Former Guardian columnist: “There is a heaven. And its name is Israel”

November 09, 2004

CONTENTS

1. "Small country, big impression" (By Julie Burchill, Times of London (Travel supplement), Nov. 6, 2004)
2. "Good, bad and ugly" (By Julie Burchill, Guardian, Nov. 29, 2003)
3. "The Hate that shames us" (By Julie Burchill, Guardian, Dec. 6, 2003)
4. "She will be missed like acne" (Guardian Letters, Dec. 2003)


[Note by Tom Gross]

I have mentioned the well-known British journalist Julie Burchill several times during the last five years on this email list, most notably in the dispatches of:

* Boy, 17, murdered for "looking like a Jew" (May 27, 2003)
* The Guardian discovers modern anti-Semitism (Nov. 30, 2003)
* The Guardian: More from Julie Burchill and others (Dec. 9, 2003)

Last year, I included an article by Burchill (who is not Jewish) in which she announced that after many years she was quitting as a writer for the Guardian because of its "quite striking bias against the state of Israel" which was not "entirely different from anti-Semitism."

Burchill defined such anti-Semitism: "where the political is personal, and the personal pretends to be political, and those swarthy / pallid / swotty / philistine / aggressive / cowardly / comically bourgeois / filthy rich / delete-as-mood-takes-you bastards always get the girl."

Last weekend, the Times of London printed a travel article by Burchill (on pages 4 and 5 of its travel supplement) about her first visit to Israel.

I attach a summary of that article, followed by the article in full, and then extracts from two of the articles by Burchill sent out on this list last year.

It should be noted that – such is the anti-Israel atmosphere in Britain, as in the rest of Western Europe – in their introduction to the travel article, the Times online travel editors felt the need to tell their readers that "Julie Burchill is famously pro-Israeli." (Many travel writers have sympathies for countries about which they write travel pieces, but it is highly unusual for travel editors to tell readers this in the introduction to the articles.) In the print edition of the Times, the editors deleted the part about Burchill being "famously pro-Israeli" and instead described her as "a long-time fan."

-- Tom Gross

 

"THERE IS A HEAVEN. AND ITS NAME IS ISRAEL."

SUMMARY

Small country, big impression
By Julie Burchill
The Times of London, Travel section
November 6, 2004

It's the laziest cliché in the travel-writing book to describe a place as a country of contrasts. Usually this means that – hold the front page! – a country's got both a beach and a city. And sometimes these weak words become weasel words, as when used about Brazil, the country with the largest gap between richest and poorest in the world.

So I hope that you'll forgive me when I use this creaking phrase about Israel – but how much more of a contrast could there be than spending a morning crying one's heart out at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial, and an afternoon sitting by the pool of a five-star hotel on the Dead Sea, sunbathing with neither fear nor sunscreen. Because, get this, the altitude is the lowest in the world, meaning that all those pesky little UA and UV rays that tend to cause skin cancer are zapped by all those extra layers of ozone.

... According to received wisdom, the Israelis are a para-fascist people crushing all before them; how odd, then, that Old Jerusalem is a model of pluralism, with its Christian and Muslim quarters, churches and mosques gleaming free.

... There are lots of lies told about Israel – some of them deliberate, others are mere misunderstandings. "It's far away" – no, it's four hours by plane. "It's dangerous" – I've felt more physically threatened on Brighton sea front on a school night. "It's expensive" – a pair of this season's Dolce & Gabanna sunglasses, for £27 rather than their usual £100-plus, would beg to differ.

If you want to believe them, go ahead, ignore Israel, and keep trotting back to the same old destinations you've visited a score of times. But you'll be missing out on culture that makes Venice look like Milton Keynes, and weather that makes Tenerife look like Leeds – we were there in October, the first month of Israel's brief winter, and in north and south the weather stayed in the eighties (high twenties), with never a cloudy day.

... The Jews say that there is no heaven – but on this occasion, I would beg to differ with this splendid people. Because from what I've seen, albeit in the short space of a week, there is a heaven. And its name is Israel.


