look different or sound different or simply are different from us. We have built great walls to keep the Other way. We have invaded their lands, killed their people and stolen their resources. We have exported them across the world and sold them for our own gain. Europe, on a smaller scale, has followed a similar pattern. We have been at war for centuries, one empire being replaced by another, one war ending and another beginning. The only thing Europeans could agree on for centuries was that the rest of the world was our oyster, its resources and its people ours to do with as we pleased. But that was changing. Slowly. But it was changing.

It's a crying shame that Leave won the argument, not by actually winning any arguments but by framing the discussion in terms that never truly mattered. That was Leave's big victory. And their legacy won't be an economy in ruins or borders that we can effectively control (currently non-EU immigration alone exceeds our overall target, so do not tell me we will suddenly become immigration control experts) or all these amazing trade deals that we can now apparently negotiate. It won't be a country that flourished nor will it be a country that was entirely left behind. Their legacy will be that generations of British youngsters may never experience what the EU was meant to represent. And that might just be the biggest travesty of them all.

Wednesday 15 June 2016

Are you sure you're not better?

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog, almost entirely tongue-in-cheek, about how my therapist does not like people I speak about. It was meant as an amusing title rather than an accurate description of her opinions towards anybody. After my application to intermit, however, was initially declined, she made her disdain for my university and department quite clear. Understandably too. I've learnt a lot this year. I've learnt some Philosophy, of course. A lot about my Judaism. The capacity of humanity to show complete inhumanity. A selection of random facts. How to make a pun about virtually anything. Yes, Mr Cainer, I am looking squarely at you. But perhaps what I've learnt most clearly is a lot of people just do not understand mental illness. I don't mean other young people. Everyone I have confided in or spoken definitely seems to understand. Unfortunately, it would appear that universities, at least mine, simply do not.

Having decided to intermit just before Pesach (insert religiously relevant yet incredibly tenuous comparison between being freed from slavery and freed from the slavery of a dissertation here), I set about beginning the formal process. I was assured that applications on medical grounds are rarely declined. I was informed that I should submit the application by 9th May and to intermit for Easter, but indicate that I would restart from the beginning of my course. My therapist and I discussed what needed to be included so that we played by their rules. My advisor immediately approved the request with a supporting note that stressed that he concurred that my essays had been negatively affected. All seemed to be going well. I received an email whilst I was bombarding you all with photos of me in New York (why I was in NY might make a little more sense now!) telling me that my application, however, had been declined by the degree committee and my Head of Department. I include the email here:

"Since the medical documentation that you supplied concerned your health problems during the period of November 2015 to March 2016, the Degree Committee felt obliged to treat your request as a backdated request to intermit for last term. The Degree Committee was reluctant to grant backdated requests when the work had already been marked, but felt unable to make a final decision until receiving further guidance from the University about this type of situation. The Degree Committee has since discovered from Student Registry that there is a norm that intermission requests can only be backdated by 30 days, and your request was made more than 30 days after the health problems mentioned in the medical documentation. Consequently, I regret to inform you that the Degree Committee has not granted a request for a backdated intermission in your case."

I had three immediate issues:
  1. I specifically asked when to submit my application and was told 9th May. Had I been told otherwise, had this norm of 30 days been mentioned, I would have submitted within 30 days
  2. I was told to intermit for Easter and never told about the possibility for backdated intermission
  3. Most troublingly, my application was declined based on a technicality that has nothing to do with my condition or mental health. In fact, my mental health was completely ignored when making the decision. What was important was whether it was made within 30 days of my health problems. 
I say I had three immediate issues. I freaked out and blabbered to my Dad about not being told about 30 days. He phoned them up. The reality was much much worse. It's one thing to have rules and to misinform someone about those rules and then stick rigidly to those rules. What transpired to be the case is another thing entirely. 

Apparently, one of the world's best universities does not distinguish between a physical injury and mental health difficulties. Apparently, when I submitted my essays at the end of last term, that was taken as proof that I was completely better. The long and detailed letter my therapist wrote, explaining the difficulties I had been having and the impact it was having on my work and focus was completely ignored because, given I was able to eventually submit the work, clearly I was well. My department thought I simply had the equivalent of a broken arm and once I was no longer stopped from physically being able to write, I had fully healed. That's why my application was backdated. That's why 30 days was relevant. My problems ended the date I submitted my essays and even without considering what my problems were, given they apparently ended 30 days before I submitted the application, it must be declined. 

Except, mental health and physical health are not the same. Not even a little bit. As any sensible person would know. Not my department, though. Not the very people for whom it would be vital to be able to distinguish between the two. The ignorance was startling. Despite a 3 page letter clearly detailing the profound impact the period had had on me and my work, the notion that maybe the essays I submitted, though submitted, were not a reflection of my best work was not even entertained for a minute. I had been penalised for not giving up in February but instead trying to continue. The irony that my therapist explained in the letter that my inability to see exactly how bad it was characterised my condition has not been lost on me. Given my desperate life long search for irony, you can imagine that this made everything okay.

