Über Daniel Zylbersztajn / dzx2

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 https://medium.com/@danielzylbersztajn/will-sierra-leone-be-saved-from-sars-cov-2-by-its-ebola-trauma-cee56009ab19

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.