By Martin Kelner To sponsor this column, see foot of page
2 May 2016
I’m a very bad person. All week long, as the anti-Semitism debate rumbled on, relentlessly ploughing the same field, just with a shifting cast of politicos and lobbyists and as a (very lapsed) Jew I tried to engage, all I could think of was: that 5-2 I got on Jeremy Corbyn being gone by the end of 2016 is looking good.
We people, what are we like? The truth is, we accept there is some anti-Semitism in Britain, but less than in France and most other European countries, and it’s mostly latent, and that’s fine with us.
But look at me, talking for the entire community. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not terribly concerned about Ken Livingstone dribbling on about the Nazis, and I certainly don’t welcome the comprehensive inquiry into anti-Semitism in the Labour party promised by Diane Abbott on the Andrew Marr Show yesterday.
There’s an old joke about a Jewish guy turning up at home with his face bruised and cut and his clothes torn, and his wife asking him what happened. “Well some kids jumped me from behind, started hitting me, and grabbed my wallet,” he says. “So why didn’t you do something?” his wife asks, and he answers: “Well, I didn’t want to get involved.”
And that’s rather how I feel about Shami Chakrabarti’s inquiry into anti-Semitism in the Labour party. To echo a question my dad, God rest him, used to ask about everything in the news, even the weather forecast: “Is that good for the Jews?”
Obviously not. It’s more about Jeremy seeming to be doing something, and making me hang on a little longer before I take some more money from Rupert Murdoch and his friends at Sky Bet. (Screen Breaks passim).
The row has made me a little more sensitive over my heritage, though. I’m sure when Diane Abbott was asked about what action the party should take over Livingstone’s comments, I heard her say, “Ken will have Jew process like anyone else.”
I hesitate to quote two jokes from Woody Allen’s Annie Hall in just the one piece, but in that film nearly 40 years ago Woody foreshadowed the much-discussed issue of where criticism of Israel’s politics crosses over into anti-Semitism.
In the movie, Woody says the nation’s reluctance to get behind cash-strapped New York is because the rest of America sees it as a Jewish city. “But New York is terribly run,” his friend says, and Woody replies: “This isn’t about politics or economics, it’s about foreskin.”
The other story struggling to live up to the weight of its coverage last week was Leicester* City’s Premier League title weekend – or not, as it turned out. Clearly the news organisations’ policy was not to allow their reporters to get the train back from the East Midlands until everybody in the city had been interviewed, and blow me if the BBC’s 1 o’clock bulletin on Friday didn’t see one of the many voice-to-camera pieces break Kelner’s rule of ‘literally.’
* I went to Leicester in 2003 for a book I wrote called When Will I Be Famous. Here’s a bit about the city that didn’t quite make the cut].
“This city is literally pinching itself,” the report began, an interesting concept which would possibly need a composite of Hieronymus Bosch and M C Escher to illustrate.
Just to reiterate my rule, almost nothing in sport is literal. Nobody is ever literally over the moon, or literally sick as a parrot, so it’s safest not to use the word at all. (Nor, while we’re at it, is it ironic when a player returns to his old club as an opposition player and scores against them. That’s not irony; it’s football, quite literally).
Even the normally level-headed Emily Maitlis on Newsnight went Leicester City gaga, in trying to explain to the nation’s late-night chin-strokers the significance of Leicester’s achievement. “How unprecedented do you think this is?” she asked her expert. Eh?
Some commentators tried to deconstruct the unprecedentedness of Leicester’s soon-to-be coronation by comparing other bets that were 5,000-1, Leicester’s odds to win the league at the start of the season; Elvis Presley to be found alive working in a chip shop in Mansfield, Simon Cowell to be next Prime Minister, Robbie Savage chosen to host Radio 4’s The Moral Maze, that kind of thing. (I made one of those up).
The smart money, of course, knew that Leicester, without Jamie Vardy and facing an improving Manchester United, were unlikely to seal the deal this weekend, but the smart money forgot to log on and back his feeling with hard cash, and so will have to wait for Jeremy to fall on his sword.
(This column is written out of the goodness of my heart, for light entertainment. So far we have failed to find a sponsor. If you wish to remedy that, do get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am now ascribing our failure in this area to anti-Semitism).
Screen Break ran in The Guardian for 16 years, and then in the Racing Post. The first two episodes in its current incarnation can be found here, and here. Week three, now better know as ‘The Screen Break that cost Steve McClaren his job’, can be found here. Week four featured the wacky world of Jonny Wilkinson. Week five came witha money-back guarantee on laughs. (It was so funny that nobody at all asked for their money back). Week six was all about managing with an iron bar (and the boat race). Week seven was the Windies winning wonderfully. Week eight was all about Willett’s Masters and a win for England. Last time we considered God’s team. Also well worth a read is the most amusing ‘My celebrity death match‘. This piece is also a MUST READ. And so is this one.
And you can follow Martin Kelner on Twitter @MartinKelner