British author Michael Rosen interviewed


This video from Britain says about itself:

The Wicked Tricks of Till Owlyglass – DAY 12 – Kids’ Poems and Stories With Michael Rosen

When we hear how Till Owlyglass cured a small boy’s constipation, and how he taught a merchant to pack eggs tightly. Till Owlyglass (Till Eulenspiegel) is a boy who was special from the day he was baptised three times. But not in a good way. Not in a way his parents liked. He was always in trouble for his rudeness and practical jokes, and grew up to be the most outrageous trickster in Germany. Everyone told stories about him – and they still do five centuries later.

By Louise Raw in Britain:

‘I used to think Marx’s or Lenin’s books said communists must go camping’

Saturday 18th November 2017

MICHAEL ROSEN talks to the Star about his communist parents, his childhood, Jeremy Corbyn, Brexit and art.

I DON’T associate with many creative power couples. The Beckhams call, but there are only so many hours in the day. I’d be surprised, though, if they came much more productive or interesting than Michael Rosen and Emma-Louise Williams.

Williams, a radio producer and film-maker, is curating the current art exhibition at Bow’s Nunnery Gallery, along with her husband. It centres on the life and work of the extraordinary Albert Turpin: window cleaner, firefighter, anti-fascist and post-war mayor of Bethnal Green.

Turpin was a member of the East London group of working-class male and female artists, who painted life as they saw it in a way that was ground-breaking.

As well as the paintings, the exhibition displays Turpin’s sketch books — a pencil drawing of Mother, Asleep is breathtakingly tender — and his scrap books, which show how crucial politics were to him; he carefully preserved cuttings detailing the rise of fascism in the 1930s East End and the push-back from men and women like himself.

Williams has also created the show’s soundscape — an aural tapestry of voices and sounds evoking Turpin’s East London.

She tells me she has a long fascination with what the Germans call Strassenrausch — street clamour — and is often to be found around London, happily recording all its manifestations.

She and Rosen collaborated on the 2011 film Under the Cranes, set in Hackney, which uses both sound and image to capture the atmosphere of the place.

Merging words from a voice play by Rosen with geo-history and the testimony of migrants to the area from Bangladesh, Ghana and the Congo, it’s both dreamlike and politically forceful, showing us 1930s street fights with fascists and raising urgent questions about the treatment of migrants, regeneration and “gentrification.”

Rosen’s new memoir, So They Call You Pisher! (a Yiddish expression meaning “What’s the worst that could happen?”) is also redolent with the presence of the past.

The absences of Jewish relatives, there before the war then just gone, and of Rosen’s elder brother Alan, who died in infancy and whose existence Rosen discovered by chance only when he was 10, were palpable in his childhood. His mother Connie never spoke Alan’s name to him or acknowledged that she knew he knew about him. That silence must have reverberated.

Rosen is proudly the child of this intriguing, intellectually engaged couple. He and Williams come today from a meeting on education, and Rosen’s mother and father, both teachers, developed separate reputations as educational theorists.

Williams has to rush off to finish a blog as well as be ready for their 12-year-old’s return from school and, after we talk, Rosen is headed to Brighton for a publicity event for Pisher! and to meet an old friend — poet, legendary activist and CP member Len Goldman, now a mere 101 years old.

But the former Children’s Laureate still submits graciously to what must be a strikingly unprofessional interview in his publicity round (proper journalists don’t rant intemperately about politics, I think, or fail to make comprehensible notes).

Tremendously good company, Rosen is interested in everything and has read everything (probably twice), but wears his knowledge lightly, with no detectable pomposity.

His warmth and enthusiasm are palpable in his work, and key to the huge popularity of his children’s writing. He was one of the first poets not simply to draw on his childhood experiences for his poems, but recount them in words children could understand, and would use.

He’s modest and honest about the creation of his blockbusting kids’ book We’re Going on A Bear Hunt. It is based on an US folk song he used to perform live and his editor commissioned the magical illustrations by artist Helen Oxenbury.

Impossible as it is now to imagine the book without them, Rosen couldn’t at first see how drawings and text would combine, but trusted the process. It was only feedback from young readers down the years which made him fully appreciate what he and Oxenbury had created.

Men of letters tend not to admit to either their strokes of luck or cock-ups along the way, preferring to imply all was planned with godlike genius — not so Rosen.

In his memoir, he shares awkward moments like the sketch he devised at college in Oxford, intended to mock capitalism, which instead appeared to lampoon a flat-capped worker and the forthright consternation of his father on seeing it.

There was also a youthful essay he felt rather brilliantly skewered Jonathan Swift, until his tutor gently pointed out that Swift’s irony had gone soaring over his head: “I had been a knakke (‘know-all’), and thought I could rumble Swift… You can never rumble Swift,” he says. This is something of a relief, given the otherwise imposing scale and scope of Rosen’s achievements.

As well as the memoir, he has a collection of political poetry, Listening to a Pogrom on the Radio, and a biographical work on Emile Zola’s exile in England out this year alone. He presents the Radio 4 stalwart Word of Mouth and has advised the government on literature and literacy.

