Belfast Telegraph

Lindy McDowell: Looming shadow of anti-Semitism is threatening to engulf all of us

Banned: Steven Jaffe
Banned: Steven Jaffe
Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex
Ian Paisley

By Lindy McDowell

This week the American television channel CNN released results of a major poll on anti-Semitism carried out across seven European countries. Briefly the findings can be summed up by the title CNN used to tag coverage of the story: A Shadow Over Europe.

In all, over 7,000 people took part in the survey in Austria, France, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Sweden and Great Britain (but not Northern Ireland or the Republic). The picture it paints is utterly chilling.

Within living memory of the Holocaust, when six million human beings were murdered simply for being Jewish, many of the vile old tropes and stereotypes still flourish.

Across the board, 44% of Europeans concede that anti-Semitism is a growing problem. Shockingly, almost one in five people maintain that is down to the "everyday behaviour of Jewish people".

Even more appalling is the lack of knowledge among the young. In France, 20% of people between 18 and 34 say they have never even heard of the Holocaust.

Tellingly, a third of all polled agree that anti-Semitism - hatred of the Jews - is what lies behind criticism of the state of Israel.

How would we in Northern Ireland have responded to that one had we been part of the survey?

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In Ireland, North and South, anti-Israel sentiment is virulent, flourishing and, let's be honest, terribly fashionable.

The homeland of the Jews, the one state in the world that provides the Jewish people with assured sanctuary and is the only real democracy in the Middle East, is singled out as the global Great Satan. And it is that singling-out that is the crucial point.

No other country attracts such opprobrium.

Israel gets it from the right, from the left and from just about anyone who doesn't want to provoke a maelstrom of hate on Twitter.

This week we learn that Steven Jaffe, who is co-chair of Northern Ireland Friends of Israel, has been banned from addressing Derry City and Strabane District Council.

So much then for diversity, inclusivity, respecting minorities and 'it's good to talk'.

I know Steven Jaffe well. He's one of my heroes. Steven is fiercely intelligent, passionate about his Belfast Jewish heritage - and has a brilliant, dry sense of humour.

Listening to him, you will not be bored. You may not agree with him. You may not agree, even, with a word he says.

But here's what baffles me: why would any elected representative, supposed to be serving the whole local community, not want at least to listen to what he has to say?

It is enormously brave for any Jew in Ireland to stand up and speak out these days. I think we all accept that. We should also be shocked by that.

Doubtless those elected representatives in our second city who voted down the proposal to listen to Steven are smug in their conviction that they are open-minded, even-handed, liberal thinkers. But their actions suggest something very different.

The CNN poll confirmation of that dark shadow of a revitalised anti-Semitism snaking across Europe should alarm us all.

It should also alert us to doing what we can to counter it.

Just let Belfast be Belfast

Belfast TriBeCa. Seriously? The new name for the redevelopment of the area around Rosemary Street/Royal Avenue/Donegall Street was originally made in Manhattan. And should have stayed there. Apparently it means "triangle beside the cathedral" which may be appropriate but - come on - it's hardly very 'here'. Couldn't they have come up with a more Belfast name for this iconic area of our city centre? We're not new New York - we're Northern Ireland.

Ian would be wise to keep mum

Modest politician of the week - Ian Paisley Jnr, who has appeared in this context before. Talking about his suspension from the House of Commons, the MP for North Antrim praised himself fulsomely for bearing up under the strain: "I have taken what I still consider to be a severe punishment on the chin. I think many a smaller man would have crumbled." You're never going to endear yourself to the electorate by bigging yourself up, Ian. A wiser man would have kept his gob shut.

It's a royal knockout ... if the red tops are believed

Sisters-in-law at war! Now there's a turn-up for the books.

Except that, according to much fevered tabloid speculation this week, the sisters-in-law in question are royal.

Apparently there is turmoil and tension within the House of Windsor.

Who exactly is at whose throat, however, we don't seem to have quite pinned down.

According to some, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, has clashed with Kate, ditto of Cambridge, who is reported to have left a pre-wedding bridesmaid dress fitting (for her small daughter) in tears.

It's also suggested (sometimes in the same story) that no, it's not the wives of Windsor who are to blame ("they are very different people but they get along"), it's Harry and William.

Harry thought William should have made more effort to welcome Meghan into the family fold.

William thought that Meghan was a bit too demanding. This is said to be behind His Harriness and Meghan now preparing to leave their billet in Kensington to relocate to Frogmore House adjacent to Windsor Castle. Which is what one does when one has taken the hump and has a choice of palaces to chose from.

How much all of this - or even any of this - is true, who knows?

The unfortunate thing for all involved is that this story is grist to the gossip mill.

People are weary of Brexit, backstops and meaningful votes.

So a story involving glitz, glamour, duelling duchesses, tears, tiaras and tantrums inevitably provides a bit of light relief and escapism.

For readers - if not for royals.

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