Interview: Julie Burchill
Julie Burchill, 49, is an exceptionally popular yet wildly controversial British columnist who for decades has defended Israel in British newspapers such as The Sunday Times, The Guardian, The Spectator, The Express and the Daily Mail. A prolific author and documentary film producer, her latest book is Not in My Name: A Compendium of Modern Hypocrisy, written with Chas Newkey- Burden (Virgin Books).
Q. How did you become one of Israel’s staunchest yet perhaps unlikeliest defenders in England?
A. I first found out about the Holocaust when I was a small child. It had a profound effect on me like nothing else, ever. So supporting Israel came very naturally. The bravery and the good looks of the IDF soldiers I saw on television in the 1970s when I was a teenage girl, my reaction to war and politics was very visual, I’m afraid.
But as I’ve grown older, I’ve also grown to love Israel in a less superficial and far more serious way. Yet I have to confess, I still think the soldiers are total hotties, male and female alike.
Q. Can a searching Lutheran be a Zionist?
A. Yes, I’m a Christian Zionist, like my hero Orde Wingate and quite a few others. Wingate was a British soldier and committed Christian who came to live in and fight for Israel. I very much want to be like him, but I’m too old and fat and crippled to fight. I guess all I can do is write what’s on my mind.
Q. You have railed against “bleeding-heart ignoramuses” among British journalists such as Robert Fisk, Middle East correspondent for The Independent—one-sided writers who are highly critical of the Jewish state. What’s at the core of this clearly widespread hostility that permeates so much of the British media?
A. Jews are cleverer than gentiles, both intellectually and commercially. They’ve been subjected to terrible prejudice and oppression and have risen above the suffering without help from Whitey. That makes Whitey angry.
The Establishment likes minorities it can feel superior to and sorry for. There’s just no way it can do that with the Jews.
Q. Is the mindset of media like the BBC and The Guardian written in stone or open to change over time?
A. They will never change till the Jews get stupid and helpless. Then they might be able to feel sorry for them. But it’s not gonna happen. Trust me on this one.
Q. You are a maverick on many issues, but regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict, what kind of reactions do you receive from your colleagues?
A. Pure, blind hatred. Look, no real death threats, neighbors not speaking to me in the supermarket, boycotts or things that extreme. But I do get a steady stream of letters calling me “Jew-lover” and things like that. But that’s fine. I am one! I don’t give a damn. I prefer Israel to any of my friends or colleagues. Even to my husband.
Q. You unequivocally made the case for taking down Saddam Hussein in Iraq, very much swimming against the stream. Have your views been vindicated or have you revised them?
A. Should have done it sooner, of course. And should have let the Iraqis themselves kick him around a bit before he was hanged. In light of the beastly suffering he was responsible for, he had it far too easy.
Q. Regarding Israel, does the growing Muslim population in Britain have an impact on the opinion of leaders and grass roots or is there little connection?
A. There’s quite a shocking sucking up to Islam from politicians and the BBC. And, of course, these are exactly the people Islam will do in first if it ever comes to power here. It’s a sort of collective Stockholm syndrome.
Q. How about a case in point?
A. The profoundly creepy-sounding Assembly for the Protection of Hijab has called for Muslim women in England to wear the famous cover-up. No doubt the usual Western apologists for Islamofascism will now point out with great excitement that “Muslim women choose to wear the veil.”
So what? Women choose lots of dumb and wicked things, as men do. Women preside over the genital mutilation of baby girls in many countries. There are women who stay in abusive relationships for decades and women who exchange passionate correspondence with brutal serial killers. That doesn’t make it big or right.
I would like to think that those women who espouse the necessity of the hijab are far less representative of brave, compassionate Muslim womanhood than the brilliant comic Shazia Mirza, who jokes that the veil comes in very handy for those days when a girl just doesn’t have time to overfocus [on depilatories] for her moustache.
Or of Bushra Nasir, the headmistress of an Islamic school in East London, responding to the findings of a recent poll that claimed 32 percent of British Muslims thought British society was immoral and sexually decadent and that Muslims should seek to bring it to an end by saying: “If 32 percent of young Muslim men really do believe that British society is immoral and must be brought to an end, then I ask myself, if they hate it so much, why do they live here?”
Q. How did your original visit to Israel in the 1980s change you and the way you look at the world?
A. I loved everything about it. Even the things other people take offense at. Many people complain about the general rudeness of native-born Israelis or the Russian way of doing things there. These things only make me laugh…. The truth is, I really do love everything about it, and that wide spectrum ranges from the sunshine to the settlers and everything else in between.
Q. As a small girl from a working-class, Stalinist-leaning family, do you characterize your sea change in orientation from staunch anti-Israel prejudices to unequivocal pro-Israel advocacy as normal or extraordinary?
A. My dad always used to tell me “the Israelis would sort that out” whenever the IRA [Irish Republican Army] bombed the English mainland. He couldn’t help himself, no matter what else he believed. It came from inside, from the gut. So it wasn’t that big a leap for me to dive in head first to appreciation for the Jewish people and a true love for the Jewish state as I got a bit older.
Q. You’ve written that your heart “belongs in Tel Aviv.” For a spiritual person, albeit unconventionally so, how did Tel Aviv beat out Jerusalem?
A. Because I’m a hardcore hedonist, I suppose. I mean, Tel Aviv makes Manhattan look like Milton Keynes [a small town often equated with backwater boredom in England], if you can believe that. Tel Aviv is simply fantastic, one of a kind.
What comes to mind? How about the breathtaking seafront promenade that just stretches on and on? Or the gorgeous young people on the beaches?
Q. Didn’t your novel, Sugar Rush (Macmillan Children’s Books), about teenage lesbian romance, win an award?
A. It was the TV series based on my book that won the award, actually.
Q. Not long ago, you announced you were leaving journalism to “study God.” Where does this quest stand today? Can’t you pursue both simultaneously?
A. To be honest, I’d had enough of journalism and it had had enough of me. I’ve spent three years doing volunteer work instead, with Down syndrome adults and with the blind elderly. It seemed to me far more what Christianity was supposedly about than sitting in a seminar arguing the toss over how many angels can balance on a knitting needle or whatever. H