Gossip Girl gets a social conscience…

… Well, sort of.

Apparently, the cast happened upon the Occupy Wall Street protests on Thursday while they were filming the latest episode in the ongoing saga of just how many shoes Blair Waldorf can take to the palace with her prince.

Reports Mogulite: “An onlooker tells Mogulite that the Gossip Girl cast was filming outside of Panchito’s, a restaurant on Bleecker and Macdougal Streets, when a loud and rowdy group Occupy Wall Streeters walked right through the set.

“Our sources nearby said that the protesters eventually passed through , and the crew got back to filming.”

I kind of hope they use the footage. Just imagine Chuck’s reaction to a bunch of angry protesters. Or better yet, Blair’s.

The only thing is that, clearly, exiled cast member Vanessa would totally be in one of the tents. Reason enough to shut the whole thing down.

No way to a fairytale ending

During his tenure as US president, Theodore Roosevelt coined the expression “bully pulpit”, by which he meant that the incumbent of the White House had a near-unique position to advance an opinion or agenda.

The White House may be the most powerful bully pulpit of them all. But there are others – classrooms, conferences, the Today programme – and, for a rabbi, there’s Yom Kippur, when probably more members are at shul than on any other day of the year.

As always, my shul’s mid-afternoon Question and Answer session was packed with hungry but engaged congregants. One query in particular prompted a lengthy response from the rabbi. In it, he referred to British Mandate Palestine and those Jews whose fight for statehood saw them join the militant Irgun group. “They weren’t terrorists,” went his argument. “It was a different time and they were fighting for their freedom.”

Really? I thought, my blood boiling (never good on a fast day). Oh yes, I’m sure their cause and the context would have been of great comfort to the families of the 91 people who died in 1946 when the Irgun bombed the King David Hotel.

Advocacy doesn’t and shouldn’t mean censorship

More to the point, doesn’t that argument sound familiar? Isn’t it essentially the defence used today by extremist groups after a blast on a bus in Israel or a random attack in the West Bank? If we condemn it now, we cannot excuse it in history.

I left the session seething with anger and disbelief but, most of all, with disappointment. Was it intentional moral relativism or just a short memory? I can’t speak for the rabbi – perhaps he simply said the first thing that came to mind- but it makes little difference. It is irresponsible, not to mention dangerous and counter-productive, to use the bully pulpit to spread a limited or even false view of events. That is always true, but it is especially so with a subject as sensitive as the Israeli-Arab conflict.

What my rabbi failed to acknowledge – and he is not alone, this crops up all too often – was that we can be proud Jews and still recognise that we have occasionally let ourselves down, from the Golden Calf onwards.

Likewise, it’s possible to be a proud Zionist and staunch supporter of Israel without advancing a watered-down version of our history, good and bad. In fact, it is impossible to be a proud Zionist and do that.

With a love for Israel so strong in the community, it’s only natural that rabbis and other representatives want to advance it and encourage congregants to follow suit.

But advocacy doesn’t and shouldn’t mean censorship. We should speak of Israel’s many
accomplishments but never shy away from remembering when it, or its citizens, have failed, as in the recent “Price Tag” attacks or when Yigal Amir shot Yitzhak Rabin.

We can – indeed should – emphasise that the perpetrators represent only tiny minorities but we cannot excise these incidents from the debate. After all, as another US President learnt, full disclosure is superior to “whitewash”.

We don’t equip our “enemies” with more ammunition by sharing all the facts, we equip them with less. And if we don’t give our advocates the full history, how can they be expected to respond to those who challenge it?

This is not an issue of left or right, of
J Street versus the Zionist Federation. It’s an issue of fantasy and reality. The architect and first Prime Minister of the state of Israel, David Ben Gurion, reportedly once commented: “When Israel has prostitutes and thieves, we’ll be a state just like any other.”

There may be a temptation to present Israel as a fairy story. But that is not the way to achieve a real-life happy ever after.