ARTICLE IN FULL

SMALL COUNTRY, BIG IMPRESSION

Small country, big impression
By Julie Burchill
The Times (Travel supplement)
November 6, 2004

Julie Burchill is famously pro-Israeli, but had never visited the country. So what did she make of her Promised Land?

www.travel.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,10209-1343750,00.html

It's the laziest cliché in the travel-writing book to describe a place as a country of contrasts. Usually this means that – hold the front page! – a country’s got both a beach and a city.

And sometimes these weak words become weasel words, as when used about Brazil, the country with the largest gap between richest and poorest in the world. In this case, "a country of contrasts" comes down to the fact that some people pick their teeth with golden gewgaws while round the corner, families literally live on, and from, rubbish heaps.

So I hope that you'll forgive me when I use this creaking phrase about Israel – but how much more of a contrast could there be than spending a morning crying one's heart out at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial, and an afternoon sitting by the pool of a five-star hotel on the Dead Sea, sunbathing with neither fear nor sunscreen. Because, get this, the altitude is the lowest in the world, meaning that all those pesky little UA and UV rays that tend to cause skin cancer are zapped by all those extra layers of ozone.

The next day you're in Tel Aviv, reeling at the sheer barefaced beauty of the Bauhaus buildings. And in Israel you can do all this without once feeling like a shallow, surface-skimming tourist, because this country sees the darkness of the past and the sunshine of the present as two sides of the same coin. "Yes, we've suffered – all the more reason to enjoy," is the overall impression you come away with.

Of course, you can get a combo of history, culture and cocktails in many countries. But they aren't the size of Wales. Try and "do" Italy in a week and you’ll end up bewitched, but also bothered and bewildered, which is why most visitors stay in one region; the same goes for France.

But in seven nights, my friend Nadia and I stayed in Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, Eilat and Tel Aviv. And though we came back determined to return ASAP, and well aware that there was so much more to see, in no way did we feel exhausted or short-changed.

I must stress at this point that Nadia and I are card-carrying philistines as far as holidays go; before Israel, our idea of fun in the sun was to roast from nine till five before staggering out in unsuitable shoes to dance unbecomingly to Euro-pop and swill blue cocktails.

Yet in Israel, we found ourselves crying at buildings, exclaiming over paintings and cooing over ruins.

It started in Jerusalem. Go out on to the balcony of David's Citadel hotel and – well, "It's not Kansas any more, is it, Toto?" Nor is it the usual five-star view of sand, sea and ennui – instead, where normally a manicured lawn would lead down to a becalmed coast, are the real, actual walls of the Old City, complete with Jaffa Gate.

Go to sleep, wake up and try to rub the dream from your eyes – and there it is again, in the broad daylight that begins in Israel at 5am sharp.

After breakfast, inside the living city that just happens to be straight out of the Bible, you get your first experience of Israeli decency. According to received wisdom, these are a para-fascist people crushing all before them; how odd, then, that Old Jerusalem is a model of pluralism, with its Christian and Muslim quarters, churches and mosques gleaming free.

Beauty Without Cruelty: it was the name of an English cosmetics company, the first not to test their wares on animals, but it seems so much to describe the attitude of Jewish culture towards others. If only the opposite were true; next morning, bright and early, Nadia and I were taken to Yad Vashem – the huge and, it must be said, beautiful memorial to the genocide of the European Jews in the first half of the 20th century.

I won't try to describe it here. Enough to say that these empty-headed Englishers arrived at 9am and didn't feel able to leave until 1pm. Our unimpeachable Israeli guide, the beautiful and brilliant Ms Ora Schlesinger, spoke to us softly after about three hours: "Julie, Nadia. I hate to have to say this. But we must go soon."

We were uncontrollable in our grief; every time we thought we could move on, one of us would utter a cry of anguish and dart back into the darkness of the halls. When we eventually emerged, though, we felt calm and ready for anything. Come on, Israel – let's do it! We were driven to the Dead Sea resort of Ein Bokek; I fooled around in the water, and it was just the most fun you could have outside zero gravity. Bobbing about, I felt a cheap metaphor coming on; against all odds, Israel stays buoyant. Nadia asked me if I didn't want to go with her to have mud thrown at me in a luxury spa. "No, thanks," I answered smartly, "I can get that at home!" Then next day, an hour's drive to the Vegas of the Promised Land, the Cannes of Canaan – Eilat.

