The unexamined hatred on our doorstep

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The Independent Online

Ten years ago I published a work of non-fiction entitled Roots Schmoots. It didn't have boy wizards or anyone looking for a modern Mr Darcy in it so people weren't standing reading it on every corner, but for a book about a man worrying away at his Jewish identity it did OK. I also made a television series to go with it. Again, though it contained no scenes of men kissing, or thin people showing fat people how to dress, the viewing figures were good.

Ten years ago I published a work of non-fiction entitled Roots Schmoots. It didn't have boy wizards or anyone looking for a modern Mr Darcy in it so people weren't standing reading it on every corner, but for a book about a man worrying away at his Jewish identity it did OK. I also made a television series to go with it. Again, though it contained no scenes of men kissing, or thin people showing fat people how to dress, the viewing figures were good.

The Americans wouldn't show it because they believed it demeaned Jews; several Arab countries wouldn't show it, presumably because it didn't demean Jews enough; and a number of critics cavilled at the title, taking the Roots to be a sneering reference to the black struggle for self-realisation, and the Schmoots to be a play on the Yiddish schmutz, meaning filth, and thus an attack on the politicisation of Jewish genealogy. That there were objections to it on the grounds of misogyny and homophobia as well I don't doubt. This is what you get when you go anywhere near religion. He who ventures into the irrational must anticipate an unreasoning response.

Yet here I go again.

Or here I will go again when I have finished this exercise in mine-sweeping, it being obligatory now, before addressing the words Jew or Israel, to establish your bona fides as one who is pro-Israel, but not philo-Israel, sympathetic to the original aims of Zionism but distressed by how those aims have been distorted, cognisant of the need for a Jewish homeland but opposed to the brutal imposition of settlements, anti-anti-Semitism but conscious that the charge of anti-Semitism can sometimes be a tool to defend the indefensible, so strictly speaking anti-anti-anti-Semitic.

That's me, anyway. Mr Liberal but with a slight bias caused by my caring a little more what happens to my fellow Jews than is strictly commensurate with contemporary liberalism. Though of course when I say fellow Jews I must not be understood as implying that people of other faiths and nationalities are not my fellows also. Allow me to make it plain that I love everybody, sympathise with everybody's pain, and wish the whole of humanity well.

Readers wondering whether this column will ever proceed beyond apologising for itself will have to hold their breath a little longer. I must say sorry, too, for expressing impatience more vehemently than is considered good form, with some of the views expressed in this newspaper of late, and not just of late but this very week, on the subjects adumbrated in my preamble - Jews, Israel, terrorists, bombings, all that.

As a person who does not have views or even believe in views - views are for fools, in my view - I am angry not so much with what my fellow columnists have been opining as with what they have been taking for granted, what one might call the complexion of their assumptions, or worse, the poetry of their prejudices.

Take, for example, the refutation in these pages last week of Israel's claim that it was bombing a training camp in Syria. "Do Palestinians really need to practise suicide bombing?" our writer wondered rhetorically. "Does turning a switch need that much training? Surely the death of a brother or a cousin by the Israeli army is all the practice that is needed."

What is elided there is the moral pause that a person must reasonably be expected to take - a pause enjoined upon us by every precept we think of as civilised - between loss and revenge. The unspoken assumption is that such a pause is not to be demanded, or even expected, in this instance.

In the other instance, that of Israelis who have lost brothers or cousins - and many had been lost that very day - the same elision is condemned as murderous. How the cause of peace is ever served by encouraging one of the parties to a conflict to believe that it is justified in spilling blood for blood, while that same right is denied to the other side, I do not know.

If we would break the circle of violence, we must be even-handed in our abhorrence of blood letting. To grant the one its "brothers and its cousins" and not the other is not only to fail of sympathetic imagination, it is to employ the heart in the service of incitement

Abjure views, I say, but at the same time beware poetry. What another Independent writer was doing last week, delivering flushed not to say rhapsodical encomiums on the loveliness of lady suicide bombers, Chechen and Palestinian, I cannot fathom, though I have scratched my head over it until it bleeds. Finding justification for slaughter in beauty? Surely not. Making us feel the sorrow of their loss?

Well, we can never feel enough of that, but are there not other losses to consider, and is it not unseemly, not to say tactless, not to say downright gross, to speak of "that pale skinned lovely, Zalikhan Elikhadzhiyeva", or Hanadi Jaradat, "another beautiful woman", and make no mention of the beauty of the dozens of innocent people they blew apart, the extinction of their loveliness being no less tragic, surely, than the extinction of the bombers?

More tragic, some would argue, since they were offered no choice in the matter of whether they wanted to stay pale-skinned or have no skin at all.

Such outrages to our common humanity - for I consider them to be no less - are not wilful, but slide between the spaces in the words we use, irrational and poisonous, unexamined, the eloquence of a hatred that does not even know it hates. And this on our very doorstep.

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