When his 18-year-old son Eddie, whom Rosen has called the hub of the family, died suddenly from a strain of meningitis, Rosen managed to parlay desolation into a campaign to add a vaccine to the childhood immunisation schedule and a book which helps children deal with grief.

Much of his art is for more than art’s sake, contributing something to the greater good or focusing on those who have, such as Turpin, who confronted British fascists head on, or Zola, who made his own life difficult by challenging anti-semitism at the highest level over the Dreyfus Affair.

He is very much a public artist, in and of the world, not sequestered in a study but out here with the rest of us, worrying about inequality and discombobulated by Brexit. As he’s written, “Poetry can stick up for the weak or it can mock the mighty; it can glorify our rulers or it can dissect them. You choose.”

Rosen’s father Harold joined the Young Communist League in 1935 and there met Rosen’s mother Connie Isakofsky.

In 1936, the young couple were at the battle of Cable Street; Connie would later work in the typing pool of the Daily Worker, the forerunner of the Morning Star.

Rosen’s childhood was shaped by their politics. His memoir recalls the Tuesday evening routine in his childhood home. He writes: “Now, boys, off you go to bed. We’ve got a party branch meeting.”

“Len Goldman himself was a regular attendee. My father said [he] was terrific’ but sometimes, no-one came.

“Even so, my parents still held their branch meeting. We sat on the stairs and they went into the front room and shut the door.

“I’ve often wondered how those particular meetings went…”

The young Michael copped some flak, too, for his and his parents’ views. A teacher he admired looked sideways at the May Day badge on Rosen’s school blazer and sneered: “Oh. We’re communists, are we?”

Bemused, he told his mum about the incident: “She looked into the distance for a moment and then glanced down at my shoes. She gasped. ‘Look at your shoes. You haven’t polished them. They’re going to think communists are people who don’t polish their shoes’.”

Childhood for the Rosen boys also involved Communist Party camping holidays. “No-one in my school went camping…

“Somewhere in one of those books by Karl Marx or VI Lenin on our shelves, I used to think, it must say communists go camping.”

Camps in France began a life-long love affair between Rosen and France and Frenchness (this has served him well: his page-turner of a book on Emile’s exile to England is all the more so because of Rosen’s translations of Zola’s letters home. It’s compelling to see the great author and political crusader moaning about English cooking — to both his wife and his mistress).

Rosen’s parents left the CP in 1957 though never disengaged from socialist politics.

I ask Rosen how they responded to the anti-semitism they inevitably encountered as a Jewish couple. He tells me they had very different approaches.

His father Harold let insults glance off him, and rather enjoyed baiting anti-semites. From his mother, however, he saw occasional manifestations of the pain and anger absorbing prejudice had caused her, as on the occasion she and Harold were lambasted, post-Hungary, for “betraying the working classes” with their CP membership. “Who else” she asked her accuser, “was going to stick up for us?”

Rosen’s father Harold comes across as formidable in the book, if not to his son, certainly too others; one girlfriend thought him something of an intellectual “ogre.”

I ask Williams how she got on with her late father-in-law. “Very well,” she tells me, though his primary relationship was always with Michael and she bonded with him initially over their shared interest in what made Rosen Junior tick. Through Harold’s reminiscences, she came to know the boy and young man who became her husband (‘It was a conspiracy!” chips in Michael).

I tell Rosen I found his mother a more mysterious presence in the book — harder to grasp. This isn’t a failure of characterisation, though, but deliberate.

Rosen found her that way too and realises that her maternal role was perhaps at the heart of that. The “comforts of philosophy” had to cede to day-to-day-life concerns about what to do about the corned beef, for example, of which she had a cupboard full when there was a health scare about it. Connie’s response was typically gnomic, keeping the tins, but not opening them until the panic was over.

After his mother’s death, Rosen came upon a piece of her autobiographical writing about her girlhood and felt he encountered a woman he didn’t quite know, with thoughts and feelings he hadn’t heard her express.

“I think that she must have felt there wasn’t the space in our home for her to say those things … She wasn’t given (or she didn’t take?) the space for that kind of reflection … the airwaves were taken up by Harold, me and Brian,” he writes. Even in a loving, fairly egalitarian household, corned beef can stifle a woman.

Connie really found herself, Rosen says, when she began to study educational theory in earnest and became known in her own right. She gave a series of morning talks on the BBC and suddenly people were coming to the house not for Harold but to talk to Connie.

I ask him if any of her writing is available now and he tells me he’s going to collate them, as he has his father’s.

Success has not steered Rosen’s own politics to the right. He contributed in 2015 to the e-book Poems for Corbyn.

How does he think Labour is doing now? He remains supportive of Corbyn but says he’s worried by signs Labour might “wobble” on immigration. He’s rightly adamant that the Left should always oppose protectionist arguments, such a dangerously slippery slope.

Labour should just tell the truth loudly and clearly. He thinks migration is and has always been a huge benefit to this country.

