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.
So, you may ask, what does he do for a living? He is creative director of one of the main British television networks! The anti-Jewish and anti-American abuse I nobly tolerated was astonishing in the context that he is in charge of output for a main channel watched by millions. It was deeply disturbing to me that a man with such high responsibility could harbor such rabid sentiments about Jews and Americans. Had I been a shareholder, advertiser, or financial partner subjected to this ordeal I would have withdrawn support first thing Monday morning.
One accusation he hurled at me — ironically, in the weeks following the Cumbria shootings and the siege around murderer Raoul Moat — was that Americans “run about shooting each other.” I tried to explain to him that we have a huge gang problem in London and that if knives became guns we would be a sad rival of the USA, but of course he interrupted with a barb about Americans: “You’re all f’ing idiots.” I mention this because the front-page headline of the July 16 issue of West End Extra was: “GANGS FIGHT LIKE A SCENE FROM A WAR.”
I was commissioning editor for drama at Anglia for the British television network ITV for ten years and practiced a rule that when I socialized I was still an ambassador of the company. He ought to do the same.
And one postscript: I had dinner the following Friday night with an elderly English friend who suddenly popped out with a stern question that everyone seems to ask me at the moment: “Carol, You aren’t a Zionist, are you?” He asked this with such horror as if to say I might be a member of the Nazi party. I gave him a quick history lesson about Theodore Herzl and the persecution of the Jews across nineteenth-century Europe when the Dreyfus trial unfolded. He admitted that even at his advanced age he knew nothing of any of this. What stunned me to the point of almost leaving his house was his reading a magazine and refusing to listen when I wanted to relate a story about a brilliant Israeli percussionist I had seen perform and who reported on the perilous state of things for French Jewry, where performing as an Israeli was out of the question.