Neviim Tovim, blogs by Gillian Gould Lazarus

‘It’s all about the Benjamins, baby,’ said Congresswoman Ilhad Omar, quoting a song by rapper Puff Daddy and referring to the US government’s support of Israel. Later she apologized, writing ‘Anti-Semitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes.’

Congresswoman Omar didn’t realize at first that it was antisemitism 101 to say that Jews are rich and use their money, deviously or openly, to exercise power, but she made an acceptable apology. It is said that those who rebuff a sincere apology three times, are themselves at fault for being unforgiving.

The trope about Jewish wealth goes back to medieval times at least and is one of the most recognizable – one might think. Here in the UK and now in 2020, not a day goes by on social media without someone claiming that a person the speaker dislikes or distrusts is in the pay of Israel. Left-wing social media (the far right wing obviously have their own specialités de la maison), are usually careful to say Zionsts rather than Jews. As I’ve documented many times, they offer tropes as follows:

Power: media influence, infiltration of political parties, domestic and abroad. Payrolling of Western institutions, political and cultural (overlaps with wealth trope).

Cruelty: Israeli-Palestinian conflict; blood libel, organ trafficking

Treachery: Acting against interests of domicile.

Mendacity: Telling lies about Jeremy Corbyn and anyone on the left accused of antisemitism. Subheadings, the Panorama documentary, Jewish journalists (overlaps with control of MSM), propaganda aka hasbara

Fake identity: Khazar theory, not Semites, colonialism, True Torah Jews are anti-Zionist.

Racism: Israel as Jewish nation, white supremacism, apartheid, treatment of people of colour who are Israeli citizens

Arrogance having the word ‘antisemitism’ as a sign of privilege over BAME people. The word ‘chosen’

Corruption Tax evasion, venial business practices, predatory behaviours, eg Epstein, Weinstein.

The particular aspect of antisemitism which has been on my mind for a few days falls under the heading of mendacity, not the lies told about us but the trope that we lie and the lies they say we tell.

On Corbynist forums on Facebook, the word antisemitism is usually found adjacent to the words ‘smear’, ‘lie’ or ‘false’.

What kind of people, the online Corbynists ask, are these ‘Zionists’ who lied about a saintly, even godlike man such as Corbyn?

Evil people, evidently: ‘We know they are liars, because they lied about antisemitism in the Labour Party. Nothing we say is antisemitic as it is actually about the Israel Lobby and it is antisemitic in itself to infer that it is about Jews.’

 I italicised those words because they appear so regularly, returning like a boomerang in reply to any challenge of the above mentioned tropes.

To those who were offended by the Mear One Mural, Corbyn’s defenders said, ‘Of course those old men with big noses don’t look Jewish. It is antisemitic in itself to make the connection.’

Following Keir Starmer’s sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey from the Shadow Cabinet, the view from the Corbynist side of the bridge is that Starmer is weak, giving in to the ‘Israel lobby’; that he is paid by Israel, a puppet of the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Labour Movement and the comrades sometimes remark that he has a Jewish wife, adding the exculpatory ‘Just saying’.

On 29 June, the editor of the online Corbynist paper Skwawkbox lodged a formal complaint of antisemitism against Keir Starmer, for conflating Jewish people with actions of the Israeli government in breach of the IHRA code. This reminded me that, after Labour accepted the full IHRA conditions, which Corbyn had initially resisted, left wing social media positively teemed with accusations against Margaret Hodge, Tom Watson (who was supportive in the fight against antisemitism) and Stephen Pollard (editor of the Jewish Chronicle) , saying that antisemitically they conflated Jews with Israel. The IHRA conditions had been accepted, but when one door closes, another opens: they could use it – they thought – to punish Jews and our allies.

The conversation can go like this.

A: Zionists run all the political parties in the UK.

B: That’s antisemitic.

A: No it isn’t. It’s criticism of Israel which you’re conflating with Jews, which is antisemitic in itself.

Someone who says that the Rothschilds lost Labour the election or that Israelis did 9/11 is likely to answer, if challenged,  that this is criticism of Israel, and if we can see anything wrong with it, we must be an ‘Israeli shill’. A notorious example of myopia was the case of Thomas Gardiner, Labour’s head of Complaints under Mr Corbyn, who looked at a cartoon of a monster, marked with a star of David, smothering the Statue of Liberty, and deemed it acceptable criticism of Israel.

Corbynists on social media imply over and over again that to recognize the tropes is antisemitic in itself. It must mean we, not they, associate Jews with money bags and big noses. They, who post this sort of Stürmerei, are innocent of antisemitism they say, because it didn’t occur to them that the caricatures have anything to do with Jews and there must be something wrong with us, if we make the connection. They may admit that the image caricatured Zionists but, they say, many Zionists are not Jewish and many Jews are not Zionist. So honi soit qui mal y pense, yah boo, sucks.

Today a gentleman on Twitter called me a Zionist pig, among other things. If you oppose antisemitism on social media, you will be sent images of Netanyahu as, for example, a blood soaked puppeteer. Why do they assume we have a favourable view of Mr Netanyahu? The answer is easy. In their opinion, we would not be opposing antisemitism if it wasn’t for our love of Bibi – or the remuneration which allegedly he makes available to all of us. Wouldn’t we oppose it because it’s racism? No, we lie about it, because it isn’t racism and it doesn’t exist.

