Neviim Tovim, blogs by Gillian Gould Lazarus

The strictures still imposed on us by the covid situation means that we are not in the synagogue this year and there is no Minchah service which would include a Torah reading followed by the haftarah, the book of Jonah.

So we miss out on Jonah but can take this time, via Zoom, approximately when the afternoon service would have been, to think about Jonah.

Hebrew prophets are often reluctant to hold prophetic office: Moses didn’t want it, Amos thought he wasn’t worthy of it, Jeremiah knew it would bring him trouble, the visionaries Isaiah and Ezekiel had prophecy thrust upon them and Elijah, a different kind of prophet, had to do a runner when King Ahab took against him.

Jonah was about the most reluctant of them all. As soon as he heard God’s command, ‘Go to Ninevah, that great city, and proclaim against it’ – he made for the port of Jaffa and boarded a ship bound for a western extremity which is called Tarshish. This is likely to refer to what we now call Spain, possibly the straits of Gibraltar.

There are two unusual things about the prophecy delegated to Jonah. One is that, rather than prophesying to the people of Israel or Judah, he is being sent to the capital city of the Assyrian Empire, to bring a foreign people to repentance.

The other unusual thing is that, as we shall see, the prophecy doesn’t come true.

Deuteronomy is quite dismissive about prophets whose prophesies don’t come to pass.

…if the prophet speaks in the name of the LORD and the oracle does not come true, that oracle was not spoken by the LORD; the prophet has uttered it presumptuously: do not stand in dread of him. (Deuteronomy 18:22)

Did Jonah know that his task was to utter a prophecy which wouldn’t come true? Is this why he attempted to run away from God?

On board the ship, Jonah didn’t hang out with the mariners but went down into the innermost part of the ship where he fell into a deep sleep. A life-threatening storm blew up, and the sailors prayed, each to his own god. Eventually the captain went down to Jonah, woke him up and told him to pray to Eloheykha, ‘your God,’ so that they wouldn’t be drowned.

The sailors had worked out, by a system of casting lots, that Jonah’s presence was the cause of the storm, so they questioned him, but didn’t lay hands on him or behave threateningly towards him. Jonah explained that he was a Hebrew who had fled from his God and advised the sailors to throw him into the sea, which was getting increasingly tempestuous.

Reluctant to do this, they tried to steady the ship, to no avail and they then began to pray to God, using the name Adonai, which is the name that we Hebrews, like Jonah, call our God.

It is almost as if the sailors were converted. Perhaps we’ll park that idea and come back to it later.

They threw Jonah into the sea which immediately stopped raging and, awed by everything they had seen, they made a sacrifice to God – to Adonai, says the text – and made vows, which is what we do on Kol Nidre.

You might think that, with the storm stilled, Jonah might have had some sort of chance of swimming to dry land, but as we all know, he was swallowed by a great fish, a dag gadol, not apparently a whale although the ancient Greek translation does use the word ketos which suggests an aquatic mammal, cetacea being the zoological term for such.

There is an enormous amount of midrash about sea monsters of the bible, Leviathan being a primordial example of the genus. There are innumerable artistic depictions of Jonah inside the fish, especially the moment when the fish vomits up Jonah, who emerges carrying a scroll with which he had occupied himself, for the duration inside the fish.

Jonah is particularly interesting to Christian artists as there is a reference in the gospel of Matthew to Jonah’s three days inside the whale or fish as foreshadowing the three days between the crucifixion and the resurrection. (Matthew 12:40). Matthew, writing in Greek, does use the word ketos, suggesting a whale.

Three days is a motif found often in Tanakh: Abraham and Isaac heading for Mount Moriah, Joseph’s brothers in Egypt, awaiting the revelation at Sinai, Esther’s fast and other instances in Numbers and Hosea. Three days seems to be a sort of liminal time in which events germinate before reaching a climax.

Do you remember what Jonah did, in the belly of the fish?

He prayed a psalm of thanksgiving, stylistically very similar to the psalms of David, spoken in the first person with phrases about being encompassed by dangers and troubles, from which God redeems him. After Jonah’s prayer, God spoke to the fish which vomited out Jonah.

After these ordeals, Jonah was, in a sense, back to square one, as God again told him to go to Ninevah and make a proclamation there, as instructed.

Nineveh was a huge city, requiring a journey of three days to cross it on foot and on his first day there, Jonah proclaimed the prophecy: In forty days, Nineveh will be overthrown.

ע֚וֹד אַרְבָּעִ֣ים י֔וֹם וְנִֽינְוֵ֖ה נֶהְפָּֽכֶת׃

For full disclosure, I should mention that in the Greek Septuagint, translated  from Hebrew in the time of Ptolemy II in the third century BCE, Jonah says ‘In three days the city will be overthrown’.

How did the people of Nineveh respond?

Instantly, they believed, they fasted and they put on sackcloth, like mourners. The king of Ninevah likewise was deeply affected and decreed a penitential fast throughout the city, even for the animals. The livestock were covered in sackcloth, just like the citizens.

