An anti-semitic joke? No – a continuing tragedy

This joke has been told to me by three generations of my family. It reveals the enduring interplay of hope and tragedy that characterises jewish histories. 


Itzik is dragging himself through the desert, mouth as dry as a desert wadi. “Oy – am I thirsty – am I thirsty!”. He hauls himself up a dune and fall down the other side.“Oy – am I thirsty!”. He sees…a mirage…? He drags himself to the oasis and throws himself into the water, drinks a flood, flops onto the bank with his arms raised to heaven. “Oy – was I thirsty, was I thirsty!”.

The arguments about anti-semitism in the Labour Party won’t go away, even though the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has published the definitive judgement. I’ve written Blogs about this before and my view that there is too much confusion between legitimate critique of Israeli authoritarianism and hatred of jew people – and that we still have not seen a robust evidence base supporting the allegations. No matter. Those determined to pursue the allegations have won. 

But this is not enough. Margaret Hodge (MP), Stephen Pollard (Editor of the Jewish Chronicle), the Board of Jewish Deputies and others continue to push their attack with unrelenting vigour. Now it is a bitter recrimination following the EHRC report, now it shifts to vehement indignation at Jeremy Corbyn’s expulsion, re-adoption, suspension of whip and so on. There is no grace in victory, no attempt to use the EHRC report for closure and to rebuild frayed relationships between Labour and jewish communities, no dignified offer of collaboration in supporting Keir Starmer in his unalloyed determination to act on the report. There is no satisfaction in victory and no apparent end to an insatiable wanting for political damage. There seems to be not a scrap of tolerance for reconciliation.

Itzik sits in his suburban London home, thirsting for moral reparation, glimpsing through his half-drawn curtain at a fearful, anti-semitic world beyond. “Oy – am I hurting – am I hurting!”. Despairing of relief or revenge he cries out at his television set, “oy – am I hurting – am I hurting!”. A flash comes and the EHRC report is released and releasing. He listens, reflects, cries out. “Oy – was I hurting – was I hurting!”

And so the tragedy continues.

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