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Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Mike Goodman - An Appreciation for a childhood friend and comrade

Au Revoir Mike
It was with great sadness that I learnt from my mother last weekend of the death of Mike Goodman, the former Director of Release and leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council. Mikes death at just 54 is so untimely. Mike lived just around the corner from my house in Dunbabin Road, Childwall, Liverpool, the heart of the once large and vibrant Liverpool Jewish community.

We first met in 1964 at what was then known as the Delamere Forest Jewish School for Delicate Children. Mike was anything but delicate! We shared a room and even then Mike was a flamboyant and unforgettable character. I left to begin secondary education at Liverpool’s King David Jewish School and Mike joined me a couple of years later. The school still exists but most of its children are not Jewish.

The school was then a bilateral grant-maintained school and Mike was classified as educationally backward and put in the secondary modern stream. Mike was a living example of how working class children were written off as incapable of academic achievements but Mike, by dint of his own natural ability, as well as hard work and determination, nonetheless gained the necessary qualifications to go to Brunel University.
I was expelled from the King David in 1970. My offence was a compound one of going on the anti-Springbok demonstrations against the South African rugby team despite the headmaster, Jonathan Beebe's strict instructions. For that I was suspended, caned and forced to see an educational psychologist, since Beebe was of the view that anyone who challenged his authority must be mentally deranged. The psychologist however was of the opinion that my headmaster was more in need of his attention! After another fight with the head, after 3 of us had been caned for throwing stink bombs at Speech Day in the Philharmonic Hall, the guest of honour being the Israeli Ambassador, I was eventually expelled. The reason I mention this is that Mike made a point, years later, of telling me how appalled he had been at my treatment and expulsion and what it said about the kind of education that the King David provided.
In 1969 both of us went on a Zionist Federation sponsored school trip to Israel. This was two years after the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and our hosts were at pains to persuade us how Arabs were treated equally in Israel. Although Mike didn’t become a vociferous anti-Zionist like myself he saw through the lies and self-serving justifications we were offered and was appalled, even then, at the fact that Israel had become for a second time the colonial occupier of others’ lands. This was a time when it was widely believed that in 1947-8 the Arabs of Palestine had left of their own accord rather than being expelled.

Zionism was for the Jewish conformists, the good boys and girls of an insufferably middle-class Jewish community that has long since withered on the vine.

We attended a number of National Union of Students conferences together and in Easter 1979 we both stood on a joint ticket for NUS Executive. Mike was elected Vice President Education but I wasn’t. Mike’s great passion, even then, was the legalisation of cannabis and he didn’t only take an academic interest in it! Many a conference we spent getting stoned in the balcony.

Mike was also President of Brunel University Student Union and I remember the nights we spent getting stoned when I stayed in the guest rooms of the President, who had an extra flat to himself.

Mike represented the best of diaspora Jewry – always critical, always intolerant of the machers and the Jewish chauvinists, the Zionist conformers who accepted their propaganda on a plate and never sought to question anything. Despite his health problems, Mike lived a full life and was someone who was never at home with the stultifying conformism and state worship of modern day Anglo-Jewry. To the end he was a dedicated anti-racist, the type of person who no longer has a home in the Labour Party.

Tony Greenstein

For further appreciations and a moving obituary and tribute.


Mick Hall said...


This is a lovely piece about your friend and I am certain Mike would approve. You wrote whilst at school he was shunted into the siding marked Factory Fodder and as his later life proved he was having none of it.

As we both know, these educational sidings still exist, although these days they are the size of Preston junction. As the UK's manufacturing base has been decimated by neo-liberalism, those unfortunate youngsters who lives are blighted through no fault of their own, often find themselves within the most deprived section of this society, the economic underclass.

Tony Greenstein said...

Thanks Mick.

Yes Mike, whose family you'd probably classify as lower middle class, and from what I remember he was just brought up by his mum, was shunted into a schooling system that condemned 3/4 of children to becoming factory fodder.

But Mike wasn't born to become factory fodder and anyway Liverpool was shedding all its factories so he'd have been dole fodder.

I can remember us playing cards at the home of a third boy, Mark Green, whose dad owned a small tailor's shop. Mr Green was also a member of the Communist Party, which was virtually unknown in the 1960s in the Liverpool Jewish community. Zionism had done its work and helped shift British Jews well to the right and in support of the imperialist project. And at that time there was the utterly reactionary campaign for Soviet Jewry, a campaign which fought and fought again to stop those same Jews going to America. Successive Israeli Prime Ministers went to Washington to get the immigration barriers lowered on Jews.

I remember because I did a paper round for some years and this was the only Morning Star which I delivered (they were mainly papers like the Express (which then had a wider circulation than the Mail and wasn't owned by a pornographer) and Telegraph). Mark from what I remember became a taxi driver, also a good Jewish occupation!

Sorry I must stop all these reminiscences. It's a sign of age!

Jeff Caplan said...

I was at Delamere Forest School in Cheshire with Mike during the mid 1960's - and later married his second cousin.

I stumbled across this piece and began reading it with great expectation only to end with great disappointment.

Mike was a wonderful school friend and you seem to have omitted much of the greatness of his short life. Instead you used this as a forum to attack Israel - what a lack of respect to Mike

Tony Greenstein said...

Well I'm not sure this is entirely fair. Of course I approach things from my particular perspective but Mike was a political animal to his bones. He wasn't an anti-Zionist like me and he moved to the right somewhat when he got older and after his somewhat unorthodox experiences as Council leader.

Others who knew him have liked the tribute so I guess you pay your money and take your choices.

I don't see the piece as an excuse to attack Israel. There are too many opportunities to do that given its record. Rather, since Zionism claims to be at the heart of Jewish identity it is worth exploring Mike's views on the subject.

I fear Jeff that this is symptomatic of the irrationality and insensitivity that too many Jewish people have when Israel is mentioned.

I may well have omitted many aspects of Mike's life. My contact with him after university was only intermittent. What I did was to try and put down in an article my own memories and how it related to our shared interest in politics.

Sorry if you didn't like it.

Dan Filson said...

I've just come across this and it informs and illuminates my knowledge of my counciilor colleague Mike Goodman. There were many councillors both on the other side of the chamber and mine whom I would happily have seen fall of their perches, but not Mike, and it was a terrible shock to learn of his death, as I had been out of touch after leaving the council and had not known of his illness. Somewhere on the internet is the text of the speech he gave to a conference and it is unique: I can hear his voice from the text there, and cannot think of any speaker apart from Churchill whose rhythms and cadences come across so clearly simply from the text. A real loss. I am glad I could attend his funeral which was well-attended.

Tony Greenstein said...

Thanks Dan. Mike was a natural and gifted speaker. You either have it or you don't. He is one of the few people who I admit to being a better public speaker than me! Mike was a character who will never be replaced. He also made a few enemies, as I've discovered since writing this piece!