‘Where is this from?’ my friend asked, handing me a wine glass. It was a Cabernet Sauvignon, high in alcohol, bit of oak: could do with more time (turned out to be a 2016) but well made. Not French and, despite the alcohol, I did not think that it was Californian either. South Africa? Possibly, but there was a more obvious explanation. My friend is Jewish and he had recently been in Israel. I claimed the Dr Watson prize: ‘The Golan Heights.’
So it was, from Yarden, one of Israel’s best growers. When I first went to Israel, 40 years ago, the wine tasted like bad Anglican communion wine. Since then, there has been a lot of investment, some of it from Roths-child, enabling the Israelis to make even more of the desert to bloom. Some of that would be threatened if Israel ever achieved a modus vivendi with its neighbours. Under a land for peace deal, the Golan would presumably go back to Syria. Would the wines survive, or would the vineyards revert to providing scrub grazing for a few goats, as was the case before the Israelis’ brilliant capture of the Golan in the 1967 war?
But peace seems as far away as ever. There is one consolation. For the foreseeable future, wine production in the Golan is likely to continue. Given Israeli ingenuity, there will no doubt be further improvements.
We moved from geopolitics to humour. Theodor Adorno declared there can be ‘no poetry after Ausch-witz’, and there has indeed been little of the first rank in English. But one might have thought that this would apply a fortiori to humour. Yet Jewish jokes remain the best in the world, and they are all composed by Jews. A Jewish girl is trying to chat up a Jewish boy on a beach, and getting nowhere. ‘Do you like movies?’ Not a flicker. ‘Do you like pizzas?’ Ditto. ‘What about pussycats?’ He leaps on her and ravishes her. ‘How did you know that’s what I wanted?’ said she. ‘How did you know my name is Katz?’
In winter in the Middle Ages, men needed spices to make tainted meat edible. Perhaps we need humour, especially in the absence of religion, to help make the human condition bearable.
Humour led us on to that quintessentially absurd figure Oswald Mosley. A lot of recent comments have paid him an undeserved compliment, by making him out to have been a person of consequence. So he could have been, but for his anti-Semitism. Even in an England where there was a bit of golf-club anti--Semitism, his antics put him beyond the pale. Ordinary decent people did not need the so-called Battle of Cable Street — whose importance was vastly overestimated in Communist party propaganda — to realise that the fellow was cracked. He was appropriately immortalised by P.G. Wodehouse as Sir Roderick Spode and the black shorts.
His principal, and virtually only, victim was his grandson Alexander, who was broken by the hereditas damnosa of the family name. Mosleys now want to commemorate the poor fellow, rather as medieval robber barons endowed chantry chapels. Why not? Pecunia non olet. Just as long as the universities do not use the money for an institute of practical harlotry.
In the early 1950s, one of Premier Ben Gurion’s advisers rushed in to see his boss. ‘Terrible news — a prostitute has been arrested in Tel Aviv.’ ‘That’s wonderful,’ the PM replied. ‘Don’t you see? It means we’re becoming a normal country.’
Normal: Israel could claim to be a miraculous country, in many ways. The Chaim Weizmann Institute produces more patents and other break-throughs than almost any other university in the world, and that is only a small part of Israel’s high-tech successes. But normality? It will take more than the odd tart to achieve that.