The JC Letters Page, 6th December 2019

JC readers share their views

January 10, 2020 15:13

‘Jeremy Corbyn is not antisemitic’ 

My uncle Max Levitas fought Mosley’s Blackshirts at Cable Street in 1936 and remained an anti-fascist activist until he died late last year aged 103, when the Jewish Chronicle published a generous obituary composed by Jeremy Corbyn (November 8, 2018). 

Max would have been proud: he was a Corbyn supporter to the end and saw attempts to label the Labour party antisemitic as a smear campaign. 

In his memory, I would like to remind readers that Ephraim Mirvis does not speak for all Jews on this matter. Max Levitas knew well what it was to fight racism. He had its true measure. In recent times, he shared platforms with many, from John Bercow (for Jewish Care) to Corbyn himself. 

He would, I am certain, have recognised Bercow’s fair judgment when the ex-Speaker said this month that, in 22 years of knowing Corbyn, he had “never detected so much as a whiff of antisemitism” from him.
Jeremy Corbyn again paid warm tribute to Max as the main speaker at his packed memorial service earlier this year, alongside the local Labour MP Rushanara Ali and the local rabbi. Antisemitic? Not from where I was sitting.

Dr Ben Levitas
London N10

I am 69 and Jewish. I was brought up in NW London and went to cheder. Though an agnostic, I identify with the Jewish community though it isn’t really one community because neither I nor most of my Jewish friends recognise what the Chief Rabbi recently said about Jeremy Corbyn and the supposed fear among all Jews. It is dangerous to use antisemitism to play politics, whoever does it.  

If he is genuinely concerned, why does the Chief Rabbi not speak out with similar force against poverty, homelessness and the racism of the far right Brexiteers — and papers such as the Daily Mail? The latter supported Mosley in the ’30s and continues to espouse hatred against those they see as “other”.

I am not 100 per cent behind Corbyn’s actions but Rabbi Mirvis does not speak for me in this vendetta, which can only benefit those who seek division in society.  

Teresa Lipson 

Irish heroes and villains

Thank you for the timely article, The Irish Leader Who Prayed for a Nazi Invasion by Robert Philpot, (JC, November 29, 2019) about General Duffy and his Blueshirts. At a time when Fascism is on the rise again in many parts of the world, and fascists and other racists are trying to scapegoat minority groups in Irish society, along with unprincipled politicians exploiting irrational fear and rational concerns about homelessness etc, it is particularly important to remind ourselves of the lessons of history regarding the rise of Fascism.

However, I think your article erred in putting the British government’s reaction to Fascism on a par with that of its Irish counterpart. While De Valera, whatever his other faults, was in determined opposition to the Blueshirts, this was not at all the situation in Britain with regard to Mosley’s Blackshirts.  

On October 4 1936, the British state sent 7,000 London police on foot, and all the mounted police available, to attempt to spearhead the Blackshirts through the Jewish community area in the East End. They were prevented from doing so in a huge battle in which some left-wing activists, Jewish defence activists and Irish reinforcements defeated the police and therefore also the Blackshirts.

The Daily Mail’s owner, Lord Rothermere, was a friend of Mussolini and Hitler and openly supported the Blackshirts, as did many of the British aristocracy (including members of the Royal Family) and leading businessmen. The supposed anti-fascist hero of the Establishment, Churchill, was actually an admirer of Fascism, advocating war only when he realised that the fascists would not be happy until they had bitten off a great chunk of the British Empire. This should not surprise us so much in Ireland, when we remember that he was the originator of the Black and Tans and the Auxiliaries.

I think the article could have given credit also to the Republican Congress and the IRA for their propaganda against Fascism and their active opposition to them on the street.

Diarmuid Breatnach

Robert Philpot is quite correct that Eoin O’Duffy was the leader of the Irish fascist Blueshirt Movement and led the XV bandera (Irish Brigade) in the Spanish Civil War.  

However, what was not mentioned is that O’Duffy was given a state funeral by Eamon De Valera, the leader of the Fianna Fail party and Irish Prime Minister.  Robert Philpot mentions Irish people who helped the Jews evade Nazi deportation -- Hubert Butle, his wife Peggy Guthrie, and the Vatican Catholic priest Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty. 

