Answer to Melanie Phillips: Studying only classics as the source of civilisation per se and the main reference point that matters is the problem.

Having read Melanie Phillips “How studying the classics became racists” is one of many works of her I read that are filled with arguments, that are simply unacceptable. This is a response to the comment she wrote in The Times on 9th of February 2021.

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“Classics” have indeed been quoted within the West as the main source of relevance. There is too much obfuscation of equal Chinese, Arab and wider Indian sources, and civilisations beyond that. That defines “civilisation” as a project supposedly owned by Europeans (though even that would be misreading Antiquity, as it was far more interwoven with the wider East and South than what is given credit).

Phillips parallelization of “white racists” vs “Black racists” and her mentioning that there were Black colonialists and Black slave states are arguments that are borderline to Nazi ideology. If you enter Nazi discourse, as I once have, you quickly hear how “Africans are just as bad”, “look they sold their own people,” and” look how they kill each other in war.” Is that how Phillips likes to argue? Firstly, one does not excuse the other.

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Secondly, many studies have shown that slavery in African societies, whilst no state of pride in any society, for sure, was mostly very different to the transatlantic system of slave trade, less brutal and less big in scale, and not so racially defined. For most, except in the trans-Sahel trade towards Arabia, slaves were not displaced on a scale as they were by the Europeans, nor were their lives as discardable as in the Transatlantic version. That, what some call the African Holocaust, was unique in its scale and its brutality.

Crucially, as in most slaveholding systems in human civilisation worldwide, slaves, usually captured in war, could become part of a group by integration into the family of the “winners” of that local war or conflict.

To take the other point Phillips made, whilst racism by some black people or black groups exists, there is an important difference between being in power for centuries and not being in power. The development per se of modern black anti-white racism can be ugly (just read former Black Panther Leroy Eldridge Cleaver as one example) but is usually directly responsive to systemic discrimination against Black people for many generations. It does not excuse it, but it clearly contextualises it. There can in many ways be hardly a comparison. Looking at the mass-incarcerations, the lynchings, the Jim Crow system, slavery, it is evident where we need to look for systemic perpetrators.

Further, to make a general point, British colonialism is not equal to other colonial states elsewhere (in history). That is because we live in an era where we can still see the effects of that last European colonial enterprise, and where many intentionally refuse to take account of it, (European) colonial history and slavery are brushed out of the public discourse and conscience and marginalised.

It is perverse to accuse those who want to talk about the legacies of the (European/British) Empire(s), colonialism and slavery by those who are supposedly offended as somehow being obsessed or wishing to rewrite or edit history. It is likewise perverse to answer the call for recognition and adequate mentioning of the crimes of European modern society with a brisk “but look at them.”

The “editing of history,” in fact, was performed for the last 200 years at least by those who hold power in the UK and other European nations, and who still control often the history books and lessons of or children in school, or the decisions over what statues people must honour day by day, despite strong evidence that some particular persons do not deserve such special honour, because their character was, simply put, nothing but criminal and evil. A person who willingly sold and profited from the sale of other human beings who involuntarily entered into the transaction, that is, they were forced to, does not deserve honouring by putting that person in the form of a statue in a prominent location (it does, however, deserve mentioning and not forgetting (of the crimes).

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The debate is one, where justice can be done, simply through acknowledging that human civilisations, knowledge and achievements go beyond just the shores of Europe and however remarkable, the philosophies of a Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Cicero et cetera. In a global world that recognises this, we must count on equal terms the civilisations of Chinese speaking people, of the Arabic speaking Islamic world, of the Indian sub-continent, of the Incas and Aztecs, Ethiopians, of Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, the Horn of Africa, or the Turks, Mongols, Native Americans, and Hebrew Commentary, and so many other. To focus only on Greek and Roman classics, whilst a totally valid subject in its own right, and not to be discarded, is to narrow and shut down minds. We need to expand the sources of our knowledge beyond that. Again, I like to stress, this is not a call to abolish (the study of Classics), as so many falsely claim this would be. I think I made the point that Greeks and Romans are valuable to study, but not as the only or main source of civilisation and only or main valid philosophical debate within general education.

And I give Phillips a point in one area. When we engage in the exercise of looking at all of humanity, we will discover that both civilisation and human genius, as well as the potential for human evil, have been omnipresent and are universal human attributes (though there are questions regarding scale and degrees).

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We can then perhaps somewhat relativise the undertakings of European colonialism and slavery as coming out of the capacity of humans to engage in evil acts, though to start with, those crimes relating to the body of European inheritance must be acknowledged, if not atoned for first.
Of course, perpetrators and their descendants often have no interest to do so, especially not, if they never were humiliated for it (as the Germans were, who look inwardly over the Third Reich).

And that is the core of this debate in which the “glory of the nation” remains a largely untouched and unquestioned subject. The status quo is being defended in parliament, as if politicians were the guardians of history. They are only the guardians of simplified notions of nationhood, essentially footnoting the worst crimes. I tend to say these days, it was World War II that safeguarded British identity. The fact that they won the war against a vicious Nazi State is why it is so insisting on its memorialisation, because it also cleanses British conscience from that, which was before, or so they may think.

But true “glory” of humanness comes only from introspection and understanding clearly where previous generations have totally, offensively and murderously been wrong. It comes from the understanding that there has been an attempt to brush over this huge sore of history as if it never was as horrible, terrible and ferocious as it was. To refuse to acknowledge this means Black lost and infringed upon lives, other human beings’ lives, did not matter and continue to not matter, not even for the sake of chronicling these lives, the places from which these people came from as worthy for consideration as a source of study in human civilisation, as worthy as the study of the classics.

The upkeep of the focus of only a narrow vision and sources that keep a non-questioning identity that often carries non-entitled degrees of egocentric arrogance in place, is continuing with the structures of that era, which disable, not enable people to move on, grow and become more globally aware. It is a betrayal of who we really are as humans, which includes the obligation to understand human civilisation on Earth as a whole – all its people, contributions, achievements and failures. It is a pillar for a world beyond the narrow towards a world that serves all, perhaps with less conflict and less inequality in a wider sense.

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A Half Mast to what the British government made of the pandemic in honour of Captain Sir Tom Moore!

A Half Mast to what the British government made of the pandemic in honour of Captain Sir Tom Moore!

There is Captain Sir Tom Moore and what he did, and there is what many in the UK, and in particular in the English psyche want to see in him. The brave soldier who fought in WWII to save us from Covid-19 and from losing our minds and sense of identity.

All was still right in the indulgence of an old soldier’s world, one of brave soldiers, brave nurses, spitfires in honour, and an eventual knighthood by the Queen, extinguish any critical thoughts you may ever have had, for who are you to compare yourself to one of the untouchable heroes of that war, that defined this nation to this day? So let’s splash out on the colours for his sake. And on that day, the day he died, the flag was lowered by the government to half-mast.

The fact that this unexpected hero’s life – don’t get me wrong, his initiative is still remarkable, even had he only raised 1000 Pounds – was in the end put at risk by a trip to the Caribbean in the midst of this last December, as I understand it, right in the growth period of the third wave of Covid-19, is then not surprising. That is because in many people’s minds, heroes are invincible. And it was the government let by the Über-Optimist Boris Johnson, that said, in those flattering optimistic tones, the nation can have X-Mass, which may have encouraged Moore’s family to take unnecessary risks. Optimism is not enough to run a government responsibly, we all now know. It is self-critical awareness and appreciating your and people’s vulnerabilities. For Moore on his return, it meant succumbing first to pneumonia and then Covid-19.

At the tender age of 100 years, Captain Sir Moore was as vulnerable as any person of his age, despite enjoying relatively good health. Precautions and shielding for a few more weeks would have seen him being amongst the first to get the vaccine due to his age. He was already too ill to stand for that ultimate reward and photo opportunity. And so Captain Sir Moore fell victim to the dissatisfying policies on Covid-19 as delivered by the government that saluted him so much as a hero, alongside many others of his generation in many care-homes, who may also have served during WWII but who were already forgotten and discarded in third class underfunded care homes. He sadly could not be saved by the NHS that he raised so much money for, starved of finances for decades, mostly under Conservative administrations.

If Moore’s passing is to be a victory, it is not his optimism or his patriotism that must stand out, but the simple fact that he knew in his heart to appreciate the NHS and those who work for it and took a strain upon himself to raise some money as a thank you for those who cared for him. And of course, one is grateful for his contribution to fight fascism. But he shall never be the tool of government to hide behind. In part, they are to blame for the misfortune that cost him his life, and no half-mast will change that.

As the school debate turns political, it is useful to look at UKs independent voice defending children

It is quite interesting comparing coverage in the Daily Telegraph and The Guardian today on the topic of the re-opening of the schools in the United Kingdom amidst the pandemic.

