Letters: Critics of Israel, not haters of Jews

These letters appear in the January 17 edition of The Independent

Independent Voices
Friday 16 January 2015 15:22 GMT

On Wednesday your excellent coverage of what the front page headlined as “the new anti-Semitism” included another piece headlined “Anti-Jewish sentiment…”. Those headlines carry very different vibes, and one which talked of “anti-Israel sentiment…” would have been very different again.

What we desperately need is to stop is equating hard, honest criticism of Israel’s policies with “anti-Semitism”. That term carries with it ill-defined but vile relatedness to the attitudes which fuelled the unspeakable Holocaust.

Sadly, in my experience, some Jews (a minority) are only too ready to characterise criticism of Israeli policy as “anti-Semitic”. That is sometimes no more than an attempt to silence critics, knowing as they do that such a charge is painful to endure. That can, ironically, encourage real anti-Semitism.

I well understand the very particular and intense anxieties of Jews everywhere, but the Paris demonstrations emphasise that we still have to have vigorous, free debate which tolerates harsh comments on highly sensitive topics. For my own part, while maintaining a steadfast commitment to Israel’s right to exist in peace (I volunteered to fight for it in 1973), I remain determined to oppose its relentless and illegal colonisation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as the siege of Gaza. A great many Jews here and in Israel feel exactly the same. Unfortunately our government (and those of many Western countries), while condemning that year after year, does nothing to stop it.

Above all, the forgoing provokes many Islamists, and not just Palestinians, into despairing of our double standards, which hardly discourages extremism. The West must walk its own talk, and we must talk freely.

Andrew Phillips (Lord Phillips of Sudbury)
House of Lords

My grandmother (one in a long line of Levis) used to say that after Hitler the worst thing to befall Jews was modern Israel. I disagreed and defended the Israel of the kibbutz and Peres right up until the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. Since then I have been strongly against Israel’s governments, because their treatment of Palestine and Gaza is wrong, inhuman and very un-Jewish in its lack of generosity and tolerance.

But just as Muslims are often wrongly associated with the terror tactics of jihadists, so Jews have in recent times often been wrongly associated with the state-terror tactics of Netanyahu and his cronies. Opposition to predatory Zionism can become confused with anti-Semitism. They are different animals and should be kept well apart.

Anti-Semitism attacks my ethnicity as a Jew, but has nothing to do with being against the policies of Israeli governments. If the latter, as with the jihadists, gave up their brutal tactics and sought peace and reconciliation with Palestinians, the world would be a better place for Muslim and Jew alike.

Lucinda Rhys Evans

It is with interest but not astonishment that I read your report on “the new anti-Semitism”.

I have recently resigned from my job as a nurse in a north London hospital, serving a culturally diverse client group.

I am Jewish and as far as I am aware I am in a minority among nurses, which has never previously been a problem for me. However, in my last job, I was subjected to anti-Semitic remarks by colleagues. The last remark made to me – “I hate f***ing Jews” – was offensive enough for me to inform my line manager and HR manager.

No action was taken, which left me feeling that anti-Semitism is not being addressed on a serious level, and, worse, is thought of as an acceptable form of cultural abuse.

I would have thought this type of behaviour completely unacceptable in any NHS institution.

Louise Marshall
London N11

Talk to the Civil Service unions

As scholars of industrial and employment relations, we condemn the unilateral action by the Coalition Government to remove the “check off” arrangements from the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union. This follows on from other actions against PCS, including reducing facility time for union reps, victimising reps, marginalising PCS in multi-union negotiations, and supporting a breakaway union in the HMRC.

Such actions go against the spirit and practice of conducting good industrial relations, promoted by the likes of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service and by the UN International Labour Organisation (of which Britain is a member).

The way to resolve any industrial dispute is to conduct negotiations in good faith with the bona fide representatives of the workforce. We expect higher standards of conduct from the employer in industrial relations here because these industrial relations concern the running of public services.

We urge the Coalition Government to withdraw its notice of termination of “check off” arrangements and to allow an independent third party to conduct a review of industrial relations in the Civil Service with a view to making recommendations for the return to orderly industrial relations. We note the such a review was used to good effect and with the consent of both unions and management in the smoothing out of many industrial relations issues in the Royal Mail.

Professor Gregor Gall

University of Bradford

Professor Stephen Bach

King’s College, University of London

Professor Susan Corby

University of Greenwich

Professor Ian Greer

University of Greenwich

Professor Irena Grugulis

University of Leeds

Professor Miguel Martinez Lucio

University of Manchester

and 27 others

The Conservatives propose that, in the public sector, at least 40 per cent of those eligible to vote must support strike action. As a latecomer to teaching I have been impressed by the dedication of those in the profession, astounded by their resilience and amazed that strike action is so rare. Many are reluctant to support strike action but it does not mean they do not feel strongly about the issues.

What is this government’s idea of democracy? Is a minimum turnout required for a valid plebiscite? If so, how come we have police commissioners? Turnout for these elections was in the order of 16 per cent.

Jonathan Colley
Rugby, Warwickshire

Champions of free speech

In the huge response to the massacre of Charlie Hebdo journalists in Paris, who risked their lives by printing cartoons of Mohamed, I would like to draw attention to the work of other journalists who concern themselves with the Middle East and North Africa.

Robert Fisk and Patrick Cockburn, with their expert knowledge of the area’s history and culture, have given us insight into why such attacks happen, without condoning them. Explanations are not the same as excuses, but nothing will change if we don’t try to understand the context of such tragedies.

Then there are the courageous journalists who manage to report from inside war zones. More than 150 journalists have been killed in Syria alone since the uprising of 2011, including the Americans James Foley and Steven Sotloff. None of these reporters feel, or felt, it necessary to write anything that might offend genuine followers of Islam.

Theresa Frayn

May a Britisher prompt Paris, with its gift for the grand gesture, to bury the Charlie Hebdo martyrs to free speech in the Pantheon, alongside other French heroes?

Peter Forster
London N4

Not worthy of a Prime minister

As I watched David Cameron accuse Ed Miliband in the Commons of being afraid to debate with the Green Party present, I was filled with disgust. This is our Prime Minister. His ridiculous argument, made worse by panicked bluster, made me pine even for the days of Thatcher. For a long time, this country was led by statespeople of calibre who, whatever their failings, would have sooner resigned the office of Prime Minister than make it so very low. Where’s the man’s dignity?

Mike Galvin

Any televised leaders’ debate is more than a question of who is to be the next PM. Voters will also be deciding how strong the other parties in Parliament should be. The Greens, potential partners in a coalition, should be represented in any debate.

Andy Spring
London SE5

Speed limit slow to gain acceptance

Congratulations to Edinburgh on its 20mph speed limit, but I hope it works better than in Islington, London, where anyone trying to stick to the borough-wide 20mph limit is tailgated by angry drivers.

A 20mph policy needs enforcement and public acceptance, neither of which it has yet in Islington.

Peter Rodgers
London N5

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