Phyllis Chesler Interviews Carol Gould

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A Yankee Gets Yelled At
Last uploaded : Wednesday 9th Jan 2002 at 23:48
Contributed by : The Associate Editor


News Over the past few months, I have been on the receiving end of a torrent of anti-American rhetoric that has ranged from teasing by old friends to quite terrifying anger bordering on intimidation. For the decades I have lived in Britain, I have always said that being Jewish is not so onerous as being American when you live as an expatriate: many years ago a colleague in network television observed that anti-Americanism was the new anti-Semitism.

Most recently, I have had to endure an evening of loud abuse from a table full of English middle-class people ? an occasion I had thought would be a restful meal with some wine and gentle conversation. Increasingly, it has become impossible for me to be a guest aa anyone?s table without the requisite catalogue of America?s crimes against humanity being wheeled out onto my plate. On each occasion I have come home with indigestion, have headed straight for the blood pressure monitor (now you know for sure that I am American!), and have been unable to sleep.

It is therefore with some incredulity that I am reading about John Birt, now Lord Birt, former head of the BBC, being appointed by Prime Minister Blair to the post of transport supremo.

The people who love to attack anything and everything American have a shopping list of grievances that usually starts with Starbucks and that includes McDonalds, Shell Oil, Microsoft, Boeing and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Without doubt the United States has a considerable amount to answer for in its monopoly on globalisation, but the idea that a head of state would appoint a television producer to transform the nation?s catastrophic transport problems is more absurd than any appointments made by recent US Presidents.

Having been an Anglophile for most of my life, and having lived here long enough to feel a tear rising when ?God Save the Queen? is played, I feel it is permissible to elaborate on a few home truths about Blighty.

As of this writing, the British railway system is bankrupt and about to come to a nation-wide halt. The London transport system is such a disaster that it would take ten Goliaths to put it right. The National Health Service, once the pride of this nation?s post-war years, is in a crisis and in recent months has itself become a danger to the lives of our citizens. The postal system, once the great and trusted Royal Mail, is about to shut down. Crime is on a steep climb and racial and religious tensions in Bradford, Oldham and Northern Ireland continue to smoulder. BSE was born in Britain because of disgraceful management of livestock-feed monitoring systems and I will probably die of CJD as a consequence. (I cannot give blood in my native country for the rest of my life because I lived in Britain during the proliferation of BSE and CJD.)

We are told that the UK economy is booming, but every time I open the financial pages the value of my portfolio in British companies becomes more and more minute.

But back to John Birt: I was a television executive for eleven years. I can tell you that the number of times I sampled buses, tubes and trains could be counted on, well, two hands.

When we were filming on location, a driver was provided. Like John Birt, I was considered a high premium employee and the way I travelled was devised to protect me; when you are filming until 5AM, having been awake for twenty hours, you should not be getting behind the wheel of a car. (One of the great tragedies of my era was the death of a film editor who insisted on driving home after a long session in the studio; he was killed when he fell asleep at the wheel.)

According to the ?Times? newspaper of Monday 7th January, ?...Lord Birt was instrumental in drawing up an anti-crime strategy but his ideas were never published and Home Office officials poured scorn on the banality of his finding.? The Times goes on to report that Lord Birt has himself acknowledged that he comes to the issue with a ?blank sheet of paper.?

How Lord Birt is going to get to grips with the gripes of London?s long-suffering commuters is beyond my comprehension. One of the positive features of the Clinton years was his formidable ability to select advisers and ministers the majority of whom were possessed of massive expertise. John Birt may have been a highly respected television manager, but the crisis in Britain?s transport systems requires a team of people who have a passionate interest in the transformation of our abysmal travel facilities and who represent a vivid spectrum of expertise in the field of mass transport.

They also need to have the motivation, inspiration, get-up-and-go and sense of urgency of the ?folks? who started Kentucky Fried Chicken, Starbucks, McDonalds, Microsoft and Boeing. One could argue that the people who started these enterprises also came to them, like Lord Birt, with a blank sheet of paper. The difference is that they were embarking on an original concept in virgin territory, and were not being asked to unravel an insurmountable quagmire. (One could even venture to say that the magnificent Founding Fathers disentangled themselves from a quagmire, but my dinner companions would then launch into their other favourite grievance: 'Those ghastly men like Jefferson owned slaves!!!')

Wouldn?t it be nice to wake up one morning and find the NHS, RailTrack, the Royal Mail and London Transport being run with cheery efficiency , monitored by management who care about the passengers, patients, customers and commuters?

One of the things I admired on my last trip to Israel was that nation?s ability to function with reasonable normalcy despite unspeakable threats from within and without. Imagine how Israel would boom if so much money did not have to be siphoned to the armed forces. (Yes, protecting the settlers is a major issue but not one that exercises me.; if Israel had friendly neighbours no-one would need protecting.)

The English dinner companions who rant about the American destruction of the planet have very valid points to make. Interestingly enough, these fellow diners display the same fury when ?Israel? is mentioned. It seems as if these two maverick, fledgling countries who threw off British rule and built, respectively, teeming enterprise cultures generate colossal hostility from the residents of the mother country. (I do take one 75mg of aspirin a day now, inasmuch as I am acutely aware that the combined fury of those who hate Israel and America could cause yours truly, a Jewish Stars-and-Stripes-waving Yank, cardiac arrest...) The ?wretched refuse? of Emma Lazarus? famous poem made America great, and a small enclave of Jews built Israel; in turn these events have enraged generations of both Britons and Arabs, and most recently bin Laden?s followers. When one particularly angry recent dinner companion became red in the face as he attempted to verbally demolish my country, I asked his partner if in fact they supported al Qaeda and the destruction of the twin towers. They were non-plussed. How could I possibly think they sympathised with the events of September 11th? When I am hearing that America ?deserves what it gets?, how could I possibly think otherwise of them?

It has occurred to me that if the legion of America-haters and Israel-bashers practised what they preached, they would have to boycott almost everything and live in tents. Considering the state of the British infrastructure, we might all soon be living in caves.

No doubt everyone will blame America!

And the cave-dwellers, all doomed to die of CJD, will be wearing ?boycott Israel? badges as they munch on trusty British beef.

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