Even antisemites are sometimes right

By Clive Sinclair, November 22, 2010

In 1966, I bought my parents a carriage clock for their silver wedding anniversary. It was last wound 30 years later, in December 1996, the month my father died. He was playing bridge with his neighbours, Norman and Hadassah, when his heart began to fail. An argument had developed, not about the game, but about Israel.

My father had voiced the opinion that the election of Benjamin Netanyahu was a disaster. "Four years, the settlement freeze lasted," he said, "and now he ends it overnight. That's not what I call giving peace a chance."

"The man is Prime Minister of Israel," said Hadassah, "don't you think he knows better than some shmendrik in Hendon (where this argument was taking place) what's good for his country?"

"As a matter of fact I don't," said my father.

But, as he argued his case with increasing passion, dizziness overcame him, and an ambulance summoned. At the Royal Free Hospital, I was assured by a nurse that my father's condition was not life-threatening. She was dead wrong. Like Yitzhak Rabin before him, my father died a martyr to peace.

I hate myself for many reasons but being Jewish isn’t one of them

Since then, there has been the Second Intifada, the Second Lebanon War, Operation Cast Lead, and other calamities, not least the re-election of Netanyahu, this time with a Foreign Minister who is to diplomacy what George W Bush is to etymology.

Some turn a blind eye to this Foreign Minister - Avigdor Lieberman - saying he is the cross Bibi must bear, but I see him as Bibi's id, poisoning political discourse with thoughts the PM dare not utter - yet.

Either way, the two of them are rapidly turning Israel into the world's favourite pariah state, a situation irksome only to those Jews who do not see the rest of the world as essentially antisemitic.

Oh, how convenient and morally uplifting it is to point to protestors of northern European appearance, who dress like Arabs and carry banners with slogans such as "Hamas 'R' Us", or emblems that show the Magen David and Swastika in unholy embrace, and say: "They are not anti-Zionists, they are antisemites". As if the equation immediately erased all Israel's crimes and misdemeanours.

My response is to ask: So what if they are? Although my parents' carriage clock no longer works, that doesn't mean it always tells the wrong time. Likewise, just because a person is an antisemite it doesn't follow that he's a priori wrong.

And if someone like my father chooses to criticise Israeli policies, it's not because he is a self-hating Jew, but because he is not prepared to live in a state of self-denial. I'll tell you now that I hate myself for many reasons, but being Jewish is not one of them.

It so happens I have been to Israel twice this year, both times to see the painter Yosl Bergner, who turned 90 on October 13. To celebrate the event, there was a retrospective of his work at the Dan Gallery in Tel Aviv. But there were new paintings, too, of anthropomorphic kitchen utensils.

In a painting called Witness, Bergner casts himself as a pepper pot, watching as the other utensils crash to the floor in chaotic disarray. In another, National Hero, the pots and pans salute a silver grater, while the sky above blackens with extras from Hitchcock's The Birds. It is not an optimistic vision.

Bergner has lived in Israel since 1950 and, he says, the situation has never looked bleaker. "There's so much hatred here, it's unbelievable." This from a man who loves Jews indiscriminately.

The casual observer might even think him mad. After all, Tel Aviv is buzzing with so much life you could bottle it and sell it as honey, and even Jerusalem has a certain fizz. But if you want to see anger, go to Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem on a Friday afternoon.

There you'll see the remnants of the peace camp - including the writer David Grossman - protesting against the eviction of Palestinians from the area. The arrivistes scream abuse at the protestors, the protestors scream right back, and the Arabs watch and pray for the fall of a house divided.

The division is real, and terrifying. At the start of Operation Cast Lead, soldiers were given two packs; one prepared by the army's education corps, the other by the IDF rabbinate.

The former explained the troubled history of the region since 1948, the latter contained a simpler message: "We are the Jewish people… God brought us back to this land and now we need to fight to expel the gentiles who are interfering with our conquest of this holy land".

Having read both, an officer felt it necessary to remind his men that the conflict was not "a war for the sanctification of the holy name, but rather one to stop the Qassams."

This is common sense, something Israel's government has abandoned for an unholy vision. To say as much is anything but antisemitic. It is a reminder that time is not on Israel's side.

Clive Sinclair's books include 'Diaspora Blues' and 'Clive Sinclair's True Tales of the Wild West'

Last updated: 11:12am, November 22 2010