Sunday 26 November 2023

Shoulder to Shoulder with Boris Johnson

This photo  was taken at the London march on 26 November 2023 ostensibly taking place against anti-semitism, but in fact against the Palestinians. 

What does Boris Johnson have to do with fighting racism, as opposed to promoting it, which is at the cente of Tommy Robinson’s ‘politics’ whose presence was too embarrassing to be welcomed?

The march was organised by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism under the slogan of “Standing shoulder to shoulder with British Jews”

The day before many hundreds of thousands took to the streets for Palestine, including many jews, giving the lie to the argument that there is a unity of British jews in support of Israel

One of my jewish friends has been attending these marches and she is the great grandniece of Albert Einstein. She has written about it here

If alive today her great uncle would have joined her.

Historically Zionism was never central to jewish thought and actions. I have written about this here

Final word to jewish professor,  Raz Segal in conversation with Owen Jones.

Wednesday 15 November 2023

The Living Presence of the Past


The living presence of the past by Merilyn Moos

The destruction of Gaza and the genocide of the Palestinians living there is unbearable. I want however to be clear about this. I am not weeping for dead babies, although their deaths tears at my soul. I am not weeping about the genocide of the Palestinians or their forced relocation, though I cannot sleep for thinking of them.

Mass graves, the killing of thousands of civilians, operations without anesthetic, overcrowded camps without water, energy or food: what does this remind you of? What the Israeli armed forces are doing is not the same as the Nazis’ barbarous acts, but the similarities burn me up.

The Netanyahu government is the child of the Nazis. Do not read this and slap your laptops shut. If the Nazis had been defeated before they took power in 1933, there would not have been concentration and death camps or the chance the UN would have agreed to the establishment of Israel – on somebody else’s land. It was not inevitable that the Nazis, who had only been around for just over 10 years, would gained power. They were a bunch of murderous anti-Left thugs who were not generally popular in Germany. My parents, my Communist father in particular, took to the streets to stop those terrifying gangs. This is not the place for a history lesson, but the Left lost and most paid for it with their lives.

Luckily my parents escaped, but had to leave behind many family members that were too old or infirm to start again elsewhere. And anyway, what country would take them? According to the Nazis, my family was Jewish. Some, like those living in Gaza, were moved from place to place before being murdered.

I was born here in England, did well, became a lecturer, had a child, made many left-wing friends and am living a reasonably comfortable old age. I support the Palestinian struggle. The war on Palestine oppresses me to a degree which friends find difficult to comprehend. A close Leftish academic friend, John, born into a Jewish family, tells me that Hamas is a terrorist organization and that he cannot support the Palestinians. We no longer see each other.

Another Jewish literary friend, Eleanor, emails me that there is a growing wave of anti-Semitism in Britain and Jews are facing daily persecution. If we meet, she writes, knowing my position on Palestine, she won’t talk politics, but only about normal life! I cannot imagine meeting with her.

Yvonne, a long-standing and kind friend, is uncomprehending when I tell her that the wound from the murder of my family in Germany has been reopened by the murder of the Palestinian people.

I’m not very well and have only managed to go on two of the Palestinian demonstrations. I cannot stop the government of this country actively colluding with Netanyahu’s murderous crusade. I cannot stop the latest imperialist drive for land and resources. But the demonstrations give me hope. We must mobilise on the streets, in our work-places and trade-unions and in the Labour Party. But where are the Labour Party banners? Instead Starmer whines about pauses, not a ceasefire. And says we must support Israel. Does he not realise, do others not, that the equation between criticizing Israel with anti-Semitism is fueling the very anti-Semitism they – rightly- abhor?

I favour a one-state secular solution. There is no other way, which does not involve millions of Palestinians being displaced, injured or killed. I am not optimistic.

Wednesday 8 November 2023

Gaza's Piano


Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen, to shame it. To mock it. With our art, our literature, our music our stubborness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness – and our ability to tell our own stories. Arundhati Roy

What has happened to Gaza’s grand piano? It is 2012 and Anas Alnajar is playing an instrument with a remarkable history. “I’m so lucky to have the chance to play it. Playing the piano makes me feel comfortable and relaxed,” Alnajar tells this speaking from the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music in Gaza. The music teacher sits before rows of plastic chairs. Sunshine seeps into the room through cracks between heavy red and grey curtains.“We are so proud to have the piano here” says Alnajar. 

