The JC Letters Page, 18th January 2019

Liz Jessel, Dr Anthony Joseph, Dr Gabriel Martindale, S M Halpern, Baroness Deech and Michael Bayer share their views with JC readers

January 17, 2019 13:07

Stop using misleading mental health cliches

Last weekend the community saw something fantastic happen — our press taking the time to focus on mental health (When ending stigma is a matter of life or death, January 11). Dozens of synagogues and other organisations gave sermons, held discussions and ran activities. Most bravely, many in our communities stood up for the first time to share the impact of mental ill health on their own lives. 

Jami’s third annual Mental Health Awareness Shabbat continues to gain momentum as it helps to reduce stigma.

However, we still have a long way to go. Articles about mental health in the press, including in this very publication, often illustrate their very powerful content with a stock image of a person holding their head in their hands. 

As we will have heard directly last Shabbat, people with mental health problems don’t look depressed all the time! These ‘head clutcher’ images have been acknowledged by charities and campaigners as actually being harmful — the hidden face can exacerbate the stigma associated with those living with a mental illness and put people off seeking help. Just because someone isn’t curled in a ball holding their head doesn’t mean they are not struggling and that we need to offer support. 

Liz Jessel
Head of Development, Jami

Cromwell didn’t do it

I understand the general thrust of Dr. Jacobs’ arguments concerning some of the tensions in the relationship between Anglo-Jewry and the other inhabitants of these islands (Letters, January 11) although I feel he is being slightly harsher on the Anglo-Saxons than I myself feel about them.

However his letter contains one factual error: the Edict of 1290 is still on the statute book. 

Cromwell did not succeed in repealing it nor has any subsequent attempt been made so to do. What Cromwell did achieve, in a characteristically English compromise, was a tacit agreement that if Jews came to England (following the petition to Cromwell of Menassah ben Israel) the Edict would not be enforced against them. 

Cromwell had his motives including a hard-headed realisation of the benefits for Britain if Jewish merchants settled here and brought their international trading connections with them, combined with a somewhat superstitious theology that if the Jews returned to all the corners of the earth the Messianic age would be hastened into existence. 

Could such a “gentleman’s agreement” attitude be of any use in our current struggles over Brexit and the Irish backstop?

Moving forward to the last century, Oswald Mosley was advised about the Edict of 1290 and tried to exploit its restrictions on Jews living in Britain including having them expelled from UK. Luckily in this case, our community benefitted from the pragmatism that in England enforcement of legality acknowledges the validity of both statute and case law. Since it has been long held that Jews have the same rights as any other citizens in holding property in UK, Mosley’s efforts were soon consigned to the dustbin.

Dr Anthony Joseph
Emeritus President, Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain

Bibi’s success story

For as long as I can remember, I have been informed that Israel must adopt more liberal policies or risk international isolation. In the past, I accepted this as a valid argument, if not necessarily a conclusive one, since Israel’s international relations are only one factor among many that needs to be considered. 

Recent years, however, have seen an unprecedented turnaround in Israel’s position, including both a cooling of tensions with Arab states and close relations with popular nationalist governments in India, Hungary, Brazil, the Philippines and elsewhere, not to mention the administration in America.

When the facts change, one might have thought, we change our mind. However, Jonathan Freedland (Here’s hoping we see the back of Bibi at last, January 11) tells us that it is precisely because of his string of successes in the international arena that Prime Minister Netanyahu must be removed. 

Apparently, the only governments which Israel is allowed to have good relations with are ones of which Mr Freedland approves — that is, unpopular liberal governments in western Europe. 

Of course, to achieve that goal Israel must, on the one hand, make unreciprocated concessions to the Palestinians which imperil the lives of its entire population, and, on the other, dilute its distinctive national character until it is just another ‘economy with a flag’. 

Netanyahu has built his political career on pursuing policies that promote the economic well being and cultural cohesion of majority population. He naturally finds common cause with foreign leaders who do the same. Mr. Freedland is at liberty to prefer governments that show open contempt for their national identity and traditions while enriching a theoretically egalitarian elite, but he should not be surprised that majorities everywhere want governments that take their side.

Dr Gabriel Martindale

Jonathan Freeland is critical of Binyamin Netanyahu but probably not sufficiently harshly.

During the period of the Netanyahu premiership, Israel’s GDP has increased dramatically and the state is now regarded as as a booming economy and hi-tech, global powerhouse. 

During the same period, however, on campuses throughout the UK, Europe and America, antipathy towards the policies of the Likud government headed by Netanyahu, has at least trebled from previous years.  

Political corruption under his leadership has proliferated throughout government including his own family.   As a consequence, antisemitic feeling against Israeli government policies of illegal settlement and the decade-old blockade of essential goods and services to a 1.8 million strong civilian population in Gaza under the pretext of arms control, has now increased to a level that should concern every single Jew and Jewish community throughout Europe.  

This antipathy is not a phenomenon that will just disappear. On the contrary, it gains strength every day, fed by the daily reports of Israeli brutality against the other indigenous people of Palestine.

Israel is now a far more dangerous place than prior to the Netanyahu administration and its Jabotinski formula of armed occupation, expansion  and domination.  Netanyahu may well have  improved his own personal situation and that of his family but has done the opposite for the future of Israel and the safety and security of the next generation.

Unfortunately, that potential danger is not confined to Israel.  It is even greater towards the Jewish Diaspora who have had to bear the brunt of the global opprobrium towards the Netanyahu government.

As Jonathan Freedland has so perceptively written, we hope ‘that we at last see the back of Binyamin Netanyahu and the rotten politics he personifies’. 

For otherwise, there’s a very real danger of a growing movement to make both Britain and Europe, Judenfrei. That would be the ultimate disaster for Jewish life in the Diaspora and would serve to make the state of Israel the largest ghetto in the world.

S M Halpern
Stanmore, HA7

Site makes no sense

The siting of the planned Holocaust Memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens makes no sense because it will be destructive of the park surrounds and there are reasonable objections to the design. The 22 prongs will not convey to the passerby what is being commemorated and nothing about them signifies the death of 6 million Jews. Building it there in the face of these protests will undermine the very message of co-existence that it is supposed to convey. Even more seriously, the case that it must be next to Parliament in order to send the message that democracy protects against genocide is misleading. Religious teaching and ethnic hatred should not be absolved of their greater responsibility. 

The genocides of Jews, indigenous peoples of N and S America, Armenians, Kurds, Roma and Bosnians, to list but a small sample, show that survival depends on having one’s own state and means of self defence. If the Holocaust Learning Centre does not go on to address this, it will do little to stem the rise of antisemitism today, in the guise of antiZionism. There are many Holocaust Memorials around the world: we need evidence of their effectiveness in reducing antisemitism. The Holocaust was not a one-off historical event: the evils that gave rise to it are alive today. 

Baroness Deech
House of Lords

Reading the Torah

The answer given to question 2 of the Etgar Challenge (January 11) is incorrect according to Rashi (Exodus 10 v22), who says there were six days of darkness, quoting the Midrash Rabbah. 

Verses 22 and 23 read: “....there was thick darkness in the land of Egypt for three days. No-one could see anyone else and no-one could get up from his place for three days....”. 

As there is no punctuation in a Sefer Torah, the foregoing can be read without the full stop as, “....there was thick darkness in the land of Egypt, for three days no-one could see anyone else, and no-one could get up from his place for three days....”. 

There would otherwise be no additional information provided by the second phrase of “for three days”.

Michael Bayer
London NW11 

January 17, 2019 13:07

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