As this is a topic that interests me, I wanted to look at touch a little deeper into this, and what started as a facebook post, became a little more meaty. Perhaps it helps others:

Whilst the Sunday Telegraph puts down worries about the re-opening of schools to amongst others mere hysteria, depicting graphs that make it look, as if there is hardly any risks (even though on the basis of the same data and figures, quarantines have been put in place by the government on travelers from foreign countries, when infections in any country exceed 20/100.000), the Guardian spells out, not the least through the words of Keir Starmer, Gavin Williamson’s errors. It quotes Paul Whiteman, the General Secretary of the National Association of Headteachers and Geoff Barton, leader of the Association of School and College Leaders, that there appear to be no plans or plan-Bs in existence, for what should happen, if a teacher or child has contacted Covid-19. It quotes the joint statement by the four nations main medical advisors which says that on the one hand  international evidence does not suggest, that the school reopening is followed by a surge in infections” but that on the other hand, they also say that this could not be concluded with confidence.

Views on whether t send children back or not differ in accordance how economically well off and not well off parents (and guardians and carers), are, we read (Guardian). The economically better off are more in favour of children’s return to school. This data, taken from an Institute of Fiscal Studies Report ( on behalf of the the Nuffield Foundation), states that “parents are reluctant to send their children back is the perceived health risk to their child, followed by health risks to other family members.” However, that report does not address the cause of that difference. Reasons could include, one would assume, possibly, wanting the kids back to school, in order to allow parents to return to work, and the quality of information people are exposed to and what information one trusts. It comes to no surprise that the U-turn regarding the grading of the British A-Levels diminished the credibility of the information coming from the British government.

Many, not just in the Telegraph or Guardian, mention the overall lower risk Covid-19 poses to children. Only a small minority of children suffered greatly after contracting Covid-19, and some of those died. Compared to that, it is clear that the effect on staying at home in terms of mental health and the rise in disparity and disadvantage to children is quite pronounced. Not so much attention, goes by the way to the children’s contacts, like parents and grand-parents: Some of these will be in risk groups: For example, 8.5% of Brits have Asthma, 5% (approx) have Diabetes and 4.7% of Brits have pulmonary chronic obstructive conditions (Source). Some children also have these conditions, and are exceptionally vulnerable. BAME Covid-19 higher statistics are mentioned in the Guardian as an additional factor in all of this, that schools and government must also consider when re-opening the schools.

At the end of the day, a less biased view can be found in the report of Anne Longfield, the UK Children Commissioner:

This report states that when it comes to the flu, children may be super-spreaders, but it is different with Covid-19. The spread of infection with the coronavirus, when schools are open, goes usually not from children to adults, but more likely from adults (exposed at work, or elsewhere) to children. Children have also less community exposure (the amount of settings one can contract the virus from) and the the youngest have the least. The British Children’s Commissioner answers the point that is apparently missing from the government at the moment, by stating clearly what should happen, if the spread of the virus increases in an area or affects a school. She argues that “priority children” (amongst them those of parents, carers or guardians who work in essential services) and some others (e.g. poorest, looked after, etc…) should still have school. Priority here would run in accordance to age, the youngest having the greatest need, followed by other age groups.

Those who have national key examinations forthcoming, such as GCSE, A-Levels, are also to be prioritised. Interestingly, the British government has had a similar policy in place during the lockdown, when schools were open for key workers, , but it appears that this has not been part of the planning for the re-opening of schools. Longfield also argues that schools must take priority over all other openings from the lock down. Keeping infections down is a challenge for the entire community, and not just a school obligation, she argues, though she sees a good testing regime in schools as part of what needs to be set in place, in particular in order to distinguish between Covid-19 and the flu :

“Regular, widespread testing and tracing for both pupils and teachers is essential for keeping schools
safe; providing assurance that they are safe; and preventing entire ‘bubbles’ or year groups from having
to be sent home after a case of Covid-19 is confirmed. This will be particularly important in the 2020/21
winter flu season when clusters of flu could be mistaken for a Covid-19 outbreak and result in
unnecessary closure or interruption. The recent Lancet study by Viner et al.13 provides useful estimates
of the improvements in test and trace effectiveness that should be sought over the summer holidays, in
order to ensure that a full reopening of schools from September onwards is safe and successful.
Continuing to improve our understanding of how the virus is transmitted will allow better, more
targeted use of restrictive measures and minimise costly disruption to children’s lives. Results of testing
on teachers and students should be pooled with attendance data to model risks of transmission and
test effective strategies for minimising risk. Any outbreak in a school should be thoroughly investigated
so that potential links in the chain of transmission can be pre-emptively broken in future.”

Churchill hero, or great man, with considerable flaws of his own choosing.

There were numerous failings of Churchill, and one can perhaps even go as far that he resisted Germans, only for Britain to remain free from German rule rather than disagreeing wholeheartedly to racial theories (which were the basis of Nazism). But his leadership did also mean that Germany was defeated, together with the help of allies. That is a fact too. So, as with others, we will have to live with the fact that Winston Churchill was not a man without severe personal flaws.
I think Britons knew it, as soon as the war was won, they went and voted for a different direction. Should we be grateful to him? Yes, his leadership of defeating Nazi-Germany was a critical matter.
As my friend Brian Belton a.o pointed out, some of the British high-office holding political key figures at the time were far more conciliatory and open to German Nazism. They may not have chosen the battle stance against Hitler.
Was Churchill a racist, and even white supremacist? On account of his statements and actions, the answer is that Churchill, that robust man who stood up against Hitler, disappoints. Yes, he was a racist and a white supremacist. One has to live with that duality, and it may seem quite regrettable in a world where many people seek for perfect heroes.
The thing is that history has been remembered selectively. I learned about Churchill’s problematic character at university 30 years ago. Few were aware of. It though before the statue was sprayed on.
Had the UK as a whole a more open and honest account of the past, there would be no controversy. We would all know the facts and be very little surprised,
Today reading some pages in the Daily Telegraph, an article written by the collective of four several of its leading journalists made it look like it is BLM or antiracists who come up with unreasonable statements on Churchill. Not once do they admit that in fact there are terms and expressions by the man, as well as actions that are very regrettable and clearly racist in nature. Danie Finkelstein in the Times does much better by naming some of the flaws explicitly, though isnisting he could still call Churchill great.
Even the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, who reviewed once Churchill’s life, admits on his twitter account ” he sometimes expressed opinions that were and are unacceptable to us today.” He insists he was a national hero nevertheless.
Call him a national hero, as Johnson suggests? A hero, or great man, with considerable flaws, perhaps. Churchill has only got himself to blame for the addendum.
In an essay, I once wrote in uni-days, I examined the argument of the question that racism was a sign of its times, and people who expressed such views then should be given exemption on that account.
I was able to show, again and again, that in each historical episode there were people, who thought otherwise, who did not think Black or Brown people or others were inferior and who did not buy racial theories and spoke out against European racial arrogance. I remember for example the account of a German ship captain who wrote of in his travel journals that he held people in the South to be most human whilst people from Europe behaved like beasts, whilst at the same time Hegel and others theorised that white Europeans were the racial and biological epitome of man. Hegel got his theories wrong because he chose not to know better go to the German harbours and seek out people.
Churchill was racist because he chose to be so, and due to his social surroundings, and unwillingness to consider others as equal humans. But yes, I thank him for leading the fight against Hitler, a racist that was much more dangerous and potent.

On Zionism, Israel and Palestine, on colonialism and Mbembe.

On Zionism, Israel and Palestine, on colonialism and Mbembe.

There have been many posts on Zionism, antisemitism, Israel and Palestine, Mbembe (in Germany), colonialism and post-colonialism in the last month. This is because the Israeli independence day coincided with the coalition between Netanyahu and Ganz which made some frustrated, and in Germany, a dispute started about a passage by the Cameronian philosopher Achilles Mbembe, which some argued was antisemitic. 

I fear, I kept somewhat out of the debate. I feel that all attempts are too short a string. As some will know, the discussion is close to my  former doctoral studies (non-completed) at UCL and Univ. of Leeds, which goes atop my previous studies at SOAS and Goldsmiths. I also worked in a Jewish – Palestinian organisation for six years (Wahat al-Salam – Neve Shalom) and was CEO of Meretz-UK a left progressive Zionist organisation.

The points below are somewhat fragmented, but I nevertheless wanted to lay them out, rather than say nothing at all. If not in this style, they would have required a far  lengthier response, over many pages, and that would have taken a while. I wanted to allow this to be available faster and hence the format.

On the topic, I  wanted to begin with questions rather than with lengthy passages, some answered, and end with some observations, they make the reading and transmission of ideas faster:


  1. ) Is Zionism colonial in the way that European colonialism was, in going to a country or place unrelated to the arriving? What about the Jewish presence that never, in fact, ended, only expanded? What about the centrality of the land in Jewish religion and the very concept of return to Zion?

2.) If Zionism is constructed, what about all other constructed identities all over the globe? The meta-analysis of that destroys all national prescribed identities if one looks closely. It, therefore, can not be applied only to Zionism alone.

