Last Thursday, 5th February the circus came to town.
In this case the town was Finchley and the circus was that venerable BBC TV political panel debate programme, Question Time. Thursday nights in the Bond-Ryde household usually reverberate to the sound of my wife and I discussing the on screen diplomacy or lack of it by various political VIPs. But our house remained quiet this Thursday as, rather than debating with the TV we got to participate first hand in the audience.
Before I go any further I should say that whilst we can be particularly vocal in our debates and reactions when behind our own front door, when we are in a public space we behave with the dignity and respect as decent people do. And this extends to a debate on the BBC. Even if the auditorium and panel contains individuals who I would not welcome into my home, let alone my sphere of conversation.
So the good folk of Finchley turned out on a freezing cold evening to “chew the political fat” with some of Britain’s best known political faces. And as we supped on the pre-show coffees and munched the pre-show biscuits, the 150 or so men and women discussed what we would ask, what did we think would be asked and how the panel would react. The real reason for such excited discussion was, of course, the make up of the panel.
•The Minister for Education
•The Shadow Minister for Education
•An eminent writer and political commentator
•A newspaper editor
•And an MP from Bradford (not known for favourable views on Israel amongst other things)
Now why, do you suppose the BBC would put a show on in the middle of the largest Jewish constituency in the UK with a politician who, well, doesn’t have much in the way of anything nice to say about Jews and Israel?
At 8:30, the circus commenced. It started quite pleasantly, despite the freezing conditions due to the broken heating in the theatre. In fact it was no surprise that the debate wasn’t heated, it was sub zero!
The first question was about business and the relationships of political parties to the entrepreneurial society. Plenty of hot air from the audience and panel started to raise the temperature into the positive Celsius. The next question was about education and the reduction in funding. It got us warmed a little more. Everyone knows that education is at the heart of the Jewish community so it certainly got the temperature rising.
Then, the moment the broadcasters had been planning for…. the question that we all knew would turn up the climate to tropic heat. A young man, a cheeky smile starting to appear said
What does the panel think of the rise in antisemitism.
But, he added (unscripted to the question agreed):
and is one of the panellists in particular responsible for inflaming this issue.
So it was that the mob started to rule the debate and the show really began.
Firstly, Jonathan Freedland, the newspaper editor, was allowed to respond. Now Jonathan being Jewish spoke eloquently enough. Although he made one large faux pas in referring to the summer’s events in the Middle East as the “conflict in Gaza”. Jonathan, do you not realise that the conflict requires two to tango. It was the conflict between “Israel and Gaza”. This shocking error showed Jonathan’s newspaper bias. The Guardian, for whom he writes, continually appears to side with the Palestinian cause and is often at the forefront of criticism of Israel.
Nonetheless, moving on, Jonathan showed a clear demonstration of the concerns of Jews in the UK and Europe with respect to the rising tide of hatred that Jews are having to endure and the lack of traction in dealing with this until very recently (when many feel it is already too late). Jonathan having made his points, the ring master, Jonathan Dimbleby, turned to George Galloway and asked for his thoughts. Thus debate turned to debacle.
Probably about a dozen or so people in the audience began to bate George Galloway and the whole debate took on a ridiculous Jerry Springer style. Sadly the opportunity to do some good for our community, to raise issues that would have shocked the viewers and to see George Galloway entrap himself in his own hatred was squandered. No one exposed him for his racist remark about the make up of the audience. There was no unmasking his inability to differentiate between Zionists and Jews (despite tying himself in knots trying to deal with that). What we got instead was a bunch of loud mouthed individuals yelling uncontrollably (in the name of our Jewish community). And to my mind doing the credibility of Jews in the UK no good and, sadly making George Galloway look, yet again, like the victim!
So here’s my letter to George.
I was in the audience at the Question Time in Finchley last night.
Whilst I may not be your biggest fan, may I say how engaging you were compared to the other panellists. You were entertaining and made for compulsive “TV viewing”.
Like you, I was immensely disappointed to experience the “rowdy” and “unruly” behaviour of a small but vociferous element of the audience (I think it was no more than about 10 people, but they hijacked the debate). What a pity, as it really meant that a full and challenging discourse could not be held.
I am copying the Production Company, mentorn.tv, who should be able to forward to Mr Dimbleby (as chairman). I was disappointed that, as the chairman, he did not take more care to ensure that the debate was managed properly. Disappointingly it gave the “loud mouths” the floor because they shouted. In debates that I have managed they would have lost the right to speak. Why didn’t Mr Dimbleby simply say “if you shout, you’ll be ejected or loose the right to ask a question”. What do you think? Do you think Mr Dimbleby was setting you up? Setting us all up, maybe?
There were so many questions regarding antisemitism and so much awareness that could have been raised for the better and I’m sure that you would, had a more dignified air of debate existed, provided us with clearer perspective of your views. Personally, I would have loved to ask the following:
■ Why the BBC is not prosecuting one of its own for publicly broadcasting anti-Semitic views?
■ Why the worst attacks on Jews and other civilians seem to be prevalent from extremist Islamic sources (not from a provocation point of view, but simple statistics). This is a hard question, I know, but it was an elephant in the room, although one person did mention it? But it would have given us a chance to hear your views on Islamic extremism (again, I expect you have some very profound insights).
■ Why politicians (and honestly, NOT reference to yourself, but the likes of Jenny Tonge) are able to get away with clearly anti-Semitic tropes with impunity?
■ And finally, what can we all do to make Britain a safer place for Jews?