I struggled to explain it to my therapist the next day. Struggled to explain that she needed to inform supposedly the brightest Philosophical minds in the world that mental illness and physical health are two different things. That a broken arm and anxiety were not the same thing. That an absence of physical symptoms does not mean an absence of mental symptoms. That the brute fact I was able to write a few sentences did not mean I was completely healed. Because apparently, the basic knowledge that I - and the majority of my friends that I have spoken to about this - had acquired by not being complete morons had somehow managed to escape them. 

Perhaps I should have more sympathy. If you google 'misunderstand mental health' it returns 767000 hits. They range from the most misunderstood mental illnesses to general articles on the misunderstood nature of mental illness. So they are not alone. But I struggle to forgive them even a little bit. I am not the only one - as evidenced by the hundreds of thousands of hits - that has suffered as a result of the ignorance. All too many people think depression is something to just be gotten over; that stress is something that we can always control; that if we are struggling we should just go for a walk. As my therapist detailed in the thoroughly redundant addendum to her letter, mental illness is hugely prevalent amongst university students (unsurprisingly). Universities, therefore, are precisely the entities that should be getting this right. First time around. Without the need for addendums to letters. For bullet-pointed clarifications. My college's response to the request sums up just how wrong my department managed to get it: "Any other outcome [i.e. any outcome other than approval for my request] risks the charge of unfair treatment, with prejudice, in the face of compelling medical evidence"

I was not sure how to end this post. In better news, my application has since been re-examined and approved by the Degree Committee and I await rubber stamping from Student Registry. I should be restarting my MPhil in October. I would say all is well that ends well but given I will not be the last to suffer as a result of the ignorance, I struggle to be upbeat about this. Something needs to change. 

Friday 27 May 2016

An open letter to Malia

Dear Ms Bouattia,

I write to you as a Jew, a Zionist, a critic of Israeli policy, a student, a human being.

You will no doubt have seen the result of Cambridge's disaffiliation referendum and, indeed, of Warwick's, where I was previously a student. You will also no doubt be glad that neither institution voted to disaffiliate. As a student that voted for disaffiliation and (still) strongly believes it to be the only option to combat the anti-Semitism that has festered in your organisation for decades, I have one simple request. Well two, but I figure asking you not to be an anti-Semite and to apologise for your anti-Semitism might be asking too much.

Instead, my simple request is as follows: Do not view this result as validation of your election or an indication that Cambridge does not believe the NUS has a problem with anti-Semitism. I refuse to believe that the 3000 or so students that voted against disaffiliation did so because they do not think the NUS has a problem with anti-Semitism. I refuse to believe that they listened to the concerns of the Jewish students who supported disaffiliation and dismissed them. Ultimately, I refuse to believe that they do not care about anti-Semitism. Some students won't fit that description. I am not naive. Some students completely buy into the idea that describing Birmingham University as a Zionist outpost because it has a large Jewish Society is not anti-Semitic. Some students celebrate anti-Semitism and support Malia precisely because of her views. But I refuse to believe that over 3000 students at Cambridge all believe that. Somewhat because if that is true, then the problem is even bigger than even I could have imagined, but mainly because I have faith in my fellow students and I have hope that that faith is rewarded. Maybe I am wrong.

So please Malia and the NUS at large, do not take this result and the results of any future referendums that go the same way as vindication. Rather, look at it as a last chance to reform and to change. I strongly believe that the vast majority of the 3183 Cambridge students that voted against disaffiliation agree with me when I say there is a problem with anti-Semitism in the NUS and that we cannot just ignore it or hope it goes away, but we have to do something about it - and fast. We just disagree on how exactly we should go about tackling this problem.

I sincerely believe this and I hope that the promises that we can reform the NUS from within are proved to be correct. My doubts about this should not get in the way of all the students who claimed that the NUS has an anti-Semitism problem but argued that we need to remain in the NUS to eradicate it from beginning their work.

Yours sincerely,


Sunday 22 May 2016

We've Forgotten What Anti-Racism Campaigning Means

I wrote about anti-Semitism a year ago. With the NUS disaffiliation referendum this week, a couple of sentences from that post seem, unfortunately, particularly appropriate:

"Jews, almost unique in their historic persecution, are equally unique in their inability to define what constitutes anti-Semitism. For some reason Jews have no say in what is anti-Semitism, rather forced to sit idly by as non-Jews...tell us to get over ourselves...[and] suggest it is basically all fair game because, you know, Israel."