3.) In comparison with the broader region, how does tolerance of difference fair? Jewish, Christian and other non-Muslim people in Arab and Persian speaking lands have a story to tell here, Kurds, Beduines, African migrants another (or rather the same).

4.) Was Palestine a land empty of people? Was land gained only by honest ways and never by force and causing fear and expulsions? How can wrongs be addressed?

5.) What can be said about questions of violence and human rights infringements and despotic regimes in the broader region in the last 150 years? Is Israel really the worst of all? What is being kept from being reported? What role does scapegoating play? Jews, they have been a minority in many societies for millennia and therefore representing “the other”,  have been historically and conveniently blamed for problems of the majority that had nothing to do with them.

6.) What role does religious faith have in the conflict? How can the cities of Jerusalem and Hebron a.o,  be shared so that all feel they are equal and respected shareholders? Have not all faiths been too protective, obstructing access and should not all be more open to sharing, in the name of the one God they all believe in, and concerning basic fundamental human rights? What work is being done on that account, and how wide-spread is it?

7.) How many resources enabling good life for all are wasted in the region in the attempt to fight the imaginary or real other?  How can people on all sides be taught to co-operate and invest instead in health, jobs, schools, care and businesses?

8.) Who drew the principle borders in the region? The answer points straight to Europeans who did so with little regard to locals, arbitrarily and to their own advantage.

In the interest of peace, Israel is asked to concede some territories gained in armed conflict repeatedly. But why are other countries such as Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon never part of any equation of conceding land, to let go of some areas assigned to them by the line drawing of European clerical officials (now defended as supposed sancto-sacral  international law)? If all worked together, more space and security could be created in and for a dense and explosive region for all, both for Jews and Palestinians.

9.) Jewish Israelis have rightly been reminded to protect Palestinians and other non-Jewish minorities and ensure they have full equality under the law and representation.  How can that be done whilst guaranteeing that Jews remain in charge of their self-determination within a democratic state? From the Jewish perspective, the last 2000 years have not been good experiences of living in countries in which Jews are not the majority. The last 130 years or so have also not been great for Palestinians.  Does that requirement mean that only a federal or two-state solution is viable rather than a one-state solution?

10.) What can be said about the difference in treatment for Palestinians and non-Jews in Israel compared to Jews?  nd what can be said bout how Palestinian society at large treats minorities of any kind? How can it be improved further? 

11.) If Palestinians should be given all guarantees within Israel (and rightly so), what safeguards exist for the possibility of a future Jewish minority to live in a future Palestinian administered independent  Palestinian majority state side by side the Jewish majority state of Israel? 

12.) How much of the land acquisitions since the 19th. century have been totally fair? How can ownership and claims be addressed between Jews and Palestinians in a way that is agreeable to all parties?

How does one relate to the frequent change of ownership in periods of conquests by successive powers over millennia? This is a question that goes back to biblical days and needs explicit acknowledgement, compromise and agreement. If the wider context is not considered, it will come back and back again.

13.) Who can be trusted to be fair to Palestinians and Israeli Jews as a neutral body? Both sides claim that they suffer from macropolitical bias from different forces.

14.) How does one address the loss of lives on all aiswa, over the last centuries and draw a line? 

15.) How do both states and societies, in general, protect themselves against interference by fanatics within in a peace process? How can they deal with atrocities and violent incidents designed to derail any befriending and change of the status quo?

16.) In a possible one-state scenario for the future, some suggest this,  how can safety and security be warranted for all. What limits to religious and political expression are required from all in such a situation?


On Achilles Mbembe colonialism and slavery:

The above questions already show the complexity of the situation of Zionism and Israel and Palestine. However, I like to raise a few points specific about the issue of colonialism and comparisons to black movements and Zionism.

Black Liberation Movements were informed and inspired by early Zionists, including figures like Marcus Garvey. There are other examples in this regard also. On the other hand, sometimes Jews were used as others (Nation of Islam and early phase of Elhajj Malik Al-Shabazz, when he still called himself Malcolm X in particular).

The relationship between Israel and African politics is complex.  It ranges from relationships and training of the armed wing of the ANC by Israel,  early relations between Israel and new independent African states, to Israel’s later relations with Apartheid South Africa (at the same time Jewish ANC supporters at risk were able to receive refuge in Israel), the rejections and deportations of African migrants and the treatment of African migrants (particularly pressing in the case of Darfurian refugees) within the country.  It also encompasses the comprehensive agreement of African countries to side with calls of some North-African states to boycott Israel (a curious state of affairs given few other countries were ever boycotted).

In its relationship to the European majorities and their othering, Jewish people share the position with Black people (and people of Muslim faith). It is, of course, both different and related. But nationalist liberation movements responded to the racism and marginalisation in both wider cases.

After slavery, the countries of Liberia and the city-state of Freetown in today’s Sierra Leone were both creations that are not dissimilar to Israel in the way that these states provided sanctuary and a new beginning to people of the African diaspora after the catastrophe of their enslavement by Europeans. Settlements in Ghana (following Garvey and Blyden) and Ethiopia (following Rastafarianism) can also be mentioned within this regard. The first “homecomings” in Liberia and Sierra Leone were met with stiff resistance and opposition by regional locals – people were amongst others murdered. The dichotomies of difference were a factor in the respective civil wars there. Sierra Leone Creole’s (Kreo-) community has more or less been out-populated and it struggles to upkeep its cultural distinctiveness. This illustrates that some basic rules to specificity and protection of particular groups are necessary (if one considers again the one-state option that some suggest for Israel / Palestine).

Israel’s maintenance of the status quo of the West Bank is an issue of concern that can be rightly criticised, but it can not be understood without context. The relationship of Jewish people to Israel is totally different to the relationship of the average European seeking to conquer and cultivate colonially acquired territories. That said, the continued expansion and land-acquisitions without due and fair process is and was a reality and victimised Palestinians. Some land was inhabited by Jews, in deed there’s were Jewish cities like Zfad, Jerusalem, Hebron and others where Jews represented a considerable part of society even before Jewish people from elsewhere were considering a larger return (The “returns” were happening for different reasons, one that is strikingly different from European Jews is the migration of Yemenite Jews.)

Jewish acquisitions for settlement expansion (also refered to as the yishuv) were gained through legal agreements, sponsorship collections and allocation, whilst others were in deed gained in conflict, through fear, or indeed occupations, taking advantage of power balances. In the Jewish case, there are references to biblical presence, which allow for the argument of return or reclaim, but undoubtedly many areas were no longer in Jewish possession for a couple of thousand years, with other people having taken custody and ownership of land, often subject to armed conflicts and conquests century after century. Any return must have been negotiated on the basis of taking account of that, and even in its best and most amicable scenario would have yielded tensions, in my view.

At the same time the question of the near-total expulsion of Jewish populations from Arab and Persian speaking lands, not to speak of teh shoah in Europe, requiring somewhere to live, complicates this issue to the detriment of Palestinians. Politically motivated hate of Jews in countries such as Iran, Syria, Lebanon, and others intended to help Palestinians, In reality it aggravated the situation. It did that because there were both new requirements to accommodate Jewish refugees, as well as the possibility of Jews living in countries like Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt or Syria becoming an impossibility.

This also complicates the option of Jews living in a future Palestinian country or even now under the auspices of the PA as. minority (side by side Israel). On what basis, should Jewish people put their trust and need for essential security with the PA? The fact that neighbouring countries showed themselves to be totally hostile to the extend that Jews were not tolerated in their midst and that wars were fought together against “the Jews” (to wipe the “infidels” and “invaders” off the “holy land” and into the sea) meant that Israel’s defensive ethos was also solidified. 

Such points are hardly considered in the wider discussion. They are however elementary. The expulsions of non-European Jews are for example rarely raised, despite their effect being totally devastating and amount to complete ethnic cleansing over huge territories.  In the creation of Israel, this occurred at most partially to Palestinians, nevertheless just as devastating for those concerned. But many, of course not all Palestinians, are still living inside Israel and there with rights, albeit not perfect, and in the West Bank, and Gaza where life is not free of Israeli control, a circumstance that Palestinians rightly object to and which, the longer it remains also harms the moral integrity of Israel.

The conditions in Gaza and the West Bank and in Israel proper can certainly be better, and should lead to a Palestinian state side by side Israel, federal or independent, but for that, the narrative that one can exist only if the other does not must cease. The doctrine of Hamas is an example of such ideology.

Zionism is as controversial as any nationalist movement. It has winners and losers. Zionism is a response to European nationalism and the rejection of Jews. It is a movement also of liberation from oppression. It was merely one of competing ideas before 1933 (one other was for a Jewish autonomy, or the status of official recognition in Poland, for example) but then gained huge importance due to the genocide against Europe’s Jews, that left little other options. 