Thus, by complaining about the use of a Latuff cartoon, one might qualify to be sued by The Skwawkbox or the Canary for objecting to it and thereby conflating Jews with Israel.

I have been called a racist for making unfair generalizations about Corbynists, specifically, logging and displaying antisemitic comments from Corbynist groups on Facebook. I was generalizing and implying that all Corbynists hold such views, said Mr L, who, by chance, held precisely such views.

I sometimes think there are people who post about Israel all day long in ever more extreme and irrational terms (calling Israelis subhuman for example), in the hope that someone will call them an antisemite and then they can reply ‘Zionist fanatic’. Their crazed posts concerning the Labour MP for Barking are, they insist, about Israeli interference in UK politics. But Margaret Hodge isn’t Israeli. I don’t know whether she’s much of a Zionst. Her maiden name, they point out, was Oppenheimer and that’s a paid Israeli shill sort of name, if ever there was one.

What David Hirsh called the Livingstone Formulation is now an axiom among the Corbynist rump: if you complain about antisemitism, you must be lying and up to no good.

Since Black Lives Matter has been at the forefront of global consciousness, we are more frequently called white supremacists.  Some of us display BLM hashtags in our bios, but nevertheless we are said to be white supremacists because we are apologists for what they call apartheid Israel.  If it we object to a cartoon of a hand, a star of David on the cuff, dropping coins into a money box labelled Westminster, we are apartheid apologists.

Thus there is nothing opponents of antisemitism can say which isn’t turned around and mirrored by those who deny such a thing exists among the disappointed but not yet despairing Corbynistas.

They profess standard values.

They are against cults, specifically, the cult of Keir Starmer. What made them even dream this up, if not that they heard the expression ‘Corbyn cult’ many, many times, absorbed it and produce it now as a projectile attack on those intending to vote Labour (which, since Sir Keir became leader, is inexcusable in the eyes of many Corbynists)?

They are loyal to the leadership but only if it’s Corbyn. Starmer was disloyal to Corbyn, worse, is said to be a Zionist, so is not worthy of loyalty and should be punished for treachery.

They are for free speech and abhor the witchhunt perpetrated against the left by Zionists, Blairites and Tories who accuse them falsely.

Witch hunters are those who call anti-Zionists ‘antisemites’ and are the particular enemies of those expelled or suspended from Labour, who see themselves as victims. If you argue against the prevailing Corbynist geist on social media, you are a witch hunter. Witch hunters should be neither seen nor heard. As they see it, we are always the hunters and they are always the hunted.

I am conscious that the term ‘Corbynist’ is no longer quite right. Mr Corbyn has returned to the back benches and has little relevance, but his soul goes marching on. The movement which flourished under his aegis is still vigorous and they have added to their list of enemies – the Zionists, Blairites, Tories and neoliberals, LibDems and Centrists – they have added the name of Keir Starmer who seems set to rival Blair as their most hated Labour leader.

It would be easier for us opponents of antisemitism here in the UK if we weren’t always being challenged about Israel. The planned annexation of a part of the West Bank is going to hit us in the diaspora, as they charge us British Jews with land theft and, as always, murder. But of course, their purpose isn’t to make it easy for us. Making it hard for us has been finessed by that part of the Labour left which is now politically homeless, just as we centrists were homeless when Corbyn was the leader. One can understand their point of view: if they don’t make it about Israel, how are they going to brush us off as hasbara, remunerated out of an infinite supply of shekels in the Bank Leumi?

The screen shots below are all from the last two or three days on Facebook.

For anyone accused of antisemitism, the standard reply is, ‘I will not cease to stand up for the oppressed Palestinian people, even if I am persecuted for it by Zionists making false accusations.’

This fits almost any charge of antisemitism and permits any trope, well-worn or contemporary. I just happen to have seen this, which I consider projection in action.

The charge from the Corbynist left against Keir Starmer, Margaret Hodge, Wes Streeting, Ed Miliband, Stella Creasy and Nia Griffiths is that, by opposing Labour antisemitism, they conflate Israel with the Jewish people. Reason sleeps.

The Equality and Human Right’s Commission’s investigation into institutional antisemitism in the UK Labour Party has not yet been published at the time of writing, 14 June 2020, and is not likely to be in the public arena for at least six weeks, possibly longer as evidence continues to be reported to EHRC.

In the meantime, there is the leaked report which seems to have been produced by the team of the former Labour General Secretary, Jennie Formby. This appeared during the last days of Mr Corbyn’s leadership and is thought to have been intended as a representation to the EHRC, to vindicate Mr Corbyn and Ms Formby in their efforts to contain antisemitism in the Labour Party. The leaked report included numerous private emails which passed between Labour staffers working for Iain McNicol, Labour General Secretary from 2011 until February 2018. The leaked emails showed that staff exchanged conspicuously unkind remarks about the party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, the executive director of his office Karie Murphy and others close to Mr Corbyn. Also targeted in the private emails was the Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott.