The NUS debate, unfortunately, has been no different. Once again, when Jews have come together and complained that something is anti-Semitic we have been told a) that it isn't and then given a nice, helpful explanation of what anti-Semitism is and b) that actually, it's all anti-Zionism, not anti-Semitism and given a long, helpful lecture on how one can deplore Zionism and Israeli policies yet remain not an anti-Semite and to stop shutting down the debate. Our complaints and concerns were, as they often are, dismissed and explained away. This, however, is nothing new. Perhaps the best response to this came from two Cambridge students. Perhaps disaffiliating isn't the answer, but that's beside the point here. We can argue all day long about whether Malia is an anti-Semite. We probably won't get anywhere. For what it is worth, I think she is. I think she has a serious issue with Jews and with Israel that borders on the psychotic. Disturbingly, however, whether or not she is an anti-Semite, is no longer the problem. The most troubling thing to come out of all of this, for me, are the claims that the campaign against her leadership is not about her anti-Semitism or anti-Semitism amongst student politics in general, but a racist one. The claims that instead of celebrating the election of a black, female Muslim, Jews, and others, are leading a racist smear campaign. 

This, I am afraid, stinks. Believe me, I wish I could celebrate her election in good faith. I wish I could be happy about such a historic event. But I cannot celebrate Malia's election. As if it weren't enough to be told that Jews, as the victims of anti-Semitism, cannot define anti-Semitism, we have now been accused of racism for fighting against what we perceive as anti-Semitism. I could understand being told that I was wrong about Malia and that she is not an anti-Semite. I would disagree, of course, and ask what other minority group would face the double discrimination of the initial racism and subsequent explanation of what is and is not to be counted as discrimination against them, but I would at least understand. We simply disagree on what anti-Semitism is and, believe it or not, that is okay. What I cannot understand and what is not okay is being told that it does not matter at all, it is irrelevant because my campaign against what I perceive to be anti-Semitism from someone who happens to be black, female and Muslim is racist. We only suddenly care because of Malia's race or religion. Ignoring the fact that I was amongst many voices who were incredibly vocal when it came to Ken Livingston, a white, non-Muslim, male,'s fascination with Hitler, this makes it seem that anti-Semitism does not matter anymore. Quiet Jews, we have a president who is black and a woman and Mulsim. Stop spoiling our party. 

Forgive me if I choose to judge Malia, not on the colour of her skin or her religion, but on the content of her character and the comments she has made. Is that not what anti-racism campaigning used to be all about?

Wednesday 18 May 2016

Feminism is Very Much Alive

A few weeks ago, Piers Morgan, a man whose penis, it would appear, leaves him uniquely qualified to make declarations on behalf of Feminism, Feminists and Women, declared Feminism dead. He did so because a couple of women posted a photo of themselves topless. I spent the few minutes after trying to work out who exactly this Emily Ratajkowski was and left the rest of Twitter to feed Piers' ego by telling him he was wrong, which, of course, he was. Piers decided that he would again use the topless selfie he accuses Kim and Emily of using to make money, to, well, garner clicks on an article that, presumably, the writing of which makes him money. Irony aside, he remains wrong.

He tell us that he does not mind people using their bodies to make money, which is nice of him given he appeared in a Burger King advert that scars me to this day. Rather his issue, apparently, is that the photo is masquerading as an attempt to fight the cause of gender equality. Because, apparently, women doing what they want isn't actually gender equality. No, it transpires that gender equality is women doing what Piers Morgan thinks they should do. Anyway, mansplaining aside, I suppose I can see where Piers is coming from. He probably thinks that it sets a bad example and also that women should feel empowered, not by stripping down, but by other things. Of course, these are things as defined by our resident moral expert Mr Morgan, but that isn't the point. Women should not feel obliged to take their clothes off in order to be successful and Piers thinks that this photo encourages this view. But, of course, it doesn't. I mean, I don't look at Piers Morgan and think I need to be anything like him to piss people off - I do it just fine by being nothing like him. 

He goes on. It gets better. Piers laments the possibility that actually all this will do is promote the view of women as sex objects and encourage men to hold this view. Frankly, Piers, this is where I got annoyed. As if anyone is to blame for objectifying women other than the man doing the objectifying. That is not a problem with a photo, Piers, that's a problem with society and, well, with (some) men. If you look at a photo of a woman, regardless of what she is wearing, and sexualize or objectify her, that's on you. Not the photo. I am sure you do genuinely regret the idea that women are perceived as sex objects and I am sure you wish this to stop. I do not doubt your sincerity on this point, though, believe me, it is not difficult to do so. But if you do, and I am willing to give you the benefit of the doubt, then it's time to stop blaming women for it. Women are no more to blame for their objectification than they are for rape; a topless selfie is no more to blame for sexualization than a mini-skirt is for rape. 

Many women will look at the naked selfies and think, "You know what. No. I do not feel empowered by exposing my boobs on social media." Many mothers will dread the thought of their daughters doing so. And you know what, that is as valid a response as, "You know what. Yes. I feel empowered by exposing my boobs on social media." I am not going to sit here and write what I think is better for Feminism or women. It has nothing to do with my being a man. Rather, it has to do with my very simple notion of what Feminism is:

Supporting the choices of women, regardless of what they are and regardless of whether I would make those choices for me, if I were a woman, or if I would want the women in my life to make those choices for themselves. 