Nationalist liberation in the Black and African context is a complex matter for different consideration in the ways of the methods used and who can partake and against whom it is led. In Zimbabwe Mugabe lived out his fight against white oppressors. His legitimate fight for liberation, in the end, led to the destruction and self-destruction of Zimbabwe. In that sense, any nationalist and freedom movement has its time and place and its ability to liberate and self-destroy as well as destroy others. If it can not adapt and provide for inclusive change and widening towards greater human goals, it derail in its inability to consider others and because it fails to lay down arms in an eternal state of defence and elimination of weakness. This is not a healthy state of affairs to any group, let alone a state. In Israel this has led to the growth of a part of society following ultra nationalism, sometimes interlinked with religious metaphysical sentiments,   which is just as troublesome as similar ideologies in any one country,  when they begin to disregard the existence of others, and their human rights. You do not need to look very far to find a counterpart of the  very same, just across the border amongst Palestinians.

It is to be remembered that in the Israeli – Palestinian context these days, as before, two nationalist movements stand opposite each other. Both are potent and can kill. Whilst one is clearly locally the stronger force, controlling the other, on a wider geographical scale the dice looks different, and Israel becomes a singular state of “others” with a significant religious and ethnic difference in a wider Islam -dominated non-sympathetic geographical sphere, against which it has to sustain itself. This is not just due to the difference of religion, but also due to cunning and deliberate misdirection by successive regimes in the area that steered deliberate hatred against Israel and Jews in general, not infrequently also borrowing from antisemitic schools of thought.  As both sides can be deadly to each other, there is huge need to try to discharge wall building and bring the conflict down to a human(e) level, where conflict is argued over with words, rather than with arms, negotiated and agreed upon, and only the results of that (a peace settlement of sorts) eventually protected and heavily guarded.

Therefore, nothing easily compares to the specificity of Israel and Palestine. Allegories to colonial projects on the African continent or Apartheid are useless, therefore. The situation must be understood within its own context and challenges. Everything, of course, needs to be done to overcome hurdles and work towards an approximation that makes life possible and liveable and dignifying for all concerned.

Last but not least, I do not call Mbembe an Antisemite, someone who explicitly hates Jews. The conditions of the Israeli and Palestinian conflict are far-reaching and complex. Arguments can be, in fact must be had. But we we must all also remember to dedicate our efforts to support exchange, conflict reduction projects, and any initiative that allows Palestinians and Jews to meet, exchange and encounter each other, ideally over long sustained periods and on equal footings. It is the consideration of many of these points and the discourse and negotiation between that, which leads to something transformational, in a way that both can find a way and will to live in the region side by side and together in a shared destiny of common resolve and purpose that can leave the past behind without forgetting its warnings.

Six Feet Deep.

Six Feet Deep.
UK politicians in government, sourced from the Conservative Party, being responsible to safeguard our lives through appropriate investments of our collective tax monies, stockpiled for the risks of hard Brexit.
They created expensive infrastructures for Brexit. But they did not sufficiently create the necessary precautions for a predictable and preannounced likelihood of an epidemic/pandemic.
That, it is said, would not have gone down well amongst voters, as a politically urgent priority and expenditure, unlike, presumably, the urgency of Brexit, “going our own way, free from the shackles of the EU.” Shackles? We are drowning, suffocating with a virus multiplying in our lungs! Those who advocated for Brexit told me frequently, “well once we are out, you know who to blame.” They would be “our politicians” sitting in Westminster. So let’s start then, for this is not the working of the EU.
Alas, the arguments of Brexit supporting politicians were simply not the correct ones. Our destiny is currently at arm’s length from the overcrowded morgues, rather than the crown of the globe. “Global Britain” it was going to be, for “we know better than the rest” and also “we have the “glorious NHS.” Is that glorious as in “our glorious dead?” Perhaps that is why our political rulers speak of war so often? We may be the worst affected country in Europe, after all, with hospitals less well equipped as of some other European countries. For sure “our” NHS is great, but all doctors and medics are, in whatever country they may be, unlike “our” politicians.
Back then, even UK-bound migration could have been managed adequately with sufficient investment in housing, new schools and hospitals and training courses for UK-workers. Investment again, that was never made. Instead, they shut hospitals, kept nurses wages down, and reduced even the value of the stocks of emergency equipment for a time like this.
They can talk nicely, they can talk patriotically, they can wave the flag, talk of “our” nation, “our” country, pride and how wonderful “we” are. The British spirit is with us, these days, thy claim? What is that? To tolerate and vote for stupifying political classes, against solid evidence, just because they talk nicely, make us feel great for wishful soap bubbles? Of course, that is not just “British,” other countries and nations fall for similar packs.
Their words do not safe the doctor, nurse or care-worker without protective equipment, or the elderly person in a care home, who thought s/he still had a few years of life to look forward to, nor can they magically deliver those missing ventilators. Nor will global Britain deliver any, not even plastic clothing to needy countries overseas.
There is a very bitter irony in all of that, happening at a moment some in this country imagined themselves to be literally on top of the world. The reality is six feet deep for a growing number of people. Perhaps that is what was needed for more sombre and down to earth humility.

Can a poor country do better in keeping Covid-19 at bay than a wealthy country? New Article in English out on Medium

Can a poor country do better in keeping Covid-19 at bay than a wealthy country? New Article in English out on Medium


Dear friends,

it is rather rare that I publish in English.

Some of you may know that my wife is stranded in Sierra Leone.

I last wrote about Sierra Leone 18 months ago about questions regarding sexual violence committed by UN personnel and the evidence gathering by some NGOs.

Given that my wife is stuck and I hear her daily reports from Sierra Leone, I took the opportunity to release an opinion piece on Sierra Leone on Medium, and how Sierra Leone just could do better than other wealthier countries in keeping out the diseases.

To summarise briefly, this is due to two factors: 1. Experience gained during the Ebola Outbreak and 2. The fact that they can not afford to be complacent.

Read here

Please share the article after you are done and at the end click “clap” as the article is paid in accordance to that. Of course, only if you think it was worthwhile.

Thank you


Out of breath – Being GB-correspondent in 2019

Out of breath –  Being GB-correspondent in 2019
(updated and corrected version – correcting a  page synthesizing  and creation error, which duplicated some sections and also removed some photos)

The other day I heard a Dutch NPO-radio colleague speaking (in Dutch) about the stress of the last year as a Great Britain correspondent.

He spoke of the fact that the year was evidently hectic and made it difficult to keep up with family and private commitments, not the least to look after himself. He also said that it was also mentally demanding with constant change in the air.

I echo all of this. Coverage this year may have been busy, but was most frustrating too.

Sadiq KhanIMG_4228
(c) Daniel Zylbersztajn

In addition to Brexit, I had to again deal with the reporting of antisemitism in politics – not for the first year either – I wished I would never have to report on, and doubly so, as someone, who works for a left of centre newspaper, where issues of social justice matter.

Only in 2019, I would have to report on it 19 times in taz and four times in the German Jewish paper.

Antisemitische Karkatur im Hintergrund, und Peter Gregson IMG_4124
(c) Daniel Zylbersztajn

Unlike some UK media outlets on the left of centre, my German newspaper taz was mostly outstanding on reporting antisemitism both in Germany and elsewhere, seeing it correctly as a problem of the left and right. Much of what I wrote was on Labour, but if you look at my last comment in the Jewish German newspaper, the headline is enough. It reads, not just Labour! The fact that taz reports this a problem of both sides has been remarked on in astonishment by British journalist colleagues, who work in Germany, because they assumed it not so in the UK – though I have to say, the Guardian has caught up somewhat on that.

I also reported on green climate change campaigns like XR and the school strikes, seeing my own daughter in one of them, while political decisions moved, as a matter of fact, insufficiently on that side. On the one hand, I was also able to meet and report on a Jewish contingent there, while on the other, one of the key figures of XR also got entangled into controversy due to a stupid and needless comment of his on the holocaust.

I reported again on Grenfell.  First, on a photo exhibition, the first (perhaps only?) report in the German newspaper landscape, and then later, the first stage report from the Grenfell Inquiry was released and I had to speed-read the report in an embargo room, exactly when I had fallen ill and felt sick. I did the first report, but a second newspaper report almost failed due to my health (saved by my editor).  Still, having promised campaigners and survivors that I would attend a meeting with them, I took some aspirin and even attended that meeting in the evening at parliament. The effort proved right. Not only did I not let my contacts down, I was one of only few journalists that evening attending and again the only one reporting this in the German media landscape (read here (German)).  One of the last reports this year, on election night, came from Kensington Town Hall, where, in the end, at around four in the morning I stood in front of one of the key Grenfell campaigners, who was bereaved of words unable to comment, when Kensington went back to a Conservative MP. It went duly into the morning sheets.

I had to deal with this whole Brexit stuff, reporting from both camps who seemed not able to consider or compromise with the other, while being myself a dual UK /EU citizen, who saw rights and wrongs on both sides and somehow wanted it all to go away (considerable parts of the UK population had similar thoughts).

