Israeli soldiers patrol Israel's border with the Gaza Strip. Photo: Getty
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The left’s insistence on Jews apologising for being Jewish is anti-Semitic

Whenever the western left sides instinctively with Palestine my heart says, “Jew-haters” while my mind says, “Shut the f*** up, heart.”

Aside from breaking out in an inexplicable rash, there’s nothing quite as worrying to me as agreeing with Melanie Phillips. In a recent Spectator article, the distinguished gobshite argues that, in deeming Israel’s military response to Gazan rockets attacks “disproportionate”, the Left is essentially complaining that not enough Jews have been killed in the conflict. And, almost against my will, I found myself nodding along to her predictably abrasive words.

As I’m sure is clear by now, every time there’s a flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian violence, the term “anti-Semitism” is thrown about with about as much precision as Hamas’s rockets. This is neatly illustrated by another offering from the Spectator, this time by Douglas Murray. With as much restraint as a starved goat in Paperchase, Murray and Phillips both brand the Palestinians, and all who support them, anti-Semites. Every time this argument is wheeled out, I try to dismiss it as the reductive nonsense it is, and, every time, I struggle.

As the latest round of peace talks approach, and John Kerry starts using phrases like “steps forward”, we can only hope that the past few weeks of sickening violence – of Israel succeeding in turning Gaza into a living jigsaw puzzle, and Hamas failing to do the same to Israel - are drawing to a close. And, without wanting to make a tragedy that I merely watched on the news about me, I’m hoping that my own ethics crisis will return to its dormant state, once the rockets stop.

I’s a problem shared by many left-leaning Jews like me. Whenever the western Left side, instinctively, with Palestine my heart says, “Jew-haters” while my mind says, “Shut the fuck up, heart.” But my difficulty, I’ve come to realise, isn’t with legitimate critiques of the Israeli government, it’s with the flippant use of the word “Jews”. This is something of which both Left and Right are guilty. In Melanie Phillips’s article, the use of this word, instead of “Israelis”, paints all Jews as Zionist fundamentalists. Phillips seems to have decided (on behalf of all Jewish people) that we are, at heart, Israelis. Likewise, Hamas and their apologists frequently use the word “Jew” instead of “Israeli”. In the past few weeks, anti-Semitism has escalated throughout Europe. And, as usual, those to blame for all of the problems in the Middle East, if not the entire world, are “The Jews”.

In reality, many Jews, myself included, are highly critical of Benjamin Netanyahu’s contempt for diplomacy. And to be even more accurate, the Left’s gripe shouldn’t be with “The Jews” or “The Israelis”, but with the current Israeli government. Of course, the racism of some Israeli citizens is obvious. And if there were such a thing as a Worst Person Of The Year Award, I’d nominate (collectively) those who are treating the conflict as a spectator sport. But these people are not representative of all Israelis, many of whom deplore their government’s use of violence.

And yet, throughout the most recent bout of violence between Israel and Palestine and all the others before it that I can remember, the problem of anti-Semitism on the Left has been illuminated. While you’d basically have to be a brick wall to fail to sympathise with the Palestinians, the Left (as usual) has gone very quiet when it comes to condemning Hamas. Either that, or they’ve actively condoned their actions. Although Lib Dem MP David Ward has since apologised for tweeting his support for Hamas’s rocket attacks, the fact remains that Hamas are often painted as the good guys. Hamas are not just anti-Israel, they’re anti-Jewish, which, can I just remind everyone, is racist. Their charter, which explicitly calls for the mass killing of Jews, makes this abundantly clear. I hate to break this to you but, if you refuse to condemn Hamas on this point, at least, you’re an anti-Semite. I don’t give a shit how much you love Curb Your Enthusiasm: you’re still an anti-Semite. Or at least an anti-Semite by-proxy.

Last year, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters used an inflatable pig with a Star of David painted on it as a prop at a gig. As far as thinly veiled anti-Semitism goes, his veil was about as thick as budget toilet paper. In fact, the star was red, instead of the Israeli blue - brazenly representing Jews in general, rather than Israelis.

This notion that Jews should be ashamed of themselves over Israel isn’t exclusive to publicity-hungry, aging rock stars. When I was at uni, the student union implemented a campus-wide boycott of Israeli produce, to wit, one slightly manky orange. During the campaign, I remember arguing with one pro-boycott activist who proudly announced that her grandmother, right after the creation of Israel in 1948, had renounced her Judaism out of disgust. It struck me as sad that someone would abandon their identity because of the actions of a select few that share it. This incident, which lodged itself firmly enough in my mind for me to remember it five years later, is a perfect example of the Left’s insistence on Jews apologising for being Jewish.

And, for the record, I’m about as willing to apologise for being Jewish as I am to renounce my homosexuality. In case you’re reading my column for the first time, that translates as “not especially willing.” 

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

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Sheepwrecked: how the Lake District shows up World Heritage's flaws

Here's hoping future statements about farming and the environment aren't quite so sheepish.

