Who are you calling anti-Semitic?

The charge is grave. It must not be misused.

Last night's Dispatches on Britain's Israel lobby was, as Mehdi Hasan posted earlier, a bold choice of programme for Channel 4 to commission. But it was a much-needed one, too, not least because of how the presenter, Peter Oborne, made clear the despicable way in which many have been seeking to equate any criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.

Oborne interviewed Rabbi David Goldberg, rabbi emeritus of the St John's Wood Synagogue in London, to make a point that has always been obvious to any sane person: namely, that some critics of Israel may be anti-Semitic, but it would be absurd to suggest it therefore follows that the act of criticism is in itself anti-Semitic. Rabbi Goldberg went on to say that he regarded Israel as enacting a form of apartheid in the West Bank, one of many statements he has made that has led him to be labelled a "self-hating Jew" by ultra-Zionists, as he has wryly acknowledged in the past.

The tactic of seeking to conflate the two attitudes -- one a prejudice, the other a valid political judgement -- is all the more odious because a low-level anti-Semitism that is hardly ever acknowledged does still persist in this country. I'm sure it wouldn't be allowed now, but it was common parlance when I was at school to refer to a mean portion of food as being "Jewish". While sitting in one of the rather less grand undergraduate associations to which George Osborne also belonged when we were both students, an old friend remarked that the problem with that particular club was that "too many Jews" were members. Only recently someone else I know prefaced a conversation with the words: "I have the greatest respect for those people, but . . ." Perhaps we are talking about a particular, rather old-fashioned level of English society here, but that doesn't excuse it.

Neither, however, is it in the least excusable to confuse this (still shocking) residual anti-Semitism with legitimate disapproval of some of the acts perpetrated by Israeli governments. I repeat, "some of the acts". For another distinction that is generally not made is that much of the criticism of Israel is not levelled at the state itself, and specifically not against its very existence. It is an expression of disappointment with Israel's political leaders, and frequently stems from a sadness at the loss of an older idea of Israel as a socialist, secular state, the object of genuine admiration for so long.

There are those who, like Daniel Barenboim, one of the outstanding conductors of our time and co-founder of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra with the late Edward Said, still try to fight for it. His passion and integrity should not be questioned. I still find the thought of Barenboim and his fellow musicians Leonard Bernstein, Isaac Stern and Zubin Mehta rushing to Israel to support their country after the outbreak of the Six Day War in 1967 (Mehta flew in on a plane full of ammunition) quite extraordinarily moving. Yet, to some, such as the current Israeli culture minister, Limor Livnat, who can't stand that Barenboim has consistently condemned Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, even this true patriot is "a real Jew-hater, a real anti-Semite".

Such comments almost make one want to despair. But this is a distinction that must be fought for. These are words that matter deeply. The charge of anti-Semitism is so grave that it cannot be allowed to be misused, and rightly so. Oborne and Channel 4 deserve our thanks for having taken a stand on this -- whatever odium they attract for having done so.


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Sholto Byrnes is a Contributing Editor to the New Statesman
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Tetris and sleep deprivation: how we can help emergency workers cope with trauma

First responders are at serious risk of developing PTSD during events like the Paris attacks. 

Some people seem able to deal with anything. They save a stranger from bleeding out in a bombed restaurant, protect passers-by from heavily armed gunmen, pull dead and dying people out of collapsed buildings, and they keep going because it is their job. These people are first responders.

When trauma goes on for days, as it has recently in Paris, however, the odds of them bouncing back from the violence, death and injury they are witnessing rapidly diminishes. They are at greater risk of developing a severe stress reaction known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). One study found that the worldwide rate of PTSD among first responders is 10 per cent, much higher than the 3.5 per cent rate among those not involved in rescue work.

Tetris to the rescue

So how best to address the problem? Research is in its infancy, but there are some promising studies. Emily Holmes’ group at the University of Cambridge has been looking at the benefits of playing Tetris, a video game, after a traumatic experience. The idea is that this could block the consolidation of traumatic memories so they don’t “flash back” later on.

For the study, her team first traumatised people by showing them distressing footage from public safety videos. The next day they invited them back into the lab to reactivate the memories with still images taken from the videos. One group then played Tetris for 12 minutes while the other sat quietly. Over the following week, the group who played Tetris had about 50 per cent fewer unwanted memories from the films compared to the group who didn’t.

The team concluded that playing Tetris helped individuals because it soaks up their visual processing capacity, making it harder for the brain to consolidate the visual parts of a traumatic memory.

Since it takes about six hours for the brain to cement a memory, the key is to play the game soon after trauma or within six hours of re-activating the traumatic memory. How long the helpful effects of playing Tetris will last and whether it will translate into helping people after real-life trauma is still unknown.

Talking it through

Other techniques, such as “updating”, taken from a highly-effective talking treatment for PTSD, may be more practical and easier to implement.

Like a detective, updating is a technique that focuses on finding new information and linking it to the case, the past memory. This is necessary because when the brain and body are in survival mode during trauma, the mind finds it difficult to encode all the relevant facts. Often key pieces of information that could make the memory less traumatic are lost. Updating links new information to someone’s memory of their trauma to make it less upsetting.

But can updating help to reduce unwanted memories after trauma?

We carried out a study, published in PLOS ONE, in which we traumatised people by showing them terrifying films of humans and animals in distress. We then divided our participants into three groups. One group watched the films again but were given new information about how long people suffered and whether or not they lived or died – essentially, they were updated. The second group watched the same films again but without the new information. And the third group watched films of humans and animals who were not in distress. The updated group had fewer traumatic memories and PTSD symptoms than the other two groups.

Updating is now being used by some UK emergency services. First responders will gather after critical incidents and update their memories of what happened before they go home.

Sleep deprivation

There are other techniques that may be helpful. One study found that depriving people of sleep may be useful in the aftermath of trauma.

But the same study found that a week after the trauma, people who had been deprived of sleep had the same number of unwanted memories as people who had slept well afterwards. Consequently, it remains unclear whether there would be any long-lasting benefits using this method. There are, however, certainly health risks linked to lack of sleep.

Still looking for a solution

To develop preventative interventions, we need to study newly-recruited emergency workers who haven’t yet suffered on-the-job trauma and follow them over time, spotting which “coping styles”, present before trauma, may predict their reactions afterwards.

For example, some people naturally react to stressful life events by dwelling on them, thinking about why they happened for hours on end. This strategy, called rumination, has been linked to PTSD in people who survived car crashes.

If rumination predicts PTSD in first responders, then preventative interventions could train people to spot when they are dwelling on an event and refocus their attention to the task at hand.

When we have identified which factors heighten emergency workers’ risk of developing PTSD, programmes can be developed to target those vulnerabilities. Only then can an intervention, directed at first responders most at risk of developing PTSD, properly protect them in their line of work.

The Conversation

Jennifer Wild is a Senior Research Fellow in Clinical Psychology at the University of Oxford

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.