Four Jews

Knowing I must act against antisemitism, but not sure how, I have been reading books by Jews. I will challenge antisemitism when I hear it, and with Amos Oz I draw the line at challenges to Israeli policy which would make the State of Israel’s continuation as a safe place for Jews impossible. So I cannot support a right of return for all Palestinian refugees. I see the reasons for the different names- if they are Palestinians, they are a small oppressed minority under the Israelis. If they are “Arabs”, they are part of the people who sought to destroy Israel immediately the UN voted to establish two states on the territory of the former British mandate.

I read Oz’s account of the siege of the Jewish area of Jerusalem in A Tale of Love and Darkness. He was eight. His cousin had been murdered in Auschwitz. He describes having a bucket of water per person, sometimes, sometimes not, and people he knew being killed by snipers. His seeking of that two State solution, his mourning of two oppressed peoples set against each other, inspires me.

I have been reading Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman. It has a vast cast of characters and a helpful list of them at the end. It includes Hitler, who ceases to be a great man as soon as his troops start losing, describing his thoughts and feelings and how his underlings see him. It includes a journey to the gas chamber from the moment of boarding the cattle truck, to the panic as people are packed into the dark room.

And it has the only account  of the joy and wonder of scientific discovery I have seen in a novel. Victor Shtrum has a conversation about politics with friends where they allow themselves to speak freely, and ever after the thought of that conversation tortures him. Is his friend’s brother an agent provocateur? Has he been arrested? But the free conversation leads to a moment of inspiration. There have been experimental results which have not fitted the current theory. Are the results merely anomalous? That evening he has a flash of inspiration integrating the old understanding with the new results, and over the following days he works on a mathematical proof of his theory.

Then he is denounced for polluting Soviet science with Talmudic speculation.

Grossman was a fearless journalist, telling the story of the troops at the front as they wished. He portrays a vile, corrupt Commissar, Getmanov, and loyal Communists interrogated in the Lubyanka. It is a brave book, suppressed under Khrushchev, surviving miraculously.

An Interrupted Life, the diaries of Etty Hillesum, are a mystic journey to service of God in love of all, including the German soldier as the Nuremberg laws bite, and a clear-eyed acceptance of reality. She describes her self-induced abortion and encounters with public spirited citizens challenging her presence in a pharmacy. Is it against the law? It is not, she explains, courteously.

And now I have started The Story of the Jews, by Simon Schama. He begins in 5th century BCE Elephantine, where Jewish soldiers serve the Persian occupation of Egypt, and are expelled when the Persian empire begins to fray. They built their own temple for sacrifice. Contradicting the Seperatist story of Ezra Nehemiah and Haggai, Schama tells another story of living in the company of neighbouring cultures, where it was possible to be Jewish and Egyptian, as after it would be possible to be Jewish and Dutch or Jewish and American, possible, not necessarily easy or simple, to live the one life in balance with the other, to be none the less Jewish for being the more Egyptian, Dutch, British, American.

These books which I love are eclectic, and I draw no conclusions from them about Jews as a whole; but I am more determined to be a good ally against antisemitism.

Decent health care

In the US, UK and Australia, right wing governments are bad for your health. It’s not just the Republican party, working to increase the numbers of uninsured Americans and increase costs to the rest, presiding over more “deaths of despair”. It’s British Tories, ending the growth of life expectancy.

British vaccination rates are decreasing because of the Tories. Last month the Prime Minister, BoJo the Clown, pledged to take on the anti-vaxxers, goading social media companies to fight their propaganda.

However people don’t trust social media as a source of health information, and the companies already take action to make anti-vax posts less visible. As so often, Tories seek a good headline rather than action to improve things.

Hard line anti-vaxxers are a tiny minority. Anna Watson, founder of a facebook anti-vax group, talked of their weariness and despair at social media clampdowns. More numerous are the fence-sitters, who have not come to a decision. The responsibility for making health decisions for your children is heavy. Health information has been poor. There are risks in vaccines. Instead of telling people they should vaccinate, it is better to say there are risks in vaccines, but not vaccinating is more risky.

However the biggest group who don’t vaccinate actually believe vaccines are healthy and reasonably safe. They are parents who face barriers to making appointments. GP appointments are harder to get, and fit in to the diary. GPs don’t chase up unvaccinated children.

In 2015, the decline in vaccination rates started along with Tory reforms to the NHS which made way for privatisation along with other harms. They placed some health responsibilities on the increasingly underfunded local authorities, and lost immunisation expertise. They cut the number of health visitors by 25%.

Overstretched parents simply find vaccination too difficult.

Anti-vaxxers may be unreachable. They cherry pick scientific studies, and have a false self image as knowledgeable, like many internet conspiracy groups. Decent health spending and proper organisation preserves herd immunity to disease. An eye-catching pledge to ask social media companies to do what they are already doing does not.

