Neviim Tovim, blogs by Gillian Gould Lazarus

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.

GL

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 off us are so fortunate as to be vaccinated, my eldest daughter came inside my flat and we looked at my oil paintings, the oldest 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.

It’s 5th April 2021, the days between Pesach and Yom Ha Shoah.

Left wing social media seems worse than ever but no doubt that is an illusion.There is simply no change.

These Corbynist forums, not always Labour as their members have mostly left the Party, are locations where the members can express gross, insulting comments about people they dislike: Keir Starmer, any Conservative, any Centrist, Israel, the Board of Deputies, Margaret Hodge.

Soon after the General Election of 2019, I saw posts on Corbynist forums declaring that Israel or the Rothschilds had somehow rigged the election and that, without them, Corbyn would have been in Number 10. At the time I thought it was an outliers’ view but it has since become axiomatic in the milieu of these Facebook forums.

The screenshots below are from the last five days, from 1 April to 5 April. You will see that there is no change.

When I was fifteen, I was in love with Dostoyevsky; with Prince Myshkin, with at least two of the Karamazov brothers and even with that proto Nietzschean delinquent Raskolnikov. I remember my puzzlement and disappointment on coming across Dostoyevsky’s antisemitism. I still loved Myshkin and Alyosha but lost respect for Fyodor Mikhailovich.

That was a long time ago and I am well-accustomed to a certain kind of disappointment, most often recently when fine actors declare their antipathy to Israel. We saw it with Vanessa Redgrave and her ‘Zionist hoodlums’ speech in the 1970s but Vanessa Redgrave was well known to be involved with Gerry Healy’s Workers Revolutionary Party, so it didn’t count as a disappointment.

As for Mel Gibson – who cares what he thinks? I never watch his films; can’t even bear to hear him voicing a rooster in Chicken Run.

All the same, it is a great pity to see many of our current British actors putting their names to statements supporting the cultural boycott and signing letters to the Guardian insisting that the previous Labour leader does not have an antisemitic bone in his body.

The greatest disappointment is when rabbis back the boycott of Israel as happens occasionally in the UK and the USA or when diaspora Jews hold a seder in which they declaim ‘Fuck Israel’ – presumably amending the Passover Haggadah’s references to Zion and Jerusalem to bring them in line with this sentiment.

I am sure these critics of Israel think they have nothing in common with Dostoyevsky or with Mel Gibson, although I recall one very distinguished British actor saying that Mel Gibson only expressed what everyone thinks. I would have understood better if he had said it about Dostoyevsky.

These are disappointing times indeed. It disappoints me that the right wing has long been the dominant force in Israeli politics, partly due to the alliances enforced by proportional representation and repeated electoral deadlock. However, I am not going to countenance making a pariah of Israel any more that I would make a pariah of the United Kingdom which also tends to return Conservative goverments.

There are two new definitions of antisemitism, purporting to improve or rectify alleged faults in the IHRA definition. The one which has gained approval from some anti-Zionist quarters is the JDA, the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism. I first read of this in an article by the sociologist Keith Kahn-Harris for the project JewThink..

 …the Jerusalem Declaration, which attempts to open up a much wider space between anti-Zionism and antisemitism, is likely to produce a dominant reading as indemnifying all kinds of anti-Zionism as not antisemitic. …from my knowledge of at least some of those involved in drafting the definition, this indemnification is not what was intended (and the FAQ on their website does offer some safeguards here). But really it hardly matters what was intended, given the motivated reasoning that will make certain readings prevail.

Defining antisemitism – again, and again… – JewThink

In this paragraph, Keith Kahn-Harris anticipates the possible misuse of JDA, especially by those hostile to the IHRA definition.

Just days later, this seems to be the situation and the JDA is embraced, as one expects, by groups whose raison d’être is to oppose Israel and Zionists.

I looked closely at the signatories to the JDA and here was a disappointment substantial enough to keep me awake last night and to trigger this short blog post. There are some admirable and erudite signatories and there are one or two whose names are a signpost to extreme anti-Zionist invective. If the JDA can work for them, how can it work at all?