The king reasoned thus:

Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish. (Jonah 3:9)

מִֽי־יוֹדֵ֣עַ יָשׁ֔וּב וְנִחַ֖ם הָאֱלֹהִ֑ים וְשָׁ֛ב מֵחֲר֥וֹן אַפּ֖וֹ וְלֹ֥א נֹאבֵֽד

When God saw their repentance, He said that He would not strike the city. Repentance brought mercy, as we hope on Yom Kippur, although this was no Israelite city, but the capital of the Assyrian Empire, a world power at that time.

You might think that this was a happy ending but Jonah was beside himself.  He prayed angrily, saying ‘Isn’t this exactly why I didn’t want this commission in the first place? I knew the people of Nineveh would get round you with their repentance and now I look like a liar because the city won’t be destroyed, after I told them it was going to happen. I might as well be dead.’

God answered: ‘Are you very angry?’

Jonah walked on through the city and sat down somewhere on the east side, in the shadows because it was very hot.

In the Book of Jonah, God is said to ‘prepare’ certain things: the great fish, the gourd, a worm which ruins the gourd and an east wind. The gourd, kikayon in Hebrew, which is something like a pumpkin or squash, sheltered Jonah with its shade and he was happy. At dawn, the worm infested the gourd which withered and Jonah was exposed to the sun, beating down on his head. Again, he prayed for death.

God replied, ‘Are you angry about the gourd?’

Jonah acknowledged that this was the case.

God said ‘You pitied the gourd when it was destroyed. Shouldn’t I have pity on Nineveh, a great city with more than 120,000 inhabitants who don’t know the difference between their right hand and their left?’

Then we come to the famous final words of the book of Jonah, ‘and much cattle.’ In the form of a question to Jonah, God explains to him that He pities Nineveh, the people and the domestic beasts.

Lives were saved because the prophecy brought the people of Nineveh to repentance. Jonah’s role as a prophet was not to foretell the future, but to save lives.

The primary mission of the Hebrew prophets was not to foretell the future, like the morally neutral Delphic Sibyl of the Greeks, but to reach out to the people, persuading them to atone for evil, to do good and to obey the commandments.


In the discussion on Yom Kippur afternoon, we spoke about Jonah’s flight from prophecy, about his deep sleep in the hold of the ship and about the conversation between God and Jonah, where God asks the questions:

 ‘Do you do well to be angry?’

‘Do you do well to be angry about the gourd?’

We referred to the gourd in The Life of Brian and the whale in Pinocchio. We spoke of the meaning of Jonah’s name, ‘dove’ and of etymological connections with the island of Iona in the Hebrides and the Ionian Sea between Italy and Greece.

I don’t think we reached a consensus about whether Jonah was right to be angry.

In the ferment of left social media, there are heroes and villains, as clearly delineated as in any James Bond narrative, Indiana Jones, Lord Of the Rings, or Harry Potter. There has to be a powerful enemy. If the premise is that the evil empire is none other then Israel, then Israel’s allies also must be evil: the United Kingdom, the United States and now the Arab countries which are party to the Abraham Accords and made peace with Israel.

Being anti Israel they say is not at all the same as hating Jews, which they prove by citing Noam Chomsky, Ilan Pappe, Miko Peled, Norman Finkelstein, Tony Greenstein, JVL and Neturei Karta. It is a fact that there have always been some Jews who want not just to separate themselves from the majority but to attack the majority.

Here in the United Kingdom many Jews had, until relatively recently, a slack, lacklustre interest in Israel, which was after all a foreign government far away and with its own problems while we, the British Jews had enough problems with our political parties, our economy, our strikes, our taxes, our NHS waiting list. There was some terrorism from the IRA and some terrorism against Jewish organizations and synagogues around the world. There was always security outside synagogues and Jewish communal buildings. As a parent, I was called on to do security duty myself, when my children were in the bar/bat mitzvah class. Back in the 1990s, a woman, five foot two, walking up and down with a walkie talkie, was considered enough to render the community secure.

After 9/11, there was a much greater sense of urgency. Here in the UK, hostility to the American and British goverments, which had been marginal, even during the Vietnam war, was now a commonplace.

The financial crisis of 2008 eroded trust in banks and businesses. Economic insecurity tends to reinforce the conservative vote. Was Ed Miliband really the Labour leader for five years? Like a flower of the field, he flourished but the wind passed over him and he was gone.

With Corbyn as Labour leader, some Jews became conscious of their Jewishness, as if for the first time. Some became aware that antisemitism could harm them, although they were not shul goers and had never thought about visiting Israel. Others concluded that Israel was the problem and their Jewishness could be put to use by denouncing it.

Those of us who recognize the current resurgence of antisemitism know that Israel cannot be treated as a separate matter. We know that anti-Jewish racism will be defended with respect to the conduct of Israel. To complicate matters, Israel’s conduct will be reported wrongly or out of context, not once or twice, but whenever anti Zionist activist puts fingertips to keyboard. It is not what the Knesset decides that puts us in the diaspora at risk, but what anti Zionists say about the Knesset, the IDF, the settlers: it is their lopsided narrative which puts us at risk.

If you select a particular nation and make it your work to denigrate it, there must always be grist for the mill. There will be injustices, bad judgments, corrupt politicians. The Left has settled not only on Israel for this exposure but also the UK & the USA. No goverments are more despised by the Left than these.