The Chancellor, Sajid Javid, boasted that after no deal Brexit there would be no excise duties to pay on cigarettes and alcohol bought by travellers. It’ll make your cash “go that little bit further,” he said, as if he did not realise how far the pound has sunk against the Euro. At the same time the health secretary planned some work against excessive drinking, the chancellor was undermining him. Deaths of despair are on the rise here too.

In Australia, parents are texted after vaccinations, and can reply with observed side effects. Listening to people’s concerns increases trust in the system.

Vote Labour. Save the NHS. Save the economy from Alexander “fuck business” Johnson. Vote for the chance of a Brexit which won’t damage Britain like Tory Brexit will.

Spotting fake news

Dubious sources and buzzwords devoid of content in the Prime Minister ABdP Johnson’s bluster show he is not credible.

We are leaving the EU on 31st October come what may, no ifs or buts. This is essential to restoring trust in our democracy.

Leaving? Not if he can’t get a deal. Not by no deal if he can’t get an election before 17 October. It’s a promise he can’t keep. He can’t even legislate to unite Ireland as it would be contrary to treaty obligations. And he won’t endorse the backstop.

We are getting on with the job of renewing our country and building an enterprising, outward looking and truly global United Kingdom.

Renewing? Yes it needs renewed after nine years of Tory rule, but Tories are not the ones to do it.

Like you, I am proud that our party believes in freedom and opportunity for all. I believe everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity and to be given the opportunity to succeed on merit.

Enterprising, outward looking, freedom, opportunity. Empty words from De Pfeffel’s letter to a new Tory potential candidate. Especially “merit”- what can an Etonian say about that?

A nameless facebook commenter: The elitist left are happy to give billions to a trading organisation and are happy to allow a Marxist to destroy the economics of our country. Tax cuts benefit the poorer workers…

“The elitist left”? What? It makes no sense. The grammar and syntax mimic meaningful English, but there is no argument, just bland assertion black is white. The more you earn the more you gain by tax cuts, and ABdP Johnson proposes cuts to the top rate.

Another: What a pathetic job of hosting Question Time tonight Fiona Bruce! Interrupting Brexiteer people trying to answer, letting Thornberry and McTavish drone on as they like.

I can’t listen to the BBC news any more. Tories and Tory commentators- eg a former editor of the Spectator waffling meaningless rubbish- go unchallenged. When I am screaming swear words at the radio, I switch off for my own sanity. My Leaver friend feels the bias goes the opposite way. Pathetic, drone- words to belittle, and reduce respect. He is discourteous, and that muddies the waters further.

Though so am I, elsewhere. Here I refer to ABdP Johnson, elsewhere to Spaffer or BoJo the Clown. I must stop that. It makes me feel slightly better for a moment and increases anger and distrust. I must be clear headed!

EU to lose £500bn and UK to gain £640bn in no deal Brexit, economist claims. Ooh, which economist? Patrick Minford! This is not a surprise. Minford is in the minority amongst academic economists, most of whom say Brexit will make Britain poorer. It’s a Telegraph headline, shared by a strong Leaver on facebook. I don’t like the idea of making our allies poorer.

He also shared a post saying Switzerland has no hard border with the EU, so why should we need one in Ireland? I went to check. Switzerland is in the Single Market, which few people would consider to be genuinely Leaving. Yet I did not know off hand. By the time I had fact checked, conversation would have moved on. If you don’t care about fact checkers you can “Win” a lot of arguments, at the expense of trust. You don’t play chess with a pigeon, as they say, but I expect more of friends.

A recent Bank of England study suggested that the collapse of investment since the referendum may have reduced productivity by between 2% and 5% from what it otherwise would have been. I don’t believe Minford, but I believe the Bank of England.

Lies and anger swirl on social media. I personally would not believe anything the papers write, said someone, but that is a counsel of despair. I believe it if it is against their interests.

So what about The Times’ report that the Tories were polling northern Labour seats to see if social conservative positions like being against trans rights would depress the working class vote for Labour? They are the “liberal elite” would be the argument, supporting all sorts of undeserving people and not you. Vote for us. We don’t support anyone, but at least the undeserving won’t get handouts! Who knows what personally targeted ads will go on facebook. The antidote is Hope-

The Times is a transphobic publication, and could be trying to reinforce anti-trans views as mainstream, from the bottom of the hierarchy to the top. That potential candidate, a trans woman, denies the report. I hope that Times readers would be revolted by such a tactic but can’t be sure.

How can we maintain clear heads and an understanding of events in these times? By trusting a reputable source of news, such as The Guardian, and considering other sources of news and comment to hear what others are hearing.

