What’s in a name?

If you look at the “About Us” section of this web site you will find my name listed. There are more of us but some have chosen not to have their name splashed on the Internet.

Let’s have a look at those names. Levy. It’s a fair bet that he is Jewish. Vogel, not so sure, but Mira, there’s a clue. Toby Green, maybe Jewish? A “stein” on the end would be more of a giveaway. Burns, shades of Scotland there. And Howe, potentially Scottish too. I do have ginger hair and there is the caricature of the “mad ginger Scotsman”. But hold on. How many Scots do you know who are ginger?

Recently, Mira asked me a question. She said “Has anybody asked you if you’re Jewish yet?” She pointed to the experience of John Mann MP in relation to the All Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Anti-Semitism.

‘When I commissioned this inquiry, one MP commented with surprise: “I didn’t realise you were Jewish.” Neither did I.’

My reply was “Not only have I not been asked if I am Jewish, as far as I can recall I have never ever been asked about my religion, except on census forms and when I got married.” How about you?

Nobody, at least not overtly or to my knowledge, has made assumptions or connections between my expressed views and my religion or my background. But it has happened to John Mann, Jon Pike and other anti-boycotters. Perhaps it has happened to me because of my stance on this boycott, but without my knowledge? If it has, should I be surprised?

Alright, Jews can be sensitive, especially when it comes to the subject of the history of their people. But can we blame them when their views are so often automatically associated with their Jewishness rather than being derived from independent and reasoned thought. Are Jews not capable of the same independence of mind as anybody else?

Alan Howe

14 thoughts on “What’s in a name?

  1. miravogel

    If, in your society, you don’t look ethnically distinctive (your colour, say, or what you wear) you escape a lot of stereotyping. Names are another thing. There’s a chapter in The Logic of Life by Tim Harford about ‘rational racism’, supported with findings from experiments, which is thoroughly depressing. Marianne Bertrand and Sunhail Mullainathan sent out CVs which only differed in that some had names which are thought of as black names, like Ebony and Leroy, and others white names like Brendan and Alison. The call-back rates were much worse for the CVs with black names. The employers, without necessarily reaslising, had made judgements about people based on their names.

    Names come into play when people interpret them as a marker for a set of values, or educational achievement, or behaviour.

    In the boycott debate within and beyond the Greens, something else is happening too – there’s this phenomenon where a set values (broadly, anti-boycott) is viewed as a marker of an identity. If you are against the boycott, or against antisemitism, or for Israel, it’s not unusual for people to assume you’re Jewish, and that your involvement is tribal.

    Where this happens it indicates a blindness to other values (anti-racist, liberal, progressive, for example) that might induce people to get involved in fighting these corners.

    Test yourself for hidden biases here:

  2. weggis

    It is a while since I was in the workplace and involved in recruitment. I retired in 1996. However, I do keep my hand in with voluntary work at Afasic.

    Nowadays the application forms are split by an independent person who removes the front sheet, containing the name and personal details of the applicant, like age, sex, etc, and those who sift the applicants into a shortlist are only allowed to see the applicants qualifications and work experience.

    Perhaps we should all use pseudonyms?

  3. Eli

    I remember an old anecdote. The soviet conductor Mrawinski visited the USA and met Toscanini, who asked him, is it true that anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union is rampant?
    Mrawinski was offended, and started to count the Jews in his orchestra and said proudly how can we be antisemites, when in my orchestra one third of the musicians are Jews? And he asked Toscanini how many Jews are in your orchestra? Toscanini said, I do not know, I employ musicians according to their professional capability.
    That a British MP is told to be a Jew, because he is against antisemitism is really strange, because it assumes, that only Jews are against antisemitism.

  4. miravogel

    Eli, that’s a good one.

    For most of the people in Greens Against The Boycott, I don’t know if they’re Jewish or not. Or at any rate, I don’t remember people saying.

  5. Jon Pike

    This is an interestingly crazy area, for me, at least. There’s a website based in Cork that has a nasty little database of innuendo against people opposed to the boycott. I’m in it, but last time I looked, there was a little note that my name was really Jon, but

    “Some people, typically Israelis, mistransliterate his name as “John”.”

    I couldn’t work out what this meant . Lots of people mispell my name and I don’t really get too bothered – but ‘typically Israelis’? Then the penny dropped: ‘The Jews pretend Jon Pike isn’t a Jew, for effect – they call him John. But he is, you see, he’s called Jon, and that’s a Jewish name.’

    I can’t think of any more innocent explanation. Turns out the site is run by a fan of Atzmon. There you go.

    Jon (and no, I’m not. My parents thought Jonathan was a nice biblical name.)

  6. miravogel

    It is a crazy thing, that you don’t have to be Jewish to be on the receiving end of these innuendos aimed at Jews.