And Brexit? He is, he says, a “militant abstainer.” He sees the whole thing as an argument between sections of capital in which socialists wouldn’t involve themselves. “Corbyn should say one thing — that our concern is just jobs, conditions and services. Beyond that, let them fight it out.”

He uses the rather good analogy of of a boxing ring. All the lights and focus are on the two fighters in battling it out, but that’s not where the real game is. Surrounding the ring, quiet in the dark, sit the real players — the money and the men and women whose only interest is profit and who will always try to fix the match to their advantage.

He adds that he knows Labour is preparing for power and trying to cover all bases, that, inevitably the day after a Labour victory, billions will be wiped off the economy and the gloves will really be off. If we think the Establishment has gone after Corbyn before, we’ll see that was nothing, he says.

“[The capitalists elite] doesn’t care who’s in charge, as long as it’s a safe pair of hands for capital and its interests. Blair was fine, Corbyn is not.”

Our response, he says, must be to refuse to be panicked and simply call out the false narrative of the Establishment and media. “We should constantly ask them to prove it, to show us one immigrant who caused the flight of capital that has really rocked the economy, one immigrant who caused Dagenham.

“We should question what they mean when they say it’s ‘bad for the economy’. What is our economy? It’s a capitalist system and we have to constantly remind people of that.”

Would Rosen act as adviser to the Corbyn camp, if asked? Probably, he says, though on an independent basis. He is not a Labour Party member. Had he joined during Corbyn’s early term, he thinks he would have been used as a “scalp” in the same way Mark Steel was and refused membership.

He doesn’t agree, however, with my gloomy assessment that the Right has won the battle of language and thought.

Labour’s slogan, For the many not the few, he points out, is quite brilliant in its simplicity, Marx in a sentence, which has succeeded in turning the debate.

As we wrap up, I tell him that, although his career is inspiring in its refusal to accept limits (why “just” be a poet when you can also write biography, memoirs, plays?), it also seems impossible to emulate today.

Young people wanting a broad artistic career are often told they must “settle down” and specialise. I expect Rosen to agree that his trajectory would be hard to emulate, but, cheeringly, he’s having none of that. He doesn’t accept its uniqueness. “Look at the comedians who act, write and so on.”

He also thinks it would be entirely possible to do today. “I lived on soup for a long while and had one pair of trousers and one pair of shoes, but you can do it.” The key, he says, is to take projects that really interest you, regardless as far as possible of the money, because they will usually lead somewhere interesting.

Surely it’s a tougher world now, though, with arts cuts and austerity? Rosen points out that there are also the advantages of the internet and social media, allowing artists to market themselves more effectively than before. He offers some useful pointers. Keep your website clear and up-to-date, make it obvious what skills you offer and easy to book and contact you.

It’s nice to hear. Too often, those who have “made it” seem more interested in pulling up the ladder after them than helping others climb it.

Rosen’s career is also an illustration of Marx’s observation that most people possess a wide range of interests and abilities which they would enrich over their lives if capitalism wasn’t so stultifying limiting for the “cogs” in its machine.

In the awkward moment where you’ve said goodbye then realise you’re going in the same direction, Rosen has to walk with me to the station.

I feel sorry for him but he’s typically nice about it, and regales me with stories of treatment for his ongoing hip problem which necessitates “having my bum electrocuted, basically.” You wouldn’t, I imagine, have got this from Wordsworth, I ask.

At the last minute, I remember I wanted to ask him about an unusual facet of his autobiographical writing. I’d noticed he rarely tells the reader what the people in his life look like. Is this a deliberate strategy to make us focus on their personalities and voices alone?

Rosen thinks for a second, then says: “I suppose I’m just not very good at all that…” I raise an eyebrow: that seems unlikely for a writer of his calibre. “And I suppose it’s because when I went to school at Watford Boys, I got a lot of negative comments. I was told I looked weird. I think it’s because I looked Jewish, probably.”

As a result, he feels uncomfortable focussing on people’s appearances, to the extent that he feels guilty about having described someone several times as bald. “But he was bald,” I ask. “Yes, but I still feel bad about it.”

Michael Rosen is a poet, biographer, memoirist, film-maker and art curator.

Emma-Louise Williams and Michael Rosen’s free exhibition The Working Artist: The East London Group is on at the Nunnery Gallery until December 17. Entrance is free. For more informatiob visit: bowarts.org.

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British Jewish solidarity with refugees


This video is about Jewish refugees from nazi Germany in the 1930s.

By Shlomo Ankar in Britain:

The Jewish community stands in solidarity with refugees

Wednesday 3rd February 2016

Memories of the Holocaust mean that even right-wing Jewish people are sympathetic to the plight of Syrian refugees, says SHLOMO ANKAR

JEWISH people never seem to agree on much when it comes to politics, and above all on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We tend to argue with each other more than any other community, but we are united in feeling that we must do more to help those escaping the conflict in Syria.

