In Praise of Chas Newkey-Burden

It’s unclear how long he’ll be away but, in a brief post, Chas Newkey-Burden noted that he’ll no longer be blogging at OyVaGoy, “at least for a while.”

Chas is one of those people I feel I’ve gotten to know despite the fact that, as with so many “virtual” professional relationships in the age of the internet, I’ve never had the pleasure of actually meeting him.

One thing is for sure, however.  Despite the fact that I don’t know him personally, to blog, as he’s done for years, as an unapologetic non-Jewish Zionist in the UK – where the word “Zionism” is typically used in the pejorative, home of the Guardian, and whose capital is one of the hubs within the network of delegitimization of the Jewish state – takes resolve, strength of character, and genuine courage.

For those who may not be familiar with Chas, and his blog, here’s his post from May of last year, explaining why he blogs about Israel:

A lot of people have asked me why I feel so passionately on the subjects of Israel and antisemitism to build a blog around them. As I’m not Jewish this is a very understandable question. I’ve never properly answered it before for several reasons. A lot of my motivation is instinctive and therefore unexplainable, some of it is personal and anyway there always seem more pressing issues to write about. But given the interest there is in the question, I’ll do my best in this post. I apologise in advance if what I write doesn’t satisfy everyone’s curiosity. As I say, a lot of it is instinctive.

I grew up in south west London in an area with few Jewish people. I had a couple of Jewish friends at school and some of my parents friends are Jewish, but I can’t say I was particularly exposed to Jewish people or to Israel as a topic. That said my grandmother visited Israel a number of times and my father did too, in the early days of the state. I only learned about these visits relatively recently though.

As I grew into an adult I did start to become quite interested in Jewish culture, history and even the cuisine. I’ve always instinctively liked symbols like the Magen David and the menorah, too. But these were really just background interests of mine. As far as the Middle East conflict goes I suppose I had a typically default feeling of ill-informed pity for the Palestinians and therefore a vague hostility to Israel. Then 9/11 happened and everything changed.

In the wake of those atrocities I became very interested in the Middle East conflict. I was working at a predominantly Jewish company at the time and I recall taking fascinating lunches with one member of staff during which he patiently and fairly answered my questions about Israel. I then began voraciously reading about the conflict, pouring through books that covered the issue from both sides of the argument from Edward Said to Alan Dershowitz and more. Many, many books and much thinking later I fell in firmly on Israel’s side.

In September 2006 I finally visited Israel and had a fascinating time. Everything I had hoped for about the people and the place came true. I had high, high hopes and they were exceeded by what I found. It was at that point that I became so passionate about trying to support Israel, a country that gets such an unfair hearing in the world. I’ve been back to Israel twice since and now have many dear friends there.

As well as wanting to support Israel I’m also disgusted by antisemitism in general, as I am by all bigotry from sexism to homophobia and Islamophobia. However, of all the bigotries that exist antisemitism seems the most universally held: from the numbskull skinhead to the sophisticated leftie to the aristocratic Brit and nearly everyone in between. I don’t mean to be flippant when I ask surely the bigger mystery is not why I oppose antisemitism but why more other people don’t? My hope is that this blog can help in some small way to work against anti-Israel bigotry and antisemitism in general, and perhaps bring some moments of comfort to those who suffer as a result of them.

So there we have it. I have no secret Jewish relatives and my support is not particularly based on religious feelings, though I am very interested in all aspects of Judaism, particularly the stories of the Baal Shem Tov and other parts of the Hasidic and Jewish mystical traditions. I have many other passions and interests including: the life and career of cancer-survivor cyclist Lance Armstrong; the fight to find a cure for Progeria; books; long-distance running; reality television and Arsenal Football Club.

It just so happens this is the topic I choose to blog about. I hope the above helps explain why.

Your unique, creative, and moral voice will be sorely missed, Chas, and we hope you come back soon. 

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