You want to post a naked selfie? Go for it. You do not want to? Don't. You want to be a housewife and raise kids and not work? Be my guest. You want to be a CEO? I hope you make it. You want to wear mini-skirts? Not my place to tell you not to. You want to wear a burka? Please, feel free. I may or may not think that women should post naked selfies. I may think I would never choose to wear a mini-skirt if I were a woman (though, of course, I do not know). But, damn it, Feminism is alive and well for as long as women feel they can make those choices for themselves and Feminism continues to thrive for as long as it fights for an environment where women are free to make those choices without consequences like, I don't know, an angry, self-righteous, arrogant, pompous, male know-it-all telling them what he believes they should and should not do to advance a cause he, at best, clearly does not fully understand.

Tuesday 10 May 2016

My therapist doesn't like you

Actually, that's probably not true. I shouldn't flatter you. My therapist, in all likelihood, has no true opinion on you. After all, she's never met you, or anyone that I have mentioned. She's spoken to my Dad, which is usually enough to turn anyone against him, but I suspect she harbours no bad feeling toward him. Rather, she's met the version of you that I have described and insofar as I am impacted by the different people I speak about, she cares about your actions. And, of course, she cares about how you make me feel, which, to an extent, is the same thing. The formula, I suppose, is quite simple. If I say positive things, her opinion will, probably, be positive and vice-versa.

I find therapy bizarre, right from the word 'therapy' itself to the whole procedure and what being in therapy entails. I cannot quite work it out. The best way I have managed is as mix between 'a bit of a chat' and a bit like when you tell your parents/best friend about something your friend or that person you hate has done or said but with more objectivity. And much like your parents/best friends will have vibes about certain people, my therapist does too. That's what intrigues me. Those vibes with the added element of objectivity. She's never met any of the people that I mention and almost certainly never will. (Though, if you feel like you need a therapist, she comes with my highest recommendation). Yet, of course, she will still have opinions on you based on what I tell her. She qualifies any remarks she may make about you by reminding me that she's not met any of the people I mention. But she makes the remarks. I suppose that's her job. But no, she doesn't like you. Or maybe she does. Depending on what I have said. I told my Dad recently my therapist defends him in our sessions. Or tries to explain why he does what he does, even if I find it irritating at times. It was my way of reassuring him that this blog post was not aimed at him. Indeed, this post, insofar as it is about my experience in therapy in general and my therapist's differing responses to everyone I bring up, is not aimed at anyone. Chances are, I will not have mentioned you in my sessions. It's nothing personal, honest.

My meetings are, on my request, completely confidential, so I enjoy teasing my Dad by suggesting I regularly talk about him in a negative light. So much so, that his most recent message to me, at the time of writing, is that he expects me to tell my therapist how nice he is really. Where would the fun be in that? But, in all seriousness, requesting our meetings be confidential was somewhat pointless given it takes approximately 2.7 seconds for my parents to ask me what I spoke about and how it went before going on to provide their own assessments and opinions. I suppose 'therapist' is part of the parental job description. My Mum is always very understanding of what my therapist says. My Dad often disagrees. Or, to be specific, he disagrees with some of her comments about his reaction to the whole situation because, alongside the long optical career; semi-retired legal consultancy work; the frequent glasses losing; and frequent 'heated' phone discussions (see #TheDavidLevyDrinkingGame on Twitter) he has, unbeknownst to me, acquired a BA in Psychology and years of experience in the field. Actually, I should probably just save myself the journey and sit in his office at home and have my weekly chat with him. Would be the only therapy session where the patient cannot get a word in edgeways.

Jokes aside, as I said, I find therapy bizarre. I guess I had no idea what to expect. It began weirdly, back in February, over whatsapp when I could not speak. I was scared. Confused. Resistent to the idea that I needed therapy. I remember the first email she sent me. I thought she had completely missed the point. I actually told my Dad speaking to her would clearly be pointless and that I wouldn't do it. Well, I typed it because I could not speak, which somewhat undermined my point. A couple of months in and I actually enjoy the sessions as well as finding them helpful and useful. Imagine the owner of a failing restaurant on Kitchen Nightmares who initially resents Gordon Ramsey (despite applying to be on the show) and hates all his ideas before eventually, after an expensive remodel and one of those pep talks where Gordon uses the f-word more than any other, repeatedly slaps the back of his hand in the palm of the other and calls the owner 'big guy', magically changes his tune and comes round. They appear to be, as I said, a chat. And we chat about all sorts of things. She, as I am sure most psychologists do, personifies the idea of listening to actually understand, rather than listening simply to respond. We all need that opportunity to talk to someone who just listens. I have friends who I can rely on for that too (I think my therapist likes them), of course I do, but having someone whose job it is to listen has its advantages. And, of course, there is also the panic element of why I am talking to her, which she is equipped to talk to me about and hopefully deal with.