Not for much longer. It was rendered unplayable by a missile strike during an Israeli bombardment until a restorer arrived from France. “When my eyes got used to the gloom” said Claire Bertrand, “I gasped at the scale of the destruction. A tangle of cables, twisted metal and broken lamps hung down like spilled entrails from the shattered ceiling. A rocket had landed a few metres away during the 2018 Israeli bombardment. ‘Then, in the middle of the wreckage, I got my first glimpse of a greater treasure that, almost miraculously, had survived unscathed. On the cracked marble of the stage, dusty but intact, stood a concert grand piano.” She tapped - or, rather, crunched - a few keys and listened to the grating notes. "This is not a piano!" she muttered. "Everything is dead.".

Today the music school, music itself, that grand piano, are all dead, all lie under rubble along with the people. As I write this the total killed under Israeli bombardment is in excess of 10,000. 

This might not seem the appropriate time to talk about music, and especially since the Hamas government tried to  ban public music even before the current genocide. But taking my cue from Arundhati Roy, I have the ability to tell my own story in our struggle against the current barbarism. At the same time as that grand piano was delivered to Gaza, we took possession of four donated grand pianos at the Pavarotti Music Centre in Mostar, Bosnia Herzegovina. Those pianos were just one part of the music we helped bring back to that country. It followed the music workshops I helped organise in the cellars of besieged Sarajevo and then in Mostar. The people needed food and, as War Child, we brought a mobile bakery into town, but the young people in particular needed both food for the stomach and food for their souls – music.

I am reaching out to all those who, twenty years ago, helped with our music projects in Bosnia and all those who are as appalled as I am by the present genocide and have the ability to help. I am old, but my anger a t what is happening to the Palestinians means I have no choice than to retrieve my contacts and skills to fight with the only weapon I have – music. Will you help?

I have a possible music contact in Gaza who I am hoping will advice on what we can do – if anything. As a first step, and if you are a musician, writer or artist, would you be willing to add your name to the following:

We are appalled by the genocide presently taking place in Gaza and other parts of occupied Palestine. Israel’s bombardment has killed thousands of Palestinians and displaced over 1 million. We agree with Daniel Barenboim, co-founder of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra that “there can only be one solution to this conflict: one based on humanism, justice and equality, and without armed force and occupation. We believe in our shared humanity. Music is one way to bring us closer together.’ 

I wish to add my name in agreement to the above and in solidarity with all victims of this barbarity.”

send your name to:

When calamity strikes we play music to soothe the soul” Ahmed Mukhtar, musician and oud player

Wednesday 1 November 2023

My World Café review


My World Cafe by David Wilson review: a political recipe book with a difference

Did you know apple strudel is Iraqi?

By Sheila McGregor

Socialist Worker

Monday 30 October 2023

Heritage tomatoes were first thought to have been cultivated by the Aztecs in the Andes mountains. The name comes from the Aztec word “tomatl”, and it took years of breeding to give us the red tomato.

What’s more, the West acquiring the tomato was not innocent, as author David Wilson points out in his recipe for Tomato curry with chana. “The Spaniards came with a sword in one hand and a plate in the other,” he writes.

“Along with gold and silver, Europe got potatoes, tobacco, peppers and tomatoes. Indigenous Americans got colonisation, disease, slavery and war.”

Furthermore, the tomato took its place in medieval times amongst the poor who ate off wooden boards. Tomatoes were shunned by the rich, who were apt to be poisoned when the acid from the food leached out the lead from their pewter plates.

This recipe book is about memories of people and places, tastes and smells, where foods where come from and how they are adopted and transformed across the world.

Take quiche Lorraine. The word quiche is a corruption of the German word “kuchen” and the food originated from the Kingdom of Lothringen, renamed Lorraine when taken over by the French. Wilson’s point is about poverty, hunger and inequality.  Quiche Lorraine is cheap and nutritious. A recipe for it was broadcast as part of the 1926 radio show Aunt Sally’s Radio Recipe in the US to help counter poverty.

