Michael Williams: Readers' editor

There is a fine line between modesty and secrecy

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At the height of the "cash for honours" affair, the rabbi of the synagogue attended by Labour's chief fund-raiser, Lord Levy, spoke out to deplore what he considered to be anti-Semitism driving the coverage in some of the media. He talked about "blatant nastiness" in some newspapers and claimed that Levy was being "hung out to dry".

Is the same happening again? It is no secret that David Abrahams and Jon Mendelsohn, the key players in the present "Donorgate" crisis, are Jewish. 'The Jewish Chronicle' says it fears an "anti-Semitic backlash", and 'Independent on Sunday' reader Jez Lewis from Shipley is unhappy with our own coverage. "I am surprised to see you raising the spectre of the Dreyfus case with your huge front-page headline 'I accuse' over a picture of David Abrahams. Then in your article inside you talk about Abrahams's Jewish family in Newcastle. What has being Jewish, let alone the Dreyfus affair, got to do with it? As soon as there's a bit of trouble the press can't wait to gleefully trot out the old canard that all Jewish businessmen are greedy and corrupt."

Those who remember their history will recall that it was the letter headed "J'accuse" from Emile Zola to the French president in 1898 that actually helped to exonerate Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish artillery officer falsely accused of treason. But I take your point, Mr Lewis. The association of our headline with the Dreyfus case was unfortunate though, I am assured, purely coincidental. And re-reading our article inside, I cannot see, in the context, that it was relevant to draw attention to Mr Abrahams's Jewish family origins.

However, we stayed clear of the approach of many of our rivals who have repeatedly captioned the picture of Mr Abrahams and Peter Watt together (which we used on page 16) "at the Jewish Museum". Would they have said it if they had been at the Natural History Museum?

'The Daily Telegraph' also linked Mr Abrahams on the front page with the Israeli ambassador, who, it said, had faced money-laundering allegations. Yet there is no such evidence against Mr Abrahams.

Such things may seem slight, but they serve to nurture the kind of poisonous anti-Semitism that is already surfacing in many blogs.

Mr Abrahams himself stirred the pot this weekend by denying comments attributed to him in 'The Jewish Chronicle' that he gave the cash secretly to avoid suggestions of a "Jewish conspiracy". So why did he do it? A Jewish friend suggests a straightforward explanation. The idea of charity is deeply inbred in Jewish culture. And Jewish business people in Britain consistently top the philanthropy league, as a recent survey showed. According to rabbinical tradition, the most admirable form of charity is to give anonymously. Charity is not supposed to glorify the donor, and benefactors who are true to their religion will always withhold their identity. Perhaps the answer is as simple as that.

* Last week we printed the solution to the prize crossword alongside the grid. We are sorry for spoiling many readers' enjoyment

Email readerseditor@independent.co.uk

Message Boards: A crisis in maternity: who is to blame?

Mortality rates for new mothers are at a 20-year high. Bloggers debated whether substandard care or high obesity levels were responsible, at www.independent.co.uk/IoSblogs

Maureen Treadwell

We are wasting enormous amounts of money on litigation as a result of poor maternity practice. If we spent the same on staffing and training as we do on compensation claims, we could transform the maternity services overnight.

Catherine Whyte

The unnecessary medicalisation of the birthing process has led us to the sorry position we are in. That and the way midwives are poorly paid and trained. Mothers should receive proper one-to-one care with experienced midwives.

Adrian Midgley

Catherine Whyte asserts that women can do it all themselves... The point of the report is that 14 in every 100,000 of them can't, and this is more than previously.

Leigh

I've had two excellent experiences of giving birth in this country. But younger mothers don't look after themselves (and by proxy their unborn babies) while they are pregnant.

Alex Scott

Independent midwives are part of the package necessary to provide safety in childbirth. They may have helped Ms Whyte's home birth, but cannot perform the procedures which save lives in the life-threatening scenarios which occur.

Chloe F

We should not be surprised that an increase in levels of obesity in the population of reproductive age is linked to an increase in maternal and child death.

John-Boy

Higher levels of obesity? How can that be true? If so, the US would be suffering a catastrophic population drop in the young mother age group.

N Jolly

What is so natural about giving birth in water? Natural for whales and dolphins, but even seals give birth on land.

To have your say on this or any other issue visit www.independent.co.uk/IoSblogs

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