At worst, experts and authors of good faith have got into bed with an international lawyer castigated by UN Watch for open antisemitism. The Open Anti-Semitism on Richard Falk’s Blog – UN Watch.

At best, I am disappointed.

But how could there ever be a consensus over the definition of antisemitism? We can extrapolate, based on past experience, but there is always some new variant, hitherto unidentified, as virulent as those which have gone before.

I have two inchoate strands of thought which I would like to disentangle.

One of them is about understanding what an adversary really thinks (as opposed to what they say).

The other is about antisemites‘ anti Zionists’ perception of British Jews’ relationship with Israel.

No one admits these days to being antisemitic – not even neonazis! I need another word; Judeosceptic comes to mind but anti Zionist is the word that anti Zionists are willing to own.

In olden times before social media, it seemed to me that I had no enemies and would halt over passages in the Psalms where David speaks of the foes who pursue him across Saul’s kingdom and into the land of the Philistines. Now that I read occasionally very disobliging comments about myself online, I can participate more fully in the sense of having enemies. This occurs in relation to my activity against antisemitism of the left, the right, and also the centre, when its walls get breached due to strong currents coming from right and left.

Apart from remarks about my ghostly appearance – always with an allusion to Lazarus of Bethany (John 11) – online antagonists attribute my stated opinions to a relationship with Israel which strikes me as so implausible that it is most likely not believed even by those who proclaim it.

A very common riposte to all who oppose antisemitism is ‘How much is Israel paying you?’ If asked that question this minute, I would answer, ‘How come you don’t know?’ We make jokes on the subject of our salaries from Israel, talk of cheques lost in the post, being paid in rugelach and so on. Essentially, the accusation that we are paid for activism is water of a duck’s (see below) back as it seems no one can take it seriously, not even the accuser. Even so, there is seldom a day, as I read the outpourings against Keir Starmer on Corbynist social media, when I do not see an allegation that he is paid by Israel and, as proof, a meme is presented showing Trevor Chinn’s £50,000 donation to Starmer’s leadership campaign. The fact that Sir Trevor Chinn is a British Jew and a philanthropist never arises. Synecdochally, he is Israel, as far as they are concerned. They do not draw the line at Sir Keir. David Lammy, Lisa Nandy, Jess Phillips and many more MPs are named as the improbable recipients of Israel’s largesse.

The comrades who make these allegations – do they believe them or do they believe something else, more nuanced which is harder for them to express?

Do they believe that we have an emotional bond with the State of Israel? That would be true of many of us, self included, but apparently not all. Jon Lansman, for example, the founder of Momentum and no Zionist, was accused of working in Israel’s interests when he complained of antisemitism in the Labour Party. David Baddiel, who famously disavowed enthusiasm for Israel, is targeted for his vocal opposition to antisemitism. He may not have a bond with Israel but he is connected to it, the connection being made almost invariably by his detractors.

I have written often on this blog about the use of articles and photos posted almost daily, sometimes more often than daily, on Corbynist forums, from various Palestinian presses or UK publications such as Electronic Intifada, Skwawkbox and The Canary. Typically, the photo will depict a child, crying or smiling. If the child is crying, the text explains that they are being terrorized by the IDF. If the child is smiling, the text reports that the child has been murdered by Israelis. The difficulty is that one cannot know the circumstances behind the photo.. Is the report truthful, the translation accurate? If, baruch Hashem, research shows that the child is alive , one can assume that reports of their murder are exaggerated. These pictures with their unreliable textual interpretations always trigger responses along the lines of ‘Murderers. Inhuman bastards. They learned everything they know from the nazis. Worse than nazis. If being against child murder makes me an antisemite, so be it. This is what Keith [sic.Their name for Keir Starmer] supports.’

