Author Tom Sperlinger: “Poem about ‘Zionist SS’ is not anti-Semitic.”

Tome Sperlinger reading from his Romeo and Juliet in Palestine on Thursday.

Tome Sperlinger reading from his Romeo and Juliet in Palestine on Thursday.

Tom Sperlinger is the author of a new book Romeo and Juliet in Palestine: Teaching Under Occupation. He launched the book last Thursday at Blackwell’s bookshop in the Institute of Education.

Sperlinger is Reader in English and Community Engagement at the University of Bristol and this is his first book. He has also been a regular contributor to the Guardian on education issues and his new book was reviewed in that very newspaper.

In 2013 Sperlinger taught English literature at the Abu Dis campus of Al Quds University for a term. The book is an account of his time there and the affinity he built up with Palestinian students while teaching them works like Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet.

Zero Books, his publisher which also published Gilad Atzmon’s anti-Semitic book The Wandering Who?, are selling it as an academic memoir with important questions like: “What does it mean to read under occupation? What might such encounters reveal about the nature of pedagogy and the role of university?”

However, from what I read of the book at the event it is just another anti-Israel diatribe which will now go into bookshops and libraries and onto student reading lists.

Before going into Sperlinger’s account of his time at Abu Dis the book opens with the usual biased account of Israel’s creation. Anti-Israel author Ilan Pappe is heavily quoted and Sperlinger mentions Ali Abunimah and Jeff Halper, both anti-Israel propagandists, for their writings on the so-called one state solution.

Sperlinger goes on to describe an Israeli soldier kicking a Palestinian child as the child is going to visit his father’s grave (P. 108). He also describes how he helped in the translation of the play Seven Jewish Children when it is staged by Palestinian students at Abu Dis (P. 65).

Seven Jewish Children is a very short anti-Semitic play which portrays Jews as slowly metamorphosing from being victims of the Holocaust into baby-killers.

When I put this to him Sperlinger didn’t agree Seven Jewish Children is anti-Semitic. He also didn’t agree that a poem by Tom Paulin is anti-Semitic.

Paulin has given an endorsement of Romeo and Juliet in Palestine for its front cover. I questioned Sperlinger about the poem and whether he might consider having Paulin’s endorsement removed in light of it. Sperlinger said he didn’t find Paulin’s poem anti-Semitic.

Here’s Paulin’s poem with its preceding quote as printed in the Guardian in 2001:


CAMERA pointed out at the time: “While he (Paulin) condemns Zionists as Nazi murderers, his usage of the term “dumb goys” echoes Hitler’s similar use of it in Mein Kampf.”

The CAMERA article states that the quote chosen by Paulin to precede his poem is also anti-Semitic.

Considering Sperlinger is a Reader in Community Engagement it would have been reassuring for the Jewish community to think that he at least had a problem with “Zionist SS”, “dumb goys”, “Zionists…nosing after blood” and Seven Jewish Children.

Sadly, it seems, this isn’t the case.

Blackwell's selling Sperlinger's book with Tom Paulin's endorsement on front cover.

Blackwell’s selling Sperlinger’s book with Tom Paulin’s endorsement on front cover.

Blackwell's know their audience.

Blackwell’s know their audience.


34 responses to “Author Tom Sperlinger: “Poem about ‘Zionist SS’ is not anti-Semitic.”

  1. Who is the Jew in this story? Romeo or Juliet? Oh, no! there is no Jew in the story? Just like in the world Sperlinger dreams about!
    No need to point out that comparing Israeli policies to Nazism is antisemitism *per se*, and all those who don’t agree show a blind spot of insiensitivity, which proves they are not immune to the disease themselves.

  2. Sperlinger – whose name does not spell and sound like a name from pre-Reformation England so should know better – could usefully try teaching in a British big city comprehensive where all manner of Indians and Afro- Caribbeans, let alone Catholic Irish and Jews are to be found and ask them what it feels like to read and study English when a minority within another’s majority culture. As for Paulin’s and Sperlinger’s almost light hearted abuse of the Holocaust those of us whose parents suffered its consequences yet escaped to tell the tale are not impressed by his callow attempt to create effects for political incompetents who brought their misfortunes on themselves with their own violence.