When the Skripals were poisoned in Salisbury, the supporters of Mr Corbyn shared his doubt concerning the involvement of Russia. When Bashar Al Assad was suspected of using barrel bombs and poison gas, the same people suggested that Prime Minister Theresa May had created a propaganda film at Pinewood Studios, to incriminate the Syrian President. ISIS, they agreed was bad, but they said it was an Israeli outfit run by a Jewish actor called Simon Elliott, from Greater London. Evidence was a photo of a dark-haired man with a scruffy beard and a ballpark resemblance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

When an explosion occurred at a Beirut warehouse, a meme appeared on both right and left social media, showing smoke rising from the warehouse in the likeness of a charedi Jew above a text: ‘We know it was you.’

This year, during the conflict in Israel and Gaza, there were anti Jewish attacks on the streets of the UK, as well as online. The first strike had come from Hamas, but their supporters said they had been provoked by an incursion of Israeli police into the Al Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The Israeli police said this took place as the mosque was being used to accumulate weapons and rocks, to attack Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall below. On the Corbynist forums, inevitably Hamas received full support as it did also in street demonstrations and in some trade unions.

During the current crisis in Afghanistan, it is inevitable that the comrades should stick to their guns regarding the singular evil of Israel. Their response to negative press about the Taliban is to be especially emphatic about Israel being ‘worse than the Taliban’. The only comments about ISIS speak of the allegedly cordial relations between the Islamic State and the western powers. The continued hesitancy is opining about the Taliban is understandable. They are not sure if there is anything like a ‘party line’ and they would not wish to diverge from it, if there is one.

I sometimes think that if the UK was at war, whosoever was the enemy, these people would be on their side, but if the British casualties mounted up, they would say it was the work of Tony Blair and the Board of Deputies of British Jews. This is not even hypothetical. It is their take on all wars.

Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows what to expect: a tedious, apparently never-ending stream of screen shots from Corbynist groups on Facebook, exhibiting characteristics usually associated with the far right, of anti-Jewish racism, occasional Holocaust denial, 9/11 revisionism and incitement to hatred.

Invariably, those who take issue with me tell me that I need to learn the difference between antisemitism and criticism of Israel.

When I look at the social media footprint of individuals who post the most offensively anti Jewish material, I find that in most cases they are ordinary, well meaning individuals, most certainly with a tenderness for children, animals, NHS workers, as well as all Palestinians, en masse. It may be because their weapon of choice is Facebook, but they are almost always advanced in years. Carelessly in their rants against the State of Israel, they refer to the incriminating Jewishness of British philanthropists, politicians and celebrities.

Yesterday, I was in an extended Twitter spat with someone called Kevin, also active in the Facebook group, The Left Fights the Media. He used the phrase ‘Jewish billionaire masters’ in most of his tweets and insisted that Jews caused Oliver Cromwell to enforce the Irish potato famine. He accused me of complicity with Cromwell and I replied with this image:

Despite his fixation with Jewish power, I got the impression that Kevin was not altogether a bad person. He was not rude, did not do personal abuse and apologized once for a misspelling. He was strongly in favour of Proportional Representation, which is a legitimate point of view. However, his statements about Jews became increasingly wild and emphatic. He then started on the freemasons which, while equally irrational, gave us Jews a respite, except for Jewish freemasons, of whom I know several.

My feeling about the left wing Facebook forums, the aspect of social media I know most intimately, is that they radicalise. They promote Jew hate, making it the only accepted position, and the members, usually middle aged, or elderly, gain approval commensurate with the intensity of their expressed hatred.

I do not think the octogenarians who call so often for revolution are going to march up Whitehall singing ‘Ça ira’ – for one thing, some of them have lived in Spain since their retirement; many others have limited mobility.

What has happened to these people, to make them assert that the horrors in Afghanistan are a diversionary tactic to turn attention away from Israel, or that Israel is behind all wars, including those predating the creation of the State of Israel? Everything said in the past about ‘the Elders of Zion’ is revived on Corbynist forums when they speak of The Board of Deputies of British Jews. Trevor Chinn is mentioned almost daily as an agent of Israel; Lord Rothschild weekly, and Keir Starmer (who isn’t Jewish but is considered by the comrades to be working for Israel), hourly.

Taking a leaf out of their book, I have started wondering about the powerful hands of less naive agents pulling their strings. There are politicians, journalists and some celebrities who stir the pot continuously, too sophisticated to use the word Jew when Israel or Zionism may be substituted. The denial of antisemitism invariably accompanies even the most extreme tropes. I cannot remember how many times I’ve read that the Jews, sorry, Zionists, are the real antisemites. This is one of the axioms of the forums. The evidence – in their eyes, proof – is that JVL and Neturei Karta exist so the rest of us are lying for Israel.

They seem impervious to reason. Some of my friends have joined the Corbynist groups to confront the antisemites in their lair but they get ejected before long. You can see them sometimes in my screen shots, accused of being Zionist trolls.

Even finding fault with Iran’s Ebrahim Raisi or Syria’s Bashar Al Assad is enough to get one written off as a Zionist troll.

It isn’t a matter of not wanting Jews marrying their daughters or joining their golf club. June wants us deported and Anthony wants Israel wiped off the face of the earth. I’m not sure where they want us to be.