Apple strudel—in German, “apfelstrudel”—is associated with the Germanic world. But it was an Assyrian dessert in 8th century BCE, now modern-day Iraq. “Many centuries later, in 1683, Ottoman armies besieged Vienna, but failed to conquer the city,” Wilson writes.

“Their pastry made it over the wall and laid the foundation for apfelstrudel. Cinnamon is dried bark from the cinammon zylanicum tree originally from Sri Lanka.”

Bread is important the world over. Wilson, among many other things, was co-founder of the charity War Child that set up a war-time mobile bakery to feed starving people in Mostar during the Yugoslav wars in the 1990s.

Pizza is, of course, based on flatbread, a common form of unleavened bread found all over the world since antiquity. “In the 6th century BC, Persian soldiers cooked flatbreads on their shields and topped them with dates and cheese,” writes Wilson.

“In Ancient Greece, they made a flatbread called plakous, flavoured with onions, cheese and garlic. The Romans ate ‘panis focacius’.” Most of us know about naans, roti and parathas, these days. The Chinese have bing and the Italians have pizza.

There are far too many experiences and recipes to mention them all—so get the book.

Monday 30 October 2023

Another Night of Terror


Israel is following policies which maximise its security threats... policies which choose expansion over security... policies which lead to their moral degradation, their isolation, their delegitimation, and very likely ultimate destruction.” Noam Chomsky

I wake up every morning to the news of another night of terror and death for the people of Gaza – and now also those living on the West Bank. Here in the UK our political ‘leaders’ (a misnomer there) continue to support the killings. In refusing to back calls for a ceasefire a Labour Party shadow minister argued that it would be wrong to say anything while there was ‘ongoing military action’. A bit like saying it would be wrong to say anything about Auschwitz while the gas ovens were still operating.

Talking of which I learned my anti-fascism from my father who was one of the first Allied doctors to enter Bergen Belsen concentration camp. As a toddler I emptied the bottom drawer of his desk and discovered photos of the emaciated bodies of the camp’s inmates. My politics developed from that moment.

I am proud of my many Jewish friends who are as angry as I am over Israeli massacres. Indeed I was going to attend last Saturday’s demonstration with Albert Einstein’’s great grandniece. Unfortunately she was too ill to come with me. 

There are one or two who wrote me out of their lifetime script after I supported Jeremy Corbyn and Ken Livingstone. They, and therefore me, were considered to be anti-semites. Today Jeremy Corbyn has been replaced with a leader who holds the record for expelling Jews from the Labour Party.

I have written before about the historical background to Zionism and of its opponents, the proud Jewish tradition of Bundism, that survives to this day. Here it is and I hope those who still support Israel will read it and wake up tomorrow sharing my nightmares and determined to take whatever action they can to bring this terror to an end. 

Wednesday 25 October 2023

Teaching the UN a lesson


In the past two weeks 2,400 Palestinian children in Gaza have been killed as a result of bombardment by the Israeli Defence Force. At present, 600,000 displaced people are sheltering in 150 UN facilities as food, medicine, water and fuel are running out. 

As of yesterday, Israel is refusing visas to allow UN officials to enter Gaza. This is after UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, criticised Israel for ordering the evacuation of civilians from the north to the south of the Gaza Strip. Guterres said that Hamas’s attack on October 7 did not happen “in a vacuum”. Gilad Erdam, Israel’s Representative at the UN said, “The time has come to teach [the UN] a lesson.” 

Like so many, I am angry and frustrated at this blatant inhumanity. Because of the pathetic response from our political leaders the street is our only power. I will join the weekly London demonstrations.

Thirty years ago, I was co-founder of the charity, War Child. We brought into the Bosnia Herzegovina city of Mostar a mobile bakery which fed 16,000 people a day. The Croatian besiegers gave us assurance that our food production and deliveries would not be attacked. Even in the midst of that barbarism, there were some rules. 

In Gaza today, there are no rules and the only assurance is death.

