Prior to Holocaust Memorial Day — officially commemorated across Europe on Sunday — a Book of Commitment was placed in the British House of Commons for Members of Parliament to sign. The purpose of this simple act is to “publicly commit both to remembering the Holocaust and to working towards a future in which prejudice and hatred are never again allowed to gain a foothold in society.”
After placing his name in the Book, however, David Ward (MP for Bradford East) felt it necessary to issue an addendum of sorts on his website. His postlude could hardly have been more opposite to the spirit of his earlier dedication to tolerance and reflection, replicating as they did what Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks calls one of the “great slanders of our time: that Jews, victims of the Holocaust, are now perpetrators of a similar crime.” Here is what Ward wrote:
Having visited Auschwitz twice - once with my family and once with local schools - I am saddened that the Jews, who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust, could within a few years of liberation from the death camps be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza.
In the hours following the public dissemination of his comments, instead of showing the sort of shame and penitence such barefaced bigotry demands, Ward reached for his shovel, thumping and scratching at the scarred earth beneath him. Initially, Ward attempted to utilise a quote from Elie Wiesel in his defence.
“Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented,” he cited in part. Wiesel did not much care for this: “Although he quotes me correctly, I am outraged that he uses my words at the same time he utters shameless slanders on the State of Israel.”
As soon as I heard the name of Great Britain’s newly named chief rabbi, I knew it sounded familiar. I met Ephraim Mirvis back in 1986, when I was a foreign correspondent for the Philadelphia Inquirer based in London, and he was the relatively new chief rabbi of Ireland.
I was young for my job. So was he.
We met when I interviewed him for a story about the remaining Jews of Ireland, prompted by the closing of one of Dublin’s three synagogues and the opening of a tiny museum about Ireland’s Jews. It seemed a perfect metaphor for what was happening to this small but determined community: its young were leaving, as Ireland’s young do, and the elders were struggling to do more than live out their own history.
Ancient Greek and Latin, yes. Hebrew, no.
That’s the headline from a new British government proposal that excludes Hebrew from plans to encourage primary school children to learn a second language. The plan, which remains under discussion and would come into effect in September 2014 if implemented, would mandate that pupils aged 7 to 11 learn one of either French, German, Spanish, Italian, Mandarin, Latin or ancient Greek, as to “make foreign languages a key part of every child’s education, and to stop the slide in standards and take-up.”
In response to further enquires, a spokesperson for the Department for Education (DfE) told the Forward: “We want to give young people the skills they need to compete in a global jobs market. This is why we introduced the Foreign Languages Plan, which will ensure that every primary school child has a good grasp of a language by age 11.
“Whilst French, German and Spanish were the modern languages identified by respondents to the consultation as the most popular choices, we have been clear that primary schools will be free to teach any other language.”
The DfE’s consultation document indicates the government hopes the latter is not the case and aims to prevent “any potential proliferation of very low take-up languages, and would focus schools’ attention on a sample of important languages.”
It was only a matter of time before someone would ask whether the international scandal engulfing Rupert Murdoch’s empire was good for the Jews. And if you feel compelled to ask, the answer is almost always “no.”
JTA’s Ron Kampeas essentially posed the question in a story contending that some supporters of Israel are worried that a diminished Murdoch presence may mute the strongly pro-Israel voice of many of the publications he owns.
“His publications and media have proven to be fairer on the issue of Israel than the rest of the media,” Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice-chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, is quoted as saying. “I hope that won’t be impacted.”
Well, I hope so, too, I guess. But that is hardly what should be on our minds as Jews and as citizens as we watch the media magnate testify before Parliament by dancing around any genuine personal responsibility for the despicable journalism practiced by one of his flagship newspapers. And as we read stories of government corruption in Britain reaching to the highest levels of law enforcement and into the storied halls of 10 Downing Street. And as we hear of real people, ordinary people, harmed by a corporate culture that privileged power and aggression over respect for privacy and common decency.
Britain is Israel’s ally, too, and its current government is being rocked to the core by this scandal. Is that good for the Jews?
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