The Jewish Chronicle - - ARTS & BOOKS -

Hamp­stead Town Hall, Lon­don NW3

HARD-LINE so­cial­ists and rad­i­cal chic Hamp­stea­dites are not known for their sense of hu­mour. The world is just too se­ri­ous a place for mirth, and the sit­u­a­tion in the Mid­dle East in par­tic­u­lar is no laugh­ing mat­ter.

Yet it has to be ad­mit­ted that the Jewish So­cial­ists’ Group’s What a State event, a back­handed com­pli­ment mark­ing Is­rael’s 60th an­niver­sary, was a com­edy tri­umph. In fact the laugh­ter was so rau­cous at the Hamp­stead Town Hall that one en­thu­si­ast reck­oned it could be heard at Wem­b­ley Arena, where the Zion­ist Fed­er­a­tion was at the same time hold­ing its of­fi­cial main­stream cel­e­bra­tion.

Strangely for a pro­gramme de­signed to let “al­ter­na­tive” co­me­di­ans rant about the in­equities of Is­rael, the coun­try was rarely men­tioned. Com­pere Ivor Dem­bina opened pro­ceed­ings by telling the au­di­ence that in 1967 he had been elated at Is­rael’s Six-Day War vic­tory and that the only Arab he knew then was Peter O’Toole. The Is­raelis, he went on, should give back the oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries, “but we should hang on to New York”.

There was a roar of ap­proval when sur­vey­ing the packed au­di­ence — some of whom were of a cer­tain age and adorned in their ’60s ban­gles and kaf- tans — he said: “We have sold out tonight — but not po­lit­i­cally.”

But from then on, the co­me­di­ans fo­cused on other tar­gets. The pick of night was the ir­rev­er­ent Mus­lim comic Shazia Mirza. Sui­cide bombers, she quipped, be­lieved that when they blew them­selves up they would be re­warded with 72 vir­gins. “When I go to the next life I want to be re­warded with 72 Chip­pen­dales,” she said.

Satirist Mark Steel did rant, but mainly about the prob­lems of trav­el­ling from his South Lon­don home to the North Lon­don­v­enue.WhatLon­don­needed,he said, was a “two-state so­lu­tion”.

It was al­ter­na­tive comic Jeremy Hardy who brought mat­ters down to earth with a thud when he de­scribed Is­rael as a “tragedy for the Jewish peo­ple”.

But per­haps the most telling, if not funny, gag of the night came from Pales­tinian Bassam Aramin, of the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian Com­bat­ants for Peace move­ment. Called up to ad­dress the au­di­ence, he joked: “I’ve been asked to speak for five min­utes, which for a Pales­tinian is a pun­ish­ment. If I go on much longer and some­one shouts death to the Arab I will un­der­stand.”

JSG leader David Rosenberg said the evening, the pro­ceeds of which were to fund Is­raeli and Pales­tinian hu­man rights or­gan­i­sa­tions, had been de­signed as a chal­lenge to the Wem­b­ley cel­e­bra­tions. “We wanted to show that the Jewish com­mu­nity has dif­fer­ing views on Is­rael.” BERNARD JOSEPHS

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