Walesische Generationen apart, Glauben an Brexit. Schafzüchter Rick Thanes links und Bill Griffiths

I met sheep farmers who were willing to end their trade and the professions their families had for generations, if EU export tariffs killed it after the withdrawal from the EU, “for the glory of Brexit “and if it would be keeping out foreigners”, and fishermen who hoped for their lost fortunes to restore through it (read here about in Hastings and here about it Scotland).

I met people whose only positive regional economic changes and contributions were expensive and large EU-funded infrastructure projects in one town a newly upgraded railway line, a newly done up two-lane country road, a colossal fitness centre, a hospital, a huge college and a cable lift, as well as expensive memorials to the towns past,  were still not enough and so many still voted Brexit, because all the many faults that affected their lives, including those caused by austerity cuts, were blamed on Europe (and mostly they had something to do with local or national politics).

Von Links nach Rechts Brexitwählerinnen die den Glanz Ebbw Vales zurückfordern, in dem menschen nicht Infrastruktur unterstützt wird Thelma Robers, Diane Roberts, und Nancy Simpson 20191007_152544
Brexit voters in Ebbw Vale (c) Daniel Zylbersztajn

Privately, on my facebook and on twitter, I reminded people also on Boris Johnson’s rather poor record in London (London Garden Bridge, Routemaster Blunder, Air Pollution Issues (incl. non-released report on effect on children), Boris Island, Heathrow a.o. ), only to be told by two women in a small village in Yorkshire that “they knew” that Boris had been a good mayor in London – and so the man, who was co-responsible for the 350 Million Pound lie, became prime minister – many told me, because their options for alternatives were rather poor.

Boris 1
(c) Daniel Zylbersztajn

There was the resignation of Theresa May, a fight for the leadership of the conservative party, a landslide EU and local election, an illegal prorogation, there was a supreme court decision, and there were astonishing parliamentary votes, and so on. New parties emerged and vanished, I walked with Nigel Farage, and witnessed the ascendance of Jo Swinson (only to resign after the election). I interviewed Jonathan Bartley the Co-Leader of the Green Party.

Jonathan Bartley IMG_4477
(c) Daniel Zylbersztajn

undefinedBut I also got some time with Jane Dodds, a refugee social worker who gained Brecon and Radnorshire in Wales for the LibDems in a hard-fought by-election only to lose it in the general election to a new Conservative Candidate and I argued with Chuka Umunna and Anna Soubry, whilst quizzing with questions the Conservative Transport Minister George Freeman and the Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, amongst others. undefined

undefinedIn Bristol West, I interviewed both Green candidate Carla Denyer and the standing and winning Labour candidate Thangam Debonnaire (I actually liked both of them), and in Sutton-in-Ashfield, Labours Natalie Fleet (who lost aLabour seat of decades to the Conservatives). In Richmond Lib Dems Sarah Olney spoke to me (she won), Conservatives’ Zac Goldsmiths was asked for an interview, but declined.  But I was refused an interview with Luciana Berger, in spite of working also for the Jewish-German newspaper. I also made the highlight of two Nigerian-British conservative party members, when I took a photo for them of the two of them standing with Jacob Rees-Mogg.

There were many demonstrations, those of the Peoples Vote and smaller ones of the Leavers.

Grüne auf dem Land IMG_4764I have been to Wales, Scotland, all sort of regions West, South, . As As usual, I learned new things, going into corners few would go, and thinking creatively and finding unique stories and people. My highlights include the anti-fracking campaigners in Bolsover or the story of a Remainer and LibDem supporter in Wales who lived next to a Brexit supporting Conservative, fighting out their conflict with huge placards on the countryside.

Cuxton Werbeplakat Act Act for Cuxton Together IMG_3125Also, I remember the citizenship initiative in the small 2600 souls town of Cuxton in Kent, who set up their own independent party of independent citizens called ACT (Acto for Cuxton Together) and won in that way against all established parties in their regional local election. I was the only one to report this beyond Kent.  In the same wider region of Kent a Brexit supporting Conservative party club chair told me, that if Hitler would not have been such an idiot, he would have been a good leader.

undefinedIn the same wider region of Kent a Brexit supporting Conservative party club chair told me, that if Hitler would not have been such an idiot, he would have been a good leader. Gravesend Alistair Ellis, 80 Vorsizender des konservativen Klubs in Gravesend IMG_3142

And this having been a most extraordinary year, I was mostly not able to write about issues I actually cared about, like poverty, health blunders and violence, or equality issues, because there are only so many hours of time one has. However, there was at least one story I wrote that set something in motion. When I wrote about the demise of a Dutch mother of two, a victim of abusive relationships and her problems to access social welfare in the UK, because of status issues, a reader had a heart and posted the money she required for a new Dutch passport, which she needed to set things in motion. We even translated the story into English (read here). The mum in question is now settled and protected.

Marlene Rolfe liest den Bericht ihrer Mutter, in dem diese über ihre Jahre in Strafanstalten inhaftiert war, darunter auch KZ Ravensbrück Foto Daniel Zylbersztajn IMG_1608
(c) Daniel Zylbersztajn

Another breakthrough for people was an article initiated by me but co-written in taz with two expert journalists of taz colleagues Pascal Beuker and Christian Rath, which later was translated into English (read here) for wider reach. It regarded the strange omissions of entitlement to German citizenship to certain Jewish refugees and their children. Those affected told us, that the article we wrote was for a long time the most thorough in the German media landscape. Most other media outlets only followed after our article, and what’s more, there was an impact, when the German government briefed its authorities to consider the cases. It came short of a change of law, but it may be something that will still be changed eventually. I also wrote about this in the German Jewish Newspaper Jüdische Allgemeine.

Earlier in the year, I travelled to Berlin (the green way, by train) to speak about Britain at a political discussion event taz hosted. It was great to meet readers, many of whom made sure to let me know that they appreciated my reports.

Even though my position as GB correspondent since September 2018 slightly improved my pay, I continue to wait to be paid closer to the rates of colleagues of national broadcasters both in Germany and the UK. But like the vast majority of journalists out there, I continue to persevere in a relatively poorly paid profession – some say it remains the lowest-paid professional job. I have a German contract of minimum work assurance and pay (for both sides),  but still am not entitled to sick and holiday pay. At 50, that is beginning to be a worrying thought, if one is honest.

I also made sure I had some time for my family, including a visit to my mum amidst the Brexit and election drama because she was hospitalised.

(c) Daniel Zylbersztajn

And if that was not enough to spend your time on in a week, the low journalism wage made me continue to prop up my earnings through my long-established side-profession of personal Pilates teacher, even during this crazy year. On the positive side, I really make a difference to most of my clients. Often, I would teach a few hours and immediately continue into the writing. Some of my sessions also had to be cancelled as and when politics got all wild.

There was little time to make progress on my book, though a taste of things to come on that side came, when I had the opportunity to write extracts of the book for the German Le Monde Diplomatique in its Brexit special in March (thanks to the editor of that special release, Oliver Pohlisch who had the idea). I had to also leave to the side the offer of a trustee position (which remains open, but I wonder now, if I can still commit to things like that), nor could I assist to upkeep a local organisation I had helped to build some years ago when some suggested I should become its chair again.

Did I look after myself? Reasonably well though there were often enduring days and weeks I could not, given the fact, that I also have family commitments. Luckily on reporting duties, I often have to walk a lot, so at least I got that. Worst of all was the announcement of the winter general election. Not because of winter itself or the work challenge, but because the election day fell a few days before my 50th birthday. To compensate for the shortcomings, we planned to go on holiday as soon as the election was over, skipping the last week of parliament, but not before surviving the election night, writing my report, sleeping an hour or two and then attending my daughter’s school end of term show. A month earlier, I was on call during their advent event, and receiving a call in the middle of it due to a fanatic Islamist attacking people in London and then being shot by police. Luckily I returned after the call just in time for my daughter’s little part in the show, though I had to report on the attack later. My wife also had to live with the fact that I was often not there when needed, also having an impact on her ability to work. I am grateful of course for the understanding.

In the end, I must have read and gone through several 100.000 of pages of reports, proposals, legal texts, political statements, comments of others and so on.  I probably have forgotten to mention half of the other stuff I also wrote or covered.  Am I more clever, do I know more, after all of this? Not at all.

The more I do this job, I know, that I know nothing.  Not the least because there is very little time to reflect or go even deeper into a topic. There is always another side, another viewpoint, a perspective you have not heard yet. All in between is commentary – these days much of that is to be found on Twitter. Don’t get me started on what I think of that. The truth is, I much prefer meeting people and learn more about them than in a few characters, though of course, one can not ignore any longer all that commenting. But be aware, not always is there something behind it. Those who engage in this, should also admit more often the old truth of Socrates.


P.s. none of my work would have been possible without great editors in Germany. They know who they are and I like to thank them for their dedicated initiative and care! 



To finish, here some of the pictures of the year 2019. 