I think I find therapy bizarre because it has transpired to be absolutely nothing like I imagined it would be. Granted my main idea of therapy comes from Two and a Half Men and the very sarcastic relationship Charlie has with his therapist, but still. I do sit on a couch. And I talk. I think that's where my expectations and reality diverge. I speak a lot and, for some reason, I expected to speak less. As if it would be about her drawing on her wealth of knowledge and expertise and, in using it, speaking to me at great length, rather than actually about me. I expected it to be more 'pschology-ish'. I expected more psych talk, more references to Freud and Bandura (indeed, the only references to Freud have been made by me) and it generally to be a bit more technical. I realise now that would be utterly pointless. No doubt my therapist references established theories but she usually does so only by name and does away with technical details. What benefit would they be to me?

I also expected not to enjoy it. I guess that was a mix of having to admit something was wrong, not wanting to speak to her, or anyone, in the first place and, as mentioned, having no idea, really, want to expect. I could not have been more wrong. Perhaps I am lucky in that I have a lovely therapist who, despite my initial judgment, completely understands what I talk to her about. But I have also benefited, I think, from a genuine love of Psychology and Philosophy. Sessions have afforded me the opportunity to speak about topics that I enjoy. I suppose that's not the point. Or, at least, not the main idea but who cares? Sure we talk about people and how I feel. We talk about my week and how different things that have happened have impacted me. We talk about panic attacks and my response. All of that has been very useful, but as much as I do enjoy hearing her opinions on the different people in my life, nothing compares to our discussions about topics in Psychology and Philosophy. Normally when I bring up Philosophy, I fear people react with an impending sense of doom and scan the area for the nearest exit. Indeed, I worry that my chances of securing pupillage at Lord David Pannick's chambers who spoke recently at J-Soc, have taken a severe hit after he saw me smiling with glee when he mentioned Socrates' death for corrupting the youth. Not so in sessions and I think enjoying them as certainly helped them to be useful.

So, my therapist probably does not like you. Or maybe she does. But it's fine, because we're probably talking about Plato's Symposium anyway.

Monday 2 May 2016

The Antisemitism Conspiracy

A number of issues have come out of the antisemitism scandal that is sadly engulfing the Labour Party. Unfortunately, the vast majority of it leads me to believe that the Left simply does not care about Britain's Jews or antisemitism any more. Let's be clear if your response to antisemitism is to either a) attempt to define what is and is not antisemitism or b) claim that suggestions of antisemitism is some sort of right-wing/Zionist/Jewish conspiracy to undermine Jeremy Corbyn then you are probably an antisemite. Or, at best, you simply do not care about antisemitism, which probably makes you an antisemite anyway.

There are plenty of discussions we can have. I will happily sit down with you and discuss Israeli policy. I have no qualms attempting to navigate the minefield that is the Israel-Palestinian conflict, anti-Zionism and the Middle East in general. I will, of course, point out that the discussion will probably get us nowhere. Not because we are not well-intentioned or because either of us will try and shut down debate with pointless statistics about Hamas rockets or Palestinian deaths, but because ultimately it does not matter. Peace will not be possible because of anything we discuss. Peace is possible when the Israeli and Palestinian leadership decides that enough is enough and reaches out to the other side. I strongly believe peace is possible but I can guarantee you it will not be achieved over a Facebook discussion thread.

Anyway. We can have all of those discussions, pointless as they may be, but one thing I refuse to do is have those discussions in the context of antisemitism in the Labour party. Whether or not it is antisemitic to use Nazi imagery to suggest the problems of the Middle East would be solved if we transported the Jews to America has nothing to do with Israeli policy. Suggesting that Hitler supported Zionism before going mad cannot be explained away by saying that critiquing Israeli policy is not antisemitic. And none of it can be explained by suggesting that my only goal is to undermine Jeremy Corbyn's leadership. Believe it or not, my only goal is to rid the Labour Party of antisemitism. Antisemitism comes in many forms. The most sinister is the antisemitism espoused by people like Diane Abbott or Len McCluskey whose response, rather than condemn antisemitism, is to suggest the real problem is not antisemitism but a conspiracy to undermine Jeremy Corbyn's leadership. It would be as disgusting as me suggesting that condemning Zac Goldsmith is actually an Islamist attempt to undermine David Cameron's leadership.

Antisemitism seems to not exist. Rather, it is some sort of conspiracy conjured up by Jews/Zionists/right-wingers. The irony, of course, is that this is antisemitism of the most disgusting form.

Monday 11 April 2016

The Moral Law?

