Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Why oh why do a few Jews make it hard for Jews generally??

Once again I am going to go out on a limb and half cut off the branch behind me. But I seem to be one of the few who is ready to speak the unspeakable so I think I should take up that burden again.

Jews are overall exceptionally generous givers. They donate large amounts to charities and to causes that they see as worthy. I gather that around 50% of the funding for Mr Obama's election campaign came from Jews, despite the fact that Jews are only a small fraction of the U.S. population. You may question the wisdom of those donations (I do) but you cannot fault the generosity of them.

Sadly, however, that is good news and one look at any newspaper will tell you that it is bad news that people are interested in and take note of. And bad news about Jews will, sadly, be particularly noted. Jews are just too prominent in the community for it to be otherwise. And one set of foul deeds can negate a large set of good deeds.

So I come to Mr Anthony Steen (Stein) above. He is one of Britain's most well-known Jews. He has been a member of parliament since 1974 and in that time has served on many public bodies. His appalling behaviour has been noted on several occasions -- abusing a secretary who did not know who he was, parking his car in disabled zones etc. And he has always been impenitent about his misdeeds, though an apology usually gets forced out of him eventually.

In his latest performance he has however excelled himself. He is one of the many British politicians who have been caught up in the scandal of misused personal expense allowances. Most of those caught have shown embarrassment and been penitent to some degree but Steen was at his most impenitent when he was confronted and refused to admit to any wrongdoing at all. You can read the whole sorry story here. Rather than admitting any fault for his large and improper expenses claims, he went on the attack and said that his critics were just jealous of his large house -- which of course put pictures of his house into most British newspapers. See above.

It is hard to convey how offensive all that would have been to most Brits. The British are characterized by a self-effacing culture. If you inadvertently tread on a British man's foot, HE will usually apologize, despite being the injured party. Arrogance, ostentation and boasting are about as un-British as you can get. And yet here is a well-known Jew flaunting all those characteristics in public.

Perhaps there are occasions when that would not matter but Britain now is not one of them. Antisemitism has in recent years become acceptable in conversations among Britain's educated classes. And Steen will be seen as a graphic confirmation of all those opinions.

To be a Jew is to be in the public eye and given all the accusations that have been levelled at Jews over the years, people will be alert to bad Jewish behaviour. It may not be entirely rational but that is the way it is. One foul man can destroy the good work of thousands. It is the bad news that will be noted, not the good.

The only reason I am writing this at all is that I am aware that there is a certain cohesion among the Jewish community in a given area. If they do not see one another at shul, they see one-another at charitable functions etc. And it is my probably vain hope that the wiser members of such communities will press other Jews to avoid public displays of arrogance and ostentation. Perhaps that already happens to some degree but I think it should be carried to the point of shunning any offenders who do not reform. That way, if someone like Anthony Steen comes to public notice again, members of the local Jewish community can say: "We do not recognize him as one of us. We deplore his behaviour as much as you do".

That could be a big help.

No comments: