Lost Europeans

This is a sort of footnote to my blogpost about the Dreyfus Affair and anti-semitism.

One of Rose’s points was that Dreyfus showed French Jews (and reminded Jews everywhere) that even the most assimilated, the most loyal, diligent and dedicated servant of the state could become in an instant the other, the outsider, the Jew.

For Jews themselves it gave added impetus to the drive for a Jewish state – where else could a Jew truly be safe? Many liberal minded Europeans – guilty by association – felt the need too, in part at least as a way of saving European Jews from ourselves.

Now that Israel exists, it all feels a more complicated. In my lifetime Israel has morphed in liberal (my) consciousness from embattled underdog (Democratic, western, like us) into an oppressor, justifying every terrible action by that first promise – that Israel should be the place Jews must be able to be safe.

It clouds our understanding of what anti-semitism is and how we understand it. I feel it myself.

When, recently, Margaret Hodge said that the rise of anti-semitism within the Labour Party put her in mind of her father’s advice, telling her that, “you’ve got to keep a packed suitcase at the door, Margaret, in case you ever have to leave in a hurry.” She added, “when I heard about the disciplinary action, my emotional response resonated with that feeling of fear”.

In my own mind, my response was equivocal. I heard a wealthy privileged woman, close to the heart of power in this country, and part of me was suspicious that this was a sort of over-statement for political effect. Like many Labour politicians, Hodge has never made any secret of her distaste for Corbyn or the Labour values he stands for.

The feeling was also coloured by a concern that anti-semitism and a wish to challenge Israel’s actions in the Middle East were being conflated, making criticism of Israel that bit more difficult – and I wanted to resist the link (most clearly seen in the definition of anti-semitism that Labour was being pressed to adopt) being strengthened.

I still feel that humanity demands that we challenge Israel over its treatment of Palestinians until a proper settlement can be found, but I read a book recently that led me back to Margaret Hodge’s feeling of unease with a lot more sympathy and understanding.

Dennis Litvinov’s first novel was called, The Lost Europeans and describes the experience of a young Jewish man who goes back to Berlin after the war to set in motion a claim for restitution of his family’s property.

He himself was a child in the 30s. His family were wealthy bankers, secular and assimilated until the rise of the Nazis threatened them. Then, like Dreyfus, they became suspect, ‘other’. They suffered tragic loss – his sister experimented on and killed, his mother’s suicide – before his father escaped the country bringing him to England.

In every outward sense he goes to Berlin a middle class, public school educated Englishmen – but he is a Jew and Berlin helps him understand what this will always mean. He reflects:

‘After all, was he so English? How would they be remembered in London, he and his kind? As temporary residents among the many thousands who occupied furnished rooms in the big, hospitable metropolis? As one species among a host of refugees from every land of intolerance, a class apart, with a voice, a manner, a shrillness that belonged nowhere in the strictly stratified society of England? As something of a burden on the conscience of liberal socialists; too-many-of-the-chosen-people-in-the-professions to the strident housewives of the Conservative Association; white Negroes to the league of Empire Loyalists? The kind and sentimental might think of Daniel Deronda. The others, the enemy, of Shylock, or Eliot’s Jew squatting on the windowsill of the decayed civilisation he owns, or of Colleoni in Brighton Rock – The Tempter who looked like a man who owned the whole visible world, cash registers, police, prostitutes, Parliament, and law, and whose face was the face of any middle-aged Jew, the mythological Wanderer trapped, as they saw it, in the web of his own evil. Judas.

That’s how it was written into the civilisation of Europe. It was the classic Jewish dilemma. Once they offered you conversion, the forgiving embrace of an alien church; then the chimerical brotherhood of man. But all roads led to Auschwitz, to the Warsaw ghetto.

The truth, it said, is that you have been condemned to homelessness. Each generation passes onto the next its virus of insecurity. You learn the technique of survival, fearing ostentation as if it were a vice, censoring the act or gesture that may be pilloried as strangeness, observing yourself constantly through the eyes of an enemy. In a fortunate time a hundred years may pass and you will remain unmolested. You become incautious and show a coloured feather, a hand with six fingers, and another King arises to say: ‘Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we: Come let us deal wisely with him; lest they multiply…and join also unto our enemies.’ You who survive go out to the wilderness for 40 years, space of a generation, until a new, hard people advance upon another land of promise.’

The book was published in the late 50s and it’s been a long time since I have read such a clear expression of the experience of European Jews. Of the insecurity that is bred in the bone – the deep knowledge that achievement and wealth and even access to power will not protect (and may even harm) you, that neither assimilation or difference matters, that, sure as the sun rises and sets every day, when the wheel turns persecution will come again.

In this context Margaret Hodge was only saying what every European Jew must know in their bones.

For liberals now, even though we challenge Israel – and we must – we must not forget that this is also true, or that we, have been, are still, responsible for that turning of the wheel.

Lost Europeans

Allelujah 2019

Reading Alan Bennett’s diary for 2018 in the latest LRB.

Part of the year is devoted to the rehearsal and performance of his play Allelujah. He writes:

In Allelujah!, though, the last speech is given to Dr Valentine, an Asian doctor who came here as a young man to study medicine but who outstayed his visa. So, though he is now a good and qualified doctor and is English in all but name, he is an illegal. In the course of the play his deception is discovered and he is deported. In this final speech he addresses the audience directly and if my unmediated voice is in the play, this is it:

Me, I have no place.