Participants on Corbyn-supporting sites on Facebook have interpreted this aspect of the leaked dossier widely as follows:

They believe that Zionists and Blairites employed by the Labour Party were hostile to the Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn and his team; that they opposed them in ways detrimental to the election campaigns of 2017 and 2019 and that Zionists and Blairites stopped Labour winning the two General Elections during Mr Corbyn’s incumbency.

As there is no place for subtlety in the blogosphere, I will state that I believe the Corbynist fixation on Jewish power is a manifestation of antisemitism, reassembled by the left out of the ashes of far right twentieth century Judenhass, into the populist form of Israel-critical Jew hate which comes at us from right, left and, it must be said, with great sadness, often from the centre.

Author[s] of the leaked document maintain that staff hostile to Mr Corbyn hid the realities of Labour antisemitism from him, to entrap him into inaction over the problem, until Jennie Formby became General Secretary in February 2018. Thus a plethora of news items, newspaper headlines, editorials, letters to the press and television news coverage in the UK and abroad were concealed from Corbyn by Lord McNicol’s staff, before Jennie Formby succeeded him as General Secretary. It is possible to fault this reading of events.

The leaked report goes on to itemise Jennie Formby’s actions when grappling with the problem of antisemitism among the membership. This included expediting the expulsion of controversial figures such as the then MP for Derby North, Chris Williamson and Jackie Walker who had been a member of the Momentum Steering Committee.

Far from resenting Ms Formby’s role in their expulsion, Mr Williamson and Ms Walker consider that it is due to Zionist forces assuming control of Labour Party processes.

When, two months ago, I read through the voluminous pages of the leaked report, I saw mention of a topic close to my own heart. Ms Formby had appealed to Facebook to take down some of the grossly antisemitic groups which used Jeremy Corbyn’s name and picture as a selling point, to attract members. One of the most extreme groups, Truthers Against Zionists [sic] Lobbies was closed down in December 2019 and its administrator, Rita Allison, was suspended or expelled from the Labour Party. According to her recent tweets, Ms Allison considers that Zionists caused the closure of hard line Corbynist groups on Facebook. Rachel Riley is mentioned by Jennie Formby as having reported the Truthers group to Facebook. I had done so myself, many times. Numerous people reported Truthers Against Zionists Lobbies to Facebook for its frequent holocaust denial, antisemitic cartoons and Hitler apologetics. Nevertheless, it seems that Ms Formby struck the coup de grace and that is to her credit.

Still, the remaining Corbynist forums insist that the leaked report proves that there was never any antisemitism in Corbyn’s Labour Party. They say that Keir Starmer has suppressed the report because it exonerates the previous leader and his office. Referring to the unkind references to Diane Abbott in emails between staffers, they want Labour investigated for institutional racism against everyone except Jews.

There is one aspect of this which disturbs me most. It seems that Joe Public does not know the difference between the forthcoming EHRC report and Jennie Formby’s leaked dossier. I do not suppose that the person on the Clapham omnibus thinks about it at all, but those who support Corbyn and reject Keir Starmer seem to think the EHRC report has been and gone, that it exonerates Corbyn and shows that there was never any antisemitism in Labour but that this was a lie put about by renegade Jews, Blairites, Zionists, UK Jewish communal organizations, the Israeli Embassy, Mr Netanyahu on his day off, Gnasher Jew, Mr Collier and Labour Against Antisemitism, in order to prevent a Labour government which would make the Palestinian cause its priority. The person they put most definitely in the frame for the Conservative electoral victory in December 2019 is Sir Keir Starmer himself. After all he has admitted to participating in a Friday night Kiddush. What more need be said?

Surprisingly – or not – Jennie Formby tweeted a link to Jeremy Corbyn’s recent interview with Middle East Eye, in which he claims to have been sabotaged by people pretending that antisemitism was a problem during his leadership of the Labour Party. If this is what Jennie Formby believes, how does she feel about her 860 pages, ending with the exhortation ‘Never again!’ Surely she cannot have forgotten so much so soon.

Below are some of the pages from the leaked dossier, some recent pages from Corbynist forums on Facebook and a short extract from Mr Corbyn’s interview with Peter Oborne and David Hearst for Middle East Monitor.

It has been claimed that during his spell as a sub-editor on The Times, Claud Cockburn and colleagues competed (with a small prize for the winner) to write the dullest printed headline. Cockburn only once claimed the honours, with “Small Earthquake in Chile, Not many dead”.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claud_Cockburn

Locked down I may be, but I’ve had an eventful week on social media.

An energetic tweeter and blogger widely perceived as antisemitic entered into a conversation with me, explaining that he felt as insulted by the epithet antisemite as I do by antisemitism. When somebody describes their feelings, they are generally being more honest than when they tweet sarcastic gibes or laughing-crying emojis and I was mollified, even after one of his recent controversial tweets about the Chief Rabbi.

If there’s one thing I have in common with Jeremy Corbyn, it’s my belief that talking to the enemy could be the shortest path to peace. Bearing in mind that Mr Corbyn refused to enter a room when Chuka Umunna was sitting in it, I realize he has his limits and I do too. I tested my own limits by replying politely to an email I received a few years ago from Alison Chabloz, although I turned down her sarcastic invitation to meet for a chat and a coffee.