JVL – the oddly named Jewish Voice for Labour – is problematic in a slightly different way. The items posted by JVL, while intensely anti Israel, are not necessarily antisemitic but they specialize in defending anyone who has been accused of antisemitism, if they have been associated with Labour or with Mr Corbyn. Their non-Jewish followers post material as extreme as that on any other forum. If this is confronted by some interloper, the JVL moderators tend to delete the dissident posts; thus, friends of mine who argue against overtly anti Jewish comments find that their replies disappear, censored by JVL.

I have not uploaded any images from Truthers Against Zionist Lobbies. They were removed from Facebook and returned after a hiatus of four months, without their cover picture of Jeremy Corbyn. Instead, they have a parody of the Israeli flag with the words: ‘Israel has no history, only a criminal record.’

I limit the number of left wing forums I follow, mainly to those featured below. Anyone rash enough to read the contents of my screen shots will soon see the dreary repetitiveness and unoriginality of the comments.

I have much admiration for those who engage and fight back on the forums. I refrain from naming them only because my commendation is not likely to help them get on in life.

From The Left Fights the Media

From Jeremy Corbyn Should Have Been Prime Minister

From Recognising Jeremy corbyn’s Dedication to a Just Society

From We Support Jeremy Corbyn

From Jeremy Corbyn’s Socialist Forum

Two or three years ago, satirical ‘bingo cards’ started to appear on social media, displaying the repetitive and predictable phrases used in political arguments. Entering the key word ‘bingo’ on a Twitter search this morning, an example appears, posted two hours ago, a send up of Priti Patel, harmless and amusing enough.

Friends of mine made some witty bingo cards comprising favourite phrases of anti-Zionists and the anti-Zionists made their own bingo cards displaying what they though of as pro-Israel apologetics. One of the phrases they included was ‘Why do you only talk about Israel?’

This certainly is a question to be asked. The answer is generally that we who ask it are deflecting from the issue of what is happening in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. Among anti-Zionists, it is increasingly common to attribute to Israel global influence, to the extent of ruling western governments, and the Corbynist rump, deeply antipathetic to Keir Starmer insist daily that the Likud Party now owns Labour. This is odd because the Likud was not able to hold on to government in Israel after Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid formed a coalition in June 2021.

Most certainly, discussions about Israel, Zionism and Jews dominate the left wing Facebook forums where foreign affairs are concerned. Regarding UK politics, the posts concern mostly the wrongdoings of Boris Johnson and Tory Ministers and the alleged treacheries and failures of Keir Starmer. The Starmer threads almost invariably make reference to the influence of either Israel or the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

It has reached a point when I am glad to see a post about Boris Johnson as it is less likely to include assertions about Jewish interference than a thread about Keir Starmer.

Posts about Mr Corbyn are as reverential as ever, almost inevitably with Christological language in which the former Labour leader appears as one who would have been our saviour but was crucified – essentially by the Board of Deputies- yet continues to evince beneficence and integrity beyond any other human being.

I note that as dire events unfold in Afghanistan, the subject simply does not arise on Corbynist forums.

Anyone referring to the persecution of the Uyghar Muslims in China is likely to be called a Zionist troll, deflecting from the ‘crimes of Israel’.

News about Lukashenko of Belarus is dismissed as western propaganda.

The government of Iran is depicted as peace-loving but maligned by Israeli hasbara.

Below are screen shots from various forums on Facebook. The earliest shown here is, I believe, from the end of July 2021 and the most recent is from yesterday, 10 August 2021. The quantity is too great to include anything beyond the last two weeks.

They appear by group:

The Left Fights the Media

Jeremy Corbyn should Have Been Prime Minister

Recognising Jeremy Corbyn’s Dedication to a Just Society

The following groups:

Jeremy Corbyn’s Socialist Forum

We Support Jeremy Corbyn

Jewish Voice for Labour (an ardently anti-Zionist group, defending left-wingers accused of antisemitism)

are included in some of the ‘mixed’ screen shots. Truthers Against Zionist Lobbies originally used a cover photo of Jeremy Corbyn but they have changed this to a Star of David with the superscription ‘Israel has no history, only a criminal record’. I have not included their work among the screen shots below, except in one of the mixed collages.

The comments shown below are repeated with minor variations day after day. The level of vituperation is constant. I often think it is getting worse but when I look at earlier records, I see there is little change.

I have folders of screen shots going back some years now, too bulky for me to handle systematically.

Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

I suppose some lies are mistakes.

I suppose I’ve lied but forgotten about it.

I suppose others have lied, intentionally or forgetfully, stating what they remember as fact. I suppose I have done this too.

Malicious discourse on social media and elsewhere works like this. You select a person you consider worthy of opprobrium: celebrity, politician, journalist or someone whose tweet you don’t like and consider yourself entitled to say or repeat anything negative about them. Even if it isn’t true, it conveys the negative attributes which you think are true, notionally if not in actuality.

Instead of saying ‘I disagree’ or ‘You’re wrong,’ the antagonist says ‘You’re lying’.

I often see a hypothesis that the putative liar is paid to lie by a more powerful agency or that a network of lies serves as the opium of the masses, to keep them subjugated.