The Sheraton Herod's Palace and Spa hotel in Eilat had a very amusing triptych of art in the rooms. I don’t know if they were meant to be sarky – probably not, as Israelis, unlike English, tend to be too straightforward for a sneaky thing like sarcasm – but my nasty mind took them that way. The first two show obviously Arab figures sitting around in a barren landscape, smoking hookahs, arguing, generally dossing about and wasting their lives.

In the third, the glorious white edifice of the hotel has fully risen from the parched landscape, and one robed figure is looking up at it. You can't see his face, but you just know what he's thinking: "Them Jews! – they've done it again!" Meanwhile Nadia was downstairs having something called a hot stone treatment at the Herod Vitalis spa. She said it was the best thing she'd ever experienced physically without having to send her clothes to the dry-cleaners afterwards.

I've stayed at five-star hotels from Mauritius to Torquay, but this one really made me wish that ratings went up to six. (Oh, and I've stayed at the allegedly "seven-star" Burj al Arab in Dubai too.)

There are lots of lies told about Israel – some of them deliberate, others are mere misunderstandings.

"It's far away" – no, it's four hours by plane. "It's dangerous" – I've felt more physically threatened on Brighton sea front on a school night. "It's expensive" – a pair of this season’s Dolce & Gabanna sunglasses, for £27 rather than their usual £100-plus, would beg to differ.

If you want to believe them, go ahead, ignore Israel, and keep trotting back to the same old destinations you've visited a score of times. But you'll be missing out on culture that makes Venice look like Milton Keynes, and weather that makes Tenerife look like Leeds – we were there in October, the first month of Israel's brief winter, and in north and south the weather stayed in the eighties (high twenties), with never a cloudy day.

And you'll be missing a people whose sheer beauty makes Catherine Zeta-Jones and Johnny Depp look like Dawn French and Stephen Fry. Oh, and you’ll be missing out on supporting, in some small way, a dazzling, good-hearted country surrounded by barren theocracies who'd rather it had never existed.

"You're English, aren't you? You’re a good people!" an Israeli said to me; despite the great wrongs done by this country to theirs leading up to the birth of their country, these people choose to remember the kindness over the cruelty, whenever possible.

"I would like to welcome British people to Israel – to Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, Tel Aviv and all our beautiful country," said Israeli tourism minister, Gideon Ezra, recently.

While from any other politician it might have been dismissed as mere patter, with Israel it comes from the heart. Well, they've got me – after my honeymoon in Antigua next month, I can't imagine ever wanting to go anywhere else.

The Jews say that there is no heaven – but on this occasion, I would beg to differ with this splendid people.

Because from what I've seen, albeit in the short space of a week, there is a heaven. And its name is Israel.

 

"GOOD, BAD AND UGLY"

* This is an extract from the dispatch of Sunday, November 30, 2003 titled The Guardian discovers modern anti-Semitism. That dispatch included a whole series of articles and letters from the Guardian. Below, for space reasons, I attach only the summary I prepared of Burchill's article.

SUMMARY

Good, bad and ugly
By Julie Burchill
The Guardian (weekend supplement)
November 29, 2003

" As you might have heard, I'm leaving the Guardian next year for the Times. I admire the Guardian. I also find it fun to read... But if there is one issue that has made me feel less loyal to my newspaper over the past year, it has been what I, as a non-Jew, perceive to be a quite striking bias against the state of Israel. Which, for all its faults, is the only country in that barren region that you or I, or any feminist, atheist, homosexual or trade unionist, could bear to live under.

