Howard Jacobson on the “Israel Must Lose” letter

Howard Jacobson

Howard Jacobson

This piece by Howard Jacobson is from The Independent.

How does he get that dimple in his tie? Obama, I mean. Who else? Obama the beautiful. Obama the sonorous. Obama the Messiah.

I don’t make a habit of admiring people younger than me, unless they are of another time and long dead, in which case their anteriority makes them older. You can love someone younger – for love is part protectiveness – but it is not seemly to admire them. That way dotage lies. The trouble is that after a certain age there isn’t anybody older than yourself left standing. So Obama it is. He’ll be pleased to know he enjoys my esteem.

In fact I know how he gets that dimple in his tie. He ties it by a method known as the four-in-hand, a phrase that might have something to do with the horse-drawn vehicle of that name. Maybe it describes the way coachmen tied their cravats or hitched their reins. Whatever the etymology I am taken with the effect, and spent most of last week following instructions on how to achieve it on YouTube. You start with the wide end (“W”) of your tie on the right, then cross it over the narrow end (“N”), ensuring that “W” is kept about a foot longer than “N”. Then you…

It was only when I’d completely mastered the four-in-hand, holding a mirror to my computer and getting my wife to check me over every step of the way, that I realised I was being taught how to tie a tie in the way I have always tied a tie. Only I can’t get the Obama dimple. The narrowness of the knot, yes. The insolent asymmetry of the knot, yes. But not the dimple in “W” just below the knot.

It still isn’t clear how he manages it, but I suspect the secret lies in hauling the tie tight into the hot V-shaped hollow of your collar, and for that you need exactly the right spread of collar – not English Bufton-tufton cut-away, and not with the points limp and close together in the manner of mafiosi and art dealers. It goes without saying that you also need exactly the right amount of neck. Too little and you concertina the collar (think Cameron), too big and the dimple is lost in pleats of flesh (think Kenneth Clarke).

Here again Obama is perfection. The neck slender, but not wasted. The shirt white. (Only a fool wears a shirt of any other colour and only a scoundrel wears stripes.) The suit black, two buttoned, with long lapels. And thus tailored he will set about solving the problems of the world. Don’t laugh. I attach immense significance to the tailoring of Messiahs. There lingers in the British psyche – particularly the left side of it – a sentimental belief that political conviction must come in an untidy package. Michael Foot overdid it even for a socialist, but there remains an ideological association of dishevelment with truth. You can’t go on a march in a black suit bought from Hartmax in Chicago and a dimple in your tie. You can’t go on a march in a tie full stop. And there, reader, is the rub.

I measure a man’s seriousness by the degree of moral ambivalence he is able to intimate in his appearance. Here is surface, the subtle politician and thinker says, here is my homage to gorgeousness, worldliness and good manners, but don’t suppose I do not have that within that passeth show.

Too much attention to exterior show and the man is trivial; too little and he is a fanatic. The person who cannot smile urbanely even when the world is falling apart is no better than the person who can do nothing else. And those who think they prove their integrity by looking shabby by the standards of their own society, or by adopting the dress of the oppressed (as though the oppressed are a model by virtue of their oppression), only demonstrate the narrowness of their sympathies.

Showing just the right amount of white shirt cuff – inviting them to tea, as it were, in the Oval Office – Obama addressed the world’s political villains – “We will extend a hand, if you are willing to unclench a fist.” The metaphor is good. In the midst of war it reinstates the civilities. I’ll dimple my tie, you dimple yours, and we will talk it over. But it contains the necessary threat within the wit as well, for if they don’t unclench their fists…

Well, we shall see. In the meantime, in the far less sophisticated moral world we call our own country, the intellectually challenged who staff our universities are down on their knees kissing every clenched fist that will consent to their sycophancy. Take as an example plucked at random – trust me, reader, it just fell to hand – the letter written to The Guardian last week, demanding that Israel lose. Not withdraw, not seek a truce, not radically change its thinking – as many of us wish – but lose. Lose to the clenched fist of Hamas.

It was signed by those who exist to sign such things – professors of Media and Communications, lecturers in Visual Cultures and Gender Studies (gender studies and Hamas: get that!), boycotters, sandal-wearers, banner wavers, professionally ashamed Jews. As an exercise in simple-mindedness – what else do universities teach now? – it could hardly be excelled.

Israel had been waging war against the Palestinians for 60 years it said, omitting to mention the war that Arab armies had been waging against Israel, 60 years ago promising “a war of extermination” – extermination, note, not a two-state solution – culminating in the joyous prospect of “feeding the fish of the Mediterranean with the bones of Jews”. (Imagine starting a history of the Second World War with the bombing of Dresden and you have the picture.) Thus decontextualised, Israel, the letter continued, must now accept that its security depends on “peaceful co-existence with its neighbours”. Gosh, why hasn’t anyone thought of that before. Peaceful co-existence. You hear that, Mr Obama?

There is no monopoly on compassion. Signing a letter doesn’t make you a humanitarian. I too don’t want to see another dead Palestinian child. Not a one. But peace won’t come just because, ignored and impotent in your campuses of moral simplicity, with only the young and the like-minded to address, you wish for it.

Regard Obama. You have to work at truth. What seems isn’t always what is. And what will be waits on more than the velleities of the ill-informed. In the taut and intricate resolution of Obama’s dimpled tie is our most realistic hope for peace.