Someone rebuked me this week for tweeting that the journalist Owen Jones is twelve when I know full well that he is thirty-seven. I wanted to convey that he remains an enfant terrible of the left, courting controversy yet expressing vulnerability, his years of experience belied by his preternaturally youthful appearance.

There is hyperbole. There is lying. There is polemicizing.

I read this phrase today on social media: ‘the Zionist baby killers of Golders Green.’ One might assume that the person wants to say the following: diaspora Jews are complicit with Israel unless they repudiate it; children have been killed when Israel is at war, handling conflict situations and even misfiring so we – even I to the north of Golders Green – have a hand in the tragic death of these children. Putting it this way, I can almost see the blood on my hands, as if in some cartoon by Carlos Latuff.

Suppose the reports from Hamas or Press TV or Skwawkbox are unreliable, based perhaps on inaccurate sources?  Why should their reports be believable and other, contradictory reports not believable? And, if they have been economical with the truth, am I still a baby killer? How could I know?

On social media, conjectures may be stated as facts, worse, as subordinate clauses. To say ‘Keir Starmer is paid by Israel’ sounds like a lie dressed up as a hypothesis but in the sentence, ‘Due to the money Starmer receives from Israel, Labour is not short of cash,’ the false charge, that he is paid by Israel, is used as if it is consensual and established. The thrust of the proposition follows it: ‘Labour is not short of cash’ which may or may not be true.

For those who adhere to this view, their belief is based on the existence of Jewish donors, among others supporting the Labour party and Labour MPs. If the Jewish donors support Israel, goes the argument, they act as a proxy for Israel. Thus ‘Keir is in the pay of a foreign power’ is by far one of the most popular assertions on Corbynist social media, with the advantage that the foreign power is not named and, if you substitute Keith for Keir, neither is the Leader of the Opposition.

Dawn Butler MP made headlines by calling the Prime Minister a liar and was temporarily ordered out of the House of Commons. Today, #BorisTheLiar is or was a trending hashtag on Twitter. There is always a commotion when a politician is found to be lying but it dissipatess before long. It would be difficult for anyone in public life to speak nothing but the truth. They say so many more words than most other people. There is expediency; there is self-interest; there is utilitarianism, when the public is shielded from a disruptive truth, there is not knowing and there is forgetting.

I have heard estranged couples give almost identical accounts of an incident except that they reverse the roles, to favour the speaker and put the absent ex in a bad light. The stories are mutually exclusive but there is common ground: they agree that something happened, but who did it to whom? If one is lying, why would they both agree so closely to the details of the incident, disagreeing only about agency? Forgetfulness hovers like a mist around the story but the edges are indistinct.

If this happens in personal relationships, how much more so, a fortiori, in wars, in politics and in the high profile disputes between members of the Royal Family.

Truth is a fundamental virtue, mentioned often in liturgy.

True and firm, established and enduring…is thy word unto us for ever and ever.

We who are neither gods nor beasts are untruthful, by error, by intention, for advantage, through forgetfulness, due to shame or kindness or for the greater good, through credulity and through scepticism.

Being lied to makes us angry.

Being lied about makes us angry. We have laws to deal with this, but not everyone has the wherewithal to bring matters to the courts.

Personally, I resist calling another person a liar. If I want to go on the offensive, I am more likely to call them stupid or foolish, or to say someone is twelve when I know he won’t see thirty-five again.

Truth is an aspiration. We use ‘aspire’ in the sense of striving but the Latin aspirare is to breath or blow, related to spiritus. We breathe the truth even if we do not speak it.

If you read my previous post called ‘Violates/Does not violate’, you may see a hostile comment which I left in situ: ‘Gas all fucking Yids.’ They appended the messages ‘Gas’, ‘Gas Joos’ and ‘Gas Lazarus’ to several of my blog posts – including an entirely non-political piece with Kierkegaard in the title – and developed their position with a reference to ‘tax dodging apartheid lovers’. I am well accustomed to the word ‘apartheid’ applied to Israel by the anti-Zionist left. It is not easy to imagine that the person who says ‘Gas all fucking Yids’ is coming from a left wing point of view.

Anyone kind enough to read this may want to say that a racist troll does not have anything as elevated as a political point of view but is just consumed by hate and, in this case, parroting the antisemitic slogans of left, right and wherever they find them.

It is true that racism is not necessarily political, but neither is resistance against racism.

As I write this, the House of Commons is engaged in PMQs, with some lively questions from Keir Starmer, accusing the Conservatives of stirring up racism. Boris Johnson holds up a leaflet from a Labour by-election campaign, hostile to the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and thought to be a bespoke argument created to appeal to anti Hindu voters in Batley and Spen.

Thus our Members of Parliament raise their voices to accuse each other of racism: You’re IT, No, you’re IT.

In my opinion, most people hearing of the abuse which came the way of three black members of the England football team would have felt first and foremost sympathy with those players. What can be done? Legislation against online harms? Gestures of solidarity?

Priti Patel called taking the knee ‘gesture politics’ but any sympathetic gesture is welcome when one is on the sharp end of racism, as Daniel Finkelstein pointed out in The Times.