Are the comments performative, to gain approval from the other comrades, or do they entirely believe what they are saying? Or do they just not think deeply about it? The remarks often strike me as unsophisticated, ill-informed and not entirely literate. The original posts and the articles tend to come from another demographic: politically active persons, dedicated to changing society which they perceive as being hamstrung by Zionist influence. Rarely would they speak of Jewish influence, preferring circumlocutions, including ‘Chosenites’ and ‘Paymasters’. Non-Zionist Jews are cited to show that the speaker is free from the taint of antisemitism: JVL, Jewdas, Neturei Karta, Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein and the late Gerald Kaufman. The comrades profess undying devotion to Miriam Margolyes. How could anyone so frank and uninhibited be suspected of self-promotion? The rest of us, including David Baddiel and John Lansman, are stigmatized as Zionists because we speak against left antisemitism – as well as the racism of the far right, which is acknowledged by all.

It seems that, whatever relationship we have with Israel, we cannot disconnect ourselves from it when we oppose Jew hate in the diaspora. Unfriendly first responders will say ‘What about Israel?’ A recent tweet of Tracy-Ann Oberman, referencing antisemitism she received after a television appearance, provoked references to Israel in nearly all of the hostile replies.

Professor David Miller of Bristol University has been in the news in recent weeks and has described the students in the University’s Jewish Society as ‘pawns of Israel’. I do not suppose he believes that they are getting coded Whats App messages from Mossad, at least, I hope not. I think he believes Bristol’s Jewish students are controlled by a complex, interconnected framework of influence, as shown in his map, featuring Jewish education, social care, media, business and prominent individuals – influencers. Behind it all: Israel. Neither do I think he believes we are all paid by Israel but that we have been worked on subliminally by Zionist powers. This is likely to cast someone like me as an influenced person as well as an aspiring influencer. The network of propaganda catches me in its web and I do its bidding.

There is always a question about the deterministic force of our background and situation in life but this is not something which applies only to Jews or only to Zionists.

Miller has gained support as his notoriety grows from the the very people who were the most vocal supporters of Jeremy Corbyn. Jewdas, to be fair, have stepped back from supporting him but Na’amod appear at this point to be largely in the Miller camp. I have not been able to find any statement about David Miller from Jon Lansman. Zog gornisht is probably the way forward there.

Do Professor Miller’s supporters believe in a sinister, orchestrated network of Jewish organizations in the UK? I think they do. It is more subtle than the pay packet theory and probably harder to disprove.

What do the adversaries really believe? What did people really believe in medieval Lincoln and York, or in the service of Chmelnycki in the Ukraine or on Kristallnacht in Germany? Pass.

It was a person of great wisdom who said ‘If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck.’

As if to illustrate my point that other people’s beliefs are not always comprehensible, even if one could know them, a very toxic troll commented on this blog post, as shown. I trashed the comment, but display it here, as an example of the unknowable Other.

This is going to be a very short post. I’m not going to express opinions, just to use it as storage for the most recent rampant Jew hate I have seen on Corbynist forums (Someone out there is muttering ‘fora’ every time I say ‘forums’).

As Israel’s vaccine roll out has been a bit of a success story, the Corbynist comrades are beside themselves. But when have they ever been anywhere but beside themselves? They are distressed since Keir Starmer recruited an Israeli expert on cyber warfare, in a social media role. Taking their lead from Skwawkbox, Novara Media, The Canary and a variety of Middle Eastern presses, they declare that Keir Starmer is employing an Israeli spy.

As Kenneth Jones expresses it, on Jeremy Corbyn’s Socialist Forum, ‘Well Starmer, explain why you need a Jewish intelligence officer?’ In months gone by, someone would have counselled Kenneth, ‘Change Jewish to Zionist or the Zionists will weaponize it.’ They no longer bother. They know what they mean. We know what they mean.

The Dreyfus Affair kicked off when the French army found there was a spy in their ranks and assumed it must be none other than the Jew, Dreyfus. When Keir Starmer employs an Israeli, the Corbynists conclude, in a curious reversal, that he must be a spy.

I intended to add screen shots from January 2021 and leave it at that, but I have added and added until the present day and the post has become a dossier. Obviously there is more to be seen if you go to the Facebook forums:

Recognising Jeremy Corbyn’s Dedication to a Just Society

The Left Fights the Media

Jeremy Corbyn Should Have Been Prime Minister

Jeremy Corbyn’s Socialist Forum

Jeremy Corbyn – True Socialsim

Jewish (not likely!) Voice for Labour (also not likely)

We Support Jeremy Corbyn.