“Extremists like George Monbiot would destroy the Lake District,” tweeted Eric Robson, presenter of Radio 4’s Gardener’s Questions. But he’s “just standing up for nature”, others shot back in Monbiot’s defence. The cause of the clash? The park’s new World Heritage status and the continuing debate over the UK’s “sheep-wrecked” countryside.

Tension is such you can almost hear Cumbria’s Vikings chuckling in their hogback graves – for sheep farming still defines the Lakes as much as any poem. Hilltop farmers, like Lizzie Weir and Derek Scrimegeour, have sweated the landscape into shape over generations. And while Wordsworth may have wandered lonely as a cloud, a few hundred pairs of pricked ears were likely ruminating nearby.

UNESCO’s World Heritage committee now officially supports this pro-farm vision: “The most defining feature of the region, which has deeply shaped the cultural landscape, is a long-standing and continuing agro-pastoral tradition,” says the document which recommends the site for approval. 

And there’s much to like about the award: the region’s small, outdoor farms are often embedded in their local community and focused on improving the health and quality of their stock – a welcome reminder of what British farms can do at their best. Plus, with Brexit on the horizon and UK megafarms on the rise, farmers like these need all the spotlight they can get.

But buried in the details of the bid document is a table showing that three-quarters of the area's protected sites are in an “unfavourable condition”. So it is depressing that farming’s impact on biodiversity appears to have been almost entirely overlooked. Whether you agree with the extent of George Monbiot’s vision for Rewilding or not, there are clearly questions about nibbled forests and eroded gullies that need to be addressed – which are not mentioned in the report from UNESCO’s  lead advisory body, ICOMOS, nor the supplementary notes on nature conservation from IUCN.

How could so little scrutiny have been applied? The answer may point to wider problems with the way the World Heritage program presently works – not just in Cumbria but around the world.

In the Lake District’s case, the bid process is set-up to fail nature. When the convention was started back in the 1970s, sites could be nominated under two categories, either “cultural” or “natural”, with the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) advising on the first, and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on the second.

Then in 1992 a new category of “cultural landscape” was introduced to recognise places where the “combined works of nature and man” are exceptional. This means such sites are always evaluated principally by ICOMOS, giving them more resources to research and shape the verdict – and limiting the input IUCN is able to make.

Another weakness is that the evaluation bodies can only follow a state’s choice of category. So if a state nominates a site as a Cultural Landscape, then considerations about issues like biodiversity can easily end up taking a back seat.

According to Tim Badman, director of IUCN’s World Heritage Programme, this situation is in need of redress. “The way in which this separation of nature and culture works is increasingly out of tune and counter-productive,” he says. “Every natural site has some kind of relationship with people, and every cultural site has some major conservation interest, even if it might not be globally significant. We should collaborate much more to make that a virtue of the system.”

The more you think about it, the madder the notion of a “Cultural Landscape” sounds. Landscapes are, after all, inherently scoped out by man, and there is little in the natural world that humanity has left untouched. Especially those in Western Europe and especially those, like Cumbria, that have been felled and farmed by a succession of historic invaders.

Relationships between advisory bodies are also not the only failing in UNESCO’s approach; relationships between nations and the convention can be problematic too. At this month’s meeting of the committee in Poland, it was decided that the Great Barrier Reef would, once again – and despite shocking evidence of its decline – not be on UNESCO’s “In Danger” list. It prompts the question, what on earth is the list for?

The reluctance of many nations to have their sites listed as In Danger is a mixed blessing, says Badman. In some cases, the prospect of being listed can motivate reform. But it is also a flawed tool – failing to include costed action plans – and causing some governments to fear attacks from their domestic opposition parties, or a decline in their tourism.

On top of this, there is the more generalised politicking and lobbying that goes on. Professor Lynn Meskell, an Anthropologist at Stanford University, is concerned that, over the years, the institution “has become more and more political”. At the most recent session of the World Heritage Committee earlier this month, she found nominations being used to inflame old conflicts, a continuing regional dominance by Europe, and a failure to open up many “at risk” sites for further discussion. “All Yemen’s sites are in danger, for instance” she says, “yet they couldn’t afford to even send one person."

Perhaps most challenging of all is the body’s response to climate change. At the recent committee gathering, Australia raised the subject by way of suggesting it cannot be held solely be responsible for the decline of the Great Barrier Reef. And Turkey attempted to water down a reference to the Paris Climate Agreement, claiming the language used was overly “technical” and that the delegates present were too inexpert to comment.

According to Tim Badman, climate change is certainly an area that needs further work, not least because World Heritage’s present policy on the subject is now a decade old. Even the most ambitious interpretation of the Paris Climate Agreement would still see very significant damage done to Heritage sites around the world, Badman says.

There is hope of change, however. For the most polite yet sturdy response to Turkey’s objections – or, as the chair ironically puts it “this very small ecological crisis” – I recommend watching these encouraging reactions from Portugal, Phillippines and Finland (2h30) -  a push-back on technical objections that Meskell says is rare to see. IUCN will also be producing the second edition of their World Heritage Outlook this November.

Positions on the Lake District’s farms will also hopefully be given further thought. Flaws within World Heritage’s approach may have helped pull wool over the committee’s eyes, but future debate should avoid being quite so sheepish.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.