Is it not amazing how many moral experts and authorities we have walking among us? I am referring, of course, to the outcry in response to the news concerning Cameron's offshore tax dealings. The moment it was reported, it was obvious that the vast majority of the country would suddenly become very annoyed, accuse Cameron of acting, at the very least, immorally and, if you are Jeremy Corbyn, somehow botch up the opportunity to go on the attack. As Labour continues to be caught up in accusations of anti-Semitism, with my old university Warwick providing the latest headline, it seems that this is exactly what has happened:

Are people annoyed? Yes.

Do they think Cameron did something illegal? Probably not, we seem to understand the difference between avoidance and evasion.

Do they think, regardless, that what Cameron did was definitely immoral? Yes. Without question.

Because, suddenly, we are all the authority on what is and what is not immoral. Suddenly, what is legal and what is illegal is utterly irrelevant and we should all focus on what is immoral. Suddenly, despite the millennia Philosophers have spent arguing over morality and moral principles, we can all agree that finding legal ways to minimise your tax bill, open to everyone, is absolutely definitely immoral without a shadow of a doubt.

Except our legal system is, at least in part, independent of our morality. Sure, the Law, in many ways, matches up with our culturally accepted moral values. And sure, the Law, in other ways, has developed in response to changes in our culturally accepted moral values. But, ultimately, our legal system is a system of Laws. It is not a system of someone's moral values. Precisely because we cannot agree on moral values. And the public continues to be outraged when our legal system and an individual's moral principles do not match up, conflating legality with morality. We would do well to avoid (but, of course, not evade) such a conflation.

If you want to accuse Cameron of acting immorally, then that is your prerogative. Indeed, having different moral values is encouraged in a democracy. But telling me that somehow your moral values trump legal values, that your moral values are more important than someone else's, well that becomes a tyranny. Indeed, it becomes a tyranny arising precisely from the freedoms encouraged by a democracy. The very freedoms Plato warned us about in the Republic. Maybe he was somewhat right after all.

Wednesday 30 March 2016

Israeli and Vegan? I Bet You Hate All Palestinians

How do you know if someone is a vegan?

Don't worry. They'll tell you. And they'll probably tell you again. And just as you're leaving, they'll probably mention it again.

How do you know if someone is an anti-Semite?

Don't worry. They'll tell you. Not by using those exact words, that would be too simple. You have to work it out by reading between the lines of their obsession with and hatred of all things Israel. You have to decipher the criticism of anything Israel does but sure enough, once you have done that, there it will be. A hatred bordering on the irrational. An obsession bordering on the psychotic.

I recently stumbled across an article in Warwick's Globalist. You can read it here. Since I left Warwick last year, I've stumbled across articles in the Globalist that have increasingly left me shaking my head. This one is no different. Vegan-washing is the latest accusation thrown at Israel and, presumably, "pro-Israel" activists. That somehow anyone who happens to note Israel's animal rights record is not just noting Israel's animal rights record. No, instead, it is some cynical ploy to divert attention from war crimes and occupation and all these other charges levelled against Israel.

This is an interesting, if bizarre, assertion. Let's deal with it point by point:

First, the author links us to a BBC radio show, aired during 'Veganuary'. Let's not forget what Veganuary is. A month about Veganism and raising awareness and encouraging people to attempt it for a month and, presumably, continue beyond. It is not a month about Israeli war crimes. Or the IDF's "illegal and brutal occupation". Or "illegal settlements". No, believe it or not, it is a month about Veganism. It is not, then, at all surprising that the BBC should run a piece about Veganism. It is not surprising that it should do so and interview an Israeli. And, lastly, it is not surprising that it should run a piece about Veganism, interview an Israeli and choose to focus on Veganism. In fact, the opposite would have been surprising. Imagine the following:

RADIO PRESENTER: Welcome to today's show on Veganism in the IDF

ISRAELI: Hello, thanks for having me

RP: First, can you please explain to my why you are engaged in a brutal and, should I also say, illegal occupation of Palestine?

I: Sorry, what?

RP: Do you personally believe all Gazans should be murdered or do you just act on orders?

I: Erm...

RP: Please, all my listeners who have tuned in to hear about Veganism would like to know if you support the mass displacement and murder of Palestinians. Oh and that illegal occupation. Have I mentioned that yet? Because on this show about veganism, I'd be damned if I don't discuss the occupation.

Do me a favour. A show about Veganism, in a month dedicated to Veganism, is not vegan-washing if it discusses, wait for it, Veganism.

Second, the author, in making the claim about 'the media' links us to, The Times of Israel, Ha'aretz and the BBC, amongst others. I could easily have found links on these websites condemning Israel for all of the charges the author levels. Accusing 'the media' of vegan-washing by publishing articles on Veganism but not mentioning the occupation would be as absurd as me publishing an entire article condemning the BBC for reporting an Israeli strike on Gaza and not mentioning the fact that my cousin's next door neighbour's cat is a vegan. (For the record, I have no idea if my cousin's next door neighbour's cat is vegan, but I presume, as part of the Israeli PR machine, if s/he isn't, s/he will be shortly.)