    • richardmillett

      So sorry to hear about your parents’ suffering. Sperlinger told us his dad is Jewish and his in-laws are Zionists, which created a certain problem for him but not an insurmountable one, obviously.

  3. Shlomo Sand and Sperlinger have evidently made the mistake of never having read the Amidah. Regardless of whether one believes in a religion it is an error to write about a people and their society without having at some point done at least a mental comprehension on their national anthem and principal creed prayers, for therein one finds the quintessential self image and motivations. Try the 3rd verse of “God save the Queen” for starters.

  4. The word “goy” was never derogatory until about a century ago, and simply meant nation. The Jewish People are referred to in this week’s Torah reading as goy and G-d promises Abraham that his descendants will one day be great “goy” or nation.

    Later in Mishnaic and Talmudic times it came to refer to members of other nations, i.e. non-Jews, but usually in a neutral manner. There is a famous Talmudic story that illustrates the principle of honoring parents by citing the actions of a certain much praised “goy” from Ashekelon.

    Later it was used to refer to a Jew who was not sufficiently G-d-fearing and was thus behaving like a goy; perhaps by desecrating the Sabbath or eating pig, etc. This was derogatory in the same way as boys sometimes foolishly call each other a girl or woman.

    Even when I was a lad most knowledgably Jews knew that calling a goy a goy was no insult as calling a woman a woman was not. There were derogatory terms like “Yok” but they were rarely used. I wonder what happened and why non-Jews seem to find being called a non-Jew to be insulting. You won’t offend me by saying I’m no Christian.

    I apologize for commenting off-blog, but a most interesting discussion is taking place on Tony Greenstein’s excellent blog, and I thought some members of this esteemed community might want to take part.

  5. Fortunately Marks, we all know what “goy” means, so go out a little bit in the outside antisemitic world and stop preaching to the choir.

  6. @Daniel – whatever its precise resonances, the word seems to function as an antisemitic slur in the poem, used by the narrator to imply he’s positioning himself against Jewish supremacism.

  7. Hi Sarah Annes Brown,

    I agree. My point is that we should try and revive the word’s correct usagee. It reminds me of a period during my childhood, when one couldn’t use words like “it” or “come” without everyone making childish noises. If a lady, talking about a book would say, “I like it” some clown would snigger, “I bet you do.” and if you would ask a gentleman “Are you coming?” he might respond, with a snigger “No, it’s just the way my trousers hung.” It was a terrible time for the English language and I have no idea what the situation is like today. I’m sure you know much about the subject than I do.

    It is for that precise reason that in any polite discussion with goyim, I make a point of using that word in its correct context. To the best of my knowledge none of them have taken offense. I have a bus load of German goyim coming next week to visit and together we will tour my settlement and discuss matters of the day.

    • Take heart Daniel Marks and Anne Brown. Adolescent “fourth form” humour takes place in every age cohort as it passes through certain stages in slightly different vocabulary. In the 50’s homosexuals were referred to as [Lord] Montagues in playground – speak and other cohorts play superlatives games with “mint,” “very …very very,”. Language is as fashion marked as clothing and you can recognise a book’s catch phrases and syntax as much as you can date a painting or photo by the hair styles and clothes. The young men of the WW I went in for centre partings and in the 30’s – 50’s for the all swept back Brylcream no parting styles. Centre partings have been back for two decades. Unfortunately the prefabricated expressions of prejudices also come in and out of fashion and Antisemitism is back partly because the USSR has passed on so it is no longer respectable to get at big business.

      • Thank you Frank,

        Yes, I never objected to the desecration of rarely used words, and had no problem hearing a friend claiming that a driver had stopped his car and, looking for directions, had, shouted, “Hampton Court” to which my mate claimed to have replied, “No, it’s just the way I walk.” The point was that I rarely had use for the word anyway.

        However, turning two of the most commonly “it” (number 8) and “come” (number 80) was a different kettle of fish. It was incredibly hard to form a coherent sentence without having unknowingly implied something and I decided that my children deserved a different mother tongue.

        By the way, Hebrew also has its problems and you can’t say that you know someone because of its Biblical meaning and “finishing” in Hebrew is similar to “coming” in English.