Since the crisis emerged, the Jewish community has taken a very pro-refugee view. And this has not only come from those people on the left but has also come from those who are non-political and even some who are Conservatives.

The two main Jewish newspapers in Britain — the Jewish Chronicle and the Jewish News, which are traditionally quite reactionary, have broken with their usual right-wing agenda and have been publishing regular articles that are sympathetic to refugees.

Most Jewish institutions, with only a few exceptions, have been opposed to the anti-migrant hostility of the Daily Mail and other right-wing newspapers.

The chief rabbi, who rarely gets involved in any matter which may appear controversial, recently made a symbolic visit to a refugee camp in Greece to meet refugees.

He and a team of leading rabbis went to show solidarity with the people there and the chief rabbi was so moved that he later compared the camp to Auschwitz.

The Movement of Reform Judaism has been active in building a campaign to help refugees.

It has raised funds for charity but has also engaged in political lobbying of local councils to take in more Syrian refugees.

Jewish celebrities such as David Baddiel and David Schneider have been very vocal on Twitter, on TV and on the radio in calling for better treatment of refugees.

They, like many others, feel that Jews like themselves are only alive due to their parents being given asylum, hence we should now provide that to Syrians, Afghans and others in need.

Campaigners and political activists too have been speaking out. Dan Judelson, who is a long-time campaigner from north London, organised a trip to Calais, filling a van full of clothing, blankets and other useful items to offer to refugees there. And there are many more examples of similar stories from the community in recent months.

Junior doctor Jonathon Schwartz, who is a regular at his local synagogue, said he was worried about how vulnerable the refugees from Syria are.

He encourages Jewish people to help, “not only [because of] our own history, but also the Torah clearly states that we have an obligation to help vulnerable people.”

Film-maker Yoni Higgsmith compared the experience of Jews who escaped nazi Germany to Syrian refugees.

He added that “for refugees to leave all their belongings behind to face such peril in the hope of a livelihood, well, these people deserve our admiration and our help.”

Members of the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) have also been active. UJS members tend to only campaign on pro-Israel issues, with many of them being Conservative voters.

Yet UJS members do not share David Cameron’s lack of compassion for refugees and have been active both in raising funds for charity and also in some political activity to help refugees.

This contradicts the right-wing bloggers’ stereotype that the Jewish community is opposed to allowing refugees into the country.

Some have suggested that the Jewish community is only concerned about crime and terrorism, that Jews are more in line with Ukip policy in opposing migration, especially from Muslim countries.

But this could not be further from the truth. For many of us it is heartbreaking that in 2016 there are still people living in refugee camps who are struggling to survive.

This feeling is not confined to Jews on the left, such as myself. It is shared by others who are non-political or even right-wing.

After decades, if not centuries, of learning about Jewish suffering, we all see similarities with the plight of Syrians and hence want to do what we can to help.

Of course it would be wrong to exaggerate. Some members of the Jewish community share David Cameron’s views on migrants and some even support Ukip’s position. But they are in the minority. Most share Jeremy Corbyn’s view that we must do far more to help those fleeing war and persecution in their home countries.

The refugee crisis has warmed much of the community to Corbyn after seeing pictures of him in Calais standing in solidarity with the people in those camps, particularly after Cameron’s criticism of Corbyn for wanting to help “a bunch of migrants.

Jews in 2016 still feel the pain of World War II, even if that occured decades ago. So most Jews stand in solidarity with their fellow humans who had to flee war in Syria and now languish as refugees.

Jews rescued from Nazis support Muslim refugees


 Some of the 700 Jewish refugees aboard Hamburg-America liner St Louis in 1939 Hulton Archive/Getty Images

From daily The Independent in Britain today:

Jews rescued from the Nazis believe in helping Muslim refugees

Jewish children with no home and, soon, no parents, were not really welcome in the United States during World War II

Petula Dvorak

54 minutes ago

Our nation of immigrants has been afraid of refugees before.

Jewish children with no home and, soon, no parents, were not really welcome in the United States during World War II when they were desperate to escape the Nazis.

“They told the foster mothers not to speak German or Yiddish at all. They wanted us Americanized, they didn’t want us to talk to each other,” said Herta Baitch, who was just the kind of child refugee that many Americans feared then and fear now.

This week 27 U.S. governors and Republican presidential candidates lined up to announce their rejection of Muslim refugees from Syria. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) even insisted that he would not allow a “3-year-old orphan’s” entry. On Thursday, the House voted to tighten the flow of refugees from Syria and Iraq over the objections of President Obama, who has pledged to admit 10,000 Syrians over the coming year.

Baitch was 7 when she arrived in this country — one of about 1,400 lucky children who made it to the United States at a time when we turned away at least one ship filled with hundreds of Jews fleeing for their lives. For Baitch, 83, hearing the harsh tone of today’s conversation about refugees hurts.

“It’s a horrible reminder of the Holocaust years, when boats were turned away,” she said.

In a poll that was published in Fortune Magazine in 1938, 67.4 percent of Americans who were asked about allowing German, Austrian and other political refugees into the country agreed that “with conditions as they are, we should try to keep them out.”