Third, the author condemns organisations like PETA for 'flocking to commend Israel for championing the vegan movement'. As if it is a crime for an animal rights organisation to maybe suggest that other armies should be more vegan-friendly. Trust me, you can call for armies to be more vegan-friendly, like the IDF, and condemn an occupation. I presume the author believes that PETA should add a caveat: Please be more vegan-friendly, but do us a favour and don't also brutally occupy Palestine. To support the IDF for its vegan-friendly attitude is not to devalue the Palestinian cause or plight. One can both praise the IDF for being vegan-friendly and either a) remember you're an animal rights organisation and steer clear of political conflicts that have nothing to do with you and/or b) support the Palestinian cause.

Fourth, the Times of Israel is accused of arguing that being a vegan is somehow written into Jewish Law. To argue that because of the prohibition on mixing MEAT and milk, Jews are more accepting of substitutes is not to suggest that 'accommodating a vegan diet is somehow written into Jewish religious constitution'. Read the sentence again. Mixing meat and milk. The prohibition is on the mixing of the two, not the eating of either. The assertion being made is that Jews are used to milk substitutes, which is true. Many Israeli/Kosher desserts do not contain milk - ironically, given the author's accusation, because of our preference as a culture for meat meals. Find me a non-kosher, milk containing dessert and I will show you a milk-free Kosher version. It is remarkably easy to give up milk as a Jew. (Until Shavuot when we are basically obligated to indulge in as much cheese as possible.) To point this out is not to say that being a vegan is written into Jewish Law, but rather than from the starting point of having an abundance of  milk-free desserts, becoming a vegan is easier. The J-Post article is absurd. I reject its contents for exactly the same reason I reject the content of the Globalist article, ironically.

Finally, the author ends in typical fashion for an article of this type. We get an: "I am sure Israelis do not support the occupation" and an: "I am sure the vegans in Israel have honourable intentions".  G_D forbid the Israeli media report this. G_D forbid the IDF accommodates this. G_D forbid, indeed. No, apparently, doing this is just a cynical attempt to deflect attention from war crimes. When the Israeli media reports that there are Israeli vegans, it is not reporting a mere fact, it is deflecting attention from the occupation it reported in other articles. When the IDF accommodates vegans, it is not just accommodating vegans, it is making the argument, "We must be a good army, we make it easy for vegans to kill Palestinians too."

Israel either kills Palestinians and brutally occupies their land or deflects attention from this fact. Israelis who are vegans might have honourable intentions, indeed, they might even do the honourable thing and object to the occupation and all the other things I, the self-appointed authority on morality, think are terrible. However, we cannot discount the fact that they might just be doing it to deflect attention from Israeli war crimes.

This is the argument being made. It is an argument as illogical as it is wrong; as hateful as it is misguided. It is an argument that makes it impossible for an Israeli to be coherently a vegan. I mean, they might have opposing political views to you. Shudder at the thought. And it is an argument that whispers anti-Semitism as quietly as possible, hoping the screams of I am just pro-Palestinian and engaging in legitimate criticism of Israel where she can do no right, only wrong will drown out the whispers. Not this time Clare, not this time.

Thursday 17 March 2016

Paris, Ankara and Moral Hypocrisy

I was one of the many who, with the best of intentions, changed their profile picture in response to the tragic events in Paris last November. I also posted a status, furiously dismissing allegations of moral inconsistency or hypocrisy when it came to our response to Paris compared with, for example, Beirut. I was livid that somehow what was important in the wreckage of the Paris attacks was whether I had changed my profile picture to a Lebanese flag. I think it is possible for me to think that the Paris attacks are tragic but also think that the Beirut attack was tragic at the same time, whether or not I change my profile picture for both or neither or just the one. And guess what, I did. I can do this amazing thing where I give a damn about innocent people dying everywhere in the world whenever I hear about it.

I wish Facebook had stayed completely out of it. I was the first to admit to friends that evening that the reason I changed my profile picture, or at least part of it, was because when you change it back, there is a chance for extra likes. Had Facebook given me the option to change it for Beirut or any other country, then I probably would have. Which brings me to now and an article I saw pop up on my Facebook by someone I have seen but never met and heard speak but never spoken to. It was about Ankara and the tragic events that unfolded there. The basic premise is this: I am a terrible person because I changed my profile picture back in November but I have not now. That, for me, brown lives matter less. I agree with the author in part. Once Facebook has started giving us this option to change profile pictures, it seems odd to pick and choose. We should have had the Ivorian flag option. We should have daily Iraq flag options. Heck, we should have an Israeli flag option. And yes, we should have had the Ankara flag option. There would be an almost endless stream of profile-picture-changing-opportunities, every time humans prove their capacity for complete and utter inhumanity...Ping. Another Facebook prompt. Rather, Facebook should back off. I hope not giving me the Ankara option is the beginning of a change in policy, is Facebook stopping this absurd foray into current affairs.