      • Hi Daniel,

        re goy

        – I am weary of all labelling at the latest ever since way back in the sixties intelligent women told me what it did to my bank account
        – as to comparing Christians and Jews – (as yet?) nobody can be born a Christian (rebirth in this life seems to be possible though;-). To date I have never come across another group that one could compare to Jews – come to think of it – would Druze apply?
        – if I were a member of that busload you are going to meet next week – for several reasons (one being that you are the host) I wouldn’t say anything or signal any discomfort about being called goy.

    • Again, Marks, you forget that it is the numbers that write the definitions in the dictionaries. So despite your pedantic speeches, the permanent repeating by Sperlinger and other antisemites of the word “goy” as an insult will create the dictionary meaning of it. With 26% antisemites among the world’s population, the opinion of the 0.2% Jews won’t matter much.
      For you personal education, starting with the beginning, Wikipedia:
      The Free Dictionary:
      Word Reference:

  8. Sperlinger’s book is just another pathetic piece of antisemitic propaganda and Blackwell’s Bookshop at the Inst. of Ed. may find itself under investigation under this new government initiative to stamp out hate propaganda.

  9. I wish you were a member of that bus Silke. I’d love to meet you after all this time. I wonder if it will ever happen.

    • I’d love to be on that bus even though I guess that after a day or two in forced close companionship I’d be in urgent need of some protection and/or rescue – but since circumstances are the way they are I guess we’ll have to wait for our meeting till the next life to provide us with that (hopefully challenging) pleasure.

      • “The xxxx state was destroyed but the people remain”. No, they don’t, many of them are murdered, as in Syria. Jews who have this pathological hatred of Israel are simply clinically insane sociopaths and no one needs to listen to them.

      • Unfortunately Josephine a lot of our enemies do listen to them.

  10. I’ve been in ‘ conversation ‘ with Greenstein on a Facebook page. This is just one of his hate filled comments.

    ‘I do indeed support the destruction of the Israeli state and don’t accept the right of the Israeli state to exist. But before Garfield has a heart seizure (assuming he has one, which is doubtful) I should explain that states are not living creatures, they are inhuman. They have no rights, least of all to exxist. That is something that human beings and animals, including the Garfields of this world have. So the Nazi state was destroyed, the Apartheid South African state was destroyed, the French Algerian state was destroyed but the people remain.’

    The man is a sociopath. People do not matter to him . They are expendable – on both sides of the conflict.The only thing that matters is the end goal ie the destruction of Israel . Don’t spend time on him . He’s toxic.

    • Well at least we are onto the same tramline thinking Greenstein of Brighton who has been on the same rail bound destination since Marx’s internal contradictions split the uniformity of Communism since 1920 and the USSR on: Mao’s China ‘s desire to work its own way with the master’s thoughts; and the treatment of East Germany and Hungary in the manner of Tsar Nicholas II “the gendarme of Europe” – Nicholai “Palkin – the stick” even to his own subjects treated Hungary, Poland in a manner that was not supposed to occur between “Democratic Socialist People’s Republics.” Ironically Trotsky was a Menshevik – to the right of the Bolsheviks – before the 1917 October Revolution. People might go on as families and language groups but that is a daily plebiscite to stick together. States are a manifestation of that general will to be practical together and not entirely abstract and evil. The Dutch could not exist without their state to organise their flood defences anymore that could the history of Egypt and its flood management or Israel and its national water grid and tree planting. What those like Greenstein forget – like the Roman cardinals – is that when a couple fall apart a formal divorce to sort out property and care of the children does make practical sense to avoid a continual cat fight and its distress. Would Greenstein et alia object so fiercely- and why not? to the separations of Norway from Sweden, Portugal from Spain, Ireland from UK, Pakistan from India and Bangla Desh from Pakistan, besides the separations of Sudan from Egypt, Lebanon from Syria, and the splits in Sudan and Iraq?
      As for his personal annoyance with Zionism and Israel it nostalgia for that more optimistic time before real violent nats throughout Europe decided that Jews of all stripes were not part of, “We the People of …” If administration ie states, were run on Enlightenment principles of equality of opportunity and rights; straight bookkeeping and talent to apportion public posts; then religious differences could be privatised and we could all be Fraternity together without being narked all the time about the left overs of religion and much else. Unfortunately it is easily observable that the staunchest “internationalists” are the most monoglot and culturally narrow minded.