Indeed, any forum which exists to magnify and sanctify the name of Jeremy Corbyn will include hardcore antisemitism. I could add to the list Truthers Against Zionist Lobbies, but they seem to be in a depleted state, nearly all of their recent posts coming from group admins Rita Allison and Marino Robles.

Jew hate isn’t new; it isn’t even new in Labour. It is a hardy perennial, just now proliferating on the far left and the far right and perhaps spilling over a little into the areas in between.

וְהִיא שֶׁעָמְדָה לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ וְלָנוּ. שֶׁלֹּא אֶחָד בִּלְבָד עָמַד עָלֵינוּ לְכַלּוֹתֵנוּ, אֶלָּא שֶׁבְּכָל דּוֹר וָדוֹר עוֹמְדִים עָלֵינוּ לְכַלוֹתֵנוּ, וְהַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא מַצִּילֵנוּ מִיָּדָם

…in every generation, they stand against us to destroy us

But here we are and there are many indomitable friends who stand with us. Be strong and of good courage.

On 23rd January, the Israeli spy is still of paramount interest on the forums.

And still, they continue in the same vein.

And on the evening of 24 January, one subject absorbs the comrades on ‘Jeremy Corbyn Should Have Been Prime Minister’.

I did a key word search on the forums – fora if you insist, to see how frequently Myanmar got mentioned and if there were any posts about the Uyghars in China. Results varied. In some cases, they hadn’t been mentioned for the best part of a year but in one case, someone had posted just the day before about demonstrations in Myanmar against the recent coup. There were no comments but you can’t expect people to have an opinion about everything. When I typed Israel into the search field, it was like turning on a tap, on all the forums. How the comments flowed!

Am I wearing rose-coloured glasses, I sometimes wonder, when I look back at my working life, employed by a variety of booksellers, retail giants and small independents? Students and school leavers love to get jobs in book shops and there are many candidates for every vacancy, but the pay for an adult with a family is quite silly, even at management level.

I don’t miss the heavy work, lugging skips of books from floor to floor, the endless shelving or the fractious or patronizing customers who make up about 5% of the clientèle. I miss the cultural diversity and co-operation; Muslim colleagues explaining to me about the Hadith and Sufism and checking the Arabic text on my Ramadan posters; getting Caribbean recipes off of colleagues; discussing bible translations with a bookseller who was also a church deacon and making him Hebrew flashcards because he wanted to learn the aleph bet. Gay colleagues advised on the LGBTQ displays and were photographed with them for the trade magazine, The Bookseller.

Just once, a colleague – a handsome, edgy, white Canadian whose name I forget – said ‘Gill, we need to talk about Israel’. We talked and I was surprised to learn that he, so well-educated, had never heard of Partition or the War of Independence.

I remember a haughty customer being dismissive to two BAME colleagues, young women, and turning to me, an old white woman, as if I were a reliable source of information. We talked about it afterwards and all interpreted the customer’s preference in the same way, but nobody asked me to check my white privilege.

I was responsible for books on religion: for keeping in stock the Adi Granth, the book of Mormon, the Pali canon, the Vedas, the Qu’ran in Arabic and English, Tanakh in Hebrew and English and the Stuttgartensia, Douay-Rheims bibles with the Deuterocanonical books and KJV without them; ESV, NIV, Tyndale and Coverdale, Good News and Greek interlinear. Ah. I miss being with so many bibles, I really do.

And I miss the colleagues. Friendships endured but then lapsed a bit, as the years passed. I retired about seven years ago.

Worst of all were the hand held computers we all used for stock-taking and other quantifying tasks. The batteries would run down very suddenly and then all the data would be wiped. We would hasten to the stock room taking the stairs two at a time, to reach the chargers which would preserve the battery life.

The powers at head office purged the lower management shortly before I left; knowledgeable, experienced booksellers replaced by yet less expensive retailers from other industries.

I don’t know how the business works now in the age of Covid. The managers must have adapted to the crisis by conducting sales predominantly online.

I wouldn’t wish to be back, dragging three skips piled up like a tiered wedding cake, towards the rickety lift but I have fond memories. It makes me think that, away from political arenas, people usually get on.