The day after my civil Twitter exchange with the provocative but emotionally intelligent tweeter/blogger, I found some offensive tweets in my notifications, from his followers or associates. Deploying the “talk to anyone” principle, I engaged with one of them, who seemed to have a nice side to his personality but the hour grew late, we were not reaching an understanding and I blocked. This angered him and he continued, blockside, to tell his friends that he felt dirty having engaged with the scum of the earth and with ultra right-wing ‘innocent killing, Jesus murdering filth’.

You win some, you lose some.

The next day, I saw the administrator of a relatively moderate Corbynist group on Facebook calling out fake news and doing it very well. I have said before that an honest, well-meaning administrator can make an enormous difference to the ethos of a Facebook group. While most of the posts on his forum concerned the tragic killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, one post showed a soldier or policeman kneeling on an injured child and the text below the photo stated that the officer was an Israeli killing a Palestinian. The Spanish words on the officer’s uniform did make me wonder about the location of the event but Michael the administrator went further and identified the uniform as Chilean. Someone else researched the picture and found that the child, thankfully, survived. Members of the group were not one whit interested in the photo being from Chile. On the contrary, they continued to talk of the Israeli’s brutality and the murder of the child. To his credit, Michael and others as shown, explained over and over that the photo was not from Israel. My screen shots below show the trajectory of the ensuing conversation.

Regarding the gentleman who called me a Christ-killer, I have a screen shot for that too. Pilate may not have been a Chilean but I assure you, I never even met the man.

Some weeks later, on 7 July, the same photo appeared on another forum, ‘Jeremy Corbyn Should Have Been Prime Minister.’ This time, nobody saw the Spanish writing on the wall and the comrades got stuck it against Israel, at will.

Update: at last, news reaches Recognising Jeremy Corbyn’s Dedication to a Just Society that they’ve got a Chilean police officer in the photo. But as Jenny is quick to asset, ‘Israeli soldiers do use this horrendous method of restraint.’ How does she know? If the comrades don’t know that Spanish isn’t Israel’s first language, I’m not sure how much they do know.

News breaks first on social media and I heard of the murder of George Floyd on one of the Corbynist forums. There was a picture: a diptych showing two scenes of men constrained by a uniformed figure. One of them was George Floyd in Minneapolis and the other was a Palestinian, unnamed, being held down by an Israeli soldier, also unnamed.

Soon after, I learned that George Floyd was unarmed and that he pleaded with the aggressor for his life as his breathing was disrupted and stopped.

As we know, protests ensued in the United States and here too in the UK. President Trump has gone on the offensive and is threatening to call on the army. The police officer has been charged with homicide and there may be charges against three other officers present at George Floyd’s death.

I felt inclined to post a message of solidarity on social media, but held back. I was troubled to find that the picture of an Israeli soldier holding down a Palestinian was being posted on Twitter and Facebook as an accompaniment to the photo from Minneapolis. Whether the Palestinian man was armed, whether he suffered any injury during the arrest, is not known. To juxtapose the picture with that of George Floyd is to suggest that the Palestinian was unarmed, wrongfully arrested and possibly killed. It will be assumed that this is the case. I then imagined some of the responses which might come my way if I tweeted about George Floyd: ‘What would you say if it was Israel?’ I wondered if this would be a reasonable question or not.

And what would I say? In the case of Gaza’s ‘March of Return,’ it was asserted in some of the press and some social media that Israel fired on unarmed demonstrators. I didn’t altogether trust the reportage. Afterwards, Hamas claimed the victims as their own activists. It was evident from all the news footage that some of the demonstrators were using burning tires, incendiary kites and Molotov cocktails and that some of them aimed to storm across Israel’s border. A Palestinian activist was filmed saying that he looked forward to murdering Israelis once he had broken through.

Regarding what I would say about a hypothetical homicide perpetrated by an Israeli officer on a Palestinian: the answer is that I would say nothing if I read it in Middle East Monitor, MintPress, Skwawkbox, The Canary or Electronic intifada. Such stories appear daily in the Corbynist groups I follow on Facebook and the source is usually one of the above. Sometimes it is Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper which is increasingly referenced on anti-Israel sites, due to its opposition to the settlements and to Mr Netanyahu’s government. Perceived affinities between these bêtes noires can cause an overlap in subject matter. Thus, expressions of solidarity with black Americans may segue into threads about Trump’s alliance with Netanyahu or his regard for Boris Johnson.

Like many of my friends active against antisemitism, I have become accustomed to being called an apologist for apartheid, complicit in murder and other terms of abuse which mercifully I can’t recall. Now that I want to voice a protest about the death of George Floyd, I am put off somewhat by the prospect of myself being accused; that my solidarity would be rejected by spokespeople of the left, who participate in the fight against most racisms but not necessarily racism towards Jews or, for that matter, Hindus. But that is not really a good reason for saying nothing (Three hours later, I did post a tweet in solidarity and, so far, nobody has objected).

All these months, while coronavirus has raged, health services across the world have provided assisted breathing for patients in intensive care. Then we hear that a police officer causes the death of a man who has time to plead ‘I can’t breathe’ while the policeman fails to relent or relinquish his hold. And this kind of event is doubtless a menace familiar to black people, especially men, all over the USA and very likely to some extent in the UK.