  11. Hi Joseph,

    I object to a trend, which seems to have become very fashionable in the UK; this involves labeling anyone, who has opinions with which one disagrees, as mentally sick.

    If you disagree with any facet of Islam, you’re an Islamophobe. If you do not see homosexuality as an equally legitimate lifestyle to heterosexuality, you’re a homophobe. And now, apparently, if you’re a Jewish Trotskyite from Brighton who is patiently waiting for the workers of the Middle-East to rise and establish their dictatorship of the proletariat, then you’re a “insane sociopath”. I’m not a psychiatrist, but if I were, I’m quite sure I’d say that I cannot gauge just by reading his blog. Paradoxically, it was the Communist states that, during the cold war, were oft to hospitalize opponents in mental health institutions because they had the wrong beliefs.

    Greenstein’s views can be analyzed critiqued and refuted in an intelligent fashion without having make use of such “low blows”. In my opinion, he himself is about as dangerous as a the skeleton of a very small dinosaur in a very unknown museum.

    • Hi Daniel,

      re: “In my opinion, he himself is about as dangerous as a the skeleton of a very small dinosaur in a very unknown museum.”

      how dangerous somebody ior a small group is I am always confused by two different infos I pick up in my reading.

      One says “oh they are only marginal, no danger whatsoever”

      The other says, referring to equal percentages of a population “ah they are the trendsetters, we must go after them, if they sport our product (virtual or real) it’ll go viral.”

      Reading how Nazis were dismissed as they’ll-never-make-its in in-between-war-Germany isn’t any help whatsoever in deciding which group is right.

      Greenstein himself may be of no influence whatsoever but that doesn’t guarantee that one of his sparks may one day touch down on tinder. (Would Jeremy Corbyn have troskyite sympathies?) Therefore keeping a close watch on him as you seem to do is quite wise.

    • Sure, these people are not dangerous,.. Not by themselves. Hitler wasn’t also a big danger to Jews. Until he could convince a good portion of the German people to hate Jews just as much as he did.
      Same as ever, Marks considers that the Nazis cannot go back and therefore that no one can be ever labelled “Nazi” anymore, that this epithet should be kept in a closet and taken only for talking about the members of the defunct NSDAP.
      Maybe in another century, we can also take this word out of the dictionary and be ready for a second round!

  12. No, there is no Trend to make out people with unpopular views are mentally ill, but it is a peculiarly Jewish phenomenon to be self-hating, you do not find it among Muslims, even those who disagree with the hate messages of Hamas and Isis, they want peace but do not hate their own people. There is an interesting memoir entitled “A Fascist Childhood” written by someone whose parents were active fascists in post-war Britain. They canvassed and attended rallies and their home was a sort of headquarters. The climax of the book is when the author discovers that his mother was Jewish.

  13. Hi Silke,

    Yes, Tony Greenstein could be the next dictator, ignored and belittled by his enemies, who one day shocks us all and ceases power, “Today Brighton, tomorrow the world!” He’s a Trotskyite, so I’m sure he’d love the idea. I just don’t think the man’s up to it.

    As a Jew living 140 miles from Damascus and 50 miles from Gaza I’m not being complacent. I’m just not sure that the Brighton & Hove Unemployed TUC Workers Centre should be my principal concern.


    You may be right. It’s hard for me to argue the point as I’m not really sure what the term “self-hatred” means. It is used a lot, especially by Jews to describe each other. However, I’m not sure that its meaning has been standardized and so it variously seems to refer to Jews hating other Jews, sometimes Jews hating their own Jewishness or the fact that they are Jewish, and sometimes it seems to refer to individual a Jew who actually hates himself.

    If we are talking about the first and last definitions, I think you’d have a hard case to make proving that there are no Muslims who hate other Muslims or Christians who hate other Christians – certainly in the light of what has been going on for the last few centuries in places like Northern Ireland and what is still going on closer to home in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, you name it. I also believe that an individual hating himself is not a uniquely Jewish phenomenon. I’m pretty sure that most psychologists and sociologists would concur.