How can we have dialogue across the divide? This is difficult. Understanding how the online discourse works is a help. Groups such as Leavers associate together, honing their rhetoric. Points condense, so that an argument becomes an assertion becomes a slogan shorthand for that assertion. “Democracy requires Leaving”, for example, without any reasoning on how that might be done. Only No Deal is truly Leaving the Brussels Jackboot. Getting back to the level of argument from such slogans- There should be a People’s Vote! – is difficult, especially on line. So we trade buzzwords, feeling vindicated but increasingly frustrated.

Brexit- the public conversation

What can we do about no deal? Shout down our opponents seems to be a common answer. Inflame the heat, fear and anger, and make cooperation or even understanding more difficult.

Jacob Rees Mogg, Leader of the House of Commons, who has taken action to save his personal capital from the chaos of no deal Brexit and advised clients to do the same, was on a phone in. One caller was a doctor who had been involved in no deal planning, and said drug shortages might lead to deaths.

Mogg’s response: “I think it’s deeply irresponsible, Dr Nicholl, of you to call in and try to spread fear across the country. I think it’s typical of remainer campaigners and you should be quite ashamed, I’m afraid.”

Whom should we believe? I believe Dr Nicholl.  He has no axe to grind. He would not spread unjustified fear amongst patients for a political cause. I hope. And the radio programme is wonderful entertainment.

Six o’clock. I have just been swearing at the radio. A Tory MP has joined the Liberal Democrats. Alexander Johnson, the Prime Minister, has been lying again. After Tory governments have impoverished me, he risks my food supply and my hormones, which already have been altered.

Tories are not above racist election campaigns, and now there are reports that they plan a transphobic one. There are reports they have been polling Northern Labour seats, with working class electorates, to see if anti-trans propaganda, portraying Labour as pro trans, might win some votes. Who knows what adverts will appear on facebook?

Comment threads are poisonous. Consider the troll FrogLeg, whom I noticed alleging a no deal article was “project fear”. He uses short comments with no argument and lots of buzzwords: liberal elite, Remoaner, enemies of the people, EU superstate… Parliament will be flushed by the Brexit Party. Bring it on. Or people are fed up to the back teeth with carrier politicians and all their lies and tactics to thwart Brexit.

I hope we can get the Tories out, but am unsure a general election will achieve that with the right wing press- Times, Telegraph, Mail, Sun all against Labour and the anti-Tory vote possibly split. We need a new referendum to sort Brexit before an election because a Brexit election will be overwhelmed by insane nationalism.  I hope we can stop no deal, after which negotiations would become far more difficult.

Brexit taking note of the large Remain vote and the needs of Ireland or of British manufacturing industry was a fantasy, and so is the No Deal evocation of the Blitz Spirit. My father told me of seeing a plane shot down, probably killing men he knew, and of the shame of “Lack of moral fibre” when a man was too terrified to fly. War metaphors are all too apposite.

So I will no longer comment on Brexit threads unless I can be eirenic or original. These aims are so out of reach I may not comment at all. I like to write, and like up votes for the dopamine, and it is not good for me. I may write more on a paper diary.

Now we await the result of the House of Commons’ principled members trying to avert No Deal for the good of the country, against a government of psychopaths trying to engineer it to cement their own wealth and power.

Trans women in women’s spaces: the evidence

Trans women are not generally either a threat or a problem in women’s space. Individuals may be, but not trans women as a group. The evidence is clear. Unfortunately so is the vehemence of those who oppose trans rights.

Before a Parliamentary committee, Diana James of the Cornwall Refuge Trust said,

“We have had trans women through the women’s refuge and we have had transmen through the men’s refuge, and lesbian, gay and bisexual people through our refuge all the time.”

There you are. A charity willing to include trans folk does so easily. But not all are. Karen Ingala Smith of “Nia” takes a doctrinaire position that trans women are men, and because of this excludes us:

“We decided to do that because we decided as an organisation we wanted to protect single-sex women-only services as much as possible.”

Nia excludes us out of belief, rather than evidence. The committee commented,

“It was clear from her evidence that she believed that excluding people with the protected characteristic of gender reassignment was the only way in which Nia’s service could be considered women-only.”

A lawyer will tell you that this bald public statement will discredit any case she makes that she has excluded a trans woman justifiably under the Equality Act. She is so filled with contempt for us that she does not care.

Janet McDermott of Women’s Aid represents a number of separate charities, which have different policies. There are power dynamics in a refuge:

“Domestic abuse is about an abuse of power and control, so all our practice has to be about challenging any hint of perpetuating coercive behaviours in residents in refuge and in our services. The services can be unsafe places for all sorts of reasons [ … ] because of racism, because of homophobia, because of different levels of access to privilege, status, power and so on. We have to manage those power dynamics all the time within our service-user population and in relation to looking at a new referral and how safe our service is going to be with its current service users for this new potential referral.”

Women’s charities have the skills to manage those power dynamics, and can exclude women, including trans women, if they need to. But there is no need for a blanket ban.