The words ‘I can’t breathe’ now reverberate around the world with a resonance beyond any statistic because the one thing we all have a right to, it seems, is breath.

Words for soul in Hebrew, Latin and Greek (nefesh/neshama, spiritus/animus and pneuma/psyche) all have to do with breathing. In the book of Genesis, in the second account of the creation, this is how God makes the human being, Adam.

Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

In the valley of bones, God tells Ezekiel:

Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.  Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.

We feel the tragedy, the rage and the fear gripping America and know that African Americans are more endangered, more enraged and perhaps mourning more deeply than anyone else. It touches us here in the UK. The more removed you are from a situation, the less you can do, but you can always mourn, whoever and wherever you are and, as the Archbishop of York John Sentamu suggested in his Thought for the Day broadcast this morning, I placed a candle in the window.

It’s a long title but I like polysyllables. I sneer inwardly and sometimes outwardly at people who spell Israel and Keir ‘Isreal’ and ‘Kier’ although I’ve known many brilliant dyslexics. And, in my favour, I know a gibbous moon when I see one.

Enough of the autobiographical musings.

People who criticize my obsessive chronicling of Corbynist groups on Facebook sometimes accuse me of selecting comments out of context to show the whole group in a bad light. They say, rightly, that ill-judged posts can be found on any political forum and that moderators cannot control every comment on the site.

My response is this: if posts hostile to Israel, Zionists and Jewish communal organizations are found every day on all Corbynist sites open to public scrutiny, they are not random and my screen shots are not anecdote as opposed to evidence.

They retort, ‘Opposition to Israel isn’t antisemitic.’

You can make a case for this distinction. I think it’s problematic in practice but anti-Zionism is a broad church, from those who want Israel exterminated to those who are merely ‘Meh about Israel’.

Much depends on the form of opposition to Israel. It’s a commonplace on the far left (and possibly also the far right) to call Israel a racist endeavour, as a middle finger to the specifics of the IHRA definition. The ghettos and pogroms over the centuries and then the Holocaust are not factored into this perception. When Israel is called a Khazarian colonial enterprise by both left and right, the expulsion of Jews from Arab lands is likewise ignored.

The moderators of the group make a difference. Some of them are alert to Holocaust revisionism, Rothschild tropes and breaches of the IHRA definition and intervene to challenge them. This effectively contains the antisemitic ambience in the group. I have seen this kind of intervention by individual administrators in mainstream Labour forums and in one of the Corbynist groups. Even irregular interventions can help. On one forum, intemperate articles about Israel, sourced from Middle East Monitor, Mint Press and Electronic Intifada appeared hourly, posted by one member of the group. When he left or was possibly ejected, the antisemitism decreased. The fact is that posts such as his prompted a great many comments, demonizing Israel, Israelis, Zionists and, more recently the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Labour Movement.

Where there is no moderating activity, except against suspected Zionists and Tories, the antisemitism tends to run wild. Sometimes, contributors will refer to Jews, rather than Zionists. I have seen a thread where a lady is advised, ‘Don’t say Jews. They’ll use it against us. Always say Zionists.’ Kathleen thanked them for the guidance and thereafter spoke of the malign global reach of ‘Zionists’, which was considered acceptable in a Labour, Corbynist milieu.

As I have often mentioned, photos are posted showing Israeli soldiers adjacent to distressed children or elderly men in keffiyehs. The text explains that the child is being kidnapped or terrorized, the old gentleman manhandled or worse, which interprets the image according to the bias of the person who uses it.

‘Monsters!’ ‘Inhuman!’ come the replies and, very often, someone will make a comparison with the Third Reich, from which, they fear, we failed to learn our lesson.

I have observed time and time again – and I concede that this is anecdotal rather than evidential – that participants in these discussions are very often elderly, even older than myself, which is not a huge online demographic. Their photos and their long memories are indicators of age and the overwhelming majority are white.

Feeling obliged to back up what I say, I post on Twitter an unconscionable quantity of screen shots showing daily antisemitism. These fail to impress Corbynists, now a vociferous remnant in Labour under Keir Starmer’s leadership. Corbynism is not the same as Corbyn, the tabula very nearly rasa on to whom the hard left and lapsed Christians project their ideals, but he encourages their projects. As I saw from the group moderators, a little intervention goes a long way but Corbyn does not intervene to help out us ‘Zionists’.

With a slight shock, I sometimes see my own name or photo on the forums, in posts warning of my activities. I am often referred to as a ‘frothing Zionist’. After due consideration, I don’t think ‘frothing’ can be right in this case as I am well to the left of the Likud Party. ‘Frothing Jew’ would probably be more accurate.

The consensus among diehard Corbynists seems to be that the new Leader of the Opposition, Keir Starmer, is a Blairite and a Zionist, not to be trusted and not to be supported. His instant outreach towards Jewish organizations placed him firmly in the enemy camp, in their eyes. Many claim that they are leaving the Labour Party and some say that they can no longer even vote Labour.

‘But the Tories are worse,’ comes the reply and the more moderate Corbynists advise ‘Give Starmer a chance.’