In fact, the United States did turn them away. Most infamously, the German ocean liner St. Louis was denied port in Florida. And a quarter of the 908 Jewish refugees aboard who were returned to Europe were killed in Nazi death camps.

When the country of immigrants was closing its doors, a few humanitarian organizations found ways to bring small groups of unaccompanied children to the United States, where they lived in foster homes or found shelter with distant relatives.

Baitch’s parents ended up dying in concentration camps, but her mother’s last act before she was sent to a camp was to find a woman who would take her daughter to the United States.

Baitch now lives in Maryland, a proud great-grandmother, an active member of her community and the constituent of a Republican governor, Larry Hogan, who wants to shut the door to Syrian refugees.

“It’s the children I ache for,” she said.

“So many times, the doors were closed to us,” she said. “They let so few children through.”

Michel Margosis’s family went from Siberia to Belgium (where Margosis was born) to Spain as they fled the Nazis. They hid on a French farm, lived in the slums of Marseille, escaped a detention camp after only one day and crossed the Pyrenees.

Sound familiar to today’s headlines? See the pattern?

In the end, only Margosis escaped, coming to the United States alone as a 14-year-old.

More than 70 years later, he presides over a French conversation club at his Springfield, Va., retirement community, volunteers at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and is a member of the Fairfax County Human Rights Commission.

He enlisted to serve in the U.S. Army during the Korean War and worked for years as a research chemist for the Food and Drug Administration.

But, at 87, he has never forgotten what it feels like to be a refu­gee. Listening to politicians who want to block refugees in the name of safety, he said, feels “very xenophobic and very regressive.”

“People like [Sen. Ted] Cruz, being the son of an immigrant himself, how can he close the door behind him? That’s not our country,” Margosis said. “We have to keep the door open, or at least ajar. If we don’t keep the door open, the people rejected by us will turn around and join ISIS.”

Eve Boden’s parents were sent to Auschwitz, where they were killed.

She was a little girl when she was sent to a detention camp in France, where she lived in mud up to her knees for five months before a humanitarian organization rescued her.

On her seventh birthday in 1942, she came alone to a country that didn’t really want her. It was a time of American isolationism and anti-Semitism, she said.

The attitudes, the fears, the conversations about refugees “were just as awful then as they are today,” said Boden, who is 80 and runs a psychotherapy practice in Syosset, N.Y.

“Back then, the British opened their arms to 10,000 children. Americans opened their arms to about 1,000,” she said.

“I really understand the fear, the terror the Syrians are experiencing,” she said. “And now, Americans hear ‘Syrian,’ they think of a guy with a mask and an AK-47, not kids who are muddy and skinny and scared.”

She can understand that there is fear among many Americans about Islamist extremists, but too many Americans had similar fears about German Jews.

“You lose sight of the children and the women who are struggling,” she said. “All of these migrants are escaping war. That’s what they want. Escape. Like we did.”

FIGHT TO KEEP SYRIAN REFUGEES OUT JUST THE BEGINNING Republicans are reportedly drafting bills that would deny access to asylum seekers. [Bloomberg]

Murder at Belgian Jewish museum ‘by European-looking man’


This video is called Three dead after shooter opens fire at Brussels’ Jewish Museum.

A horrible crime this afternoon in Brussels, Belgium. In the street where the Jewish Museum is, a man stepped out of a car, opened fire, and killed three people (four, according to other sources).

Was this an anti-Semitic murder by an extreme Right winger, like in the USA recently? It is too early to be sure about the murderer and his motives.

According to the Belgian police, quoted in daily De Morgen, and on Dutch site The Post online, the murderer was ‘a European man with dark clothes on’.

Whatever the motives, this is a terrible crime. My condolences to all families and friends of the people killed and wounded.

Belgian police arrest one person and hunt a second after fatal shooting of three people at Brussels Jewish museum: here.

See also here. And here.

Suspect in Brussels shooting linked to Western-backed Syrian opposition: here.

Svoboda party anti-Semitism in Ukraine


This video says about itself:

Jews upset over Ukraine election

11 November 2012

For the first time the nationalist Svoboda or Freedom party will be represented in Ukraine‘s parliament.

The movement which has links with foreign far-right groups like France’s National Front has been accused of anti-Semitism. Their election showing has raised concerns among the Jewish community.

“Unfortunately I have read their speeches and statements not once but many times. So I do not need any proof that they are anti-Semitic,” said Rabbi Pynchas Vyshedski.

More than 800,000 Jews were killed in Ukraine during the Second World War. There remains deep ties with Israel where there is anger at Svoboda’s success, winning parliamentary seats.

“We don’t understand why they gave them the opportunity to go to the election, we understand the democracy of Ukraine but this kind of party ought to be out of parliament,” explained
Alex Miller head of inter-parliamentary Ukrainian-Israeli committee.

