I have spent a few weeks thinking a lot about an encounter I had on July 16 at a private London house party I attended following the pre-Prom concert on the BBC First Night.
The encounter has hung over me for weeks, even affecting my normal work patterns. I decided to write about it after hearing about the outrage that Israeli President Shimon Peres has caused for daring to suggest that Britain has a problem with Jews.
A friend and I arrived at the party and were having a lovely time when a young man in a baseball hat sauntered over to me and said, “I have some questions for you.” I had no problem with this and sat down next to him on a bench in a cramped corner. He proceeded to spend what seemed like an eternity traducing Americans, Jews, Zionism, and Israel until I began to suspect he was a Nazi. When I attempted to defend my ancient heritage (I told him this will be the 5,771st Jewish New Year), of which I am as proud as would be a person of Egyptian, Indian, Chinese or Persian descent, he became irate. I thought he was going to strike me.
He was fixated on the Jewish lobby so I reminded him that many American banks are Protestant-run. When I reminded him of the good that Jews do, like writing virtually every Broadway and West End show, he erupted and said I was self-obsessed. “It’s always me, me , me — the Jews, the Jews,” he shouted. It is unheard of for me to scream and shout at a genteel summer garden party, but I suddenly found myself bellowing at the top of my lungs: “Listen, I am damned proud of my Jewish heritage and burst with pride at being an American.” It was impossible for me to get away from him because every seat was taken and I was hemmed in. Meanwhile, his little girl sat down across his lap and glowered at me as he ranted in an endless stream of the f word.
I have been on Any Questions?, Woman’s Hour, and other debate shows with tough British hosts Ken Livingstone, Jeremy Vine and Andrew Gilligan but frankly have never been so frightened by such an opponent. He never let me finish a sentence and probably missed my saying his views were “alarming.” When I came home I took an aspirin as I really and truly thought I might have a heart attack.