‘He is no different from the Tories,’ reply some.

‘He stabbed Jeremy in the back,’ says another. They cite Owen Smith’s bid for leadership in 2016, supported by Keir Starmer, or Starmer putting pressure on Corbyn to take up a Brexit position or, most damning of all, the Jewish family connections, which make them think he must be Mossad’s man in Victoria Street. Others advocate remaining in the Party and making life as hard for Starmer as they believe it was for Corbyn, being opposed by the PLP at every turn.

The counter-intuitively named Jewish Voice for Labour group (at this point in time, not discernibly Labour nor, for the most part, Jewish) display a recurring message, ’Don’t leave, organize,’ adapting the words of American Labour activist Joe Hill: ‘Don’t mourn, organize.’ They have attracted to themselves many of those who were expelled from Labour for antisemitism and who are thus not precisely able to leave but it is the thought that counts.

At his first PMQs, which of course occurred in the age of lockdown, Keir Starmer was civil and well-prepared, more than equal to Dominic Raab who was at the opposite dispatch box due to the Prime Minister’s continuing convalescence. The word forensic is used frequently to describe Keir Starmer’s approach, perhaps because of his eminent career as a barrister, Head of the Crown Prosecution Service and Director of Public Prosecutions.

 It is certainly different from Jeremy Corbyn’s style, honed on rallies and picket lines. There is some reason to think that the adoration of Corbyn, so emphatic in the online groups set up to support him, owes something to his intellectual mediocrity which throws into relief his supposed probity and benevolence.

Now the Corbynists are on the margins of Labour rather than the epicentre and describing themselves – as I and like-minded people did over the last five years – as ‘politically homeless’.

Perhaps we are all politically homeless in 2020, or ought to be.

On the election of Keir Starmer to the leadership, several people whose views are similar to mine said that they would return to Labour, if not as members, at the ballot box at least. Some had remained members or otherwise affiliated to Labour throughout Corbyn’s time as leader, believing that it would take only time and a change of leadership for the antisemitism problem to wither away.

They have the change of leader and ambience, but will the problem wither away?

The unpredictable rise of Jeremy Corbyn, his storming of Glastonbury and, as antisemitism under his watch hit headline after headline, his apotheosis in the eyes of his supporters into martyr and idol, inhibit the practice of prediction and prophecy. Who would dare to say what happens next? Who saw Covid-19 coming, six months ago?

There have been ten Labour leaders in my living memory, not counting those like George Brown and Harriet Harman who served as acting leader during the hiatus of a leadership election. The first time I was entitled to vote in a General Election, my Labour vote did not prevent Wilson losing to Edward Heath. Among Labour leaders, only Tony Blair never lost an election.

Shall I vote for Starmer’s Labour when the opportunity arises?

Probably not. If the Holocaust deniers, conspiracy theorists, Israel haters and bog standard ‘Jews are behind it’ antisemites fly their nest in the Labour Party and make their home with the Tories or the LibDems, I might then vote Labour, if we still have a vote. If they return to the margins of politics, far from the possibility of government and if the mainstream parties manage to keep racism at bay among their membership, it will be more of a level playing field, but then Labour will still come carrying the handicap of their Corbyn years.

Shabbat Zachor

The shabbat before Purim is called Shabbat Zachor, which means ‘Remember’. We read a short extract from Deuteronomy 25:17- 19:

Remember what Amalek did unto thee by the way, when ye were come forth out of Egypt; how he met thee by the way, and smote the hindmost of thee, even all that were feeble behind thee, when thou wast faint and weary; and he feared not God.Therefore it shall be, when the Lord thy God hath given thee rest from all thine enemies round about, in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance to possess it, that thou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; thou shalt not forget it.

The traditional Haftarah for Shabbat Zachor is 1 Samuel 15, which tells a tragic story of Saul losing God’s favour. It is part of a bridge extending from the Amalek references in Exodus and Deuteronomy to Megillat Esther, which also concerns the ongoing battle with Amalek.

A close reading of the book of Esther shows that there are several allusions to the episode during Saul’s kingship as described in 1 Samuel.

When Mordechai is introduced to the reader in Esther 2:5, we are told the following:

Now in Shushan the palace there was a certain Jew, whose name was Mordecai, the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjamite;

 Who had been carried away from Jerusalem with the captivity which had been carried away with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away.

And he brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle’s daughter: for she had neither father nor mother.

Mordechai is of the tribe of Benjamin, like Saul, and the names of his grandfather and great-grandfather are familiar because they occur in Saul’s family too.

When Haman first appears in chapter 3 of Esther, we are told that he is an Agagite, thus a descendant of King Agag of the Amalekites.

Aramaic translations called targums to the book of Esther state explicitly that Mordechai is descended from Saul, Benjamin and Jacob while Haman is the descendant of Agag and Amalek, a grandson of Esau. The precise dates of the two targumim to Esther are disputed, possibly from the Talmudic period and some say later, early middle ages. The genealogies provided in the targumim are consistent with midrashim on Esther, some of which occur in the Babylonian Talmud, not later than 600 CE.

The story in the book of Samuel is as follows.