[Svoboda leader] Oleh Tyahnybok was expelled from the centre right Our Ukrainian party eight years ago. In a speech he referred to Jews as being among the enemies of Ukraine. …

Tyahnybok and his party has forged links with other political groups including that of Yulia Tymoshenko and could be set to be part of a coalition in the forthcoming legislation.

From the Jewish Telegraph Agency:

Ukrainian Jews worry that rise of Svoboda party will bring anti-Semitism back into vogue

By Cnaan Liphshiz

April 26, 2013 6:14pm

KIEV, Ukraine — Marching in formation, six young men in dark jackets approach an anti-government rally in Cherkasy, a city some 125 miles southeast of Kiev.

At the appointed moment, they remove their windbreakers to reveal white T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Beat the kikes.” Their jackets carry the name of Svoboda, the ultranationalist Ukrainian political party.

A small riot quickly ensues. Angry protestors rip at the T-shirts, but the Svoboda-labeled men give as good as they get. One of the men beats Victor Smal, a lawyer and human rights activist, so savagely that he is rendered barely recognizable.

But denials notwithstanding, the incident has raised anxieties among Ukrainian Jews fearful of rising xenophobia and racially motivated violence they say is inspired by Svoboda, a party with neo-Nazi roots and a penchant for thuggery.

“Svoboda lifted the lid from the sewer of anti-Semitism in Ukraine and it’s spilling out,” said Joel Rubinfeld, co-chair of the European Jewish Parliament.

A U.S. State Department report this month singled out Ukraine, along with Hungary and Greece, as places of “concern” because of growing anti-Semitic parties. But open anti-Semitism is still rare in Ukraine. Tel Aviv University’s Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry documented just 15 cases of anti-Semitic violence in 2012. In France, the number was 200.

But the behavior of some Svoboda politicians risks changing that, some Ukrainian Jews worry.

Founded in 2004, Svoboda (“freedom” in Ukrainian) is the latest incarnation of the Social-National Party, a far-right movement ideologically aligned with Nazism. But while the Social-National Party never enjoyed any electoral success, Svoboda garnered more than 10 percent of the vote in the 2012 elections, becoming the country’s fourth-largest party.

“Svoboda is perhaps the biggest challenge facing Ukrainian Jewry today,” Ukrainian Jewish Committee President Oleksandr Feldman told JTA. “It has no structure and operates in a political vacuum and turmoil which allow it to run rampant.”

Svoboda’s unstructured nature also makes it difficult to pigeonhole. Party leader Oleh Tyahnybok has praised supporters for being the “worst fear of the Jewish-Russian mafia” and has called Jews “kikes.”

Yet the party also speaks admiringly of Israel, and Tyahnybok has made a point of advertising his meeting last December with Israel’s ambassador to Ukraine. Alexander Aronets, Svoboda’s press secretary, has praised Israel on his Facebook page as ”one of the most nationalistic countries in the world.”

Good relations with Israel may be desirable to Svoboda as a defense against accusations of anti-Semitism, a tactic employed by other European nationalist movements that have made overtures in Israel’s direction.

“They know anti-Semitism is preventing the good relations they seek,” said Moshe Azman, Ukraine’s Chabad-affiliated chief rabbi. “But Svoboda is not a uniform entity and I’m not sure the leaders control the rank and file.”

Feldman, an energetic businessman, lawmaker and founder of the Kyiv Interfaith Forum, says Svoboda has helped erode the shame associated with open expressions of anti-Semitism and other ethnic hatreds. His interfaith forum, which each year brings together hundreds of clerics from five faiths, was marred for the first time this year by a minor assault on a Muslim participant outside the conference.

“Svoboda is very frightening to Ukrainian Jews and other minorities because it is an ultra-Jobbik that evolved quickly,” Feldman said, referring to the anti-Semitic and Iran-friendly Hungarian party that also has enjoyed recent electoral success.

“We had hoped Svoboda would tone it down once it’s in parliament, but the opposite has happened,” said Vyacheslav Likhachev, a Ukrainian researcher with the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress. “The electoral gains have emboldened Svoboda lawmakers to incorporate thuggery as a modus operandi, a very dangerous development.”

One example came in February, when party member Igor Miroshnichenko shimmied up the towering statue of Vladimir Lenin in the town of Akhtyrka, threw a rope around the communist leader’s head, tied the other end to a truck and brought down the monument.

In December, the same man said Mila Kunis, a Ukrainian-American Jewish actress, was “no Ukrainian, but a kike.” Asked by a newspaper if Miroshnichenko could be prosecuted for making a racial insult, a Justice Ministry official said the word he used — “zhydovka,” a feminized version of kike — was permissible and part of the official vocabulary.

“This was another Svoboda success in poisoning the public sphere,” Likhachev says.

Svoboda officials declined several JTA requests for comment for this story.

In February, Likhachev signed a letter along with several other Jewish Ukrainians asking the Jewish Agency for Israel to cancel plans to hold its board of governors meeting in Kiev in June. The letter, which several Jewish leaders dismissed as overblown, said that poor democratic standards and Svoboda’s ascent made Kiev an ill-suited choice.