Whatever the origin of taking the knee or the political stance and associations of those who promote it, it is a recognized sign against anti black racism in sport. Yes there are those who oppose racism against people of colour but are comfortable with anti Jewish racism. I am only too well aware of this apparent paradox. On social media I have been called a racist more times than I can remember. How does this happen? I post against antisemitism so it is assumed that I am a Zionist (which is correct) and that Zionists are racists (which is incorrect).This is not of course confined to social media. Black Lives Matter, in common with the far left and the far right, has sometimes shown hospitality to antisemitism in certain milieux.

How then will the minorities who suffer racial abuse manage to come together?

Perhaps only when the personal supercedes the political; when the neighbour is literally the person next door, not the lionized community or nation.

In extremis, we appreciate support and comfort wherever it comes from. When my non-Jewish followers on Twitter declare solidarity with Jews, it feels as if someone put a precious pearl in my hand.

Do some of my followers hold views uncongenial to me, such as support for the previous American Preisdent or approval of the expansion of Israeli settlements or, coming from the left, over-enthusiastic anathematization of the Israeli right wing? Probably. There are limits but if I try to give an account of my red lines, someone will point out the inconsistencies. That would be like the parliamentary debate where each party points out the inconsistencies of the other in opposing racism when what we want is someone who will stand up to the racist bully on the bus or open their door to us when the stormtroopers are coming down the street.

Even the Righteous of the Nations were not necessarily consistent in their righteousness. Nobody is.

My attention was drawn by Gnasher Jew, a team of Jewish activists devoted to exposing antisemitism of left and right, to this new Twitter account . The cover picture with its proximity of Israeli and American flags is not unusual, but the avatar belongs very much to historical anti-Jewish imagery, so much so that I suspect even those who praised Mear One’s notorious mural might see that something here is amiss. ‘Entitled Jew’ is an account launched just this month, perhaps even this week, conceivably by someone already experienced in the highways and byways of Twitter.

The tweets of this new account have a humanitarian cast, evidently with a view to pursuing justice for Palestinians, through BDS and the PLO. They quote Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib and Israel-critical articles from the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. In short, their tweets are acceptable to received ant-Israel opinion among the western left, far right, and progressive centre.

The problems are the avatar, the Twitter handle and the caption, ‘chosen, privileged, entitled’.

The juxtaposition of modern pro Palestinian activism with classical antisemitic tropes has caught my attention time and time again on left wing social media. Reports from Middle East Monitor, Palestine Chronicle, Press TV, Skwawkbox and Electronic Intifada hit the Facebook anti-Israel pages as soon as they are published and the compassionate, predominantly elderly, Anglo-Saxon, Corbyn-worshiping folk of the forums assert their intense detestation of Israel with talk of Jewish organizations ruling British political parties and abrogating democracy. If they can find a Carlos Latuff cartoon, they will post it.

They are mistaken in their belief that British Jewish philanthropist Trevor Chinn bought up the Labour Party for £50,000, or that Lady Starmer is Sir Keir’s Mossad handler and mistaken when they identify the Damascus Gate as Al-Aqsa Mosque but are not necessarily wrong in every particular, when they describe the IDF as being free and easy with ‘skunk water’ or some settlers showing up mob handed to make life hard for Palestinian neighbours.

From my Sitz im Leben in North London, accusations need to be researched in order to be refuted and even then, available reportage may not tell the whole story. Although, like Judah Halevi, I am on the edge of the west, far from Medinat Israel, the State of Israel, I am one of Am Israel, the people of Israel, an identity which is not in competition with my undoubted Britishness but a possible reason why social media tells me I am implicated in conflict in the Holy Land.

I did not like to complain too heartily about the beleaguered, compromised previous Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. I had seen too many cartoons where he was represented as a spider or octopus grasping a globe of the world or a phantom dripping with blood. Perhaps this would have been less offensive if the comments below the cartoons hadn’t spoken of ‘They’.

‘They own the Labour Party now – it’s a Likud franchise.’

‘They haven’t learned from what happened to them. They are worse than the nazis.’

‘They run the BBC.’

‘They have the cheek to complain about antisemitism.’

This ‘They’ the comrades talk about on Corbynist and left wing Facebook forums, does it refer to Mr Netanyahu in a gender neutral sense or does it refer to ‘Zionists’?

There is a popular perception in the Corbynist groups that Zionists are not Jews, and this is not often a reference to Christian Zionism but to the perceived Ashkenazi origins of Israelis, where again they are mistaken as they exclude the entire Mizrahi, Sephardi and Ethiopian population of Israel from their calculations. The conspiratorially minded often explain that Jews are Khazars from Khazaria and therefore not Jewish. This is an error in various ways, including the findings of genetic research, but I am often struck by their extreme distaste for so called ‘Khazars’ which seems to be used synonymously with ‘imposters’ or ‘criminals’.

I report to Facebook and Twitter some of the posts which I consider grossly antisemitic.The reply from Twitter is usually ‘Thank you. This violated our rules against hate speech,’ but the violating account persists in its racist timbre. Facebook tends to reply,’This does not violate our community standards,’ as shown here:

The new ‘Entitled Jew’ account on Twitter with its Stürmer type image will no doubt be reported by many who find it offensive but those who are devoured by opposition to Israel are likely to give it the benefit of the doubt or, worse still, not even experience a moment of doubt with respect to its noxious intent.

During these four days away from Twitter, I kept my eyes in their usual place, apart from in my head.