    What about Jews who hate their Jewishness or the fact that they are Jewish. Are there really no members of any religions that regret the religion of their birth? I doubt it. I wonder if you have any evidence to support your rather across-the-board claim that ” it is a peculiarly Jewish phenomenon to be self-hating,”

    I have heard it explained that because the Jew lived among non-Jews for so long and was hated so often that he began to see hating Jews as a normality and eventually came to the conclusion that, “They can’t all be wrong” and so began to hate Jews and Judaism too. It makes some sense, but doesn’t seem to offer much proof. It also stands in contrast to the countless day-to-day examples of love of one Jew to another that I witness all the time. I’m not a young man and maybe, you need to explain to me a bit more slowly exactly what you meant.

    • Self-hating is a semantically wrong expression meaning that some Jews are also antisemites. They don’t hate themselves, unless pathologicall sick and attempting suicide. They are on the contrary quite in love with themselves, pathologically too. It’s only the other Jews they hate, because you see, they don’t feel Jewish or they fill Jewish in another way (see Neturei Karta for the latter).
      Don’t try to look ignorant of those facts, Marks. You were explained that on multiple occasions.

  14. May I second JOSE over his analysis and objection to the unconstructive epithet “self hating Jew.” It smacks of the user not being able to finger exactly the keyboard of human complexity.

    • Thanks Frank. Self-hating is nearly a contradiction in terms as, to survive, a human being must first like himself, except in pathological cases. I remember reading about one such case, ending with a suicide, of course, despite a conversion to Christianism.
      Clearly, the symptoms of “self-haintg” are clearer that those of these Jewish antisemites who hate only Jews who happen to want to live in their own state. We have those who don’t feel Jewish at all (“paper Jews”) and can easily hate other Jews, those who cannot imagine to live in their own self-determining society and are afraid that such existence will attracts retaliations on them (generalized Stockholm syndrome), and those religious nutcases of Neturei Karta, hating all the other Jews for not being as ‘pure’ as they wrongly believe they are. If I’m not mistaken, these cases cover pretty much the antisemitic Jews I came across.
      You will recognize the J Street Obamists and the extreme of these (Chomsky, Finkelstein, Pappé, Atzmon…) in the first case, the fearful Jews in the second who wants to prove his loyalty to his masters, the ultra-orthodox ‘anti-Zionist’ Jews in the third…

      • Do you remember Namier’s (?) jibe about the OTI’s – Order of the Trembling Israelites?

      • Yes Lewis Bernstein Namier… The OTT are not the only kind of antisemitic Jews. The creation of Israel had, as a consequence, the apparition of the two other kinds, that deligitimise Israel on a nutcase religious base, on one side, and on a political bigotry base, on the other side. They are both the legacy of ultra religious Jews and of the communist Jews, whose stupidity get them mostly exterminated in Europe. A few surviced in Israel and had descendants like Gideon Levy, others went to USA and had descendants like the inbred NK USA.

  15. And another ghastly blot on humanity … a total dreck …

    • John ! “That is not helpful,” as Tony put it. A more pertinent reference is the rabbinic tradition that the Jews that Moses led out of Egypt were only a fifth of those there – and where are the stay – behinds now? Note also the Protest Rabbiner who prevented Herzl’s First Zionist Conference taking place in Munich which is why he convened in Basel. The Trots and NK types will end similarly simply because of the rich and mighty’s tax strike demolishing the Welfare State. If anything the Trots work and will last a bit longer than the perpetual Yeshiva Bachurim who do not work for their bread.

      • And I care a fig for your opinion on what is or isn’t ‘helpful’ because …?

      • When Tony Blair used the phrase… “isn’t helpful;” he was putting down a heckler suggesting the liquidation of some people and place. Politics is about doing something constructive about difficulties and mere insults do not. One of the first pieces of advice I was given as a young teacher about report writing was to include a suggested means of improving the result(s) eg “He can help himself by tidying his handwriting” or ” Will do better to read the questions carefully….”