Today’s the day that the grassroots movement UK Uncut has shut down stores belonging to the member of our brethren who has avoided more tax as an individual than any Jewish man before him. Friends, rattle your Chanukah presents for Philip Green, who owed £285m to the UK taxman last year but chose to secrete it in the loving arms of his wife Cristina, who just happens to live in tax-haven, Monaco.
Philip likes to spend good money on his son’s barmitzvah (£4m) and his daughter’s home (£1m), on strange mercy flights for the parents of lost children plus holidaying with Simon Cowell, Kate Moss and other glamorous goyim. What he doesn’t like is being expected to pay up his fair share of tax, preferring that his contribution to the nation be dressing bored secretaries in identikit outfits in Topshop and faded suburban housewives in horror-show BHS items. Green’s contribution to the nation is a pastoral scene of faux-vintage frocks, with Green looming over us all, whispering “Et in Arcadia Ego”. His tax avoidance could have paid for 20,000 NHS nurses, 30,000 university places, and a whole load of social housing.
Philip Green is not a good image of UK Jews. I don’t want to give any credibility to the scum on the racist right or some of the confused on the far left, but if you were looking for an anti-semitic stereotype right now, you wouldn’t need to look far. A man who is unapologetic about robbing the nation, and now advises the Government on destroying the welfare state – he should be disowned by the community. Our Rabbis and reps should be condemning him and using him as a warning about where the affluence of the community will lead us, and speaking out about our current complacency on fetid wealth.
But let’s not obsess over Philip Green alone, because he’s not the only one. How many of you have a rich family member or friend of a friend who is creative with their tax returns, or who advises people like that on tax avoidance? We all know it happens, and we turn a blind eye, for fear of upsetting people we know. But we’re part of one of the most wealthy demographics in the UK and the rot has to stop. Name and shame Jewish tax avoiders to each other, and make it socially unacceptable to be an accountant who helps the super-rich to shirk their responsibilities. Let’s build our own Jewish UK Uncut faction, and not tolerate those in our midst who are hiding from the taxman.
We’re excited in Jewdas Towers to see a widespread grassroots movement challenging the economically powerful when our political leaders won’t do so. Go back to your shuls and your community groups and be part of that. The JC, the United Synagogue and the Board of Deputies won’t lead us to a moral position, and nor probably will Liberal Judaism or the JCC. Their existence depends on donations from the people who talk of community responsibility with one hand if it refers to a new wing of the shul building, but dismiss their obligations as taxpayers with the other if it refers to the cross-communal poor.
In my own hometown shul on Rosh Hashanah this year, my usually-reactionary Rabbi upset the applecart by condemning the money spent by those in front of him on barmitzvahs, weddings, cars, houses and holidays. Those around me knew that this was just this was just words and dismissed any need to take their own stance on the issue – knowing that this Rabbi would never truly alienate the hand that feeds, or really tempt losing the support of the big funders of the shul. So it’s our responsibility as a Jewish grassroots movement to speak up. We won’t name names – the nature of tax avoidance is that the criminal doesn’t advertise it – but I think we all know a lot of wealthy businessman who we suspect. So let’s find out the truth and name and shame.
Here’s some inspiration – currently playing in London is a remarkable show, Pins and Needles, a musical theatre revue originally performed in the 1930s by an American garment workers’ union. Given that there were so many Jewish garment workers at the time, and, well, also given that musical theatre and Jews go together pretty well, there’s a heavy Jewish tone to the show. Plus a large portion of the production team are Jewish too (and yes, are friends of Jewdas too, but it’s a brilliant show so stop being annoying), so inevitably we view it with a Hebraic glow underscoring it.
Though written more than 70 years ago, the show includes a section that satirises tax avoidance – including from those who claim to be serving the nation as Green does. The finale of the show is an inspiring warning to the hubris of the wealthy who think that the laws of human decency (not to mention those of the land) don’t apply to them.
The cast write the famous phrase מנא ,מנא, תקל, ופרסין (Mene Mene, Tekel Upharsin) on the wall – “Your Days Are Numbered – Beware”. We should be writing this on the walls of Jewish community buildings, and exposing the greed around us.