Israel bail out Gaza? Cheeky, Tony

The request by the Quartet’s envoy that Israel shore up its enemy’s banking system is classic chutzpah.

By Geoffrey Alderman, October 23, 2008

What exactly is chutzpah? I am sometimes asked by non-Jewish audiences to explain this Yiddish (though derived from Hebrew) word, which like other "Jewish" terms has entered the everyday English language. Well, I say, its rough translation is "cheek", "effrontery", "audacity", "insolence". But none of these really convey the almost-admirable shamelessness that chutzpah is meant to convey. So I have been accustomed to illustrate the deeper meaning of chutzpah by telling the amusing story, which I am sure you all know, of the man who murdered both his parents but, when asked by the judge if he had anything to say before sentence was passed, asked for the court's mercy because he was, after all, an orphan.

Well, I have now abandoned this story for another. A few days ago a non-Jewish academic colleague phoned me for an explanation of chutzpah, which he had apparently heard on a TV soap.

"You want to know what's chutzpah? I'll tell you. It's Tony Blair pleading with the Israeli government to save the banking system of Gaza from collapse by pumping in around $28 million a month to keep the banks afloat. That's chutzpah."

In fact, the chutzpah enshrined in this appeal - revealed in a leaked memorandum sent earlier this month from the office of the Quartet's Special Envoy to the Middle East (ie Mr Blair) to the Israeli Defence Ministry - is even more outrageously audacious than the request itself.

To begin with (I explained to my non-Jewish friend), the Hamas government of Gaza - the elected Hamas government, I should say - is deeply anti-Jewish; its founding charter unashamedly reflects a primitive hatred of Judaism and of Jews, drawing on Judeophobic stereotypes derived from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and beyond. More than that, the elected Hamas government is unalterably opposed to the existence of the state of Israel. It is true (I admitted) that a truce is currently in place - though it is frequently violated on the Hamas side, and rockets continue to be launched from Gaza on to the civilian population of Israel. But the Hamas government has made it clear that this truce could be converted into a definitive peace treaty only if Israel were to agree to abolish itself.

But the chutzpah of Mr Blair in asking Israeli taxpayers to kindly prop up the banking system of this malevolent regime is at an even greater level of impudence than a consideration of just these facts might suggest.

While professing a hatred of Jews, Judaism and the Jewish state, the elected Hamas government of Gaza is perfectly happy to utilise, as its normal everyday currency, the Israeli shekel. Indeed, Mr Blair's request apparently did not actually mention 28 million US dollars, but spoke instead of a monthly subvention of 100 million shekolim.

Then (I continued) there is the not unimportant matter of Corporal Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who has been held by the elected government of Gaza for more than two years without so much as occasional access by the Red Cross.

You would think (wouldn't you?) that, as a friendly gesture to facilitate the transfer into Gaza of 100 million shekolim per month to prevent its entire banking system from collapse, those who comprise the elected government of this territory would - at the very least - offer such access, and that Mr Blair would in any case insist upon it. But they haven't and nor has he.

Well, at the end of this lesson my friend assured me that now he well understood the true meaning of chutzpah. But little did I know that Mr Blair was about to add yet a further dimension to this unique demonstration of super-cheek.

In last week's JC Mr Blair had the chutzpah to try and teach us all about "the virtues of charity and solidarity".

"I believe," he declaimed, "that faith groups have a crucial role to play in combating deprivation, hunger and poverty." And, for good measure, he had the chutzpah to prattle on about "the prophetic tradition" in Judaism, "the cry to bring people out of poverty and suffering" - as if you and I might not have been aware of these admonitions.

It is not we who need this lesson, Mr Blair. It is the elected government of Gaza, to whose survival you seem to have committed yourself at no matter what cost - so long as the cost is paid by the Jews. That's chutzpah for you!

Last updated: 12:24pm, October 23 2008