Reasons to feel upbeat during bleakest month
Traditionally — which in marketing-speak actually means something made up in the last five years — this is the bleakest week of the year. It’s the week when all the holiday overspending catches up with people, nobody has yet been paid, and January feels like the longest month in the world.
I’d like to lighten the burden a bit, but it’s quite tough, what with Les Miserables on TV pretty much summing up the national mood. Politically, it’s like the Wild West out there and by the time this column reaches print, we could all have been signed up to pay for Trumpolino’s wall, who knows? Anything could happen these days.
As it happens I’ve been trying to take the Jewish temperature and, as ever, it’s up and down. We have, as the late great Ian Dury was wont to say, reasons to be cheerful (and what Dury would have made of his backing band, the appropriately-named Blockheads, welcoming the likes of Gilad Atzmon on stage with them over Christmas, the Lord only knows).
Reason to be cheerful number one? All praise to the Don’t-Take-No-Prisoners Rachel Riley, the Countdown TV presenter who has come out, all guns blazing, against antisemitism — attracting some loathsome responses, but actually, leading to reason to be cheerful number two.
And that is that Riley’s tough as old boots stance against the haters has brought out some pretty high-profile support. Her fellow Countdown presenter, Nick Hewer, again not someone to mince his words, has said he is severing connections with Labour, for which he has voted all his life, as a result of the abuse levelled at Riley.
And here is reason number three: it’s not just Nick Hewer. Stephen Fry — actor, writer, presenter, and, I hope we can agree, pretty decent human being — tweeted simply “I stand with you, Rachel”. This attracted a whopping 7.3 thousand “likes” — although on the downside he ended up having to engage with George Galloway.
Now it is true that for many years Nick Hewer was Lord Sugar’s right-hand man, and that Stephen Fry is halachically Jewish. So they do have, as they say, skin in the game. But they didn’t have to say anything, didn’t have to put their heads above the parapet. And besides, as we know to our cost, merely the fact of being Jewish doesn’t guarantee an intelligent response to this whole antisemitism/anti-Zionist mess these days, as various examples such as the egregious Atzmon, Miko Peled, and our very own “Bear Hunt” Michael Rosen, can provide copious evidence.
Not everything in our garden is rosy, of course. You only have to glance at Lewisham Deptford Constituency Labour Party (CLP) and its attempt to persuade people that Israel is behind the campaign to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism; the same CLP which announced that the Jewish Labour Movement was not an appropriate body to give training on antisemitism — who would be appropriate, one wonders? Well, if it were training in how to be an antisemite, there are unfortunately too many from whom to choose.
I want to finish with a reason to be cheerful which has nothing to do with antisemitism (well, except tangentially), and everything to do with decency. That is the re-burial of Jewish Holocaust remains at Bushey Cemetery next week, an extraordinary symbolic acknowledgement of the power of the Shoah still to touch us all. Kol hakavod to everyone involved.