Jenni Frazer
Jenni Frazer

Setting the stage for a backlash from Gaza

Equity UK’s president, Maureen Beattie
Equity UK’s president, Maureen Beattie

You might be forgiven if you think we have been in this particular spiral of events before. The summer of 2014, anyone? The last Gaza war? Demonstrators on the streets, a spike in antisemitism… and then it all died down. Sort of.

Except that the following year, with a new leader of the Labour Party, all the seething hatred that found expression on the street came bubbling to the surface. 

With Jeremy Corbyn’s accession to power, the disgusting things that could never be said in public about Jews suddenly were said. Those on the extremes of the political spectrum gave themselves permission to say the unsayable, write the previously unthinkable. 

In return, I am sorry to say, there were a few – thankfully only a few – on the extremes of the Jewish community, both left and right, who were hitting back. On the left were the #AsAJews, and on the right the #PerpetualVictims. Neither of these was a pretty picture. As a former chief rabbi once remarked: “If you sit in the middle of the road for long enough, you get run over.”

So, many of us have been forced into a position not necessarily of our choosing. We may have a natural, humane sympathy with the Palestinians – but we may not be #AsAJews, either. How, then, are we to deal with the fallout from the latest Gaza war, in which, once again, diaspora Jews are being pushed into taking responsibility for the actions of the Israeli government? It scarcely matters any more how much we are invested in support of the Israeli state rather than its government. We are all too aware that the moment we begin to explain “Yes, but…” we are on the way to losing the argument.

And for its part, all the Other Side needs to do is to say ‘But, Israel…’ and the whole panoply of rotten excuses rises to the surface: the inequity in weaponry, the ‘unfairness’ of the Iron Dome, the numbers game. I wonder, occasionally, what would be an acceptable number of Israeli – or even diaspora – casualties to even up the playing field. Perhaps we should disable the Iron Dome for a time? 

So we come, inexorably, to Maureen Beattie. If you have never heard of her – and I hadn’t – she is president of Equity UK, the actors’ union. Performers on the professional stage – theatre, film and TV – need an Equity card in order to work.

They pay their subscriptions not just for an Equity card but also for union representation if they run into employment problems, which is how all trade unions work. Yet, increasingly, unions in Britain are taking positions that alienate Jews because of the political views they adopt on the Middle East.

Equity is just the latest. Maureen Beattie, a few days ago, endorsed a petition addressed to the government, calling for sanctions against Israel. She said: “The government should introduce sanctions against Israel, including blocking all trade, and in particular arms. Its disproportionate treatment of Palestinians and settlements that are regarded by the international community as illegal are an affront to civilised society.” 

So far, this petition has attracted nearly 400,000 signatures. It only requires 100,000 to be debated by parliament and so Beattie’s plea will be discussed in the Commons on 14 June.

If you were a young actor, dependent on an Equity card in order to work, and you weren’t in either the #AsAJew or the #PerpetualVictim camp, what must go through your mind when you see what your union president has done? 

And when one critic suggested that she might call for sanctions against antisemites, Beattie replied disingenuously: “Absolutely! Introduce sanctions against antisemites and I will sign that petition and be on that march.”

Heaven forfend we should depend on the likes of Maureen Beattie to defend Jewish rights. Tracy-Ann Oberman is leading the fightback against this latest manifestation. One thing is for sure: this is going to get much worse before it gets better.

About the Author
Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist.
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