But back to the article in question. I reject its central premise. I can guarantee the author that I do not devalue 'brown' lives. I do not think the events that unfolded in Ankara are any less tragic, shocking, disgusting and so on than those in Paris. I mourn the loss of innocents in Turkey. The loss of innocents in the Ivory Coast. The loss of innocents everywhere. I am sure no one would question me on this. The point being made is more subtle. It is not that I do not care. It is that I care more about white lives than brown lives. The author is, of course, correct, as I have said, that it is wrong that Facebook has not allowed the Ankara option. But he is wrong to then jump to this endorsing a narrative of white supremacy and imperialism.

He is wrong because if he is correct, he is guilty of it himself. When he tells us which lives we have no intention of devaluing, he makes a curious inclusion and curious omission. That being the inclusion of Palestinian and the omission of Israeli. The inclusion and omission would have been equally curious the other way round, of course. But to mention one and not the other, on the author's own logic, is to be guilty of devaluing the lives of Israelis, Jewish and Arab, currently being taken with a brutal regularity by terrorism in Israel. Obviously, the author is under no obligation to mention every single group of people whose lives are being taken but not represented in social media coverage. That would be absurd. But to specifically mention Palestinian lives and not Israeli is as wrong as it would have been had he mentioned specifically Israeli lives and not Palestinian.

I am willing to give the author the benefit of the doubt. He does not mean to devalue the lives of Israelis. He mourns equally the deaths of innocent Israelis as he does those in Ankara, despite his neglecting to mention it. Perhaps he should climb down from the moral high ground and give the rest of us the benefit of the doubt too?

Tuesday 15 March 2016

Breaking the Stigma

It's hard not to let something like anxiety define who you are. It's hard because it begins to take over your life, from parents who are so concerned they seem to serve merely as a reminder that something is wrong rather than a comfort to the demands made of you by a therapist whether that be filling in behavioural chain analysis forms in-between meetings or just trying to remember certain feelings you have had. It's hard because it's difficult to separate yourself from that person who suffered from a panic attack or anxiety or, in my case, lost his voice. It's difficult to convince yourself that it's okay now. Or that you're through the worst of it. Not just because there are no guarantees that you are. There are constant reminders. The sudden feeling of not being able to breathe or forgetting the word you wanted to say and it feeling like a stutter. Or just feeling a bit panicky and worrying, for a split second, that this feels like the last time. 

They all serve as constant reminders that you are less than perfect but less than perfect in a way that is not seen as normal. Because we are all not perfect, that goes without saying. But some imperfections are more acceptable than others. Some imperfections are more understood than others. Some imperfections are just more "normal" than others, in the figurative sense of the word. Because mental health issues are normal. They are common and vast numbers of us will suffer from mental health issues at some point in our lives. But, for some reason, it is not a normal imperfection. Mental health issues are not fully understood, hardly productively discussed and rarely effectively engaged with as an issue. Despite how common they are. And by less than perfect, I include, of course, just not good enough. A feeling that somehow being depressed or having anxiety or suffering from panic attack means you just are not good enough.

I saw and shared a post on Facebook recently that neatly sums this up. Its caption was the following quotation from Kevin Breel:

"We live in a world where if you break your arm, everyone runs over to sign your cast, but if you tell people you're depressed, everyone runs the other way. That's the stigma. We are so, so so accepting of any body breaking down other than our brains. And that's ignorance. That's pure ignorance, and that ignorance has created a world that doesn't understand depress, that doesn't understand mental health. And that's ironic to me, because depression is one of the best-documented problems we have in the world, yet it's one of the least discussed. We just push it aside and put it in a corner and pretend it's not there and hope it'll fix itself"

It won't fix itself. If you suffer from mental health, you know that from experience. I had my first notable panic attack in America last June. I am still receiving bills and payment requests from American hospitals. I have had three or perhaps even four or five since, each of varying degrees of seriousness. I've been in hospitals, I've seen doctors, I've been prescribed medication, I've been told my stutter is related to anxiety, I've been told the exact opposite. I've sat with a GP who seemed that she could not care less that someone was sat in front of her reduced to communicating by writing down what he wanted to say. I forget the time of my appointment, but I can only imagine it was just before lunch time and she was especially hungry because I have never been rushed out of a room with such fervour. Despite meeting with her over 4 weeks ago, I still have not been contacted by the NHS Mental Health Service, which probably says just as much about the lack of funding as it does about the ignorance about the immediacy of these problems. 

I've been lucky to have had people who did not run in the other direction, who were very much there and maybe they did not understand, but that they tried was more than enough. Some people are not so lucky. That needs to change. If you ever need someone to listen to you or to talk to or heck, you just need someone to sit with you, then please just message me. Anytime. 

I will leave you with some words from Stephen Fry: 

"If you know someone who's depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn't a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather.

Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness and loneliness they're going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It's hard to be a friend to someone who's depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest and best things you will ever do."