Gina Miller announces End of Prorogation wining front of the Supreme Court (c) Daniel Zylbersztajn
Tom Watson at the Labour Party Conference (c) Daniel Zylbersztajn
Stop Brexit Stephen Bray (c) Daniel Zylbersztajn
Leave Means Leave Gathering (c) Daniel Zylbersztajn
Yellow Vest March 2019 in London (c) Daniel Zylbersztajn
Newport Restaurant Keeper Shia Edwards. (c) Daniel Zylbersztajn
First official meeting of Change UK to stand in European Elections (c) Daniel Zylbersztajn
XR Shofar Blowing at Westminster (c) Daniel Zylbersztajn
XR Westminster Bridge (c) Daniel Zylbersztajn
Nigel Farage in Peterborough. (c) Daniel Zylbersztajn
Never Forget Grenfell Exhibition (c) Daniel Zylbersztajn
Luciana Berger on her first Lib Dem party conference. (c) Daniel Zylbersztajn
(c) Daniel Zylbersztajn
Sarah Olney (c) Daniel Zylbersztajn
One of the last acts of Emma Dent- Coad, before she was voted out of office: a parliamentary meeting with Grenfell affected residents and survivors. (c) Daniel Zylbersztajn
Peterborough Jung und Arbeitslos, von links nach rechts Hannah Tebb, 2, Aimy Johnson, Benjamin Griffith, 30, 27IMG_3159
This picture made it into the paper.  Young and unemployed in Peterborough. Parties do not represent us.  (f. l. t. r.): Hannah Tebb, Aimy Johnson and Benjamin Griffith


Narrow advantages over ethical journalism: Daily Telegraph et al. and the Grenfell Inquiry

Narrow advantages over ethical journalism: Daily Telegraph et al. and the Grenfell Inquiry

I am reminded of the degrees of hostility the profession rightfully received after the first days and weeks following the Grenfell disaster. People thought we, us journalists, penetrated their area in an intrusive manner, and whilst doing so, not really hearing or caring. The distrust was not the least based on the experience of decades-long disenfranchisement in the area.

When it became evident that the Daily Telegraph was going to publish extracts from the report of the Grenfell Inquiry, I discussed the matter with the foreign co-editor of the German newspaper taz, and we took the unanimous and quick decision that us following this premature publication was totally out of the question.

We had no way to check whether what the Daily Telegraph, and soon many other British media outlets quoted (including the BBC) was correct. I could have tried to persuade my contacts in the community to see the report ahead of its time, maybe I would have succeeded, because it was handed out to them three days in advance, but we decided that this was not on.

We understood that the affected community, including the survivors, were the only ones who were supposed to see this in advance. It was their right and not a competition for us to enter. They had the right to digest the report without the media coming to its conclusions in between.

The report was about to be released a few days later anyway. Whilst other papers beat themselves up to catch up with the Daily Telegraph, we did nothing until Wednesday, the day of the publication of the report, when I speed-read alongside some 20 other journalists the entire summary of the report within two hours in an embargoed room inside the Grenfell Inquiry base at Holborn.

I wrote three reports since on Grenfell Tower and the inquiry and community, one about the contents of the report, one comment piece, and one of the reaction of the affected community (this is the fourth comment, if you like). It was hard work, made even more difficult by the fact that on the day of the publication of the inquiry report, I had fallen ill with a massive headache amongst others. In spite of that, I followed a commitment to meet some people of the community I had promised to come for over a week. I would not let them down, two Aspirin helping.

When it comes to Grenfell, I have repeatedly over the years observed outrageous journalistic judgement. They include insensitive approaches, pressing survivors and the local communities for stories, and saying things in their name that were untrue or unsympathetic, or claiming to be “the voice” of the community, without a degree of humility.

As a result, whilst I am familiar with and know a good amount of people of the community, I am also at the deficit, of not having personally met many survivors, or interviewed them, as I respected their rights to live undisturbed lives and not recall their traumas just because I want their story. After all, as son of a holocaust survivor, I have a good idea what trauma is like, In a way this is also interesting for me now, because I still have encounters ahead of me, at a time some, not all people, actually want to communicate their story. That said, the fact that the inquiry offered survivors the space to talk in a safer way, to further knowledge to all as key witnesses, once with full support and for all, and documented, rather than but to one or the other newspaper or TV channel or radio programm, is I think also something worthy to note, here.

Journalism for me is always about respect for the individual a community. I adhere to this always, even when I don’t agree with the conclusions of an individual, I always see a full person in front of me, and am interested in the bigger story of an individual. I am grateful for the time, respect and honour they allow me to hear them, rather than understanding it as a self-declared right, for a story at all costs. What are we for, if not as transmitters of stories from one person to the other, who can not be there, with an attempt to allow readers to come to their own conclusion?

It is an exciting profession, which teaches you much about life, through the stories of others. But never must one use other people’s stories, simply to gain advantage out of a need for self-promotion. This is even harder today, because many of us, myself included, are encouraged to share our reports in social media, or because newspapers sell in accordance to the degree of excitement their headlines provide.

Gentleness, kindness, curiosity, gratitude, respect and a promise to report without changing the meaning people give before you is, most of the time, beside good writing skills, and a good memory and instinct, the guarantee of a good story. Those who lack this skill, need to find other means for their stories. Fill in the void what other means. To do so on the back of the community around Grenfell Tower, is in my view more than bad judgement. It lacks sensitivity, understanding and is all about taking a narrow advantage.

After all the talk on Wednesday, in the evening, a small club in London invited the Grenfell Tower affected community to be together and support each other. There was but one request on the invitation. It was not “wear black ties,” but simply it reminded possible visitors “This is a press free zone.”

Be a Mensch first!

For image source click here

Journalism used to be a respected profession. We go out and meet other people, share their stories, report them for the benefit of others. If we are considered to be rude or inappropriate, at worst let it be for a persistent question asked, for that is our trade, whilst we must know also our boundaries in terms of what is a person’s private sphere.

But there is another side I witness at times. I have to say, sometimes, I wonder about the self-centred “me first” ambition of some of my fellow journalistic colleagues (not all, thank goodness!).

Here is an example that I encountered today as I waited in front of an English court of law from from around 08.00 in the morning onwards for the doors to open at 09.00 (I left my home at 06.45 for that). My preparation had paid off, as I was one of only five colleagues, who were amongst the first in front of the court-building door. By the time the court-building had opened, there were some 25 journos outside, and by the time the courtroom door (up on the third floor) opened, it must have been well over 30 colleagues plus ordinary persons, members of the public, who just came to observe.

I always treat my fellow colleagues with collegial respect. Having been in the business for a while, in fact I have been in journalism on and off for about 28 years, I experienced oftentimes that colleagues help each other and try to prevent replication of asking a source. Sometimes the help goes above that, with cars, food, even accommodation shared, even if one is not from the same media organ. But not always, and today I almost missed out on a court hearing due to good manners, which include as it stands, to not push myself in front of others with disregard and to try to upkeep civility and politeness – a skill that got not the least refined from living in England – when others showed hardly any of these attributes.

It started when some colleagues, who arrived rather late stationed themselves self-importantly beside and then before me and in the front line. As soon as the doors to the building opened, they and others almost run into the court building trying to be the firsts to be in. As I was right in front of the main entrance door, in spite of those pushy folks, I managed, without too much hurry, still to be amongst the first ten persons in the waiting room on the third floor in front of the courtroom, after we were let in and had gone through the security controls. Had they not pushed, I would have been amongst the first two or three upstairs. When the doors to the court-room opened after another hour of wait upstairs, the media league began yet again and with even more eagerness to ferociously push itself through the door into the court-room itself, as if inside somebody was giving out free diamonds to the first to arrive inside.

The entrance was almost blocked when several people at the same time tried to enter. Some of those who had come last were amongst the worst offenders. It was unbelievable behaviour these professionals beared to the open. As I finally entered, there were hardly any seats of the 30 plus seats left. A man shouted, there was a seat still free beside him. Whilst I was in front of a woman, a young determined journalist half my age, I was cavalier enough to allow her to take that seat, saying, please, You have it. Now I I am asking myself , why on earth did I feel the need to be polite? She self-righteously instead pushed ahead without a thank you.

So it was, that despite being one of the first at the location ready for work, I nearly missed out on one of the available seats, leaving me standing in the room, quite confused as to what had just happened. Already a court official declared that “those still standing would have to leave the room.” I feared for the worst, when only due to some sudden reshuffling on the order of the court officials, I was finally able to gather a seat, to my great surprise and relief.

Having witnessed that conduct, and having remained a mensch, almost to my detriment, the next frenzy was only about to start. One clever cocky journalist, well trimmed and in a fine suit, you would mistake him for what they refer to in this country as supposedly a gentleman, decided to request the names of the defence and prosecution lawyers single-handedly for himself. When he failed to volunteer his “most precious information” to all his other fellow colleagues, another five or six journalists started getting up from their seats queuing up behind the lawyer who had volunteerd the details, also requesting for the names and then, to my surprise, also not sharing the details to all (at best they did to those seated next to them). It was totally disorderly and very non-collegial. The rule in the room seemed to be ‘get what you can’, ‘disregard all others, or how you get it.’