Women’s Aid are working to produce guidance for their members at the moment. Trans women who have used their services or have experience of domestic violence should approach them to tell of their needs. Any guidance should be based on evidence, rather than the prejudice shown against trans women by some groups.

The terfs have played a blinder with the report, though. One “voluntary organisation,” basically three terfs and a typewriter, were quoted claiming:

that women’s organisations were worried that “invoking the single sex exemptions of the [Equality Act] will leave them vulnerable to costly and difficult legal proceedings, or cost them their funding.”

They did not even know that trans women, even with a gender recognition certificate, could be excluded. I could have told them that. The committee paid a barrister to do the same.

So what will happen? The Committee said,

“We recommend that, in the absence of case law the EHRC develop, and the Secretary of State lay before Parliament, a dedicated Code of Practice, with case studies drawn from organisations providing services to survivors of domestic and sexual abuse. This Code must set out clearly, with worked examples and guidance, (a) how the Act allows separate services for men and women, or provision of services to only men or only women in certain circumstances, and (b) how and under what circumstances it allows those providing such services to choose how and if to provide them to a person who has the protected characteristic of gender reassignment.”

That guidance can be based on the evidence that individual trans women are safe in services, and need them, or prejudice and hatred. Trans women should approach the Equality and Human Rights Commission to make the guidance include us. The terfs will be spinning their tales.

It’s tragic because the report details actual difficulties refuges have, beyond complaining about a tiny number of harmless trans women. Some authorities are paying for gender neutral services, even though women’s need is much greater than men’s. These “women-led voluntary groups” could work on that issue: but then the hard right organisations would not fund them.

Ach. It’s a pain. I cycle to work between lakes I can hardly see, because of the trees lining them. It makes the wildfowl feel safer, and makes each glimpse all the lovelier:

Woman’s Place UK Manifesto

Woman’s Place UK has published their manifesto. There is a lot of good stuff in it, that I would support, except for the core demands, sneaked in in coded language. But we know what the code means, don’t we, ladies?

No trans women!

They start with barely a hint of transphobia:

We are united by our belief that women’s hard-won rights must be defended. We are against all forms of discrimination. We believe in the right of everyone to live their lives free from discrimination and harassment.

They don’t say here, or anywhere, that “woman” does not include trans woman. Or that excluding trans women from women’s space could ever be discrimination.

On economic status, they want caring work valued, and benefits restored. They want better enforcement of the Equality Act 2010. Careful what you wish for: that’s the Act that protects trans rights.

They oppose violence against women and girls. Here is the tragedy of their position: all their campaigning energy, and mine, is diverted onto their campaign

No trans women!

Implement the abolitionist model, criminalising those who exploit prostituted people (including pimps and sex buyers) and decriminalising the prostituted, providing practical and psychological exiting support.

That’s code too. Sex workers oppose it. They are “Sex worker excluding radical feminists” or SWERFs.

On health care, they demand Implement the NHS strategy of Elimination of Mixed Sex Accommodation in hospitals. Commit to uphold right to request a female clinician, carer or support worker and to have that request respected. But they don’t see me as female.

No trans women!

On education, they want An end to the provision of education by lobby groups and untrained or unregulated providers in all state schools and colleges. They really hate Mermaids, the charity supporting trans children and their families.

No Mermaids!

I entirely agree when they demand, Introduce a duty on schools and colleges to challenge harmful gender, sex and other stereotypes. That would benefit everyone. But Robust defence of the human right to freedom of speech in academia is because of students angry at ignorant and transphobic attitudes of some academics. Free Speech is not threatened when the media is relentlessly transphobic, and while students have campaigned, no academic career has been threatened for reasonable writing.

On Law, they say, Strengthen the Equality Act by restoring the statutory questionnaire; the duty to protect from third party harassment; and the power of tribunals to make wider recommendations. Enact Section 1 to compel action to reduce socio-economic disadvantage. As a former employment tribunal representative, I agree wholeheartedly. And with this: Enforce Public Sector Equality Duty and Equality Act, though they’d better watch out: the Equality duty was the reason their meeting in Leeds was cancelled. There are a lot of assorted demands, such as, Overhaul aggressive immigration laws and end the hostile environment policy. Many on the Left would agree.

Where women are housed in the prison estate, accommodation must be single-sex to protect their privacy, safety and dignity. So trans women, however long we have been transitioned, however harmless we are- me, perhaps, if I campaign too hard for Extinction Rebellion or pacifist causes- must rot on male vulnerable prisoner units with the paedophiles.

Participation in public life: Defend the use of sex-based mechanisms such as all-women shortlists.

“Sex-based” is of course code for you know what.

Here’s a radical demand: Action to end sexist, demeaning, objectifying, stereotypical images of women and girls throughout society and in particular in media, arts, advertising and the political sphere. Yet I agree: the campaign against “page 3” should only be the start. It would be a huge step towards abolishing the Patriarchy. It would however require them to devote their entire campaign to it. Many who support trans rights will not join them while they are anti-trans. Fully implemented it would mean censoring Shakespeare, but there is no suggestion here where they might start.