Roosevelt intended “bully pulpit” to be a positive concept, a privilege the presidency offered those who wanted to make lasting change. But, to a modern audience in tune with the worst excesses of political power, it also has negative connotations, hinting at co-ercion or undue pressure.

It would be to our credit if those with the honour of occupying one of the Jewish community’s bully pulpits could do so with the original intention.

This comment piece was first published in the JC

Keep outrage in proportion (The JC)

At primary school I would occasionally fake some life-threatening illness or other to encourage my teachers to send me to the nurse. Usually, this was an attempt to avoid the dreaded weekly choir sessions where, as a tone-deaf eight-year-old, I would invariably be told to mime anyway.

After a while, my parents and teachers wised up. The nurse would give me a Strepsil and I’d be dispatched to choir like clockwork, even on days when I genuinely felt unwell.

Why mention this? First, because of an iPhone app that the French can no longer use. Secondly, because of a student who wasn’t listening.

In the former case, an app developer – Jewish, incidentally – decided to put his technical skills to good use and give the age-old game of “Jew or not Jew” a modern makeover.

She heard her professor utter an unspeakable sentence

No longer would people have to judge an actor or politician’s Jewishness by surname, accent or nose size. Instead, they could confirm kosher status with a couple of taps on their smartphone. As a top-level player in the real-life “identify the unlikely Jew” game – score improved immeasurably since starting work at the JC – I though this sounded like a brilliant idea. Too bad I have a Blackberry.

My enthusiasm was not matched by Jewish groups in France or the anti-racism group SOS Racism, who claimed it violated France’s strict laws against identifying people based on religion. The head of CRIF also described it as “shocking” and within days Apple had pulled it from its French store.

A continent apart, another storm was brewing, this time at Canada’s York University where Jewish student Sarah Grunfeld heard her professor utter an unspeakable sentence: “All Jews should be sterilised”.

Disgusted, she walked out of the lecture and alerted B’nai Brith Canada.

She should have stayed another five minutes. As it turned out, the professor was using shock tactics to provoke a debate on whether all opinion should be valued.

Yet despite becoming what can only be described as an internet laughing stock, Ms Grunfeld refused to admit error. His remark was offensive, she maintained.

Was she right? There is certainly something unsavoury about the use of this statement, even for overtly provocative reasons.

But offensive? Or, in context, simply a poor choice of words? Last time I checked, insensitivity was not the same as the deliberate intent to hurt or abuse.

There are many genuine cases of antisemitic or religiously motivated hate.There are people for whom the word “Jew” is an insult, who find it acceptable to perform grotesque acts with Israeli flags, or to scrawl obscene slogans on posters of Jews.

There are people who continue to borrow from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and blame Jews for masterminding the global financial meltdown. And the Facebook makeover (actually, that was us).

There are people who insist on using the terminology of the Holocaust as a modern day come-back for the supposed transgressions of the Jews and Israel. Then there are those who are, for want of a better word, a bit foolish.

Sarah Grunfeld’s campaign made her, and others like her who stand up on campuses supporting Israel and challenging antisemitism, seem like a toddler stamping her feet because she was denied a cookie.

Likewise, the campaign against “Jew or Not Jew” – whether it was motivated by French secularism or Jewish sensitivity – smacked of a community not being able to take a joke.

When we get upset about every little thing, every off-side about Jews made by a half-witted celebrity on Twitter, every careless remark, we come across as I did when I went to the nurse week after week.

If we don’t make more effort to distinguish between the two we will shoot ourselves in the foot for when we truly have something to fight about.

This comment piece was first published in the JC

Gossip Girl recap: The Fasting and the Furious

So, the thing about writing an entire episode centred on a specific day in the Jewish calendar is, get the basic facts right.

Surely Josh Schwartz – the inventor of Chrismukkah – should know that Yom Kippur is a 25 hour fast, not a 24 hour one. Hello writers, ever heard of Wikipedia.