    By way of comparison, my paternal great uncle (on the Vogel side) was a C of E vicar and a headmaster. His family was German and he was originally called Karl. During the war German-sounding names like Karl Vogel were a career liability, so to get the headmaster job he was obliged to ditch the Karl and become Teddy.

  7. Eli

    Probably some remember May 1968 when French students demonstrated against the expulsion of Daniel Cohn-Bendit under the slogan “We are all German Jews”.
    40 years later, some who believe or pretend to be part of the Left, look out for Jewish names, for Jewish origins of people.
    Leo Löwenthal published 1949 “Prophets of Deceit. A Study of the Techniques of the American Agitator”.
    The fascist American Agitator and those antisemites from the Left have something in common, both want us to make believe, that antisemitism is a reaction to the persecution of Antisemites by the Jews. Those from the Left do not use the same vocabulary, but their line is similar.
    “Those merciless programs of abuse which certain Jews and their satellites work upon people who are not in full agreement with them create terrible reactions.”
    The idea, that Jews provoke antisemitism because of their being unreasonable leads to the next step, that they promote antisemitism deliberately:
    “Kahn is one of those Jews who is devoting his life to the promoting of antisemitism. God save the race from such Jews”.
    And this is characteristic also of modern leftwing British antisemites, they determine, who is a good Jew, and who is a bad one, a “Zionist”.

  8. leigh

    if you’re sympathetic to israel and the difficulties it faces – and has faced since its inception – then you must be jewish is i find a surprisingly common misconception on the british left and critics of israel in general. This myth of course helps tie-in with all the other conspiracy inspired drivel some critics of the state of israel appear only too ready to believe eg you must be an assett of the all powerful MOSSAD or you are part of the ‘world zionist conspiracy’!

    No wonder the likes of gilad atzmon can get away with peddling the protocols of the elders of zion as fact and yet still be invited to speak at the swp’s annual ‘marxism’ shindig for 2 years in succession! How long before he is invited to a fringe meeting of the green party of england and wales by supporters of the boycott i wonder?

  9. raphavisses

    Leigh writes: “This myth of course helps tie-in with all the other conspiracy inspired drivel some critics of the state of israel appear only too ready to believe eg you must be an assett of the all powerful MOSSAD or you are part of the ‘world zionist conspiracy’! ”

    I have been accused, on Derek Wall’s blog, in what was nothing else than a threat, of being a Mossad agent. Derek did not bother commenting.

  10. nick

    Israel’s supposed arch-enemy, the terrorist group Hamas, was founded and funded by Israel’s dominant Likud party and continues to be bankrolled to this day by political bodies pushing a one world government system. This is not my opinion and I am not breaking an exclusive story. It is a documented fact reported on by mainstream news outlets and admitted by respected individuals within the US and Israeli governments and intelligence agencies.

    The objectives of Hamas dovetail with those of the Likud, no settlement at all costs. Whenever the prospect of a workable peace settlement between the Israelis and Palestinians arises, Hamas or one of their offshoots blows a bus, restaurant or a hotel to pieces. This gives Israel the justification needed to scupper any agreement and further entrench their occupation of disputed lands. All the outsider sees is carnage, death and a mainstream media that spins the issue so that these atrocities somehow represent the wishes of the Palestinian people.

    The Globalists have no intention of settling the conflict and will likely use it several years down the line to initiate a near-apocalyptic third world war that will fully ensconce their wicked empire. The final phase is a stage-managed ‘clash of civilizations’ between the Arab world, possibly supported by China, and the west.

    According to United Press International,

    “Israel and Hamas may currently be locked in deadly combat, but, according to several current and former U.S. intelligence officials, beginning in the late 1970s, Tel Aviv gave direct and indirect financial aid to Hamas over a period of years.”

    Israel wanted to radicalize the dispute by moulding Hamas into a fundamentalist militant crusade to ape the Khomeini revolution in Iran. So much so that Israel groomed potential Hamas leaders, pressuring Israeli authorities to give them licenses to set up food kitchens, clinics, schools, and day-care centers, to create a governing structure alternative to Arafat’s Fatah. These were known as ‘Village Leagues’ – and provided future Hamas operatives with a political and governmental foothold. This began in 1978 when Prime Minister Menachem Begin, himself a former terrorist leader, approved an application from Sheik Ahmad Yassin to license the Islamic Association, which would later produce a military wing, Hamas, in 1987. The Israeli Likud party propped up Yassin because they both had the same agenda, to destabilize Arafat’s Fatah.

  11. Alan Howe

    I have to confess that at the Green Party conference a couple of weeks ago, when a delegate recognised my name, they asked if I was Jewish? So, it’s happened.

    I also have to report that one of my neighbours, a Mrs Goldstein, is a devout Catholic! Of course women [mostly] get their surname from thier husband.

  12. Pingback: Private Eye spies Greens « Greens Engage

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