I will spare you my opinions and just offer my screen shots.

By way of explication de texte, I should mention that Labour Heartlands, edited by Paul Knaggs, had a new blog about Margaret Hodge which Mr Knaggs posted on several forums. Anything about Margaret Hodge on Corbynist social media generates an abundance of venomous comments.

Be strong and of good courage. These groups are peopled with outliers, raging against the light.


Due to a bank holiday weekend walk out from Twitter called by football clubs, players, athletes and several sporting associations in protest against online racism, I was absent from twitter for this period, so found another use for my keyboard.

I was very grateful to those who joined a walk out last year against online antisemitic abuse and the least I can do is joint the present protest.

I am less exposed to anti black racism and islamophobia than I am to antisemitism, because my searches on left wing social media invariably turn up the latter not the former – unless the topic concerns a black, Muslim or Hindu Conservative. In those discussions, the person’s ethnicity is acknowledged in the context of treachery and there is even talk of deportation. Even BAME Labour MPs have not been immune from being called coconuts or Uncle Toms, if they were opposed to Mr Corbyn’s leadership.

My real life social circles don’t include people with bigoted or racist views, as far as I’m aware. Work, before I retired, was diverse and Ramadan was accommodated as far as possible in terms of schedules and lunch breaks. I was never refused time off for Jewish holy days.

In the 1960s, my parents were present on rallies against apartheid and, later on, so was I. When someone says that the older generation tends to racism, it does not resonate with me. Now I am the older generation, as were my parents when they boycotted South African goods.

The matter of online abuse is close to my heart. I’m a white, Jewish woman, active against antisemitism: Twitterati of the left call me a racist and apartheid apologist while the befrogged far right send me cartoons based on vulgar antisemitic templates. Occasionally I am told that I am responsible for the death of innocent Palestinians. I count that sort of tweet as abusive but, more than that, it is depressing to find that opposition to Jew hate is read so widely as a sign of anti-Palestinianism.

I see anti black racism, feral and febrile, when I look at the timelines of the right wing trolls, those with frog or skeleton avatars, and names which often include such words as wolf, Vulcan, eagle, Thor, knight, lair or, obviously, white. It is a mystery to me why football supporters are prone to abusing black players on social media or to taunt the other team by means of racist language.

What one sees depends on where one goes as well as powers of observation. How often do I see a comrade commenting ‘I’ve been a Labour member for fifty years and never once witnessed any antisemitism’ as a sympathetic reply to someone’s assertion that ‘the Jewish lobby’ lies about antisemitism in its quest to dominate UK politics. I would like to tell the myopic comrade, ’Hey, you just missed a bit’ but it is not worth being kicked off a forum I’m observing, for a moment’s satisfaction.

We all tend to be sensitive to the disrespect and abuse of which we are the target. I’m more grateful than I can express to non-Jewish organizations and individuals who see and oppose antisemitism in its current forms, which include a great emphasis on Israel from both left and right. The Muslims Against Antisemitism group has been stalwart in their highly valuable support.

Global discussions following the killing of George Floyd have led to more talk about the predicament of Jews of colour vis-à-vis the white majority in the community, or of disadvantages to Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews when they live in a largely Ashkenazi milieu. The Board of Deputies of British Jews has just published the results of their Commission on Racial Inclusivity in the Jewish Community, chaired by the distinguished journalist Stephen Bush. The Board refers to the MacPherson Principle, ‘all complaints about incidents of racism should be recorded and investigated as such, when they are perceived by the complainant or someone else as acts of racism.’

There may be a Jewish person or a person of colour who declares that they have never experienced racism from the supporters of those notable has-beens, Jeremy Corbyn and Donald Trump. They speak as tokens of their own minority group and say that those who complain of racism are either lying for some ulterior motive or else ignorant of the facts. These minorities within the minorities may not have the authority or the credibility which they suppose. There were women who were opposed to feminism and equal opportunities, as dramatized in the historical series Mrs America. The anti-feminist voices were heard but they did not prevail.

A common recent trope on Corbynist forums is that Jewish voices in UK politics are ‘foreign intervention’. It seems a time-expired, unsophisticated form of antisemitism to insist on our foreignness, although it may be merely a way of circumventing Facebook’s censor, such as it is. There can be no doubt that the same is alleged of people who are BAME and British., on the forums of the far right at least.

It seems too obvious to be worth saying that a member of a minority can be prejudiced or hateful against another minority (or their own). All that is required is induction from the particular to the general: citing some wrongdoer as evidence of the wrongdoing of their group or ethnos. This features heavily in online abuse: a troll will send a picture or an article against such a person to someone else of the same ethnicity. Nothing precludes the troll from being a member of a minority.

Now we have reached the fourth and last day of the Twitter walk out. New stories are breaking and the identity of H has been disclosed on Line of Duty; antisemites on Corbynist forums go about their daily business and no doubt black footballers are being abused on social media.

I do not get stopped and searched or face the daily hazards and disadvantages which come to people of colour. I hardly know even the beginning or the extent of these experiences. The Twitter walk-out and the hashtag stop online abuse is at least something I can do

My own minority are so few in number but, notionally so highly visible, that we get discounted, as David Baddiel has written, as a minority. Our enemies on the right say our power is such that we grasp the whole world in our tentacles. Our enemies on the left say the same but avoid using words like tentacles, unless they have come to the left with a smattering of far right ideology.

