The process of learning

Heshmat Khalifa and a Zionist shoe post  (Jewish News)
Heshmat Khalifa and a Zionist shoe post (Jewish News)
Why on earth do 0.2% of the population get so much publicity? I know this time of the year is known in journalistic circles as the Silly Season, but we’re the centre of two major stories again in The Times and no end in sight.
Heshmat Khalifa was a trustee of a major Muslm charity called Islamic Relief. He did a lot of good for many years and had friends in this country in the highest places. He was not happy about the political situation in Egypt and, in commenting on it, according to Mr. Khalifa, he did not intend to insult the Jewish community when he said, in passing, that the Jews were the grandchildren of monkeys and pigs. He was furthermore reported in The Times as saying he did not hold views that were anti-semitic.
Now, I may be over-sensitive, but if I alleged that Mr. Khalifa was the grandchild of a monkey or a pig, I would expect him to be insulted. In fact I believe he comes from a distinguished Egyptian family. How an intelligent man like Mr. Khalifa could have not seen this possibility beggars belief. A lot  of the Scots want to get away from England, but I’ve not heard of any Scot suggesting that monkeys and pigs are involved in the birth of those born across the border.
On the other side of the fence, we find an academic economist, Stephen Lamonby, dismissed from his post for saying that Jewish people are the cleverest in this world and Black men need all the help they can get. This an enquiry found was potentially racist and Mr. Lamonby was dismissed for gross misconduct.
In some quarters it is now apparently racist to praise people? Is it going to be racist to say, for example, that Black Jazz musicians have been among the finest in the world? That the Russians have produced some of the finest chess Grandmasters? That the French and the Swiss are renowned chefs? That nobody has produced as many top skiers as the Scandinavians. That nobody has  come up with as many dyke builders as the Dutch? The Fens were drained by the Dutch before the Civil War. Would you rather have left it to somebody else, rather than praised the Dutch?
We learn from the ability shown by other nations. William the Conqueror brought in Jews to improve trade after he won the Battle of Hastings. He reckoned we were clever enough to do it, where Harold’s lot hadn’t managed it. There’s a case for believing we invented the jury system as well. Before juries, commercial disputes were fought out on horseback. The Jews weren’t very good at that, so they suggested that six people on both sides of the argument should try to decide who was in the right. The jury system came in at about that time.
So what is the truth about the alleged cleverness of the Jews? We had no other weapons. We didn’t have an army, a government or a predominant church. We couldn’t rely on others to get us out of poverty. We had to try to be clever. Parents had to encourage their children to learn.
Aldous Huxley, who was a famous non-Jewish, Eton educated, philosopher, postulated that people who had it tough did better than people who had it easy. Mr. Huxley could produce a mass of evidence to prove his point. Mr. Khalifa wants the Jews out of Israel. Will he give them any credit for turning a wasteland, neglected for centuries by his people, back into a land flowing with milk and honey? If the Israelis come up with a vaccine against coronavirus, will he recommend using it for his people or will he reject it as trefah?
The way the world moves forward is by learning from each other. To suggest that this message is racist is deeply damaging, if anybody pays any notice to Mr. Lamonby’s detractors. Happily, for Mr. Lamonby’s views, few people are likely to do so.
The level of distorted argument is often very high. For example, when Ken Livingstone said the Zionists cooperated with Hitler, he was drummed out of the Labour party. The truth is that the Zionists reached an agreement with Hitler in 1933 that German Jews could emigrate to Palestine if they left their wealth behind in Germany. It was known as the Ha’Avara (Transfer) agreement. It was blackmail and robbery, but it got 50,000 German Jews into Palestine between 1933 and 1939. I don’t know whether Mr. Livingstone made that clear, or even understood it in detail, but those are the facts.
I am all in favour of making racism a criminal offence. I just wish we weren’t so often in the headlines; what’s wrong with a quiet life?
About the Author
Derek is an author & former editor of the Jewish Year Book
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