 Samuel the prophet tells King Saul to go into battle with the Amalekites and to kill them all along with their livestock. The Hebrew word for that kind of war is a herem . You might know another usage of the word when someone is excluded – excommunicated some would say – from the Jewish community.

Saul doesn’t obey instructions but keeps the Amakekite king, Agag, alive and saves the best of the flocks of sheep as booty. Compare this verse from Esther, where they abstain from taking spoil:

The remainder of the Jews in the king’s provinces gathered together and protected their lives, had rest from their enemies, and killed seventy-five thousand of their enemies; but they did not lay a hand on the plunder. (Esther 9:16)

Samuel appears and is incandescent about Saul’s disobedience. He despatches Agag himself, by the sword, but midrash tells us that Agag’s wife conceived a child by Agag the night before, hence the continuing line culminating in Haman the Agagite. Samuel, who has already anointed David on the quiet, but is not the most discreet of the prophets, tells Saul:

The Lord hath rent the kingdom of Israel from thee this day, and hath given it to a neighbour of thine, that is better than thou. (1 Samuel 15:28)

There is an echo of this language in Esther, when Memucan says fatefully to King Ahasuerus:

 That Vashti come no more before king Ahasuerus; and let the king give her royal estate unto another that is better than she. (Esther 1:19)

Whereas David was more deserving of kingship than Saul according to 1 Samuel, Esther is more deserving of the queen’s crown than Vashti, her predecessor.

Coincidence? Not where the authors of midrash were concerned. They were alert to all kinds of allusion, echo and intertextual reference. The emphasis on Mordechai and Esther being descendants of Saul as well as Haman being a descendant of Agag shows that they had 1 Samuel 15 firmly in mind.

Who was this powerful character Memucan? In one midrash, he is identified with Daniel, who was carried away to Babylon and ended up in the Persian court in the time of the Achaemenid Empire and the dynasty of more than one king called Xerxes. In this interpretation, Memucan is seen as a benign figure who clears the way for Esther. There is also a midrash which tells that Memucan was Haman, wanting Vashti out of the way so that he could see his own daughter married to Ahasuerus, AKA Xerxes.

Other versions of Esther

 Among all the scrolls discovered in the caves of Qumran in 1947, leading to decades of study of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the book of Esther has not surfaced, in any clearly identifiable form. There is a view that the book of Esther was rejected by the pious Essenes of the Dead Sea community.  It does not mention God, the Temple or Jerusalem, is raunchy in places and it holds out the possibility of material advancement in the galut, the diaspora.

However, Esther is found in a collection of books called the Apocrypha, which includes books which didn’t make it into the canon of the bible, among them Judith, Tobit, Ecclesiasticus and Maccabees. For Catholics, the Apocryphal books are included in biblical scripture and sometimes called the deuterocanonical books. Esther in the Apocrypha is not the book of Esther as we know it. It begins with a dream of Mordechai, in which he and Haman are dragons fighting each other. Israel, a word absent from our Megillat Esther, is mentioned in the dream. There is a much more detailed account of Esther approaching the King to avert Haman’s plans. Vashti is not mentioned; neither are the various banquets we read of in Esther.

Where does this apocryphal account come from and what language was it written in?

Like the rest of the Apocrypha, it was Greek.

In the third to second century BCE, when there was a powerful Greek presence in the Middle East in the wake of Alexander the Great, the Greek king of Egypt, Ptolemy II, commissioned a translation of the Hebrew bible into Greek. In this version of Esther, we find the story known to us from the bible combined with the less familiar additions also seen the Apocrypha. It appears to be the source for Esther in the Apocrypha. As for the Hebrew text which was used for the Greek translation, it is no longer extant.

When the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the mid twentieth century, many of the texts were found to match the Septuagint, where this differed from the post-Talmudic Masoretic text (the Hebrew version of Tanakh with vowels and cantillation marks). As we have seen, Esther was not found among the Dead Sea Scrolls so its original provenance is not known.

Another source on Esther is midrash, which extends the narrative and makes connections between Megillat Esther and verses from elsewhere in the bible. It is believed (Strack and Stemberger) to date from no earlier than about 500 CE. There is also later material from the twelfth or thirteenth century. Some midrashim are surprisingly late.

The Septuagint version is known to some of the midrashic authors.

The Mishnah, completed in written form around 200 CE,  has a tractate Megillah, looking at halachah related to Purim. The commentary in the Gemara also includes some midrashic narratives about the principal characters of Megillat Esther, not found in the bible itself, so all this extra material on Esther appears over a period of a thousand years, from various sources. Perhaps the strangest addition to the story is that Haman was a barber before rising to a position of power at the court of King Ahasuerus.

When Mordechai was about to be honoured by the king, Haman was obliged to give him a haircut.

Haman said to him: The man whom the king had once regarded above all his other ministers is now made a bathhouse attendant [balanei] and a barber. Mordecai said to him: Wicked man, were you not once the barber of the village of Kartzum? If so, why do you sigh? You have merely returned to the occupation of your youth. It was taught in a baraita: Haman was the barber of the village of Kartzum for twenty-two years. Talmud Bavli, Megillah 16a

One of the early rewritings of Esther comes from Josephus, a Jewish author writing in the Greek language in the city of Rome, after the destruction of the second Temple in 70 CE. Josephus’s version includes some passages from the Septuagint and is otherwise a fairly faithful paraphrase of the book of Esther as we know it.