We cannot force solidarity among the marginalized or victimized, who are sometimes not even a minority but, when it happens, it beats self-defence for efficacy. Social media may be awash with bigots, furies and vulgarians but there are many, very many, who stand up against them.

At what moment does the butterfly spread its wings and change the history of the world?

How does the moment of conception determine which soul shall live?

Now that lockdown is being lifted and many of us are so fortunate as to be vaccinated, my eldest daughter came inside my flat and we looked at my oil paintings, the earliest of which was a portrait of Kierkegaard which I painted in about 1971, copied from a drawing by Niels Christian Kierkegaard, the philosopher’s cousin. My signature, Gillian Pressman, is on the picture, the only one of my paintings to be signed with my maiden name.

I reminded my daughter that this picture led to her birth.

I was an undergraduate, living in the women’s block of a hall of residence. Late one night, early in th autumn term of my final year, I walked along to the communal kitchen, to wash up some coffee cups. Two girls and a boy were in the kitchen. The girls looked young and schoolgirlish to me, a seasoned twenty-two year old, but the boy, who wore tie dyed jeans and had long dark blond hair, watched attentively from an oblique stance. One of the girls introduced him as Robert and he spoke with a New York accent saying, ‘I come here over here sometimes to talk about Kierkegaard…’

‘Kierkegaard!’ I repeated, pouncing on the name. ‘I’ve painted him. The picture’s in my room; come and see it.’

In my memory, the two girls melt away and I’ve never known if they were friends of Robert or if some other consideration had brought him to our communal kitchen. The upshot was that he came to see the picture; we drank some whisky and talked until the sun rose.

The next morning my friend Hilary and I were walking in a nearby park where you could see wallabies. There we ran into Robert and his friend Phil. These were our husbands to be and eventually ex-husbands to be.

My first born daughter was conceived in the very room where the picture of Kierkegaard was displayed. I graduated, married Robert and we had two daughters during our not very long marriage. Subsequently, Robert made a happy remarriage and lives at present in New York, speaking by phone or zoom at least once a week to our two daughters and grandson here in London.

What if there had been no painting of Kierkegaard? Would some other elective affinity have brought us into each other’s orbits? Within the first half minute, the evidence was that Robert was a Jewish intellectual with a slight resemblance to Gustav Mahler whose looks I greatly admired. And to Robert, who was younger than me, I was no doubt the kind of wordy, worldy woman he had hoped to meet since his recent arrival at this English university.

Why had I painted Kierkegaard? When I was fourteen, I bought myself an introductory book about existentialism, in Foyles Bookshop. I wanted to study philosophy, especially those existentialists: Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Husserl, Heidegger and Sartre and, when the time came around, I did study philosophy, but in the UK in the 1970s they liked the Anglo-Saxons: Russell, Moore, Ryle, Austin, Hare, Strawson, Winch, Putnam – who are not really household names now, except perhaps for Bertrand Russell.

The brightest star in the firmament of the Philosophy Department was, for me, Dr Wolfe Mays, who had been a student of Wittgenstein in Cambridge and who now taught phenomenology, as well as philosophy of science. In my final year, I did Dr Mays’s course on Heidegger’s Being and Time and indefensibly used to fill his room with my cigarette smoke, causing him to open the window while uttering a polite cough. There were four or five of us in the group and, in our spare time, we delighted in beginning the most banal of sentences with the phrase ‘Proximally and for the most part…’ lifted from the MacQuarrie and Robinson translation of Sein und Zeit. Dr Mays introduced us to Dr Angela Rose, not much older than us undergraduates, who ran a course on Kierkegaard which we attended although this was not for examination or academic credit.

My painting must have been in existence by that time as I painted only in my second year when I was living in a student house and not at all in the hall of residence, in my third year.

Why, at fourteen, did I buy a book about existentialism? Was it because my friend’s impressive older brother had books about existentialism on his bookshelves? Was this the butterfly wing: my perusal of books belonging to my friend’s brother, who had attractive grey eyes?

In truth, everything is a butterfly wing, creating worlds and begetting peoples.

Certain philosophical questions seem to me to be beyond the ken of philosophers, despite the libraries of books written about them. One is free will and determinism. Some will say everything is determined down to the last detail, others that such determinations have little to do with the lived experience of making choices. In the Pirke Avot tractate of the two thousand year old Mishnah, the sages say: ‘Everything is foreseen but freewill is given.’

הַכֹּל צָפוּי, וְהָרְשׁוּת נְתוּנָה (Avot 3:15)

They observe the paradox, while accepting that it can’t be side-stepped.

Another question which is open to eternity is how it is that we each inhabit our own life and only that life. We may be more fully invested in the life of others, for reasons of love or something else, but we live and die in one body. ‘The being who asks the meaning of being’ is how Heidegger described humans, the Dasein for whom its own existence is an issue, who cares and is consumed with anxiety over the matter of its being and inevitable non being.

Proximally and for the most part, these questions and his answers, such as they were, didn’t result in Heidegger leading a moral or altruistic life, so what was the point, I’d like to to know.