Graeme Archer is a statistician and a former winner of the Orwell Prize for Political Blogging.
“The chickens come home to roost,” said Tristram Hunt, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, responding to the report on Brummie Trojan Horses. He meant the policy of free schools, and academies. He’s wrong (a Labour politician, discussing education policy: who’d have guessed?) But he’s right, too. Just not in the sense he intended.
“There are three causes for it,” says my friend David (not his real name.) We’re having a conversation over lunch.
“The first is the media, the BBC.” I laugh: I hadn’t realised that not only Tories have a BBC aversion.
The second cause surprised me. “It’s academia. When I was a postgraduate…I had to pass through the SOAS [the School of Oriental and African studies] a lot. Do you know it?” By reputation only. “Almost every day there was a demonstration, shouting, anger, chanting.”
“How did you deal with it?” I ask. “I have to be dragged away if some friendly old lady tries to give me a leaflet for the Labour Party. I mean, I always know I shouldn’t react, but…”
“You just learn.” I wonder at the psychological cost of “learning” to keep one’s mouth shut. There’s a flicker of recognition, from my own memory.
“The third is the British Foreign Office.” I don’t know how to react to that. I’d expected – well. The third pillar I’d have picked was the Stop The War Left. I suppose David wraps them up with “academia.”
Because my friend is Israeli, and a Jew, and a Londoner. “It” in his first remark refers to the rise of anti-semitism, in the UK and Europe. We’d got here because I’d been asking after David’s family, some of whom live close to where Hamas’s bombs are falling.
“There’s an app; I’ve got this app. They’re OK, so far. My sister has to run to a neighbour’s shelter. The app tells you when there’s a missile, where it’s targeted. So I know when to phone.”
Our conversation is punctuated with pauses, while I try to find the right thing to say, and David contains his fiercely intelligent anger. I sense the fact that we’re having this discussion at all surprises him, that most of his acquaintance avoids mentioning his religion or his nationality. “Don’t you talk about these things?” I ask.
“Most of my friends are Jews, and gays.” Another laugh; but again, I feel a murmur of fellow-feeling, which comes into focus as he goes on:
“You learn not to mention what you are. I’d never show an Israeli flag in London. You know how with the World Cup, you’d see Brazil flags and the other flags … I know if I walked through London waving an Israeli flag, I’d be killed.”
You can exist so long as you don’t mention what you are, in other words; you’ll be OK, so long (is this textual irony?) that you turn the other cheek to the manifestations of anti-Jewish hatred. (At this point, the source of my subconscious, but historical, resonance with David’s experience became clear.)
Discount the obvious. The climate of fear engineered by that crowd in London last weekend, the burning of the Kosher shop in Paris’s Little Jerusalem, the chants of “Kill the Jews” – these have nothing to do with the Israeli government’s policy and approach to the West Bank and Gaza.
It should not require to be spelled out – but apparently it does – that you can disagree with a government’s military policy, without venting your hatred at citizens of that country, or Jews of any nationality. Being a supporter of Palestine does not imply a requirement to shout “Slit Jews’ throats”, as happened in Paris.
David is just one Jewish Israeli-Londoner, of course: I’m not claiming his experience is universal. (I am a camera, today; that reference feels relevant too.) But his story chimed with the revulsion those “pro-Palestine” crowds engendered in me; reminded me, too, of the unpleasant frisson I sometimes sense from other passengers if an Orthodox Jew boards our commuter train at weekends.
I remember too: at Brighton’s gay pride last year, a group of disgusting little people passed through the crowd, urging us to boycott Israel (I wasn’t dragged away in time, that day.) In any case, there’s plenty evidence that anti-semitic attacks are on the rise. In Britain, where we pride ourselves on a culture inimical to extremism.
Cultures can be changed, of course. And so to the Trojan Horse report, which tells us that we have tolerated the implantation of an ideology which is harmful to everything that binds us together; that we have refused to give it a name; that we turned a blind eye as it sought control of some of our schools. I would add this – our wilful ignorance – as a fourth cause, to David’s list, to explain the rise of anti-semitism.
There’s still time to root it out. But last week the Prime Minister removed Michael Gove from the post of Education Secretary, apparently at the behest of a pollster. “Single worst mistake by David Cameron in government” doesn’t begin to cover that decision. I trusted Mr Gove to be serious about what happens in schools. I no longer trust the government on this.
So Tristram Hunt was right, for once, after all. The chickens are coming home to roost, right enough. And not looking at them won’t make them go away.