Monday 16 October 2023

"The (Israeli) state idea is not according to my heart." Albert Einstein


I have known Merilyn Moos for over 50 years. I first met her when we both taught at a north London college. She was then, and still is, a revolutionary socialist. The daughter of two communists who escaped Nazi Germany in 1933, they were some of the luckier ones. Many of their relatives were killed. Her surviving family live in the UK, the USA and in Israel. I helped to edit her recent memoir, Living with Shadows’. 

Just back from Bosnia, I visited her today. I wanted to know if she had been at Saturday's demonstration in support of Palestine and was eager to get her take on the terrible situation in Gaza. Despite ill health she had attended. I know she agrees with her great uncle, Albert Einstein, who said “The (Israeli) state idea is not according to my heart. I cannot understand why it is needed … I believe it is bad.” 

Like me,  she thinks the situation in Palestine/Israel will only become viable when the apartheid regime is dismantled and replaced with one state for all its people. I asked her if she had watched David Hearst’ recent broadcast, The Myth of Self-defence on the situation. 

She had, and told me that she had stopped reading The Guardian. We agree that the corporate media are as compromised as our politicians for discussing the situation totally out of context. we hve both turned to Al Jazeera and I said this cartoon sums up that situation. We found a moment in all this horror to share a laugh.

I told her that I would return home to write this blog. She asked me to mention her support for Medical Aid for Palestine and would I please add their link.

NOTE: Soon after leaving Merilyn, I learned that The Giardian cartoonist, Steve Bell, who had worked for them for four decades had been sacked for what thy regarded as an anti-semitic cartoon.

Friday 13 October 2023

The Train to Barbarism


I went to a meeting 50 years ago where Tony Cliff (Ygael Gluckstein) was speaking. Born to a Jewish family in Palestine, he was made stateless because of his opposition to Zionism. He said this, “we are all on a train. The rich are in the dining car, the middle class in the carriages, the working class standing in the corridors, and the train is speeding towards barbarism.” He was right, but he forgot to mention the driver and the guards. They are the politicians and the corporate media. We have to stop this train and reverse direction. This will involve pushing past the guards, taking control of the drivers cab and de-coupling the first class carriage.

Friday 22 September 2023

Solidarity with Ken Livingstone


“He was perhaps the greatest anti-racist leader the Labour Party has ever produced. So the allegations of antisemitism were in my opinion an obscenity. His crime was telling the truth about the Haavara Agreement in the 1930s – in which some Zionist organisations played a role in breaking the anti-Hitler trade boycott that threatened to bring the new Nazi regime to its knees.” Graham Bash, Jewish Voice for Labour.

I am sad that Ken Livingstone has Alzheimer’s disease. I have known him for 8 years and the conversation I had with him and Jan Woolf over a meal in an Afghan restaurant, is the subject of a chapter in my food and memory book, ‘My World Café. I confirm Graham's opinion about Ken and it is clear that he had no need to apologise for telling the truth. Apologies should be offered to him and the many socialists expelled from the Labour Party.

