Stop obsessing about Jew-hatred

Published in the Jewish Chronicle

So I return after a couple of weeks on holiday to what has become a familiar routine, starting with the now-obligatory announcement from my email account: ?You have 455 new messages?. (The genuine figure, since you ask.) I scroll through them and they, too, are familiar: assorted press releases, announcements, the odd invitation. And a good portion are all on the same theme.

They are either filled with antisemitism ? ?Arm Iran, Bomb International Jewry? was the delightful title of one such missive, while ?The Jew world order? was the subject of another ? or they are about antisemitism. I?m on enough mailing lists to get the full range: warnings of increased Jew-hatred in Europe, in the Muslim world, in the press, in academia; denunciations of antisemitism masquerading as anti-Zionism; meetings called to discuss the gathering threat. And, of course, that specialist subset: Jews accusing other Jews of Jew-hatred.

Believe me, if I filtered out everything else and only allowed in those emails connected with antisemitism, my inbox would still fill up. It?s not just the email. A quick scan of the Jewish press turns up the same theme, over and over again.

This week, for example, kicked off with the death at age 96 of Maurice Papon, the most senior French collaborator with the Nazis ever to be jailed for his crimes. Papon once headed the Vichy administration?s Service for Jewish Questions, deporting 1,600 Jews between 1942 and 1944. Despite a 10-year prison sentence meted out in 1998, Papon insisted he had no ?regrets nor remorse.?

The commentators and obituarists wondered if Papon?s death meant France would at last lay to rest the ghosts of the Nazi era. Not likely, said most, in part because of Papon?s refusal to acknowledge his crimes. What?s more, France has only begun to face up to its collusion with the Final Solution relatively recently: Papon, shielded by the French elite for so long, from de Gaulle to Mitterand, was deep into his eighties before the law caught up with him.

But there is another reason why Papon?s death does not represent a chance to bury the European antisemitism he personified, and it?s this: that form of Jew-hatred lives on.

For this was also the week when a Polish member of the European Parliament defended a pamphlet he had written arguing that Jews had no place in Europe, whose culture and morality had to be Christian. Maciej Giertych of the League of Polish Families said that Jews are unethical, obsessed with separateness and a ?tragic community? doomed by their refusal to accept Jesus as the son of God.

Over in Croatia, meanwhile, the authorities were investigating how a factory in the small town of Pozega had come to distribute sugar packets bearing the image of Adolf Hitler and a string of Holocaust jokes. Apparently the packets were a big hit in the local cafes and restaurants. At the same time, in the Ukraine, state officials were seizing Torah scrolls from a Jewish school, even as the children sobbed before them.

And that?s just this week. Scan the websites next week and you will doubtless see more evidence that the old hatred lingers on, not a historical relic but part of the 21st century. No wonder my inbox keeps spilling over.

Many Jews react to this by charting every new outbreak of antisemitism, reading up on every instance of it, searching for it between the lines of this article or that speech. In a way I?m glad they do it, just as I?m glad to receive in the post the latest annual report of the enticingly named Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism, 170 pages full of analysis, footnotes and distressing cartoons. It?s good to know that somebody somewhere is keeping tabs on all this stuff.

But that shouldn?t mean the rest of us have to do it as well. It?s not good for our collective health if too many of us spend too long obsessing about our enemies and their loathing of us ? just as it wouldn?t do for an individual to sit at home, dwelling endlessly on all the slights and insults that have been hurled his way.

So, yes, let?s remain vigilant, protecting ourselves from genuine threats when they appear. Let the Community Security Trust continue doing its vital work, securing synagogues, protecting schools. Let the think-tanks and monitoring groups immerse themselves in all the ugly details.

But, with that task duly delegated, let?s not allow others? hatred of us to become the centre of our identity, defining who we are. We should channel our energies elsewhere, in directions altogether more positive. We have a great civilisation to celebrate and enjoy. So go on: let?s bombard each other with email about that.

Don’t knock parents who put faith first

Published in the Evening Standard

Tory politicians have one big advantage over their Labour rivals: they can send their kids to whatever school they like. David Cameron could blithely announce this week that he?s going to choose a faith school for his daughter, rejecting 15 others closer to home, safe in the knowledge that not a fragment of flak will come his way. If he were leading Labour rather than the Conservatives, he?d still be cowering under the incoming fire.

It?s not just his party affiliation. Cameron has also been careful to say that politicians should be perfectly free to do whatever is best for their children. He said that when Ruth Kelly was hammered last month for sending her son to a private school, able to cater for his special needs. If that logic holds good for her, it should hold good for him.

More to the point, few London parents will scold Cameron for sending three year old Nancy to a school – the 210-pupil St Mary Abbots Primary off Kensington Church Street – more than two miles from his home. We?ve got used to going to much more extreme lengths than that to secure a decent education for our kids. All but the most ideologically committed now understand that in London, where so many schools face such severe problems, the conscientious parent is allowed to do whatever it takes.

For some that means paying fees. Others, who either can?t afford to pay or want to stay in the state sector on principle, have to find other paths to a good school. That can mean moving house, to be in the catchment area for a quality comprehensive. Or it can mean putting your child up for one of the handful of schools that are still selective. Or it can mean finding a corner of the state sector that outperforms the rest: faith schools.

