‘Wink-wink’ at the Glasgow Herald?

20 Sep 2011 by Mark Gardner

The Glasgow Herald is Scotland’s oldest and best selling quality daily newspaper. Tom Shields is one of its leading columnists, well known for his wit and observations.

In today’s Herald, Shields invites his readers to imagine what it would be like being a Palestinian “under enemy occupation, divided by walls, fences, and checkpoints”. He then helps them to imagine it by depicting Palestinian life as if it were occurring in Newton Mearns and Giffnock, the only two Scottish neighbourhoods that have Jewish communities of any real scale. The article (which requires an easy log in process to access) was entitled:

If Giffnock was Gaza

It then reels off a series of caustic remarks about the difficulties of travelling to Waitrose, passing checkpoints, accessing the local motorway and hospitals, falling house prices and dropping your children at “Hutchie Grammar” (a well known private school attended by many Jews, situated within Glasgow proper).  

Normally, Giffnock and Newton Mearns do not make the headlines. They are middle class areas with nice houses and generally low crime rates. Nevertheless, their Jewish population can make them easy targets for anti-Israel hostility in Scotland; as shown a matter of weeks ago when Giffnock was targeted by a Facebook page that is now under Police investigation.

The Facebook page was entitled “Welcome to Israel, only kidding you’re in Giffnock”. Its photo profile was a picture of the late Reverend Ernest Levy, a Holocaust survivor and probably the most respected Scottish Jew of his generation.  Almost 1,000 people ‘liked’ the site. Comments on it included “Jewish scum”, “F*** the Jewish Zionist” and:

Hebrew is not needed in the train station [because] all the Jews are f***ing rich c**** they have gold plated Bentleys

The Glasgow Herald is not Facebook; and Tom Shields is not some ranting antisemite. Indeed, his article does not even mention Jews: but it seems to essentially rely upon the same ‘wink wink’ logic as that displayed by the creator of the Facebook site. The impression is not entirely dispelled by Shields' subsequent 'I don't mean it like that' explanation, given in the comments thread beneath his article:

I chose Newton Mearns and Giffnock because they are the parts of Scotland with probably the highest level of support and approval of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory. I wondered how residents of these most civilised of Scottish neighbourhoods might cope with walls, fences, and checkpoints making daily life so difficult.

I am not anti-Israeli, but deeply disappointed by the harsh treatment of ordinary Palestinians. I know my distaste for what goes on is shared by many Jewish friends.

But how many Glasgow Herald readers will ever find Shields’ explanation, buried as the 14th comment on a chain, accessed via a ‘show more’ button on the electronic blog page?

It was Shields who invited his readers to use their imagination, so let’s hope that they do not imagine him to have somehow legitimised the antisemitic notion that British Jews are fair game when you want to attack Israel.

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