... I don't swallow the modern liberal line that anti-Zionism is entirely different from anti-semitism ... Jews historically have been blamed for everything we might disapprove of: they can be rabid revolutionaries, responsible for the might of the late Soviet empire, and the greediest of fat cats, enslaving the planet to the demands of international high finance. They are insular, cliquey and clannish, yet they worm their way into the highest positions of power in their adopted countries, changing their names and marrying Gentile women. They collectively possess a huge, slippery wealth that knows no boundaries – yet Israel is said to be an impoverished, lame-duck state, bleeding the west dry.

... The fact that many Gentiles and Arabs are rabidly Judeophobic, while many others are as horrified by Judeophobia as by any other type of racism, makes me believe that anti-semitism/Zionism is not a political position (otherwise the right and the left, the PLO and the KKK, would not be able to unite so uniquely in their hatred), but about how an individual feels about himself. I can't help noticing that, over the years, a disproportionate number of attractive, kind, clever people are drawn to Jews; those who express hostility to them, however, from Hitler to Hamza, are often as not repulsive freaks.

... How fitting that it was Richard Ingrams – who this summer proclaimed in the Observer [the Sunday edition of The Guardian] that he refuses to read letters from Jews about the Middle East, and that Jewish journalists should declare their racial origins when writing on this subject. Replying in another newspaper, Johann Hari suggested sarcastically that their bylines might be marked with a yellow star, and asked why Ingrams didn't want to know whether those writing on international conflicts were Muslim, Christian, Sikh or Hindu..."

(The full article is at www.guardian.co.uk/weekend/story/0,3605,1094325,00.html )

 

"THE HATE THAT SHAMES US"

This is an extract from the dispatch of December 9, 2003 titled The Guardian: More from Julie Burchill and others. That dispatch included several articles and letters. Below, for space reasons, I attach only the summary of Burchill's article, which was a follow-up to her article summarized above.

SUMMARY

The hate that shames us
By Julie Burchill
The Guardian (weekend supplement)
December 6, 2003

"... As I said last week, I have come to believe – looking at how anti-semitism is the only form of racial prejudice that unites both left and right, from the KKK to the PLO – that loathing the Jews is more about the personal than the political, despite the phoney, anticolonial cant of the anti-Zionists. For instance, I've noticed that some people use the Jews as a sort of warped magic mirror, accusing them of things that they themselves are obviously guilty of. When the Old Etonian Tam Dalyell claimed that there was in this country a Jewish "cabal" of politicians wielding disproportionate influence, did he not consider the fact that, since time immemorial, the country has been run by overprivileged public schoolboys such as himself, allowing barely a look-in for equally (or, perish the thought, more!) electable and capable citizens of working-class origin?

... Then there is Tom Paulin, he of the Ulster Protestant heritage... you've got to wonder if his refusal to see anything wrong with the murder of American Jews who settle in Israel means that he'd be equally sanguine if his relatives in Northern Ireland were murdered by looners whose nationalist creed dictated that Ulster Protestants were asking for it by settling in a country not "theirs".

... Attacks on Jews in this country [the UK] have risen by 75% this year; and since 2000, there has been a 400% increase in attacks on synagogues... To contemplate the thought processes of such individuals makes any decent person want to wash their hands until the slime of hypocritical hatred is swept away. But when whole sections of society peddle such lies, it's scarier still. And when carriers of the disease are shielded by those who govern us, you start to believe the lunatics have taken over the asylum: the EU's racism watchdog recently suppressed a report on the rise of anti-semitism because it concluded that Muslims were behind many incidents. What sort of world do we live in, when racism is "allowed" to be reported only if it comes from the white and the right? What about a stubborn, shimmering little thing called truth? ..."

(The full article is at www.guardian.co.uk/weekend/story/0,3605,1099727,00.html )

 

"SHE WILL BE MISSED LIKE ACNE"

This is the kind of letter that The Guardian printed from its readers in response to Burchill's articles on Israel -- TG

Guardian Letters, December 2003

Hooray! What excellent news that Julie Burchill is returning to work for Rupert Murdoch. I guess her communist principles helped in making that decision. She will be missed, like acne. Her contribution to reasoned discussion will undoubtedly be recorded in the annals for posterity, an achievement similar to Herod's contribution to baby-sitting.

Sean Finlay
Wilmslow, Cheshire


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.