David and Samantha Cameron have taken that last route, one that counts as a lurch leftward by Tory standards, where private education has long been the norm. There are contradictions, not least the call Cameron issued at the Conservative Party conference last autumn for faith schools to open up until a quarter of their pupils were from other faiths or none. At the time, Cameron explained that this quota should apply to new faith schools: in other words, emerging Muslim schools would be forced to open their doors, while a cosy Church of England establishment like St Mary Abbots Primary could stay just as it is.

Still, few will hold that against him. And I?m not going to bash him for taking the faith route, since my wife and I have made a similar choice for our own children, opting for a Jewish primary school (though one that is rather nearer to our home than St Mary Abbots is to the Camerons?.) Still, in some left circles, that counts as an ideological crime just short of going private.

The criticisms tend to fall into two categories. The first – call it the Richard Dawkins critique ? says that to send a child to a faith school is to submit him to a programme of religious indoctrination little better than cult-like brainwashing. The second, which we might call the ghetto argument, worries that faith schools lead to ethnic segregation, separating off London?s different communities almost from birth, so that even our youngest children grow up apart when they should be mixing.

The Dawkins view rests on what may be a misunderstanding of how religious schools actually operate. If the education of my five year old son is anything to go by, most of the ?religious? content he receives is not theology, but instruction in Jewish tradition and customs, from learning at Passover time about Jewish slavery in Egypt or wearing fancy dress for Purim. Beyond that, the school is infused with what the experts call an ?ethos?, a sense of values which owes nothing to the coercive indoctrination into superstition Dawkins fears.

The second objection is even more frail, especially in London. Contrary to expectations, faith schools often end up being more diverse than their secular counterparts nearby. That?s because while most schools draw their pupils geographically, from areas that are often economically and ethnically homogenous, those guided by faith look further afield.

St Mary Abbot?s is a case in point. You might imagine it, with its Kensington address, being an all-white enclave where Nancy Cameron would join other straw-hatted, well-heeled girls dropped off in their 4 x 4s. In fact, its pupils also come from Shepherd?s Bush, north Kensington and Kensal Rise. The result is that some 43% of the children are from ethnic minority families, while more than half do not have English as their first language.

So the pre-conceptions about faith schools are often false: if David Cameron needed to defend his choice, he could. Where things could get trickier is when he and Samantha have to find a secondary school. (Though by then he may already be safely installed in Downing Street ? or consigned to the back benches.)

If they want to stay in the state sector, they may plump for a faith school once again. My own instinct will, I suspect, be different. Having chosen a faith school for the primary years, I?d be very wary of doing the same from 11 to 18 ? for reasons that go back to that ghetto argument.

I balk at the idea of children spending all their formative years with a single group. Fine for one stage ? either primary or secondary ? but surely too limiting for an entire education. And not good for our society either, not if we are to chase that elusive goal of integration ? pursued once again in yesterday?s report by the Commission on Integration and Cohesion.

So this, as most London parents know, is a vexed area, too complex for the glib slogans of those who don?t have to make such decisions themselves. Cameron has made his choice; the rest of us are making ours. But let no one tell you it?s easy.

Get ready for the rubbish wars

The Mayor wants new powers to deal with London’s waste problem – and that has caused the first major break with Downing Street

Published in the Evening Standard

Their troubles seemed to be over. Tony Blair and Ken Livingstone may have their disagreements over foreign policy, but on everything else, the relationship had turned into one of respectful, mutual admiration. Blair warmly endorsed Ken for re-election in 2004, while Ken played the loyal footsoldier for Blair a year later. But Tony Blair did once warn that Ken Livingstone would be a ?disaster for London?: they were bound to fall out eventually.

And now they have. The only surprise is that it took so long ? and that it should be over rubbish.

Already the mayor has accused the environment secretary and prime ministerial favourite, David Miliband, of spouting ?fatuous waffle?, while the government says City Hall is guilty of telling fibs. And the cause of this dissension is, quite literally, trash.

It all comes down to Ken?s demand for a single waste authority, a London-wide body that would be in charge not of collecting our rubbish, but disposing of it. He wants that power included in the Greater London Authority Bill currently grinding its way through parliament. Right now, it?s up to the local boroughs to pick up the trash and get rid of it. Under the mayor?s plan, Barnet, Hackney or Hammersmith would keep sending out the bin-men and operating the dustcarts, but the refuse collected would then be dumped in Ken?s lap. So to speak.

He says it?s necessary because waste disposal is now a strategic matter, like housing or planning or skills ? areas in which the government has happily given the mayor city-wide powers. In an era of rapid climate change, he argues, rubbish is just too important to be dealt with in a haphazard, borough-by-borough way: we need a gameplan for the whole capital.

What?s trash got to do with climate change? Plenty, depending on what you do with it. If you dig a whole in the ground and dump it there, it spells disaster: landfill sites give off methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more harmful than CO2. But if you burn it in a giant incinerator, that involves serious carbon emissions and pollution, too. Ken?s got religion on climate change now ? and waste is one of the key battlefronts in the battle against it. He thinks London needs to get to grips with the problem strategically, as a single city. And that means under him.

It?s not just greenery either; there?s a financial incentive here, too. Britain is now bound by targets set by the European Union: if we don?t curb our landfill habit by 2010, there could be up to