I dealt with the National Front, and this is how you deal with abuse


few weeks ago, the first part of my documentary came out about Israel.

The response to that episode was truly inspiring. With few exceptions, people approached it with a real degree of attentiveness (a word that usually makes my eyes roll so hard that I fall over, but it’s the right one here).

The second half aired last week. When the responses to that arrived, I was right within arm’s reach of the Arctic. I can’t say what got me there, but if there are rumors of me taking over from Santa, I won’t stop them (I mean, I look spectacular in red).

I was sitting in a chilly cabin contemplating some protruding icicles when I decided to sneak a peek at my phone and see what people thought.

The reactions to part two were not unanimously positive. A few people wrote valid and thoughtful critiques of the work, but my Twitter account and inbox were full of angry, hateful messages (I have no idea how anyone got my email address). Unfortunately, some were from people claiming to be from my own Jewish community, calling me names that I won’t repeat here (or anywhere). Some of the things they wrote were not just libelous, they were deliberately cruel and, arguably, criminal.

Yet they did not injure me, despite their clear intention to do so. I just went back to contemplating the Arctic starlight.

That’s because ever since I first started as a lawyer, I’ve grown skin thicker than a concrete rhinoceros. Such insults do not get through.

When I was at the bar, everyone was given access to justice, no matter how odious they were, which meant years in courts across the country dealing with cases involving the whole buffet of grudges and brutality. I remember one time defending the guys who defended the local chapter of the National Front who started our conference saying how thankful they were that I “wasn’t a yid or queer”. Every part of me wanted to give them a jazz-handed “oy vey” or sing a happy medley of Fiddler on the Roof and the Wizard of Oz. I abstained (probably for the best).

But after years of that, you either develop some pretty robust emotional armor or you just can’t move on. You have to grow some kind of callus on your soul if you want to do the job right.

It also taught me something crucial: so many of the angriest, most screaming people (National Fronters included) were deeply unhappy. Their lives were often an ocean of emotional debris and their anger was just a roar of rage against everything. So now, many years later, I let the hate wash over me.

Of course, I’m always happy to engage with those who hold strongly opposing views, as long as they approach me politely (sometimes they’ll even change their mind), but any criticism must come from a place of genuine engagement.

Mindless abuse is never the beginning of a conversation, it is the end.

Passion for art transcends class

When I’m in glitzy cultural settings (say, in one of our fancier galleries, or in longer operas), I notice that everyone looks a bit like me – and it sounds like I’ve been robbed by a Mitford. I certainly don’t often hear accents like I grew up with in North London.

On the rare occasions when people come in with different voices, they’re met with a mass of cocky tuts and raised eyebrows. It’s a shame to cry.

I recently spent time with the wonderful TV presenter Rylan Clark, who is about as Essex as they come – and it will surprise no one to learn that his intuition about culture is as rich and deep as that of the drawling, received pronunciation squad .

I can’t say more about what we’ve been up to, but it reminds us that passion for art is never limited to a particular background. And that’s something to shout in every accent.