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Rivka Bond: Speechless (2019)

A BOOK written from a teenage girl’s perspective may sound unappealing to TCW readers. But be assured that the themes are of adult concern.

Chaya Federman diarises what happens when the Social Justice Party – a thinly disguised version of Labour – is elected to power in the UK and anti-Semitism becomes official policy. Their leader, Gerry Windrip, shares many characteristics with Jeremy Corbyn.

The book shows how hatred of Jews can be heightened when presented as a moral crusade. The appeasement of anti-Semites through denial and complacency triumph and the consequences are depicted in all their depressing glory. The resonance with The Diary of Anne Frank is unmistakable.

Divided into three parts, the first two allude to words read from the Haggadah during the Passover seder. The obvious connection to Exodus invokes the possibility of yet another exodus for the Jews, this time from the UK.

The book begins with Chaya documenting the usual teenage girl’s concerns about frizzy hair, social media, boys, bossy mothers and weight gain. Even the climate change propaganda fed to British schoolchildren gets a mention. The story seems very real and relatable.

Bond aptly illustrates how conflating anti-Semitism and ‘Islamophobia’ exacerbates anti-Semitism. Speakers at her school and her teachers repeatedly tell Chaya that she must ‘refuse to hate’. This applies to everyone except Jews.

The persecution of Jews escalates at a pace, which although shocking, is completely believable. Life is made increasingly intolerable and legislation is passed making it difficult for Jews to practise their faith. The Social Justice Party declares Israel to be a ‘rogue state’ and Zionism as ‘racism’. The diminished meaning of this overused word becomes even more sinister in the book. Supporting the ‘oppressed’ is the justification for their anti-Semitism.

Followers of the Social Justice Party mimic Momentum in their weak deflections in blaming anti-Semitism on a mythical ‘far Right’. Like their real-life counterparts, they ignore the beam in their own eyes and deny that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism.

The sub-narrative of Chaya’s infatuation with her politics teacher, Mr Connell, and her horror at learning about his hatred of Jews is revealed gradually and is very effective. Reflecting Chaya’s rapid awakening to the peril in which Jews find themselves, this plot device expertly illustrates how anti-Semitism on the Left is wrapped up in a swaddling blanket of moral superiority and justice. Just as the Nazi Party claimed to save Germany from the Jews, the Social Justice Party purports to cleanse Jews from Britain in a twisted attempt to redeem the country.

The increased persecution of Jews in the UK portrayed in the book has eerie resonance with 1930s Nazi Germany. Jews are gradually socially excluded and banned from certain professions and so deprived of their livelihoods. Chaya’s friends become members of youth organisations, similar in ethos and appearance to Hitler Youth. Escalating terror attacks against Jews in their synagogues and homes are reminders of the horror of anti-Semitism.

It’s not only Nazi Germany to which Bond so aptly alludes in this book, but the USSR when allegiance to party policy is made compulsory by the Social Justice Party. Boycotting Israel becomes an official demand; if not obeyed repercussions are severe and rapid, as Chaya’s parents find out to their detriment. Given the current rhetoric which emanates from Labour, all of this is chilling in its familiarity. 

Bond poignantly weaves into the book the historical persecution of Ashkenazi Jews. Chaya’s maternal grandmother is a Holocaust survivor and her paternal ancestors fled the pogroms in the Pale of Settlement. The devastating impact of this universal suffering and loss is expertly encapsulated not only in Chaya’s family, but also in the story of Tsipi Gold, another Holocaust survivor and a member of the Federmans’ synagogue. The vulnerability of Jews to persecution is cemented by their collective stories.

Bond’s concise and simple style is accessible to all ages, except very young children. The writing is well paced, although where Jewish prayers and customs are described it meanders off pace and becomes superfluous. These could have done with more vigorous editing because they dilute the tension. A short glossary of the Hebrew terms and Jewish holiday traditions referenced in the book would have been useful. So too would have been an explanation of the differences between Reform and Orthodox Judaism. This way the book would be more accessible to a wider audience.

The only part which sticks in my craw is Bond’s misguided praise for the EU. It is incorrect to describe the EU as forbidding the boycotting of ‘an ethnic group or country’, because the EU’s policies on Israel do exactly that.The EU’s open border policies are also partly responsible for the increase of anti-Semitism, given that many migrants come from places which have hatred of Jews at the centre of their cultures.

Speechless is most effective in the way that it acts as a warning, a realistic prophecy of what may come if the Labour Party wins the next general election. Some may think this is hyperbolic but history shows that it is not. There is a famous quote which has resonance with Jews: in the 1930s the pessimists went to America, the optimists went to Auschwitz.

Anti-Semitism is a virus which easily spreads. Attacks on Jews in the streets are increasing. The dangerous love-in between the Left and Islamism shows no sign of abating. 

Every day there are new social media accounts of Jewish families packing up and leaving the UK, citing fear of an anti-Semitic Labour government. I have written before that if Labour Party comes to power they will outlaw Zionism and sever trade and diplomatic bonds, as well as mutual intelligence services, between Israel and Britain.

The narrative in Speechless flows deceptively easily, given the harrowing subject matter. The reader is left with a nagging sense that the fate which befalls Chaya Federman and her family is only a few votes away in reality. The story haunted me long after I finished reading it.

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