Support for sex-segregated sports. No-one seriously opposes having separate women’s competition, it’s just how you define “woman” on the margins. Caster Semenya is a woman who should be entitled to enter women’s competition. So are trans women compliant with the IOC rules.

Women should be supported to pursue their right to freedom of association. That is, hold feminist meetings excluding trans women. Weary sigh. If the debate were not so charged, trans women might leave them alone, and go to women’s groups only by invitation. I don’t want a feminist gathering suddenly to focus on me, where my presence is the only issue. But the WPUK campaign has done a great deal to inflame the debate.

So there’s a lot of good stuff here, but throughout there is the coded demand:

No trans women!

And the rest has not the slightest credibility, because they have not held one meeting, or posted one video, except to campaign against trans rights. They could put radical feminism on the national agenda, but instead they campaign against us. It is a tragedy. We should be allies.

I found the profusion of developing pine cones beautiful:

Notes from Yearly Meeting Ministry

You are loved, now. I have such a feeling of Love, which is a fraction of God’s Love.

Should we feel guilty, asks a white man. Guilt is unhelpful, how should I act? Can we empathise across divides?

Can I be my whole self here? Will my hurt be met by compassion? Is this a community we can trust? Can we disagree well, with our power imbalances?

Stories of individual experience are the foundations of spiritual transformation. We become aware of unseen chains.

It is not about feeling guilty but learning to love who we are and act out that love.

Shame and guilt can lead to further violence- instead, we need Grief.

I am laying myself bare before you.

I am not interested in men’s shame or whites’ shame. I am unashamed. We need accountability and responsibility.

So much of privilege is about other people’s stuff.

Did class privilege, appearing educated, help me get ESA?

We are still responsible, even if exclusion is unconscious.

I freed myself from one set of chains and put on others.

A child said, “I don’t want to be a woman when I grow up. I want to be a person.”

We are not called to be good, but to be faithful.

Being broken, I learn my weaknesses. I cry at the anger in my meeting and elsewhere. Could we live with each other in our power and powerlessness? Our privilege makes people leave.

I am proud of being Quaker in our diversity.

I took these notes, frustrated and delighted, at Yearly Meeting in London, 24-27 May this year. I am at one extreme, resenting having to explain what “woke” means. I am quite clear we exemplify White privilege. At one point I thought that no white straight man has said anything useful. It is not a “privilege” to have a good brain, it is a gift, and privilege interacts with that: whatever level of intelligence you have, being white, male and/or straight will make life easier. I felt as frustrated with some of what was said as I do with the line in QF&P 22.45, The acceptance of homosexuality distresses some Friends. That minute was ahead of its time, and now that line shows the opposition. What can I do with the distress of the privileged?

This is our Minute 33, on privilege:

We have embarked on an exploration of privilege, seeking to become aware of the unseen and unspoken chains that bind us, and affect our ability to act on our urgent concerns of sustainability and climate justice, and diversity and inclusion.

Through hearing personal stories and reflecting on our own lived experience, we have confronted our own privilege and lack of privilege. We have learned that we may be seen as privileged in some contexts and as disprivileged in others. Where we have privilege we can choose how to use it: we must choose carefully. We must each learn to love who we are, be authentic, and act out that love in the world, working in partnership to dismantle the institutions and transform the systems that marginalise people.

[A Friend objected to the word “disprivileged”, saying it was not a real word. The clerks confirmed it is in the dictionary.]

Exploring privilege can be challenging and it can be uncomfortable. We need to show each other compassion and trust. Quakers are all sorts of people with the capacity for both good and bad actions, and we find it hard to do the difficult work of looking at ourselves. As a religious society we face the obstacle of pride. Real power will come if we cease to be merely “good respectable people” and be a community that knows weakness and frailty. We must learn our weaknesses and those of our Friends to live with one another. Through our tears we can find power.

We have started our journey in different places and with different experiences. As we have laboured together on understanding privilege, we are journeying from guilt, shame and grief, to speaking of accountability and responsibility, and then to the desire for action. We are impatient: we identified both sustainability, and diversity and inclusion as urgent concerns two years ago, and we want to see change and growth.

[I am not clear we were at Unity on this. We “hoped” it was a good enough Minute. It included beautiful parts from much of the Ministry, and some of us did not seem to understand what privilege is, or see that it is an obligation to subvert it (to me, from my extreme position). “We find it hard to do the difficult work of looking at ourselves”- that was clear to me from some of the Ministry, and I don’t think those giving that ministry saw Privilege as it affects others. I don’t think all of us were committed to “learning our weaknesses”.]