Over the years, I paid only moderate attention to the illustrious career of Margaret Hodge, but I watched a documentary about the BNP leader Nick Griffin standing for parliament in her constituency, Barking. It was May 2010. Ten years later, Dame Margaret wrote in Labour List:

Back then the threat was very real as the BNP poured all their resources into taking over the Town Hall and gaining their first parliamentary seat.

The battle for Barking – ten years on – LabourList

The BNP lost and it was the beginning of their decline. I had not realized that Margaret Hodge was Jewish until it was mentioned in the documentary.

Fast forward to the present day and everyone knows. Her confrontations with Jeremy Corbyn are one of the most popular topics for Corbynists on social media. Not for them the dullness of Brexit or the unproven efficacy of the latest measures against Covid. They know what they like: Corbyn and all those who sail in him. They know what they don’t like: the opponents of Corbyn. If these happen to be Jewish, and they often are, they take it as proof of what the more careful comrades call ‘foreign intervention’.

Even the careful comrades are often transparently antisemitic in their identification of British Jews as ‘a foreign power.’ Those who are not careful – well, in the screen shots below, you will get a glimpse of their vocabulary.

Last night, as the Prime Minister was in Brussels with a no deal Brexit hanging in the balance, I browsed one of the Corbynist forums on Facebook: ‘Recognising Jeremy Corbyn’s Dedication to a Just Society,’ moderated by Caroline Tipler. Originally the group was called ‘Jeremy Corbyn Leads Us to Victory’ but it has undergone more than one name change since the General election of 2019. One subject dominated the forum: Margaret Hodge. There was more than one post about Dame Margaret and one of them attracted well over a hundred comments as the comrades vied to see who could express the greatest hatred.

Not one of the contributors would admit to antisemitism. They justify their venom by accusing Margaret Hodge of a variety of sins, venial and mortal. When one of them pointed out that she belongs to ‘a group of people who love money’, my acquaintance Margot Koroviev asked them to be explicit. ‘Fascist Zionists’ was the answer, lest anyone might think they meant Jews. Margaret Hodge’s greatest sin, in their eyes, is alleging that antisemitism became a force to be reckoned with in the Labour Party under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. They will agree that it may have been present before Corbyn and possibly under Starmer but Jeremy, they insist, was the one person who defended the ungrateful Jews.

The epicentre of their antisemitism is their assertion that it doesn’t exist.

Below are some of their comments.

I would not want you to think that ‘Recognising’ differs from other Corbynist forums or that last nights contributors were exceptionally acrimonious. The vindictive malevolence exceeds in quantity anything I can display here, but here are some screen shots from other forums, on other days, all since the General Election of December 2019.

And here they reprise their thoughts about Margaret Hodge, in the bleak midwinter, from the heart of lockdown.

Afterword

When I enter the name of one of these forums in the Facebook search box, they often appear with a thumbnail picture of Margaret Hodge. I assume this is because any post about Margaret Hodge always produces the most abundant replies.

I have continued to add screen shots to this post since the day when the EHRC report was published. While the report was hot from the press, Mr Corbyn made his statement, was suspended and readmitted and then lost the Labour whip.

Members of the Corbynist forums react with fury (the same views are found on Twitter). I will not even attempt to describe their comments but invite you to read them. Targets today, 29 November, are Angela Rayner and the left wing Labour MP Nadia Whittome. Everyone who backs Keir Starmer or is supportive of Jews, is said to have accepted the Israeli shekel.

Many of the comments and assertions are naive or plain ignorant but that does not make them less dangerous. Antisemitism in and around the Corbyn movement has reached critical mass and does not depend on Mr Corbyn. If it is driven out of Labour, it will not disappear into a black hole.

Screen shots below are approximately in chronological order.


  • Gillian Gould Lazarus: Thank you Keith x
  • Gillian Gould Lazarus: Thank you Keith, glad you read and liked it. Proximally and for the most part, Twitter continues to be a hellhole.
  • Keith Marr: Proximally and for the most part your blog is thought-provoking and informative as always. Thank you for sharing. Knowing you is one of the few pos