Helen Martin: Condemning Israel not anti-Semitic

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I WAS brought up in a very Jewish area of Renfrewshire, so Jewish it was often referred to as “Little Israel”.

I had Jewish friends, at school we learned both traditional Scottish and Jewish dancing and, at one time, I had a Jewish boyfriend. I went to Jewish discos and bar mitzvah parties and still today I regard matzo meal as a kitchen cupboard staple.

Anti-semitic, I am not.

Like a great many people in the UK, when it comes to the Israeli-Palestine conflict, my sympathy goes to the Palestinians. Their land has been occupied and stolen, and their people are being disproportionately slaughtered by mighty Israel, which has until now been consistently backed by the even mightier United States.

For me, “Jewish” refers to the person’s religion, culture and, if they choose, race. “Israeli” refers to the country, the government, the military and the people who live there.

It is therefore quite possible to have nothing whatsoever against Jewish people (who live peacefully with their neighbours all over the world) but to disapprove of Israel and its actions. What mystifies me is that any Western attempts to put pressure on Israel to stop behaving like thugs have been limp, half-hearted gestures made fearfully lest we are seen to be anti-Semitic towards Jewish people in our midst.

The Israelis seem to think they should have unconditional Western support because their country is surrounded by Arab and Muslim states. Surely they knew that when they campaigned for their own state within Palestine and got the keys to the door.

Britain was culpable in this ludicrous arrangement, naively drawn up as if real people could be shuffled about like markers on a board game battleground. It was never going to work. To that extent it’s not fair to blame either side but it is reasonable to expect Israeli Jews, who lost so many of their own families to the Nazis, to take a less brutal approach to resolving conflict than obliterating women and children with air attacks as a means of “defending” themselves against Hamas rockets.

I watched Angela Epstein, Jewish mama, journalist and commentator, on TV recently react with such fury when Israeli policy was criticised you would think she had been accused of eating her own children. She’s English and lives in Manchester. She is no more Israeli than I am Irish or American just because my mother is Irish and my father was born in Boston.

The Middle East is hugely complicated. I wouldn’t presume to say that my opinion on who’s right or wrong is anything more than my opinion.

Regardless, international politicians should deal fairly and equally with Israel and Palestine as states, regions or peoples in the Middle East. Israel is not the “beloved homeland” of every Wall Street executive, Western politician, British financier or journalist whose name is Cohen or ends in “stein” or “berg”. Like the rest of the region it is tribal and has no special Western, democratic standing.

Just as importantly, we must do everything to stop the resurgence of anti-Semitism that is beginning to bubble in Europe as a result of this unequal conflict. Jewish people here and in other parts of the world must not be blamed for the sins of Israel.

Charity begins at home for schools

EDINBURGH has a truly astonishing number of independent schools which, combined, receive an unbelievable £8 million in tax relief as charities.

Interestingly, this just about equates to the £10m budget cuts to city state schools over the same period.

Assisted places, scholarships and sharing their facilities are all things they should morally be doing anyway. None of them can measure up to what most of us recognise as a bona-fide charity.

Celebrate diversity of our great divide

AH, the great Edinburgh-Glasgow divide. A quick straw poll among my Burgher friends and neighbours on the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony brought a resounding “Yeugh!” from the east. “Cheesy”, “cheap”, “cringe-worthy” were just some of the comments.

Hailing originally from the west, let me explain. Glasgow revels in its camp, gallus, music-hall, up-front, down-to-earth character. Pomposity is there to be pricked. The only function of hair is to be let down. A deep-fried Mars bar is the epitome of the common man’s inventiveness and originality.

When Edinburgh hosted the Games, it felt, as the Capital, it was doing so on behalf of Scotland. Glasgow hosts on behalf of Glasgow.

One of Scotland’s blessings is that both cities have now had a chance. And though Karen Dunbar’s accent and John Barrowman’s gay kiss might have confused a few overseas visitors, isn’t it wonderful that two cities only 50 miles apart in our small country have such fascinating and distinct personalities?

THE YOLK IS ON ME . .

Is it me? A story from Nairn told of an abandoned chaffinch chick, now best friends with a terrier after the dog’s owners hand-reared it. A soppy tear was on the way until the lady revealed she’d fed it . . . a boiled egg.