‘Come unto these yellow sands and there take hands.’ Only not my hand, and so, unwelcome on these grudging shores, I must leave the burden of being English to others and become what I have always felt, a displaced person.

Why, I ask myself, should I still want to join?

What is there for me here, where education is a privilege and nationality a boast? Starving the poor and neglecting the old, what makes you so special still? There is nobody to touch you, but who wants to any more? Open your arms, England before it’s too late.

Allelujah 2019

On Gods, Human Rights, and the Poet by Mona Arshi | Poetry Foundation

Powerful blog post on language, truth and the possibilities of poetry here from Mona Arshi.

On Gods, Human Rights, and the Poet by Mona Arshi | Poetry Foundation:

And if there is one thing history has taught us it’s that language can be deployed to otherize people and groups. A poem is not a human rights instrument or the pleadings in a court case, nor should it seek to be, but one activity that the human rights lawyer and poet share is the restless interrogation of language. What happens in the post-truth toxic waters, where language in politics becomes untethered from critical reason? Poetry needs to continue to strive to make space for itself and think the unthinkable, the unimaginable on the page.

On Gods, Human Rights, and the Poet by Mona Arshi | Poetry Foundation

Housing shortages and the collapse in public ownership of land

Since Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979 some 2 million hectares of public land has been sold off, largely to private developers. As this useful FT piece makes clear it is the biggest privatisation we’ve never heard of.

It’s enriched developers and signally failed to encourage housebuilding on anything like the scale the country needs:

Throughout the past four decades, and especially since the global financial crisis, one of Whitehall’s principal justifications for driving the sale of public land has been to enable the private sector to build new homes on it. But it is increasingly clear that the private sector has under-delivered.

Much of the public land released to developers in recent years has not been built on but has instead simply been added to their already engorged land banks. The average number of years of housing supply sitting in the major UK housebuilders’ ‘current’ banks — those containing land that has, or is close to receiving, planning permission — doubled from around three in 2006 to around six a decade later.

Although Sir Oliver Letwin’s final report into landbanking practices was a damp squib, the letter he wrote to Philip Hammond and Sajid Javid midway through his investigations made clear the issue. When developers bank rather than build on land (including ex-public land) they do so not due to the alleged “web of commercial and industrial constraints” but because building too many homes too soon risks ‘disturbing the market price’ of housing. In other words, it hits profits.
— Read on ftalphaville.ft.com/2018/11/08/1541675709000/The-collapse-in-public-ownership-of-land/

Worth reading in full.

Housing shortages and the collapse in public ownership of land

Humpty Dumpty

Jack of Kent (the blog of legal expert and Brexit commentator, David Allen Green) posted this today – after the weekend of the biggest protest against leaving the EU without a second referendum. He doesn’t think it can or should happen and, to my mind, his argument makes sense. This is how he sums up:

So overall: there is not enough time for a referendum, the constitutional opportunities for checking (or slowing) Brexit have already come and gone, there will be no way to choose between competing mandates, the whole thing will be divisive, and it may not get the result its supporters want anyway.

This is not to say that those opposed to departure should give up.  They should carry on opposing with all their might until the very last moment, using any legal or political weapon available.  There is nothing wrong with that.

I would love this Brexit story to have the happy ending so many of you want, with the #PeoplesVote saving the day.   Sadly, however, this is likely to be a Brexit by Quentin Tarantino, and not by Walt Disney.

Five arguments against a #PeoplesVote – Jack of Kent blog:

I like Green because he speaks from a world of order and process when so much of our political life seems to have descended into abuse and ignorance.

My own perspective is that, while leaving the EU is going to be awful, undoing the first referendum before we leave – even if it were possible – would resolve nothing.

On 23 June 2016, like Humpty Dumpty, we fell off our wall. All the cracks and crazing that has disfigured our country for generations – the inequality, the short-termisim and greed, the desperate failure of politics – trapping us beyond nuance and representation in false oppositions – the weakness of our institutions, the poison of our public realm – all burst apart at once.

We are smashed now. The past is irretrievable. The only hope is to start some sober and realistic conversations about the future – if there is any medium or institution left to us where a thoughtful and open debate could be held.

Humpty Dumpty

Bear Hunting

Three tweets, seen over the last two days that seem to me to demonstrate our (and the EU’s) predicament over Brexit.

fig.1

eu states

Dd-qpgzWkAEoef_.jpg-large

Trading needs rules. Trust is regulated not a given. New agreements should not disrupt existing agreements to the detriment of the majority of participants.

fig. 2

DnniK9pWsAAuyAK.jpg-large

Based on existing EU rules the UK’s ‘red lines’ determine the nature of the agreement. What we describe is Korea or Canada. What we ask for is to be friends with benefits beyond what is normally permissible.

If you were the EU would you trust us?

But the UK is important to the EU and the failure to find some accommodation with us will have an impact beyond trade. Hence:

fig. 3

het

There are real risks on both sides and a real question about the capacity of either to deal effectively with the issue of Brexit. The EU cannot step outside of its rules even to become a more effective actor on the world stage.

My own view – for what it’s worth – is that from the UK’s perspective there is no way back from the referendum. I don’t believe a second would achieve anything other that confirm the deep divisions in our society . We have to go through with this – which is why it’s a bear hunt – because as we all know that, when you are hunting bears, whatever obstacle you face:

‘You can’t go over it, you can’t go under it, you have to go through it.’

 

Bear Hunting