We are fearful of the monsters of war and climate breakdown that are hurting our fragile Earth. We know there is pain around inclusion in our meetings. Fear is holding us back. We fear being misjudged or being seen as preaching, and so we fail to challenge the norm. We fear losing our status. We need to address our fear to begin to do something positive. We have seen signs of hope, but we have work to do, to transform ourselves, our communities and our world.

Our exploration and our journey are not complete. We have examined the privileges we have; the next steps are to see the effects they have on us, and how they make us behave.

We can take passion back to our meetings: our passionate connection to the Earth. We can take a desire to listen to those who do not share our own privileges, and to walk alongside people who are fearful of what we hope for. We can share the emotions from the inspiration and challenge we have felt as we have journeyed together.

[To me, the obligation on me as a white person is to recognise white privilege, and work to correct it- not just to challenge overt racism but to help remove barriers to full inclusion, recognise and welcome BAME leadership. I feel the “Where are you really from?” question others and excludes people, and Quakers ask it. One should not have to explain ones heritage to people on demand, even if sharing about our heritage can deepen our knowledge of each other.]

We call on Friends throughout our Yearly Meeting to continue this work in our meeting communities, to deepen and extend the work we have done, so that we can be the community we need to be to face the future. We encourage local and area meetings to share their insights.

[I stood to propose an alteration to the Minute, and was not called. I don’t know whether making our division more explicit, as I wanted, would have improved matters. I feel that combating privilege is our Leading, yet not everyone is united with it, any more than initially all Quakers wanted to divest from the profits of slavery.]

We ask Yearly Meeting Agenda Committee to discern further how we can take the next steps to meaningful action, to be put before our Yearly Meeting Gathering next year.

The Brexit Party

I have just had the Brexit Party leaflet for the EU elections on 23 May. It is Fascist.

What would “honouring the referendum result” mean, exactly? It would mean listening to what campaigners for Leave said in 2016- such as greatly increasing the funding for the NHS, or seeking membership of the EEA (the “Norway Option”) as Nigel Farage does in this video. None were calling for “No Deal”. It would mean recognising the small majority for Leave, and not simply ignoring the desires of 16.1m voters.

Why is it fascist? Because of the Leader-worship. Only Farage gets more than two sentences in it. There is a large photo of the man, looking more like a frog than usual.

It is full of lies. “The Brexit Party will restore trust in politics.” No, the Brexit party has no MPs and is set up to be no more than an angry protest group. The only thing it stands for is leaving the EU, on “WTO rules” which would mean tariffs charged on goods traded between the UK and the EU, and an end to our “Just-in-time” manufacturing. To restore trust in politics, we need politicians who tell the truth and act in the interests of the people, by producing good quality public services. Farage’s mixture of bluster and fantasy can deliver nothing.

Though Farage has no policies beyond that, he has airy promises: “Let’s put the principles of Trust, Honesty and Integrity at the heart of our democracy”. That would involve silencing Farage. He wants the principles of Hate, Anger and Fear at the heart of our politics. What does he say? “Betrayed… humiliated… failing MPs have defied 17.4m of us… Politics is broken. Enough is enough.” What does the rest of the leaflet say? “Betrayed… Taking ‘No Deal’ off the table is bonkers… Failed… Damaged trust in our democracy… our country humiliated…”

The stab in the back myth. Though it is good to see his sister attack Jacob Rees-Mogg: “The Conservative Party has failed… and damaged trust in our democracy”. May’s deal failed generally because of his posturing, and that of his “European Research Group”. These hard right campaigners hate each other almost as much as they hate the people who vote for them.

The UKIP leaflet is quite as evil as Mr Farage’s, but with an added dollop of fuckwittery. Brexit has been betrayed, they scream. Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem, Green & SNP MPs betrayed you. I don’t know if they forgot Plaid, but that is rabble-rousing. Caroline Lucas is one of the most intelligent, principled and energetic MPs we have. Trying to foment resentment in this transparent manner is wicked. It too has a picture of the Leader, but I needed to google him to make sure. Openly and repellently racist, this wotsisname has a poor selfie in front of a sign reading AXE LADY HAW HAW.

I shall vote Labour, even though they are not yet opposing Brexit. At the last election in the East Midlands, UKIP (the far right) got two seats, and the Conservatives (the hard right) got two: 40% of the seats on 26% of the votes. Labour got one. Greens and Lib-Dems had 127,839 votes between them- their votes combined would not have entitled them to a seat, but being in the centre or left, had their votes gone to Labour there would have been two Labour MEPs and only one Tory. Splitting the Left vote only helps the hard-Right.

There are two sites which purport to advise who to vote for, as a tactical vote to Remain. I searched for tactical vote remain and remainvoter.com came up first, with Remain United nowhere. Remainvoter’s recommendation in the East Midlands is highly suspicious. It recommends voting Green, who came fifth last time. They say this will get one LibDem and one Green Remainer MEPs, one Labour and two Brexit. I don’t believe them. Remain United recommends voting LibDem, for one LibDem remainer MP. Your Green vote would be wasted. I am sorry to sound paranoid, but who is behind remainvoter?