However, I would like to point out that:
1. Audience racial balance.
Your reference to a balanced audience was “uncomfortably close to being racist”. It is a predominantly Jewish area therefore why wouldn’t it be representative? If you were speaking in say, Hounslow, I think it would be reasonable to expect a larger than national average audience make up from historically Indian immigrants for example. Surely not a surprise, but I suppose given the unruly behaviour a few heated and awkwardly placed comments are understandable. Do you think, in retrospect, this comment was inappropriate?
2. Terminology of a Conflict.
Please note that, unlike the panel, I correctly refer to the conflict as “between”, as conflicts indicate more than one entity. Saying the conflict in Gaza is grammatically and intuitively incorrect. Would you agree that the conflict was between Gaza and Israel?
3. Emotive Statistics.
Your statistical view of the conflict. You refer to 2000 dead Palestinians in the conflict. I’m sure that you are also aware that:
a. Some were as a result of Gazan rockets hitting their own
b. Some were as a result of the use human shields
c. Numbers can be very emotive and not conducive to the inherent argument. If Israel had not significantly invested in protecting its civilians (defensive strategies rather than offensive strategies, unlike Hamas who operate an almost exclusively offensively) the mortalities from Hamas rocket fire would have likely far outweighed the tragic deaths in Gaza. One successful rocket strike on a tower block in Tel Aviv could have caused a single statistical death toll to rival 9/11. And Hamas’s explicit and unwavering strategy was the targeting of civilians (let’s not forget that is a Human Rights breach, by anyone’s standards).
So I am disappointed that you felt moved to use emotive numbers rather than us all participate in an impartial debate. Do you feel that quoting numbers is not appropriate for a balanced debate as it disguises the real events, criminals and victims?
4. Personal Attacks.
I do understand your reason for raising the issue. As the shouting escalated, your felt the need to show that you were (again) the victim of your reputation. And quite rightly, the person who shouted “surprised?” was foolish. No excuse for personal attacks and every right for freedom of speech. I’m sure that extends to the Hebdo terrorist murders (which I noticed you called “affair”, why so?) and Hebdo’s right to freedom of speech, as long as legal. Offence is acceptable and in my case, even as a Jew who finds it hard to reconcile some of your opinions, as long as speech remains the right side of legal by our country’s laws then its fine by me.
You use Zionism as a “dirty word”. Why would a love of a country (in this case, Israel) be somehow soiled. In an imaginary world, pretend there was a word “Turkeyism” or “Suliemanism” which referred to the love of Turkey. If I made use of these words to portray Turkey (a Muslim state), where there was an illegal occupation (in Cyprus), the highest levels of journalist imprisonment on the globe and the main gateway for terrorists with ISIS as an evil axis and held Muslims of Turkish heritage and all other Muslims accountable in the UK we’d be in a bad place. Please use the word Israel if you mean Israel. Zionists have a right not to be conflated too. And by using the word Zionist, you and I both know it will simply be read as “Jews”. This despite the fact that I have many non-Jewish friends here in the UK and elsewhere who would call themselves Zionists. Will you, in future, choose your words more carefully to avoid igniting old hatreds by referring to Israel not Zionists?
6. Ritual Slaughter.
Sadly your point on ritual slaughter, a fair an correct one got drowned out in the volume of other over emotive moments. I think, along with circumcision, reasonable ritual activities should be protected. Although, I have read worrying evidence of a significant increase of FGM (which is definitely not reasonable) in the Islamic communities here in the UK (and the recent court case in London about a doctor performing such at the Whittington Hospital, a location where many of the audience are likely to have gone as it is very local would have been good for topical debate), so we also cannot give this over entirely to the control of the religious zealots who might push some boundaries too far. And I think your point could have prompted a really interesting discussion about where to draw the line. Again, I’d be interested to know your thoughts on the relationship between religious orthodoxy and where it goes to far. FGM, honour killings, burkas?
7. Gaza Prison References.
You made the reference that Israel had created a “prison” situation in Gaza. I presume this is based on the security walls between Israel and Gaza. If so, you surely neglected to mention that Egypt is also responsible for doing the exact same. In addition, those with “right of return” to Jordan are being denied by the Jordanian government thus keeping Jordanian Palestinians in Gaza (hundreds of thousands of them) for purely ethnic reasons. Why didn’t you mention Egypt and Jordan when referring to Gaza prison? You made it all Israel’s fault which is clearly not the case, would you agree? Would you accept Jordan and Egypt are equally culpable for your description of a Gazan prison?
And just as a final point to the “prison” remark, the ethnic cleansing by Syria of Palestinians and their appalling treatment in Lebanese camps means that, paradoxically, those in Israel probably have the best living status and conditions. Indeed, outside of Gaza Israel is the only country providing additional medical care for Palestinians (including recently some of Hamas’s leader’s own family members). Would you agree that Israel is undermined and unjustly demonised consistently by those ignoring the good in Israel and the bad of its neighbours?
I would really welcome a response and I hope you receive this as proof that there is no need for raised voices just a healthy discussion and thoughtful consideration of both sides.
Finally, you were bang on on one point…. it was bloody freezing! It’s amazing that any debate made it to “heated” considering the climate!
It is highly unlikely I’ll get a response? George doesn’t usually debate with Zionists.
Is he some sort of force of evil? I don’t think so. Much more the pantomime villain and circus clown.
But if the circus comes to town again, clowns and all, I don’t think I’ll be running off with it. I think I’ll stay at home and watch it on the little screen and go back to shouting at the telly with Mrs Bond-Ryde and a cup of tea.