This may be an attitude that at times helps journalists in certain situations, but it really had no place inside an English courtroom, not the least, because court officials will always assist journalists to get whatever information they may require about the persons involved in a case, unless they are instructed not to. Eventually, the court officials put a stop to the small queue of journos behind the lawyer in question, who himself was rather baffled by it all.

In the end, all journalists found a space to sit and all journalists who required information received it. There was no need for the behaviour shown.

Perhaps, with foresight, the court officials should have prepared for that, given the amount of media interest. I have been in courtrooms where the information of the names of the accused, the judge and the lawyers were already prepared on a special hand-out list for journos or sometimes a sheet with that information would circulate from seat to seat for us to copy. I have also been in courts where there was a number put to journalists, in accordance to arrival time, sometimes, especially in Old Baily cases, we have to pre-announce our intention to reserve a space.

The colleague next to me was one of the five people who managed to get those names from the lawyer. She shared those with the man to her right, but forgot me, seated to her left. She only thought of volunteering the names after I explicitly asked for them (at least she did that without further ado). In the end, I did not even need the names later, as it was not too relevant for German news.

There were about a dozen people in the public gallery watching the behaviour of all of this, as well as the court officials and lawyers. If people have little respect for our profession, here was just another admittedly small example, showing that we can not even behave well towards or respect our very own colleagues. Treat your neighbour like yourself, or treat your colleague like yourself is an anathema here, it seems.

The last time I witnessed such behaviour was about three years ago, when a journalist went up to an emotionally strained Grenfell survivor to ask for her details in a public meeting and refused to share that detail with other colleagues, requiring them also to go up one by one to that survivor (this was only days after the inferno). I remember that the journalist had eventually given me some information, but not all, giving off an attitude of somehow being the clever or deserving one. Maybe she was, was she?

A few years ago at a large world leaders and experts summit hosted by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, journalists were treated with a degree of contempt, amongst others, not being allowed into many areas into which we should have been allowed for access (such as where debates and presentations occurred). Our access area was severely limited. I complained about that at the time. But to be honest, after what I have witnessed today, is it a surprise, if some think, we must be managed quite vehemently, and that often, in order to report, we have to get accredited, which, by the way, is still not a guarantee that people, fellow journalists, behave themselves with courtesy and with respect to others. In my rule book for the job that is amongst the twelve commandments of the trade. But maybe, approaching my 50s I am just old-school, like the fact, that I still prefer to take notes on a paper notepad, rather than record everything digitally. But to be a mensch, to be kind, surely, is never something outdated, though at times it could be rare.

Nach dem konservativen Parteitag: Heilung der Fronten des Landes und Torysieg in den Sternen.

Nach dem konservativen Parteitag: Heilung der Fronten des Landes und Torysieg in den Sternen.

Mit dem Angebot eines neuen Brexitauszugdeals von der Regierung Boris Johnsons, unmittelbar nach dem Ende der konservativen Parteitages, ging leider ein Teil meiner Reportage in der taz unter, nämlich was sich nach der Konferenz vor dem Konferenzzentrum noch ereignete.

Bericht aus Manchester.

Wer den Menschenmengen vor dem Konferenzzentrum glaubt, dann endet die Fähigkeit Boris Johnsons das Land für sich gewinnen und zu vereinen, bereits 100 Meter außerhalb des Konferenzzentrums in Manchester.

Vor dem Kongresszentrum und der Sicherheitszone werden die den Parteitag verlassenden Delegierten von einer lauten und kleinen Demonstration von einigen 100 Frauen empfangen, die der Vereinigung Waspi (Women against state pension inequality). Ella Bennett einer der Sprecherinnen erzählt, dass sie hier sind, weil ihr Rentenalter, ihrer Meinung nach ungerecht, erhöht wurde. „Wir waren auch bei den Parteitagen der Liberaldemokraten in Bournemouth und der Labourpartei in Brighton, konnten da aber umsonst oder billigst Infostände innerhalb deren Konferenzzentrums führen. Hier bei den Konservativen wäre die Gebühr dafür zu hoch gewesen, behauptet sie. Von den vorbeigehenden Delegierten, hätten die meisten die Gruppe ignoriert, statt auf sie zu zugehen, hätten ihnen manche sogar Toryplakate entgegengehalten um sie zu  hänseln, schildert sie. 

Gleich daneben hält Dave, 67, eine Ein-Mann Kampagne für Brexit aus seinem Rollstuhl heraus und trägt ein Schild, dass ihn jemand aus dem Konferenzzentrum gebracht hat, dass „Get Brexit done“ fordert. Er hat Fahnen aufgehängt, darunter die englische und die britische. „Alles was ich will, ist dass Boris uns Brexit gibt, damit wir nicht mehr eine Milliarde Pfund pro Monat an die EU zahlen müssen, und ich will, dass nur noch Migranten mit bestimmten Fähigkeiten.  „Wir brauchen Einwanderer. Sie helfen unserem Land, aber nicht Leute ohne Ausbildung.“

Neben ihm steht eine kleine Gruppe mit gegenteiliger Meinung, Es sind Remainer*Innen – EU-Unterstützer*Innen, ausgestattet mit EU-Fahnen, EU-Kappen und Ansteckern. In dem konservativen ehemaliger Stadtrad, Ian Proud, 75, aus Westlondon, der gerade vom Parteitag kommt, haben sie einen Diskussionspartner für ein Wortgefecht gefunden.  Proud spricht vom „demokratischen Entschluss des Landes im Jahr 2016“ und den seiner Meinung nach fürchterlichen Plänen der EU für eine Armee, die konträr “britischen Interessen” stünden. „Das ist eine Lüge!“ giftet Adam Purkins, 32, zurück, in der linken Hand eine Europafahne. „Als ehemals konservativer Wähler, habe ich das Vertrauen zu Euch verloren. Das Referendum glich doch einer Meinungsumfrage, und Großbritannien hat außerdem ein Veto bezüglich den Plänen einer EU-Armee.“ Außerdem verhandelte David Cameron weitere Konzessionen bezüglich der immer enger angebundenen Union ausgehandelt.“

Ein älterer Mann, Jeffrey, 74, er will seinen Nachnamen nicht nennen, gesellt sich plötzlich hinzu. Auch er will Proud, der für ihn hier repräsentativ für “die Tories” steht, seine Meinung sagen. „Ich bin ein ehemaliger Grubenarbeiter aus Manchester. Was ihr Konservativen wollt ist nicht das, für was ich beim Referendum gewählt habe“, schimpft er. „Ich wählte Brexit für unsere Fischereirechte, um eine 1-A Insel zu schaffen,  und um Kontrolle über unsere Grenzen wiederzuerlangen. Und jetzt bekamen wir diesen Boris, für den niemand gewählt hat, der jeder Frau hinterher läuft und macht und obendrauf eine Grenze zu Nordirland aufbauen will,, obwohl ihr versprochen hattet, dass ihr das nicht tun würdet.“ Eine junge Frau, die sich nun auch mit einmischt, betont, sie stimme mit Jeffrey überhaupt nicht überein. Ihr Argument ist dass jeglicher Brexit alles das was bereits jetzt nicht richtig funktioniere, noch schlechter machen würde.

  Von einer Heilung der sich verhärteten Fronten durch die Beschlüsse der Konservativen, gibt es jedenfalls hier vor dem Konferenzzentrum in Manchester noch keine Spur, und das leichtes Gewinnen etwaiger nächster Wahlen, welches sich die Konservativen mit ihrem Program versprechen, steht somit auch noch in den Sternen, etwa hinter dem Orbit in den Boris Johnson bei seiner Ansprache am Abend mit der DUP den Labourführer Jeremy Corbyn wegschießen wollte.

Anthony Webber, ein britischer Kolumnist, und ehemaliger Abgeordneter Guernseys, der auf alle Parteitage geht und sich die Rede Johnsons ansah, glaubt beim Verlassen des Konferenzzentrums, dass der wahre Test Johnsons Fähigkeit sein wird, seinen Brexit überhaupt zu liefern. “Wenn er das nicht schafft, sind im Grunde die Reformen der Labourpartei viel großzügiger für ärmere Menschen, als die der Konservativen”, glaubt er. Er wittert Gefahr für die Tories.