Chapter 19 • Kabuli Pulao
"Political issues are decided at table". Talleyrand

Kabuli pulao is said to have originated among wealthy families in the Afghan capital, who could afford to prepare this elaborate meat and rice meal. Its name derives not from the city of Kabul, but from the word qabil which means ‘capable’, as it was considered that only a skilled chef had the ability to make it. Due to the price and quality of the ingredients, this dish of lamb and steamed rice, mixed with raisins and apricots, is considered an Afghan festive dish. Its unique flavour comes from a mixture of spices: cumin, cloves, cardamom, turmeric and cinnamon. The pulao is placed in the centre of the table. It is a shared food, eaten in community with others.
My introduction to pulao took place in the company of a politician known for his dedication to the community.
I met Ken Livingstone for the first time in 2016 at a supermarket, soon after he had been suspended from the Labour Party in 2016. I found myself behind him at the cheese counter and told him that I sympathised with what fate had dealt him and that we had a lot in common.
He asked what had happened to me, and I told him that I had been sacked from the charity I had founded after blowing the whistle on corruption. I added that in my late middle age, I had been left without a job and little money. One day I was a charity director, running a music centre in an ex-war zone, and the next day thrown out of the organisation I had built. I said I understood what he had been going through.
I knew that Ken’s fate had been much worse than mine. Everyone from Margaret Thatcher to the Labour Party leadership had ensured his political destruction. She had described him as an ‘East European tyrant’ who would set up a communist regime if elected mayor of London. Tony Blair said of Ken that, “we did not create New Labour only to throw it all away and return to the disastrous politics of the early ‘80s.” The Sun, queen of the gutter press, called him, “the most odious man in Britain”. This, despite the fact that, as Mayor, he had been responsible for much that promoted good community relations: free bus passes for the elderly and disabled, anti-traffic congestion and anti-racist policies.
I am amazed at how a social democrat who wanted to keep the traffic flowing can be transformed into a Stalinist tyrant or a revolutionary Trotskyist. These slurs were not going to end with poor Ken. They would go on, be recycled and used to topple Jeremy Corbyn.
Three years after our chance meeting in the supermarket, I was invited by my friend and fellow writer, Jan Woolf, to join her and Ken for dinner at Ariana II, an Afghan restaurant on the Kilburn High Road in north west London.
I had known Jan from the time we had worked together on music and theatre projects at Stop the War Coalition Her contribution to the anti-war movement was, like mine and Ken’s, an expression of her moral outrage at the illegitimacy of the Iraq war and occupation.
Ariana II is a bring-your-own-booze eatery. When Ken arrived, he put three bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon on the table. The waitress who took our orders offered him her hand. She thanked him with a short speech enumerating all he had done for her city. This was eleven years after he’d left the job.
In Livingstone’s London, Ken tells us who he would like to dine with. He went for JF Kennedy and Lenin. Sadly, they weren’t able to be in Kilburn that evening ,so Jan and I had to stand in for them.
We ordered Kabuli pulao. While we ate our starter, a delicate mashed spiced pumpkin topped with yoghurt, I asked him his opinion of Thatcher and Blair.
“She created me,” he answered. As for Blair, “He was always polite when we met, but his expertise was the knife in the back. Before Regan and Thatcher, it was very different, even with Conservatives. In the 1970s when John Major was Chair of Lambeth’s Housing Committee, he oversaw the building of more council estates than any council, before or since. Under the Macmillan Tory government in the 1950s, the top rate of tax for incomes over half a million per annum was 98%. As soon as Thatcher came to power, that was cut to 40%.
I asked him how he felt now he was no longer in the Labour Party. Suspended and accused of anti-semitism, he resigned his membership in 2018. He smiled. “In more than 50 years in the Party, I never saw or heard anything anti-semitic. If you’re anti-semitic, you’re not going to join the Labour Party, are you?”
I asked him what he had been accused of.
“I told the BBC that, in 1932, Hitler had championed Jewish emigration to Israel and was supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.”
I asked him if he remembered the furore over Jim Allen’s play 'Perdition'. Commissioned by the Royal Court in 1987, they then refused to stage it. Directed by Ken Loach, it tells of the collaboration of Zionists with the Nazis in Budapest in 1944. The writer Eric Fried, many of whose family were murdered by the Nazis, wrote: “I am envious I have not written this play myself ... To accuse the play of faking history or anti-Jewish bias is monstrous.” At the time Loach said, “The charge of anti-semitism is the time-honoured way to deflect anti-Zionist arguments.”
Ken poured out more wine for us, smiled and shrugged.
“It’s never-ending, ism’t it?”
He said that when Labour Party General Secretary, Iain McNicol, suspended him without a hearing, he joined Marc Wadswoth, Christine Shawcroft, Jackie Walker and Glyn Secker, all of whom had been accused of anti-semitism. It didn’t seem to matter that many of those suspended were Jews. It does, perhaps, matter that Secker is an executive committee member of Jews for Justice for Palestinians, and captained a Jewish Gaza solidarity boat to the Gaza coast in 2010. “Do you know that, under Starmer, more Jews have been suspended from the party than ever before?”
I asked Ken whether he still gets abuse, and he answered that he does, but many remember his role as Mayor of London and stop him in the street to shake his hand.
Ken told me all this without any anger, and it struck me that he joins Jeremy Corbyn as being too nice to be a political leader.
I put this to him.
He said, “I can’t answer for anyone but myself, but I have never heard Jeremy say a bad word about anyone.”
I asked him what his life was like now and he said he had written five books. He added, “but my main task is to go shopping, cook and look after the family.”
“Are you still writing?” I asked.
“Do you watch TV, follow the news?”
“It’s all so depressing.”
I didn’t know if he meant the content of the news or the manner of its delivery, so asked him is he followed online media such as The Canary or Novara Media.
“No, I don’t use the internet. I don’t even have my own email. Too many death threats. Diane Abbott gets ten a day.”
I found it sad that someone who had been so actively involved with society was now so excluded from it.
When Rachel Cooke interviewed Ken for The Observer, she wrote, “there’s something rather frail and depleted about him … if he talks proudly about being a house husband, behind the boast, it’s possible to detect a certain purposelessness.”
She was right. I recognised that look, not just frail, but not quite believing you are where you are. Delayed shock in body and mind.
I love cooking, so wanted to know his favourite dishes. “I get the ready-to-eat meals and just heat them up. Chicken and leek is very good. Eating this here of course, is a delight.”
When he wrote his memoir, 'You Can’t Say That', there is a chapter devoted to restaurants, about which he used to write for the Evening Standard. It revealed that his favourite restaurant is the Nautilus, a fish and chippy in Fortune Green.
I didn’t want our meal to end without delving into what had made Ken the unique political figure he had been.
“Did you come from a left-wing background?”
“Not at all. My uncle, also named Ken, was a member of the National Front. He went through the Radio Times each week with a marker pen, obliterating any programme listing that included blacks, Irish, gays, lesbians or David Frost.”
Our conversation went silent as we finished the pulao. I had enjoyed the savoury sweetness of the carrots and raisins, the saltiness of the rice and meat, the crunchiness of the almonds, pistachios and cashews. At the same time, I had become increasingly sad at the rotten deal this man had been served.
As we were getting ready to leave, a woman got up from her table, smiled at Ken and said, “You were the best.”
I returned home on the London Overground. Oh yes, that was revamped by Ken and made free for you and me.

