I’m not, as a rule, a great quoter of Jewish sages, but couldn’t help offering this from Hillel, as the most apposite comment on a couple of weeks of turbulent events. Hillel said: “That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary.”
So with apologies to Hillel, here’s the commentary.
We’ve had two parallel situations in the past few weeks and I am profoundly depressed by people’s responses.
First came the awful killings of two Jewish Israelis in the Barkan factory on the West Bank. The victims were 35 and 29, young, married, parents. The Palestinian man who murdered them is believed to have worked alongside them. The deaths were… what? Unspeakable, two more terrible statistics in the cycle of seemingly interminable violence.
And then came the death of a Palestinian woman, said to have died as Jewish settlers – Jewish settlers – stoned her family’s car. She and her husband were travelling with their nine-year-old daughter.
Is one death not as terrible as others? On both sides, excuses have been made. I’ve driven those West Bank roads. Believe me, there is no excuse, not for the Palestinian terrorists and not for those who threw rocks.
Let’s move on to the second parallel, stories of banners and boycotters.
Jenny Manson, whose stated ambition is to become Labour’s MP for Finchley and Golders Green, held a dialogue event with Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell last week. As is well known by now, Manson’s campaign team gravely miscalculated public response by attempting to ban people from the event – including journalists, and including this journalist.
I can’t say I took kindly to the initiative and in the end I was reinstated, although others deemed by the organisers to have the potential to be disruptive were still denied entry. One colleague who was not attending as a journalist but as a resident of the area and thus a potential voter, was physically manhandled and ejected from the hotel where the event was being held. All around were members of Jewish Voice for Labour, which Manson chairs, watching, and presumably thinking this behaviour was acceptable.
So we are agreed, I imagine, banning people is a bad thing. How about the more egregious case of 22-year-old American student Lara Alqasem, who was detained at Ben-Gurion Airport for more than a week while court battles raged as to whether she could be allowed into Israel?
Alqasem, who has Palestinian grandparents, had secured a place to study at the Hebrew University, but was denied entry because of her previous association with the boycott movement.
Her lawyer, Yotam Ben-Hillel, asked: “How can she be a BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctions] supporter if she wants to attend Hebrew University?”
And the university itself sent a lawyer to argue for Alqasem. What message would it send, she asked the court, if Israel wanted to declare that it was “a democracy and not an apartheid state”?
Surely Israel is strong and confident enough to allow a 22-year-old student into its university. And surely Jenny Manson, who thinks she can represent all Finchley and Golders Green constituents, doesn’t need to be frightened of letting in a few people who disagree with her? She may find many more in that category if she wants to be a politician.