“Svoboda are riffraff — nothing comparable to Jobbik, which has its own militia and coherent policy,” said Yaakov Bleich, a Ukrainian chief rabbi.

“Svoboda is troubling as a symptom of the main challenges facing Ukrainian Jewry: the economic recession and political uncertainty,” Bleich said. Still, he added, “because Svoboda is a mob, it’s less predictable than Jobbik. Svoboda’s leaders may be unable to control anti-Semitic displays.”

Despite the disagreements, many Jewish leaders seem to agree that Svoboda’s success owes more to frustration with the establishment than to its anti-Semitic statements. Likhachev pointed specifically to the discontent that emerged in the wake of the Orange Revolution, the protests following the 2004 election that brought former president Viktor Yushchenko to power on a platform of greater government accountability.

Bickering and disunity cost Yushchenko the presidency in 2010. He was succeeded by Viktor Yanukovych, the man whom protestors accused five years earlier of election fraud. That development strengthened Svoboda in two ways, Likhachev says.

“First, it radicalized disgruntled voters,” Likhachev says. “Second, the opposition allies learned they needed to stay united to win. So they are willing to overlook Svoboda’s anti-Semitism — to the detriment of Ukrainian society and its Jewish population.”

KENNY COYLE examines the liberal media’s refusal to put the true politics of Kiev’s neonazi groups under the spotlight: here.

Swedish neonazis to Ukraine to support their local colleagues: here.

As the Obama administration and its allies in Europe escalate their threats against Russia over the crisis in Ukraine, the American media plays its assigned role as propaganda mouthpiece: here.

Britain: Gung-ho Tory backbenchers demanded action yesterday to stoke up the Ukraine crisis: here.

By Patrick Martin:

White House cynicism on the Holocaust

29 April 2014

For sheer cynical doubletalk, it is hard to top the statement issued by President Obama Monday, to mark the annual worldwide commemoration of the Holocaust, one of the greatest crimes in modern history.

The statement concludes, “let us recommit ourselves to the task of remembrance, and to always oppose anti-Semitism wherever it takes root. Together, we must give enduring meaning to the words ‘Never Again’.”

The two-paragraph text is posted on the White House web site immediately below a statement issued the same day on US policy in Ukraine, announcing new sanctions against Russia for Moscow’s public opposition to the US-backed takeover of Ukraine by right-wing nationalist forces that hail the Ukrainian Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera.

The February 22 coup was spearheaded by thugs and gunmen from the Right Sector, an openly fascistic organization, and it elevated into the Kiev government representatives of the fascist Svoboda (Freedom) Party.

Svoboda’s top leader for the last 10 years, Oleh Tyahnybok, is on record calling for an all-out struggle against the “Yid-Russki mafia” in Ukraine (i.e., Jews and Russian speakers). He made that statement in a speech at the graveside of a leader of Bandera’s Ukrainian Insurgent Army, which fought alongside Hitler’s Wehrmacht in World War II.

Tyahnybok has received a series of high-level visitors in Kiev, including US senators John McCain (Republican) and Christopher Murphy (Democrat), Secretary of State John Kerry (for a photograph of Kerry with Tyahnybok see the Kyiv Post here), and most recently Vice President Joe Biden.

Anti-Svoboda demonstrators in Washington DC, USA

Ukraine Jews denounce anti-Semitic provocation


This video says about itself:

31 October 2012

Ukraine far-right Svoboda party anti-Semitism:

Ukraine’s far right-wing Svoboda party has secured nearly 12% of the vote in the country’s recent parliamentary election, provoking concern among European Jewish groups.

This is the first time in Ukraine’s brief history — the country only became independent in 1991 – that a far-right faction has entered parliament; the party received just 1 percent of votes cast at the previous election in 2007. Svoboda — which translates into English as “Freedom” – performed strongly in western Ukraine, which borders the European Union.

Member of the European Jewish Parliament Rabbi Levi Matusof implored people to “vigorously condemn, unambiguously isolate and unequivocally ostracize those seeking the revival of the darkest ideology of European history“.

The EU has witnessed a general rise in support for far-right parties since the onset of the global economic crisis in 2008, with parties such as Jobbik in Hungary and the Golden Dawn in Greece entering their respective national parliaments despite openly professing anti-Semitic views.

By Alex Lantier:

Donetsk rabbi, protesters reject anti-Semitic leaflet as “provocation”

21 April 2014

In Donetsk, the Jewish community and pro-Russian forces protesting against the US puppet regime in Kiev have rejected as a fraud an anti-Semitic leaflet distributed by an anonymous group and attributed to the anti-regime Donetsk People’s Republic.

In language directly recalling the measures implemented by the Nazis against the Jewish people in the years before the Holocaust, the leaflet demanded that Jews in Donetsk register themselves and their property with the pro-Russian authorities and pay a $50 fee or face deportation and persecution.

