Saturday, June 28, 2003

Random thoughts brought up by Professor Wilkie's letter. (Don't wait for the point, there is none).

From: "Andrew Wilkie"
To: "Amit Duvshani"
Sent: Monday, June 23, 2003 9:58 AM
Subject: Re: PhD application

Dear Amit Duvshani,

Thank you for contacting me, but I don't think this would work. I have a huge problem with the way that the Israelis take the moral high ground from their appalling treatment in the Holocaust, and then inflict gross human rights abuses on the Palestinians because the (the Palestinians) wish to live in their own country.

I am sure that you are perfectly nice at a personal level, but no way would I take on somebody who had served in the Israeli army. As you may be aware, I am not the only UK scientist with these views but I'm sure you will find another suitable lab if you look around.

Yours sincerely

Andrew Wilkie

Nuffield Professor of Pathology,
Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine,
The John Radcliffe,
Oxford OX3 9DS,

Tel (44)-1865-222619
Fax (44)-1865-222500

Why is it that I don't jump up in indignation every time an Israeli academic gets the boot or doesn't get the job in Britain, because of being Israeli? Maybe it's because I have enough of a chip on my shoulder to be surprised when this doesn't happen or doesn't happen more often?

My parents grew up in the North of England in the nineteen thirties and forties in what I interpret as a veiled anti-Semitic atmosphere. My mother recalled hearing the Jews being blamed for the war and was called a dirty Jew herself, as a small child. Both my parents had quite a few unpleasant stories to tell. They were not academics. They were not nuclear physicists or something. They were just kids growing up in the war in a tough northern town. I recently heard a family member, still living in that part of the world, rationalizing this, by saying it wasn't just the Jews. It was a religiously diverse city, everyone picked on everyone else. And the minorities were right in the middle.

That makes being called a dirty Jew at the age of five so much easier to bear ("But I'm not dirty. I get washed every day.").

My parents didn't try to rationalize anything. They became active Zionists and then they got up and left. It took them about thirty odd years to do this, but they did it and I'm proud of them for it. It wasn't easy for them here either.

What has this undercurrent (and sometimes over current) of anti-Semitism my parents experienced in Britain as children, during the war and after, got to do with present day discrimination in Britain against Israelis for political reasons? This is a tough one. In Israel it is accepted that we're not going to win the Eurovision Song Contest again, however good the song and the performance, as long as we are perceived as the bad guys. Not that anyone with half a brain could care less about the Eurovision Song Contest, mind you. It's probably the dullest TV event of the year (Although it may have improved. I haven't seen it for about twenty years, so I wouldn't know). It's annoying but there we are. Anti-Semitism? Maybe that's just being paranoid.

However, in his already infamous rejection letter, which arrived in my e-mail box via Naomi Ragen’s mailing list (and that has already been discussed widely on the Blogosphere here, here, here, here, and here, and probably on many other blogs), Professor Wilkie of Oxford makes the equation between Israelis and Jews himself. Says Prof Wilkie "I have a huge problem with the way that the Israelis take the moral high ground from their appalling treatment in the Holocaust". But the thing is no Israelis were in the Holocaust. Not even one. Because there were no Israelis and no Israel when it took place. Many survivors became Israelis afterwards, but they weren't Israelis when it happened to them. In Professor Wilkie's pathological mind (I'm not being rude, he's a professor of Pathology), it seems, Israelis=Jews=Holocaust survivors.

Am I latching on to a detail here? Am I missing the point? Somehow I find myself terribly offended by the Holocaust sentence, rolled off so glibly and thoughtlessly. You get the feeling the good professor and his friends use this line freely in their stuffy cocktail party chitchat, without really thinking about it's meaning. (I am especially struck by the words "appalling treatment". Appalling Treatment?! What a wonderfully British understatement).

An Israeli writer (I forget who) was once telling the story of the fierce quarrel he had had with the Rabbi over the grave of his recently deceased father. He wrote that it is a well-known fact that the first one to bring up the Holocaust in an argument has lost the argument (and believe you me, the Holocaust comes up at some point in every argument in Israel). He went on to say that although he knew this, he couldn't help himself and brought up the Holocaust anyway. But that was between Jews.

It seems to me incredibly insensitive for a gentile to mention the Holocaust in such a fashion in a letter to an Israeli he doesn't know personally. I see this as proof of Professor Wilkie's ignorance, regardless of his political views (which I respect, however ill-conceived they may be).

When Bish and I were young students we once entertained in our apartment a German visitor that friends had brought around. I remember we were listening to Yehuda Poliker's hit record of the time, Ashes and Dust, in which he came to terms with his parents' Holocaust experiences. The music was good, the lyrics haunting. Of course, our German guest couldn't understand the words and didn't know what she was hearing. Suddenly Bish jumped up and changed sides before side a' was finished (Remember changing sides on records?). I asked him why and he showed me the cover. The next song would have been a song called "The Little Station Treblinka" the words of which included a repetition of the sentence "This is the Station Treblinka". Bish hadn't wanted to embarrass our guest.

Funny that, isn't it? The brusque, obnoxious Israeli had more tact and good manners than a member of the intellectual elite of what is ostensibly the most polite nation in the world.

Update: This is good.

Important update: I have an official response, from one John Williams, esq. of Liverpool, England (fondly referred to elsewhere as Our John): "What Jews must try to realise is that we British are not racist with regard to them but rather that Jews offend our sense of aesthetics. You see, for the elite public school raised Briton, brought up on classical imagery of Lawrence of Arabia, no Jewish man, sweltering in the heat of Tel Aviv, can possibly compete with the cool romanticism of a tented desert dweller swishing about in a gorgeously coloured burnoose, proffering one dates. That the aesthetic appeal of this scene is lost on Jews can be found in the fact that one cannot purchase a decent djelleba in M&S* for love or money."

*M&S being the Jewish owned or partly owned, or at least started by a Jew, Marks and Spencer department store.