The Labour position makes sense. It is possible to honour the referendum with a deal with Europe in the interests of the British people, rather than a few shadowy billionaires. Their headline is Vote Labour to bring our country back together, as an antidote to the hate and fear spewed by Farage and his ilk. Labour would keep a close relationship with the EU that protects workers’ rights and environmental standards. If we can’t get changes to their bad deal or a general election, Labour backs the option of a public vote. This is because the Hayekist Tories have done a deal to decimate public services, which left-leaning Leave voters would not want. We cannot just ignore that Leave won the referendum. However, we would not vandalise the British economy. I am grateful for Keir Starmer’s insistence on a confirmatory referendum before supporting any Brexit deal, in the talks which are now defunct.

We need international co-operation to end the climate crisis, the death of our oceans, and the current mass extinction. A Tory bonfire of regulations and taxes in the interests of the hyper-rich could just kill the planet. With Tory leadership contenders also talking of “Betrayal” and “Humiliation”, we need trust and hope. Only Labour can provide it.

 

“Debating” abortion

I shall swallow twenty quinine pills today; I feel a bit peculiar down there, south of my midriff… I assault myself with hot water and blood-curdling instruments, I shall fight patiently and relentlessly until you are once again returned to nothingness… it’s only just been a week, and already I am exhausted by the whole performance. But I shall bar your admission to life.

This is Etty Hillesum’s diary, explaining her self-induced abortion. If there were others involved, she does not mention them. As a Jew in Amsterdam in 1941, she could not have a child. As the US supreme court’s “Trump Judges” have decided they can ignore precedent if they disapprove of the original case, the stage is set for the repeal of Roe v Wade. “Heartbeat” laws are misnamed. There is no heart, and no heartbeat. There is no cardiovascular system. There is a group of cells which will divide and form a heart later, and there is electrical activity there.

I am appalled at the thought of Etty Hillesum’s self-induced abortion, and the risks she took. I quoted her in a comments thread, saying women will have abortions whatever the law is, and the response was, But surely you would accept that it would greatly reduce the numbers of abortions?

Well, yes, I would, probably. There will be misery in other ways, unwanted children, less consensual sex. But the risks women will take, the pain they will suffer, the damage they may do to themselves does not move the person. The commenter, after all, sees them as criminals.

He is perfectly logical, in his own eyes. What is odd is those who support abortion but oppose the death penalty. The life of the innocent in the womb is expendable, but the life of the heinous criminal is inviolable. That is easily refutable, but the refutation does not get through to him. The conscious, living, breathing human being, capable of repentance indeed who has possibly repented, and is possibly innocent anyway, may be kept in prison but should not be killed, because that makes the community as bad as he is. The 3mm long embryo has some nervous tissue, but in no sense a brain.

It seemed to me that conservatives opposing abortion do so on purity grounds. The community should not be responsible for abortions, because the community should be kept pure of such sin. So it should not pay foreign NGOs that even mention to women that abortion is possible, and health insurance should not cover terminations because then the companies, and indirectly other policy holders, are paying for terminations. So the argument that better sex education reduces abortion does not matter to them. Safe sex, too, is impure. They do not want to reduce the number of abortions, only to put the doctors and the women beyond the pale of society.

Society is where the Good people are, so the pro-lifers have no understanding or empathy for those on the margins. There are ways and means to control ones fertility, wrote one. Yes, but not in a domestic violence or coercive control situation. Women try to leave such situations, and have difficulty with this.

So there is no abortion debate. There are people righteous in their own minds who oppose it, and can come out with all sorts of phrases to justify their position, but who do not care about the suffering of the adult they can see, just the value of the embryo they cannot. (You’re an embryo until the ninth week after fertilisation.) And there are people who have no hope of politics, such that they vote for the candidate who is toughest against abortion. God knows what doctors will be able to do about ectopic pregnancies.

Like the trans “debate”, there are two emotional positions. My heart goes out to the woman who needs an abortion and who cannot have one- in Northern Ireland, for example. These things are a matter for the woman and her doctors. It is none of my business, and not a proper matter for legal restrictions: women will not be able to get unnecessary abortions. But that is an emotional response, not a purely logical one. And the idea that a fœtus has value, even if it has no brain, so that a woman should take it to term and watch it die after the cord is cut, is also an emotional position. Trans women should be tolerated, or trans women should be expelled, are also emotional positions. We decide based on who we see as our community, and on emotional grounds. Then we rationalise, and the position embeds as our rationalisations multiply.

The murderer is beyond the pale of the conservative’s pure society, so entitled to nothing. To the liberal, Terence still applies: Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto. I am human. Nothing human can be alien to me. I cannot draw a line around my society. It includes the refugee and the psychopath.