That said, Yom Kippur is all about forgiveness, and while they bastardised key aspects of Jewish life, it was a pretty decent episode.

In the circus that has become Dan “I’m an awesome celebrity writer” Humphrey’s life lately, it seems his book is the one every producer in Hollywood wants. Serena’s formidable boss – who, clearly, is a bit crap if she’s staking her career prospects on a now-notoriously slutty college dropout – is particularly desperate.

So despite still being mad that Dan wrote “Sabrina” exactly as her real life alter-ego is – dumb, ditzy, not overly concerned with clothes and rather self-centred – Serena goes on a breakfast bid to convince Dan to give her the rights to the book. It sort of works, until Dan realises just how much of a big shot he is, but in the end, after a dastardly media leak, Serena wins the day.

So, basically, she’s put her career on the line so that her trainwreck teenage years can come to a big screen near you, showing she’s every bit as bright as Dan wrote her to be.

Perhaps the high point of the episode was when her boss noted: “If something doesn’t fall right into your lap, you don’t have a clue what to do about it.” Never a truer word spoken about Serena. Although I’d add “someone” as well.

For Chuck, Yom Kippur turns out to be the day he finds Judaism, via an Asian-Jewish convert therapist who he meets walking his best friend dog. Discovering her religious identity – “probably a smart move in your line of work” he says, propagating the arguably–true stereotype that New York Jews are more neurotic than their non-Jewish citymates – he decides to pay a trip to Shul.

Well, sort of. Actually, he donates $100 dollars to Chabad then, when sexy-secretary therapists psycholanalyses him for the sad-case he is, has a moment of awakening about his life.

Chuck Bass at Chabad. Wow. Mostly they just ply people with sushi and alcohol (and, obvs, Jewish learning); this would be a sure-fire way to up their attendance.

In Nate and Ivy’s world of high-class muckraking, Liz Hurley is on the prowl. After some typically bizarre scenes involving him considering what JFK would do, Nate stays true to his moral compass, though Ivy hands over the secret incriminating files from the VdW safe.

What’s this we see? Liz Hurley in some kind of pre-season five Gossip Girl related scandal?

Perhaps it will be that she’s actually a fembot. It would explain her appalling acting.

Over at the Waldorf’s, Cyrus is back holding Yom Kippur (with kugel and, of course, champagne – the perfect remedy for more than a day of dehydration) and Blair’s baby secret is out.

After a big to-do with the royal witches, prince McDull chooses Blair over mummy. But with his discovery of Blair’s Secret Baby Daddy Envelope, it looks as if he’ll soon be regretting that decision.

Bring on the episode where the Prince is run out of town for daring to mess with the natural order of Gossip Girl.

Gossip Girl recap: Memoirs of an Invisible Dan

So the book has hit the fan (at a showbiz party, naturally).

“Inside” is out and everyone knows exactly what Dylan Hunter thinks of Sabrina, Derek, et al.

Basically, Dan’s characterisations are pretty slim. Serena is a massive train wreck with a penchant for professors and dirty martinis, while Chuck has no friends and dies a Wilde-esque death.

Nate, as every true Gossip Girl obsessive has speculated for some time, is actually gay.

It’s not so much that that upsets him as the fact that he’s only a minor character, conflated with Eric. The revelation prompts some world-class pouting from Chase Crawford.

Of course, because everyone on the Upper East Side has suddenly developed superfast reading abilities, the author, though loved by the New York Post and Times, is soon public enemy number one.

Serena is mad because he got everything about her right, while Blair is pissed because he got everything wrong.

Specifically, he wrote that he and Blair did more than kiss, and Prince Dullard, who doesn’t have enough imagination for fiction, believes it. The plot threatens to torpedo their engagement, but unfortunately doesn’t succeed.