This piece by Howard Jacobson is from The Independent.

More critique of the “Israel must lose” letter from David Hirsh here.

10 Responses to “Howard Jacobson on the “Israel Must Lose” letter”

  1. Observer Says:

    http://www.hurryupharry.org/2009/01/24/pro-weather-bias/#comments

    Not on the theme, but check out the video posted here.
    Wonderful!

  2. Susan Says:

    It won’t take long before The Guardian and the poeple who post on CIF are saying that Obama is being controlled by the Israel lobby.

  3. Toby Esterhase Says:

    Somebody comments, rightly, on the Independent site that lots of the signatures are from people in old and “respectable” departments like English, Politics, International Relations, Law, Economics, History, Philosophy, etc.

  4. Bill Says:

    That happened already, Susan, as far back as the primaries.

  5. Nancy Says:

    Bill, Susan –
    There were some scurrilous accusations of Obama being beholden to Jewish interests in the early-mid ’90s when he ran for office in Illinois. Among his early backers were some well-to-do Jews. This all seems to be more a sad product of twisted racial politics and Haves v. Have Nots than Israel, but it’s interesting and ironic given the efforts to smear Obama among Jewish voters during the presidential campaign.

    The New Yorker did a great profile of his rise in Illinois/Chicago politics that mentions the anti-Semitism in the early races. Here’s the link and sample paragraph: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/07/21/080721fa_fact_lizza?currentPage=all

    A South Side operator named Al Kindle, a large man with a booming voice, was a field operator for Obama’s race against Rush. He had helped elect Harold Washington, and he saw Obama’s congressional campaign from the street level. We met one evening at Calypso Café, a Caribbean restaurant that Obama has said is his favorite place to eat in Hyde Park, and Kindle described some of the worst moments in the campaign. “The accusations were that Obama was sent here and owned by the Jews,” Kindle said. “That he was here to steal the black vote and steal black land and that he was represented by the—as they were called—‘the white man.’ And that Obama wasn’t black enough and didn’t know the black experience, the black community. It was quite deafening in terms of how they went after Alderman Preckwinkle and myself. People would say, ‘Oh, Kindle, man, we trust you, you being fooled. Obama’s got you fooled.’ And some people called me a traitor.”

  6. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    Observer, the theme of the video is _exactly_ on the theme of the website as a whole.

    Irony rules ok.

  7. fred Says:

    I won’t post the link here, but if you look at David Duke’s website, he did a post on inauguration day with a picture showing Obama in front of an Israeli flag. “Obama: the Zionist wolf in sheep’s clothing.” is the title of the piece. “Change? Obama is controlled by the same Jewish extremist financial, political, media and financial forces that have led America to the catastrophe of 9-11, the disaster of the Iraq War and the financial robbery and economic crisis,” Dr. Duke informs us.

    What’s interesting is nowhere in the piece is there a mention of Obama’s skin color. Nowhere does Duke regale us with the trials and tribulations of the white race. The entire piece is devoted to the Jews & their new puppet.

    Michael Crowley noted this phenomenon in TNR, 3/12/08; http://www.tnr.com/politics/story.html?id=907272c4-54db-4fba-9149-e95b7293d6a0

    “There’s an even bigger culprit in this world than white liberals, however. Naturally, we speak here of the Jews. It turns out that what truly animates the white supremacist contingent these days is not racism but anti-Semitism. The black man is of trifling concern next to the ‘Zionist Occupation Government,’ or ZOG, a term that describes puppet regimes of the global Zionist conspiracy. As one commenter on the popular white-power Web forum Stormfront explains it: ‘The blacks would be a non-factor if it weren’t for the ZOG’s legislations and skullduggery (civil rights act, hate crime laws, affirmative action, welfare, forced integration, etc etc …), allied with a compliant media that promotes black worship.’ Thus, when the Jewish Telegraphic Agency published an anodyne article on Obama’s support among American Jews, white-power sites like National Alliance News (‘your single source for worldwide pro-White news’) quickly pounced. ‘Barack Obama: The Jewish Connection’ came the breathless headline. (Never mind that Obama has had a rockier relationship with the American Jewish community than has Clinton.) ‘[U]ltimately he’s just another Jew puppet,’ concludes another Stormfront commenter. ‘I look at his foreign advisers,’ adds David Duke. ‘[They’re] Israeli supremacists. He’s even got Dennis Ross!'”

  8. Bialik Says:

    A Sky News paper reviewer a few weeks ago said that presidents were financed by American Jews and after the election it is ‘pay back time’.

    Is HJ the best English columnist currently writing? (AA Gill would be second).

  9. Saul Says:

    fred,
    It is interesting to note, as yu no doubt have yourself. how similar themes have appeared in “left” narratives around the question of Israel. We have Tony Benn, Jenny Tonge, and others speaking of the “Zionist Lobby”; we had similar views when Rahm was appointed CofS.we have a load of it turning up in cif re: the BBC; we have had similar thinking concerning the UCU. We have had the Independent with the US flag and stars of David, and so on
    Of course, at this stage, such absurdities have not yet reacued a totalising conspircacy theory, but there is definately some similarity.

  10. fred Says:

    Saul: some similarity, and cross-pollination too.


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