½ kilo lamb cut into pieces
2 large onions
1 cup of long grain rice
2 carrots, grated
4 cardamom pods
1 cup dried apricots
1 cup raisins
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tbs almonds
1 tbs pistachos
1 tbs cashew nuts
2 tbs sugar
2 sticks of cinnamon
½ cup olive oil
Heat the oil and slow cook onions, then add the lamb and fry until a golden brown. Add 1 cup of water and 1 teaspoon salt. Cover and simmer until the meat is tender. Cook the rice with 2 teaspoons cumin seeds and 1 teaspoon salt. Drain the rice and set aside.Add the raisins, apricots cardamom, almonds, pistachios, cashews, and cinnamon and 1 tsp black pepper. Add to the meat and cook together for a minute. In another pan, cook the sugar until it melts and add ½ cup water and mix well. Pour the sugar mixture on top of the rice mixture and add to the meat. Simmer for 20 minutes

Sunday 16 July 2023

From Dreyfus to Assange

l’affaire Dreyfus

In 1894 French artillery officer, Captain Afred Deryfus, was convicted of treason. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for communicating French military secrets to the German Embassy in Paris and imprisoned on Devil’s Island where he spent five years incarcerated under harsh conditions. He was, of course, innocent. He was finally exonerated in 1906. Émile Zola wrote an open letter, 'J’Accuse' which started a movement in support of Dreyfus. Its supporters included Sarah Bernhardt, Anatole France, Charles Peguy, Henri Poincaré and Georges Clemenceau. As a Jew, Dreyfus was hated by an anti-semitic French establishment The role played by writers, media and public opinion proved influential in the long struggle for his freedom.

L’affaire Assange

In 2019 Julian Assange was incarcerated in isolation at Belmarsh, a UK maximum security prison. He is being held there waiting for the US to agree his extradition to the US to face charges under the Espionage Act of 1917 and for acts of ‘computer intrusion’. One of these intrusions is a 10 minute video of the 12 July 2007 US helicopter airstrike in Iraq which killed 18 civilians, including two Reuters journalists. The role played by the Media has been a disgrace and where is our Zola? ‘Public opinion’ is defined by the very media who remain silent on the matter.