Being an ally

I feel an obligation to be an ally to other disadvantaged groups. I like to think that trans folk, and LGBT more generally, would see the value in that, as together we are stronger, and we know the experience of being an outsider so should wish to mitigate it for everyone. I like to think that any civilised human being would understand the value of diversity.

I hate to think of humanity as everyone for themself, a survival of the fittest struggle. It is a mark of increased civilisation and maturity to abhor the idea of an out-group, to have fellow-feeling with everyone, and indeed the whole biosphere. More co-operation is always a good. Everyone gains when everyone is included. “Whatever you did for the least of these you did for me,” says Jesus.

In thinking about being an ally to Jews against antisemitism, I see from both sides- the ally to Jews, and the trans woman supported by allies. I am reading in order to learn more, and find beautiful things:

Dara Horn wrote in the NYT: Since ancient times, in every place they have ever lived, Jews have represented the frightening prospect of freedom. As long as Jews existed in any society, there was evidence that it in fact wasn’t necessary to believe what everyone else believed, that those who disagreed with their neighbors could survive and even flourish against all odds. The Jews’ continued distinctiveness, despite overwhelming pressure to become like everyone else, demonstrated their enormous effort to cultivate that freedom: devotion to law and story, deep literacy, and an absolute obsessiveness about transmitting those values between generations. The existence of Jews in any society is a reminder that freedom is possible, but only with responsibility — and that freedom without responsibility is no freedom at all.

So it is in my interests to be an ally. I find cosmopolitanism attractive, as an antidote to the blood and soil nationalism of Batten, Farage, Yaxley saying “I want my country back”. I am not a little Englander- Vaughan Williams is wonderful, but not a patch on Beethoven or even Bartok. Some peaks of non-European culture are mine, and I benefit from engaging with Hokusai or The Tale of Genji. Jews’ freedom to be Jews and my freedom to be trans are inseparable, but our freedom makes all more free: supporting minorities is enlightened self-image. Farage does not want to do anything for his countrymen, beyond giving them worthless myths. When he whips up hatred and fear in order to get votes, no-one gains.

As an ally I will see differently. I have read Augustine’s confessions, but remember little of them. For me Augustine is “Make me chaste, but not yet”, Original Sin and Substitutionary Atonement. A Jew might recall his treatment of Psalm 59- he says of the Jews “do not kill them”, but the context is of the enemies of God- allow them to live, as a dread reminder of God’s wrath.

The beauty of Amos Oz! I love his story about being the child throwing stones at soldiers in uniform with guns, though in his case British colonial troops. It does not mean he was a supporter of the Intifada, but a supporter of a two state solution. He wrote, Israel is a refugee camp, Palestine too. The conflict is a tragic clash between the right and the right … both nations don’t have another place to go. Crusade, Pogrom, Holocaust, exile, two thousand years of persecution and murder. So I am against anything which makes the continuing presence of Jews in Israel impractical, so against BDS.

I feel an obligation to be an ally to Jews because I am a member of the Labour Party, which faces a continuing stream of allegations about antisemitism. We desperately need a Labour government to reverse the damage done to the social fabric by the Tories, and Mr Corbyn’s pacifism might reduce some of the damage done by “defence” contractors and spending. And his admiration for JA Hobson, without condemnation of Hobson’s antisemitism, is wrong. He should apologise for it. He has greater prominence than he had in 2011 when he praised Hobson, so things come to light about him which went unnoticed before. And an obligation because I am British; we did damage as the colonial power with our divide and rule policies.

I do not think Quakers are antisemitic, but our engagement with disinvestment from the Occupied Territories means I feel an obligation to be clearer about the boundary between legitimate support of the Palestinian people, and antisemitism.

I have also read about “philo-Semitism”, which Jews may see as suspect. It is clearest in the extremes, with US Evangelicals supporting the State of Israel in order to bring forward the Rapture, from which I discern how being an ally in ones own interest may repel Jews. So: I don’t have a right to define the boundaries of the group, or groupish behaviour.

That being an ally involves Respect comes far more clearly to me thinking of antisemitism than of transphobia.

Here am I, being an ally. I love Richard Rohr; and yet find this sentence about Etty Hillesum rebarbative. In The Universal Christ chapter 6 he writes, although she wasn’t a Christian, she was highly spiritual in the best sense of that term. She was an utter realist, devoid of self-pity, and with an almost impossible freedom from need to blame, hate, or project her inner anxiety elsewhere. Without desiring to patronize her, I would identify Etty as a person Karl Rahner would’ve called an “anonymous Christian”. Rohr may fear that his audience think Christians uniquely enlightened by God, more than he needs to with me, but the implication that anyone should be surprised that a Jew was so wonderfully spiritual is offensive.

What can I do, as an ally? I can learn, and I can speak out- as I do here.