The person most upset by this – and this really was heartbreaking – was Rufus, confronted by his son’s belief that he is a gold-digging trophy husband with no career of his own. Which, clearly, is true.

But come on Dan. You don’t just announce a thing like that to the world!

In other news, Liz Hurley has fembotted her way into learning the truth about Ivy and now has the blonde fake working for her in her malevolent plan to unearth all the muck of Manhattan life. Too bad Dan got there first.

Next week: Gossip Girl does Yom Kippur, No, seriously. Watch the clip:

Gossip Girl recap: Jewel of Denial

So, I’m just going to put this out there, and I could be totally wrong. But my guess is that the letter Blair so dramatically discarded was actually telling her she wasn’t pregnant at all, and all that soul-searching, pouting and stomach-staring was for nothing.

As I said, I could be wrong. Either way, I hope the upshot of this teen pregnancy story is that Prince dull-as-dishwater runs away fast. Clearly, the writers aren’t going to get Blair and chuck back together too soon – it’s too easy – but this wimpy wannabe with the crap accent is hardly acceptable.

The best part about the Blair storyline – basically, agonising over whether the daddy was Chuck or Prince – was her farcical fight with Dan, on a catwalk no less. Dan’s champagne-dive was reminiscent of more than a few top OC moments.

Speaking of Mr Humphrey, turns out his novel won’t be doing a Primary Colours and staying by anonymous for too long. A collective of publishing megalomaniacs – including an agent he’s about an episode away from sleeping with – managed to play on his insufferable arrogance and get him to out himself.

Kudos, Dan, for strolling so languidly into one hell of a trap.

But before the Upper East Side burns with the “biting social satire” of Inside, it might well be set alight by Liz Hurley’s Spectator, aka Posh People’s Dirty Secrets.com.

I know that the Gossip Girl team like to stay timely, but Murdoch et al haven’t been accused of actually stealing people’s mobile phones, just hacking into them.

Nate, no matter how distracted he was by her cleavage and clear nymphomania, has better standards than that. Tut tut.

But then, the whole storyline is baffling; a “media baron” who fires her entire staff just so she can sleep with her intern?

Why not just send them out for pizza? Or get a hotel room? Or, hey, close the blinds?

Meanwhile, in the land of the blonde and privileged, Lily is out of house arrest (because, clearly, judges are convinced by washed-up rock stars moaning about having to go to society shindigs without their wives) and Fake-cousin is here to stay, having blackmailed her “mother” by playing her at her own game.

It’s amazing how Blair, with all of two lines of dialogue, could create this Machiavellian socialite out of someone we’re supposed to imagine was basically trailer trash until now. Even for la Waldorf, that’s damn impressive.

And then there’s Chuck. Who now has a dog. Oddly, the most realistic thing to happen in the whole episode.

Amanda Knox was a victim of the internet age (The Telegraph)

If you were to look through my Facebook photographs, from over the last five years, you would see two versions of me. On the one hand, there I am as a dedicated student at two different graduation ceremonies, a bridesmaid, a keen baker, someone who came perilously close to tigers in Thailand and caught piranhas in Brazil.

Then there I am at clubs and bars, in not particularly modest outfits and with a drink in my hand. There I am making cocktails in a messy student house, on a hen night, or with a disparate collection of male and female friends.

In reality, there’s nothing in my visual history that is particularly controversial and very little that you wouldn’t see in the photo albums of my friends. But if the unthinkable happened and I was thrust into the public eye, it would be very easy to paint my back-story using either the former or the latter. If the media vultures so chose, I could be the freshfaced innocent or her polar opposite.

I am the same age as Amanda Knox only, unlike her, I didn’t spend my last birthday in jail. Thanks to yesterday’s ruling, Knox will spend her next one in the world she was a part of until four years ago. While her family rejoices, and Meredith Kercher’s continue their search for the truth, it’s doubtful that this outcome will change many minds.

This comment piece was first published in the Telegraph. Read the rest of it here