The chief rabbi of Donetsk, Pinchas Vishedski, denounced the leaflet as a “provocation.” He said, “We are not taking this out of proportion. It did not come from some organization …We called on the security service of the country and the police and we asked them to take care and find out who made it.”

The leaflet was also denounced by the pro-Russian Donetsk People’s Republic, led by Denis Pushilin, which has occupied local state administration buildings in Donetsk.

“This is the method Kiev has used,” Pushilin said. “The leaflets say they are from the People’s Republic about Jews—all these are provocations. They have no basis at all.”

These comments refute the attempts of US officials to turn the leaflet into an asset in a propaganda campaign to smear pro-Russian protesters and prop up their puppet regime in Kiev, which is based on fascist groups with deeply anti-Semitic politics.

In line with comments by US Secretary of State John Kerry, US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt had declared, “Everything we’re hearing suggests this is the real deal, and that it is coming from someone on the ground there among these radical groups.”

Given the widespread reports that Donetsk residents viewed the leaflet as a fake and a provocation, one can only conclude that Pyatt’s comments had ulterior motives. They served the function of creating an alternative media story to the open and intimate ties of the pro-Western Kiev regime to fascist groups such as the Right Sector militia and the Svoboda party, which openly praise Nazi-era Ukrainian fascist groups that participated in the Holocaust, and whose leaders have issued public attacks on Jews.

See also here.

Western powers, Ukrainian regime call for military buildup against Russia: here.

The German government is taking part in the NATO mobilization in Eastern Europe with at least one warship and six combat planes. According to the Ministry of Defence, the vessel “Elba” will head a flotilla of five mine detectors due to depart soon from the port of Kiel in the Baltic Sea: here.

Canada: Stephen Harper’s acutely embarrassing behaviour regarding the crisis in Ukraine — demonizing Vladimir Putin and upping the rhetoric — must be welcomed in the U.S. which created the crisis in the first place and apparently believes it still has something to gain by isolating Russia. But it is not clear that Harper even realizes — or cares — what the larger game is: here.

US Vice President Joseph Biden began his two-day trip to Ukraine Monday as the country continued to teeter on the edge of civil war. Tensions are mounting over killings in the eastern part of the country, where demonstrators calling either for union with Russia or a federalized system of government have seized control in at least ten towns and cities: here.

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Spanish village changing anti-Jewish name?


This video says about itself:

Spain and the Holocaust

29 October 2008

Maureen Tobin Stanley, associate professor of Spanish language, literature, and culture at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, spoke at Vanderbilt University Oct. 23 as part of the Holocaust Lecture Series.

Maureen Tobin Stanley has spent her career examining Spanish voices of resistance, exile and deportation. Though 10,000 to 15,000 Spaniards were imprisoned in Nazi camps with the implicit endorsement of Francisco Franco’s regime, their experience in concentration camps has been largely suppressed. As part of contemporary Spain’s critical, literary, and current legislative drive to recover its democratic past and renounce Franco’s totalitarianism, Stanley’s research seeks to demonstrate the cultural relevance of these frightening realities. Supporting contribution by the Department of Spanish and Portuguese.

From daily Haaretz in Israel:

Spanish village called ‘kill Jews’ mulling name change

Village of Castrillo Matajudios will convene its 60 families to vote on name dating back to Spanish Inquisition.

By JTA | Apr. 12, 2014 | 11:18 PM

A Spanish village is considering removing the phrase “kill Jews” from its name.

The village of Castrillo Matajudios near Leon in northern Spain will convene its 60 resident families at a town hall meeting next week to discuss and vote on the first formal proposal to change the village’s name, the regional daily Diario de Burgos reported Friday.

Mayor Lorenzo Rodriguez, who submitted the proposal, suggested changing the village’s name to Castrillo Mota de Judios, which means “Castrillo Jews’ Hill.” He said this was the village’s original name, but it was changed during the Spanish Inquisition.

In parts of Spain, and especially in the north, locals use the term “killing Jews” (matar Judios) to describe the traditional drinking of lemonade spiked with alcohol at festivals held in city squares at Easter, or drinking in general.

Leon will hold its “matar Judios” fiesta on Good Friday, April 18, where organizers estimate 40,000 gallons of lemonade will be sold.

The name originates from medieval times, when converted Jews would sometimes be publicly executed in show trials at around Easter, Maria Royo, a spokesperson for the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain told JTA.

“Regrettably, this type of expression exists in Spain in ceremonies and parties,” she said, but added that “the people saying it are mostly unaware of the history. It is a complicated issue that is ingrained in local culture.”

The federation is in contact on this issue with authorities, but given the popularity of the expression, “it is impossible to forbid this language” in that context, she added.

Last month, Ramon Benavides, the president of a local associations of hoteliers, told the news agency EFE: “When ‘killing Jews,’ it’s best to take it slow and keep track of how much you drink to avoid excesses and its consequences the next day.”

Spain is inviting back Jews expelled from the country in the 16th Century. But don’t mention the Muslims: here.

Discovery of oldest mikvah in Europe harks back to Sicily’s ancient Jewish presence: here.