“Unsere Europäische Art”

Wenn Ursula von der Leyen von der „europäischen Art zu leben“ entgegen Johnson spricht (1), benutzt sie ausgrenzendes Vokabular, dass nicht besser als das der Brexit Front ist, wo mit der Floskel des „our British Way of Life“ – unserer britischen Lebensart –  gleichfalls argumentiert wird.  Wer sich so wie von der Leyen positioniert, definiert die EU als selbstgerechtes Bündnis welches so, mit dem Wort „unsere“ klar anderen Regionen und Ländern gegenüber ausschließt und das Wohl der Zivilisation prinzipiell für sich behauptet. Ich bin für Großbritannien in der EU, dass bedeutet aber noch lange nicht, dass derartiges Gelabere von der angeblichen „europäischen Lebensart“  entgegen andere Regionen der Welt, Gültigkeit hat. Wer zu stark auf „unser Europa“ pocht darf nicht vergessen  was „unsere Lebensart“  bedeutet, wenn Europa als Konsument von Gütern und Ressourcen betrachtet wird und kollektiv mit den von europäischen Staaten verursachten historischen Katastrophen und Kriegen, Genoziden, dem Kolonialismus, der Sklaverei, der Welteroberung-und-Bevormundung und der forcierten Missionierung, dem Holocaust und dem ehemaligen und heutigen Menschenhandel. Großbritannien mag durchaus tiefer in seine absichtlichen Übersehen blicken müssen, sich entkolonialisieren, damit das Empire Denken sich beruhigt, aber jene die zu laut Europa schreien, sollten dies ebenfalls tun. Neben dem nächsten „europäischen Cappuccino im mediterranen Cafe mit Meerblick schwimmen Leichen von Menschen über bereits seit Jahrzehnten und Jahrhunderten versunkenen Skeletten, deren aller Präsenz auch die „Lebensart Europas“ mitdefinieren. Nur aus diesen Erfahrungen darf das Gelübde zur angeblichen „europäischen“ Toleranz, der Gerechtigkeit Gleichberechtigung, Solidarität und Menschenrechte verstanden werden.

Double Espresso it is- On Netanyahu’s Re-election.

So I will stay with drinking water or maybe something bitter – a really bad espresso to wake me to the reality, because bitter it is.

I am old enough to have grown up, seeing the 1973 War, the 1972 Munich Olympic Terrorist Attacks, bombings of Jewish and Israeli sites throughout the 1970s and 1980s and the 1980s Lebanon War, Sabra and Shatila, then, the first Intifada and in my 20s, how Rabin and Arafat came together.

I never had any doubt, nor do I have today, about the importance of Israel, a state where Jewish people could live and be more in charge of their destiny than anywhere else, in a country that stands on the basis of Jewish history and religion, as a pluralist democratic and diverse country. But I had to learn that there were Palestinians (the concept was not one I grew up with, then, all were simply terrorists that hated and murdered us Jews) and that the versions of history people close to us told us, were only one part of the story, that there was another side. I support for a long time now the two-state solution.

Believe it or not, with a dose of scepticism that I had as a German-born person, that history had more on offer, I learned in Israel itself, most of all, from open and progressive Jewish Israeli teachers and people who knew a fuller more complicated history. I had been as a young adult to a Palestinian village (I was not allowed by the school administration, and did so nevertheless), and they gave me espresso to drink. Nothing happened to me, but the taste of the coffee was strong and bitter, only sweetened by lots of sugar.

I was shocked when I first met, still in secondary school in Israel at the time, students a year or two older than me who had been alumni of my Israeli secondary school and had begun their army service. I remember how one such young man came back with raw, hateful emotions about Palestinians and revengeful blind and violent language. Then, a few years later, came Rabin and Arafat. It was what turned out to be the last return of a more just, equal, fair and also intellectual Israel or the hope thereof (it is still there, but it has not been in control for nearly half of my lifetime). Much of the old welfare provisions, even the famous Kibbutzim, no longer are anything of what they once were, though there are still a few left – shadows of the past really.

What we got instead is the growth of mostly unchallenged extreme nationalist views on both sides, not helped by bias and interference from the outside against or for either side of the conflict. It was the combination of Russian- and American- and later French-Jewish waves of immigration, mostly from small regions, nearly all coming from divided and racist realities, that they carried with them. They wanted to be free and no longer compromise. Some, with little means, got free or reduced rate housing in controversial areas, beyond the Green Line, a cynical style of politics to people with few choices or lack of awareness. Others moved there deliberately to live-out their Jewish fantasies undisturbed, or so they thought or hoped, and reclaim more of “God’s given land”, more than what laws and wars had settled on decades earlier.

Netanyahu represents a world of simple populist politics, a Jewish version thereof. Easy slogans underpinned with right or far-right, sometimes religious fundamentalist uncompromising ideology, neoliberal economics, aided by coalitions with people like Trump and Bolsonaro, most recently even, it is hard to swallow, with Saudi Arabia at the height of its atrocities in Yemen. Arafat had tried to use a new strategy too. Whilst some found it hard to believe, those who disagreed with him made things hard, he hesitated a lot, and his internal and ideological enemies later returned with a vengeance.

The neighbours of Israel likewise were supported by hardcore dictators and fundamentalists at the same time. Not only the old autocratic rulers Hussein, Gaddafi, Assad but also Ayatollah-led Iran, and later movements like Hamas, the Islamic Brotherhood, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, Al Qaida and Daesh. They provided a rationale to an uncompromising iron fist politics by Israels leaders.

But there are pacifists and non-violent peacemakers on the other side too. They have a hard time. In Israel, there is a chance every so often to change the leaders. So far, it is unbelievable but true and for a generation now, reason, morals and intellect are not winning the day, toughness, big words and posturing do. I pray that we will see a return of the hope we felt in the early 1990s, on both sides. And that next time societies are not so fragile, that they allow one fanatic and one bullet to derange rightful aspirations of many, to trigger decades of entrenchment. They always try to extinguish hopes and goodness with violence, hate and bloodshed. It is their tactic, it enrages people, and keeps the fires burning.

Israel has still not gotten over the murder of one of its former elected leaders. And what have they got in return? Double Espresso, with no sugar!

Will all become brothers and sisters, still?

I met an ex-miner in Nottinghamshire who confided to me he never travelled out of Britain in his entire life (60 years old he was). He voted Brexit against the political elite, he said. I met a Punk singer in London who uttered “Fuck to Brexit!”, however, admitted, she never spoke to a leaver discussing points of opinion.

Will the people of this country please start speaking to each other? Pretending it is enough if one deal or the other gets voted through, even by a cliff hanger – that it would be sufficient – was never going to do the trick of calming this country (of Great Britain). For Brexit, you have heard this before, is not just about the EU. Behind the smokescreen lie crass, no, shocking levels of inequality and education, and the sell out of small communities in a changing world.

Brexit will sadly not heal these fissures of the divide, between those who have vast amounts of privileges and resources and those kept behind for generations, if not centuries, indirectly or more precisely, through indirect but deliberate oversight.

Some of the Brexit Gods are the same people who sold such people out, speak major investors , property and fund zars, like Rees Mogg or Richard Tice, or a Wetherspoon chain Tycon, or the vacuum-cleaner emperor Dyson, not that some of the top Remainers have any much more pity on the impoverished, say major multinational groups, more interested in profits than people having meaningful lives where at least some of their infrastructures and traditions are protected from the destructive interference of the likes of Amazon, Starbucks, Lidl, BMW, Tesco, Walmart and Co (note the Americans in the list, for those who worshipped Brexit, for less trade with the EU and more with the U.S. have it coming for them all the same).

Whatever form of Brexit parliament decides upon, if it can decide at all, the real issue is not Brexit. The real problem in Great Britain is the lack of social mobility and the lack of a more evened out society. My biggest fear is that the aim to tackle this will get forgotten in the process of any decision under the banner of Brexit, while the true status quo remains to be tackled.

And, second to that, is the crisis of identity of both Britain and Europe that is still resting on an unchallenged historical footing. Not just Britain’s self-understanding is ruled by empirical aftershocks. You can find echoes of that in Belgium, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Holland amongst others – and the overall assumption of the supremacy of the Christian civilisation -supposedly. Count (if you dare to) the human toll it caused and you know the price thereof.

For inequality and privilege is not just an internal national problem. Once you look globally, Europe becomes Small England. Europe too refuses to acknowledge that taking a stance for and foremost against all forms of exploitation is an absolute priority, with people around the globe as equal agents. It would reduce migration, reduce our global environmental challenges and would ensure the paying of fair wages by trading with poorer nations on an equal footing, and making health care standards and access to education for all an absolute.

In the end, You may say, Britain is selfish for trying to unlink itself from the EU, Trump-America for building a wall, but what is the EU or the US to the world, if not a self-centred border guarding place? And, it does not end there. Other supernations, China, India, America likewise want it all for themselves. This can not be the way forward.

In the spirit that was supposed to unite divided Europe, a violinist, member of an volunteers orchestra that performs in a “Concert for Europe” Beethoven’s 9th Symphony on the 28th of March (they thought this would have been the last day of the British membership of the EU), reminded me of the words of Schiller and perhaps we should take his invitation global.

“Joy, beautiful spark of divinity, Daughter from Elysium We enter, burning with fervour, heavenly being, your sanctuary! Your magic brings together what custom has sternly divided. All (wo*)men shall become brothers (and sisters), wherever your gentle wings hover.”

That is our only rescue, and we must act accordingly, beyond Britain, beyond Europe, all sisters, all brothers and all in between. One world to share for all on equal and fair terms.