A week of weakness


By Marcus Dysch
December 15, 2011
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While our non-Jewish friends and colleagues wind down in advance of the festive period and we look forward to the joys of Chanucah, I find myself, as usual, rather disgruntled.

Never mind the season of goodwill, this has been a strange week and one in which I’ve spent a considerable amount of time shaking my head in disbelief.

When I first saw the story about Tory MP Aidan Burley’s presence at a Nazi-themed stag do late on Saturday night I was disgusted, as I expect were most of you. I felt sure that when the JC spoke to Jewish community representatives this week there would be outrage.

There was, from some people. The Board of Deputies, the Holocaust Educational Trust, and other right-thinking groups were "appalled", "alarmed" and "insulted" by Mr Burley’s mindless stupidity.

But what of the Conservative Friends of Israel? CFI is one of the largest parliamentary lobby groups and works with dozens of Mr Burley’s colleagues.

CFI director Stuart Polak issued a statement: "I have worked closely and travelled to Israel with Aidan Burley. I know him well and he does not have an antisemitic bone in his body. The actions of his friends were unacceptable and inexcusable. Aidan should not have been associated with this. However, Aidan is both a friend of Israel and a friend of the Jewish community."

Oh, well that’s alright then. He enjoyed a free holiday in sunny Israel. He’s a mate. I hadn’t realised.
I’ve heard the old excuse "some of my best friends are Jewish" plenty of times, but never "some of my best friends' friends like to dress as Nazis, it’s fine". That’s a new one.

Last week Labour Friends of Israel felt able to criticise Labour MP Paul Flynn following his vile comments about British Ambassador to Israel Matthew Gould. Why is it that Mr Polak saw the need to defend Mr Burley following similarly insane behaviour? Maybe I’m missing something.

But this episode was merely the CFI dessert to the United Synagogue’s sour main course.

While I was away last weekend a friend emailed me asking if I’d seen the US weekly newsletter. I hadn’t, but expected there to be a full and frank apology following the publication of the organisation’s report into the missing graves of stillborn babies.

How wrong I was. I looked for the newsletter and found a despicable, all-guns-blazing attack on the JC, likening the publication to the very worst of tabloid press practices.

The US was "extremely saddened" that the JC had put itself "at odds with Jewish ethics". In revealing the web of lies which stretched from at least 1933 to 1985, and then rightly criticising the paucity of the US' own efforts to investigate the tragedy, we had "struggled to rise above the morality" of the now-defunct News of the World.

That’s strange, because I, along with the vast majority of British Jews, was rather more than "extremely saddened" by the United Synagogue’s long-running practice that left dozens (perhaps hundreds?) of bereaved parents distraught and misled about the final resting places of their poor children.

Yet US president Stephen Pack pops up in this week’s edition of the paper to praise "the positive contribution that the JC has made". Our revelations were, he says, "a fine example of journalism providing a real service to our community".

Make your mind up.

I don’t always agree with my colleague Geoffrey Alderman. I thought his attack on the Chief Rabbi last Friday a little unnecessary. But this week he hits the nail on the head. There is clearly now a question hanging over the US leaders' fitness for office.

Both cases leave me disconsolate. Where has the fortitude gone? Why are so many of our supposed "leaders" so spineless when it comes to criticising those who so blatantly deserve it? Whatever happened to actions having consequences? There must be many guilty consciences knocking around the apparent top tables of British Jewry.

We know that the days of politicians' honourable resignations are long gone. It seems that the "no blame" culture which seeps into every pore of British society has now sadly also found favour within our own communal organisations.

Thankfully there was one huge, shiny, bright spot. On Wednesday evening I had the pleasure to meet 83-year-old Eugene Black. He was a jolly Yorkshireman with a gentle handshake and a twinkle in his eye. But as I soon discovered, the Holocaust survivor also had an incredibly moving story to tell.

After being liberated from Bergen-Belsen at the end of the war, Mr Black spent more than 60 years desperately searching for the truth about his two sisters' fate. Thanks to the remarkable archives of the International Tracing Service he was able to discover the full tragedy of what really happened to them.

Mr Black could, undoubtedly, teach many people a thing or two about unfailing dedication, bravery and strength. Hearing him speak in the Locarno Room at the Foreign Office brought a tear to my eye. But the comments of others this week have brought sadness to my heart.

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