Richard Ingrams’s Week: Some friends will stick to you through thick and thin

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The Independent Online

The expulsion of a Mossad man from London following the affair over the forged passports used by a gang of Israeli assassins in Dubai is welcome, if only to remind us that regardless of this single expulsion Mossad operates openly out of London with the full approval of the British Government.

This is surprising considering the kind of things that Mossad gets up to – forging passports, assassinating the political opponents of the Israeli government, kidnapping those like the nuclear technician Mordecai Vanunu (who spent 12 years in solitary confinement for daring to tell the world about his country's nuclear weapons) – behaving in other words like state–licensed gangsters. Surprising, too, is the way politicians are happy to describe themselves, even when engaged in expulsions, as friends of Israel. The Prime Minister himself comes into this category, as his friend Sir Martin Gilbert recently reminded us.

What this amounts to is that these people are proud to be friends of a country that operates a system of apartheid in territory which it has illegally occupied and colonised, that subjects the people who live in that territory to intolerable restrictions, that thinks nothing of killing large numbers of them, including women and children, to punish them for daring to launch rockets and that continually lies about its actions as it does about the criminal activities of Mossad.

If in the days of apartheid you had proclaimed yourself a friend of South Africa you would have been regarded as some kind of right-wing racist. Yet no special odium nowadays attaches to those friends of Israel from Gordon Brown downwards. It is all rather puzzling.

Politicians: gullible or greedy?

Lawyers have always fallen back on the taxi-rank principle when accused of acting for undesirables. The point they make is that you can't pick and choose your clients any more than the humble cabbie.

It is new, though, for a politician to compare himself to a taxi driver, as Stephen Byers, did on the now famous Dispatches programme this week. Senior Blairite figures had been severely compromised by journalists posing as PR men hoping to recruit politicians to advance the interests of their clients.

The bogus American company called Anderson Perry set up to entice the ministers came with some very authentic-sounding bullshit on its fraudulent website: "Anderson Perry Associates is a bespoke consultancy that helps organisations and individuals maximise their potential and exceed expectations."

Even so, it would not have taken a great deal of digging to discover that there was no such organisation. And the astonishing thing is that none of those involved seems to have made any serious attempt to check out the firm's credentials. Who was behind it? Who were its clients? If they had doubts they didn't let it bother them. On the taxi principle it was enough that they had been flagged down by someone with a bulging wallet.

You couldn't have had a more vivid illustration of the greed of the New Labour team. But just as worrying was their gullibility and the ease with which they were lured into the honey trap – suckers for rich Americans just like their one-time leader Blair.

The man matches the music

Some years ago, Dr Desmond Morris, the author of The Naked Ape and a once-popular telly zoologist, claimed in a book about cats that Brahms had been in the habit of shooting cats out of the window of his Vienna apartment with a harpoon.

So outraged was he by this highly damaging allegation that a Mr Callum MacDonald, an expert on Brahms, spent two years looking into it. His conclusion was that the story was quite untrue and that it originated in a crude smear put about by Brahms's jealous rival Wagner.

That explanation has the ring of truth. Brahms was a lovable if somewhat gruff old boy – he once left a gathering with the parting words "if there is anyone here I have not insulted, I apologise" – whereas Wagner was an altogether obnoxious individual with any number of unappealing characteristics. The death this week of his long-lived grandson Wolfgang reminds us that his descendants were little different, permanently squabbling among themselves and insulting one another in hurtful memoirs.

Despite this, Wagner continues to have his admirers, the latest to come forward being the ubiquitous Stephen Fry whom, as reported in yesterday's Independent, has now made a film for the BBC extolling his hero. Like the late Bernard Levin who wrote endless articles in praise of Wagner in The Times, Fry has to try to persuade us that someone can be an altogether loathsome individual and simultaneously be able to create great works of art. But it isn't possible. The sad truth is that Wagner's music is just as obnoxious as the man who wrote it.

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