Why we should all be more like sorry Ken

The Jewish Chronicle - - Features -

ONE OF the most salu­tary ef­fects of age­ing is the re­al­i­sa­tion that the ad­vanc­ing years do not nec­es­sar­ily bring wis­dom or emo­tional ma­tu­rity. When some­thing goes wrong, you still look for some­body else to blame. If you break a vase, you curse who­ever left it in your way, and any mo­tor­ing mishap is in­evitably the other driver’s fault. And, while scape­goats are handy for evad­ing per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity, the harsh­ness of re­al­ity can be avoided by seek­ing com­fort in self-delu­sion.

This is well-il­lus­trated by the old tale of a Jewish jour­nal­ist called Levy who ap­plied for a job as a tele­vi­sion news-reader. He didn’t men­tion, how­ever, that he had a se­ri­ous stam­mer. When he au­di­tioned and was duly re­jected, he nat­u­rally put it down to anti-s-s-sssemitism

This joke is an in­ter­est­ing piece of Jewish comic irony, in that it ex­er­cises the cel­e­brated hu­mour of self­dep­re­ca­tion by tar­get­ing a Jew who is the ex­act op­po­site of self-dep­re­cat­ing. The de­vice is not con­fined to Jewish hu­mour, its most fa­mous ex­am­ple be­ing the Peter Cook and Dud­ley Moore sketch in which a one-legged man au­di­tions to play Tarzan (“a role for which two legs would seem to be the min­i­mum re­quire­ment”), with its bril­liant pay-off, de­liv­ered by Cook: “I’ve got noth­ing against your right leg… the trou­ble is, nei­ther have you.”

Shy­ing away from re­spon­si­bil­ity and/or re­al­ity is an all-too hu­man trait, ap­pli­ca­ble to all peo­ple of all ages. And there cer­tainly have been sev­eral in­stances of this kind of thing re­lat­ing to Jews in re­cent times. In his new book, This Is Not The Way: Jews, Ju­daism and Is­rael, Rabbi David Gold­berg be­rates those Zion­ists who, he says, re­but all crit­i­cism of Is­rael by dis­miss­ing it as an­tisemitism. This raises a num­ber of is­sues, not least the clear in­di­ca­tion that some crit­i­cism of Is­rael is in­deed driven by a prej­u­dice more prim­i­tive than the po­lit­i­cally ac­cept­able “anti-zion­ism”. But the point — about wil­fully miss­ing the point — re­mains.

The is­sues raised by an­other rabbi, Yitzchak Scho­chet, the min­is­ter of Mill Hill Syn­a­gogue, re­late to the post of Chief Rabbi. Rabbi Scho­chet al­leges that Chabad, the move­ment of which he is a loyal and prom­i­nent mem­ber, is widely dis­crim­i­nated against. If only it wasn’t, he laments. Had it not been for that sin­gle fac­tor, he wrote in a col­umn in the JC, he could’ve been a con­tender. Eat your heart out, Mar­lon Brando.

The dra­matic mea culpa of Ken Liv­ing­stone also came in the form of a re­cent JC ar­ti­cle, in which he apol­o­gised for giv­ing the im­pres­sion, at a pri­vate meet­ing with a group of in­flu­en­tial Jewish sup­port­ers of the Labour Party, that he be­lieved Jews weren’t vot­ing for him be­cause they were rich. He held no such be­lief, he said in his col­umn, and recog­nised that “Jewish vot­ers are not one ho­mo­ge­neous block”. More­over, he de­clared him­self to be a fer­vent pro­moter of Jewish in­ter­ests in London and, most as­ton­ish­ingly, praised Is­rael for its democ­racy, in con­trast to its neigh­bour states. “Politi­cians ought to have hu­mil­ity,” he added.

I do hope that Ken meant what he wrote. Firstly, of course, be­cause any apol­ogy is­su­ing from such a rigidly self-right­eous in­di­vid­ual is as wel­come as it is star­tling (Oliver Fine­gold, the Jewish re­porter whom Liv­ing­stone com­pared to a con­cen­tra­tion-camp guard, is still await­ing one, seven years af­ter the event). But also be­cause Ken and I are near-con­tem­po­raries, born at the start of what is of­ten re­ferred to as the “baby-boomer” gen­er­a­tion. More per­ti­nently, we are part of what Jeremy Pax­man has de­scribed as the “lucky gen­er­a­tion”.

Born to par­ents who had just been through the war and who wanted, and were de­ter­mined to achieve, a bet­ter fu­ture for their chil­dren, we grew up in a de­vel­op­ing wel­fare state of in­creas­ing pros­per­ity, im­proved health-care, free ed­u­ca­tion (a shin­ing light for Jewish par­ents) and a rapid re­moval of the dan­gers and con­straints en­dured by the youth of ear­lier gen­er­a­tions.

In short, we were spoilt. And so, af­ter decades of self-in­ter­est, we still find it hard not to blame oth­ers when things go wrong and we con­tinue to de­lude our­selves in the face of re­al­ity (I am still await­ing the call from White Hart Lane). But, if Ken Liv­ing­stone can achieve ma­tu­rity, there is hope for us all.


Ken Liv­ing­stone’s apol­ogy was star­tling and, if sin­cere, showed ma­tu­rity

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