But Dr Thomas J Kieran, the Irish minister to the Vatican, did not help Allied forces and Jews escape from the Nazis. It was his wife, Delia Murphy, a famous Irish ballad singer who became one of O’Flaherty’s important assistants. 

Delia was a fervent supporter of the Allied cause after she had witnessed the German bombing of Belfast during the spring of 1941. 

Lastly, Philpot, does not mention Mary Elmes, the only Irish citizen to be accepted as a Righteous Among  the Nations by Yad Vashem. 

Mary, born in Cork in 1908, had been a voluntary children’s worker in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. Relocating to France, although not a Quaker she became the head of the Quaker Delegation in Perpignan, where she worked with refugees. During 1942, after it became evident that Jews were being  sent to their deaths, she smuggled over 200  Jewish children to safety — each time in the boot of her car. 

In 1943, Mary Elmes was arrested on suspicion of helping Jews escape, handed over to the Gestapo and spent six months in prison near Paris. 

When she was finally released, she resumed her work, helping more Jews escape from the Nazis.  At the conclusion of the war, she married  and settled in France. There is a bridge in Cork named after her. There needs to be more.

Anthony Waldman   
Hainault, Essex

Lib Dems’ Palestine error

The article about Luciana Berger and the position of the Lib Dems on Israel and Palestine (JC, November 29) says “conference places recognition of a Palestinian State in the context of fulfilling both parts of the 1917 Balfour Declaration”. But this declaration and the corresponding League of Nations Palestine Trusteeship, adopted unanimously by 52 nations, only refers to political and national rights of the Jewish people (Arab national rights were recognised in other League’s resolutions). 

The whole of Palestine, i.e. Western Palestine and Eastern Palestine (Jordan of today), was given to the Jewish people. Later, Jewish national rights were “postponed” and “withheld” in Eastern Palestine but never cancelled. Thus four-fifths of Jewish Palestine is already an Arab state. Also, Arab documents always said they are one people. But, anomalously, they have 22 states and vast areas. 

Dr Yair Sternberg

Organ donation

On the night my father (who was blind) died, 50 years ago, my mother, with the agreement of me and my sister and as we knew he wished, consented to his corneas being removed for transplant.

When we went to the hospital the next day we were deeply consoled to learn that, not far away, someone was going to recover the gift of sight.

I am beyond angry that Dayan Lichtenstein (JC, November 29) should see fit to say that our action was in breach of “Torah obligation”. 

I know others would have said ‘No’. That is their business. But we did what was right for us, for my father, and for that other patient.

Andrew Turek 
London, NW11

Violent threats

Last April, a Brighton Labour Party member urged her comrades to march against a synagogue in Hove.
A few months before, I had to light the candles of Chanukah under police protection at  Brighton and Hove City Council. 

I constantly receive messages, on Twitter and on other social media, in which I am called “a class enemy” and the like. Is Rabbi Howard Cooper (JC Online) absolutely certain that “Jews are not threatened with organised violence in this country” from the Far Left?  

Rabbi Dr Andrea Zanardo
Brighton & Hove Reform Synagogue

Dutch wartime rescue

I was recently listening to music on YouTube and, all of a sudden, We’ll Meet Again, sung by Vera Lynn, was played. This song was  very important to my grandfather Pieter Plugge, who served our country during the Second World War.  

I remember him telling me that, on May 14 1940, he went from IJmuiden to Fleetwood aboard the ship, the Maria R. Ommering — which was later used  to search for mines in the open sea. 

On board the ship, my grandfather found two Jewish boys, around the ages of six and eight and probably from Amsterdam. He looked after them until they were too far out at sea to return to IJmuiden. 

He tried to gain out some personal information about them, but they didn’t give him anything. He and all the other people on board made it possible for these children to reach England safely. After that, especially after the War, he tried to find these children,  desperately wanting to know what happened to them. But in those pre-internet days he never managed to get any answers to his enquiries.

I wonder if any JC reader might be able to help identify these boys, or their relatives, and give my grandfather the answers that he desired so much to find. He passed away 25 years ago now, but I would like to find the answers, so I can tell him when eventually “We’ll meet again”.

Mae de Weers Schilling

January 10, 2020 15:13

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