For many readers, the main appeal of Barbara Amiel’s memoir is its story of a woman who grew up in an unhappy family, achieved wealth and social status through marriage to the Canadian newspaper magnate Conrad Black, and then fell rapidly from grace when he was convicted and jailed for fraud. For others, it will be her bracing honesty about both herself and others. Douglas Murray, however, came to the book because of Amiel’s talents as a journalist. Yet others may be curious about the book because of what it reveals about anti-Semitism:
The young Barbara grew up in Jewish north London and clearly wanted out. . . . She made it in television and print journalism in Canada, ending up in senior editorial positions and, after a move to London, as a columnist at the Sunday Times. It was there that I first started reading her, from the late 1990s, when her columns defending Israel in the British press made her a hero to some of us and probably a pariah to more.
Sitting next to the duke of Gloucester (a first cousin to the queen) at a wedding reception, the duke asks what Amiel’s husband does. “Newspaper proprietor,” she says. “Lowest form of humanity. Rather like the Israelis,” he replies, ignoring her for the rest of the meal. At a famous dinner in London in the 2000s, the then-French ambassador in London refers to “that shitty little country Israel,” continuing, “Why should we be in danger of World War Three because of those people?” Amiel subsequently exposed this in print. Was she right? Certainly. Did it make her more enemies? Undoubtedly.
More shocking is the behavior of the Everglades Club in Palm Beach, which wouldn’t allow Amiel to go to the club even as a guest of her husband’s because she is a Jew. Most of us, in such a situation, would choose either “To hell with you people” or “I’ll get in and show you.” Amiel tried to assume both attitudes before tumbling from all.