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,

Raphael

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 in the same way that, should it happen, I will struggle to celebrate the election of Hilary Clinton as the USA's first female president (ironically because of her record concerning women), 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 Anti-Semitism Conspiracy

A number of issues have come out of the anti-Semitism 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 anti-Semitism any more. Let's be clear if your response to anti-Semitism is to either a) attempt to define what is and is not anti-Semitism or b) claim that suggestions of anti-Semitism is some sort of right-wing/Zionist/Jewish conspiracy to undermine Jeremy Corbyn then you are probably an anti-Semite. Or, at best, you simply do not care about anti-Semitism, which probably makes you an anti-Semite 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 anti-Semitism in the Labour party. Whether or not it is anti-Semitic 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 anti-Semitic. 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 anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism comes in many forms. The most sinister is the anti-Semitism espoused by people like Diane Abbott or Len McCluskey whose response, rather than condemn anti-Semitism, is to suggest the real problem is not anti-Semitism 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.

Anti-Semitism 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 anti-Semitism of the most disgusting form.