Mesopotamian influence

The book of Esther owes something to Mesopotamian myth, the names Esther and Mordechai seeming to be variants of Astarte and Marduk, gods of the Babylonians. In the Sumerian creation story, Enuma Elish,written in cuneiform,  Marduk slays the older generation of gods, just as Zeus in Greek mythology defeats his father Cronos, who had castrated his own father Ouranos. While Megillat Esther may have borrowed names, it steers clear of the Sumerian and Greek family dysfunction.

5 Marduk, you are the most honoured among the great gods,
6   Your destiny is unequalled, your command is like Anu’s.
7   Henceforth your order will not be annulled,
8   It is in your power to exalt and abase.
9   Your utterance is sure, your command cannot be rebelled against,
10   None of the gods will transgress the line you draw.

(Emuna Elish Tablet 4:5 – 10)

At the conclusion of the book of Esther, Mordechai too is exalted.

10 And the king Ahasuerus laid a tribute upon the land, and upon the isles of the sea.

And all the acts of his power and of his might, and the declaration of the greatness of Mordecai, whereunto the king advanced him, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Media and Persia?

For Mordecai the Jew was next unto king Ahasuerus, and great among the Jews, and accepted of the multitude of his brethren, seeking the wealth of his people, and speaking peace to all his seed.

The festival of Purim is explained in Chapter 9 of Megillat Esther as being instituted by Esther in celebration of the Jews’ delivery from Haman’s plot. Did Purim exist as a festival before Megillat Esther was written? There is an opinion that it was a Babylonian or Persian festival well known to the Jews of Persia and that the story of Esther enabled it to be adapted for Jewish observance.

Hadassah

One aspect of Esther which seems altogether Hebraic is Esther’s real name, Hadassah. Whereas the name Esther may be related to Ishtar and Astarte or derived from the Hebrew word for hiding (because she kept her Jewish identity hidden), Hadass is a Hebrew word meaning myrtle tree and it appears just a few times in the bible, in Isaiah, Zechariah and Nehemiah. It has a connection with another festival, Sukkot, as the myrtle branch is one of the species included in the lulav.

Isaiah said:

Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress tree, And instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree; And it shall be to the Lord for a name, For an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off. Isaiah 55: 13

This links us to another festival, Rosh Hashanah, as it is included in the segment of Isaiah 55 which is the haftarah for that day.

Esther is a diaspora queen at the court of a Persian emperor, in a story which may be derived from non-Hebrew sources but her real name reminds us that she is our diaspora queen.

When you spend/waste as much time as I do looking at Corbynist forums on Facebook, the experience is like following a soap opera of the written word. Spellings and grammatical solecisms, syntax and opinions can be identified with particular personalities, although these come and go over the months, while my stalker-like attention remains a constant.

As I have recorded, extreme hostility to ‘Zionism’ is de rigueur and many of the world’s ills get attributed to Israel. Since the General Election in December, there has been an upswing in  expressions of veneration for Mr Corbyn. Whereas he was previously regarded as a flawless person, he is now perceived as a flawless person undergoing profound suffering and victimization, in order to make the world better for us all.

As Theresa May said at the dispatch box, channeling Mrs Thatcher, ‘Remind you of anyone?’

The sanctification of Corbyn is one side of a coin and on the other side is the demonisation of Israel to which global power is attributed. This simplifies the narrative. Corbyn is designated the one politician who stands up to the Israel Lobby and the Israel Lobby includes all Corbynsceptics, Jewish or not, Labour or not, British or not.

One of my observations about the forums has been that contributors have often reached a mature age, describing themselves as past retirement and with long memories. Sometimes they write and spell like people who have not used writing as a preferred means of communication. The internet has enabled them to socialize from home and to express opinions which are weighed and valued. The reward is that ‘likes’ and words of encouragement pour in. The rules are simple, Corbyn good, Israel bad, and once you have mastered this axiom, you are set to go. The forum may be your new family.

Corbyn’s goodness and Israel’s badness are not seen as naturalistic qualities, as in a good politician or a bad government. They are preternatural attributes which no contingent circumstance can dent.

Some of the Labour forums have a key word search facility which I have used occasionally, entering a topic of interest or, out of curiosity, a word, such as vermin to quantify the usage (prolific). Aware that, since the General Election, the discourse about Corbyn is increasingly pious and worshipful, I inserted the word crucified which I noticed was coming up frequently, in respect to the outgoing Labour leader. I tried this on just one Corbynist forum and found that the occurrence of crucified was too extensive for me to log more than a sample.

I have a theory that many of these elderly Corbynistas were brought up in a Britain where Christianity was the prevailing religion but that, under the sceptical influence of the times, they have long since let go of faith in the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit would be right out of the picture.

It goes without saying that they retain a distinct memory of whom to blame for the crucifixion.

 Judaism has Isaiah’s Suffering Servant who is despised and rejected; Christianity builds on that concept in the crucifixion narrative.  The suffering of the righteous strikes a chord in every generation, however godless.

The Labour Party is in the middle of a leadership contest which seems, so far, to arouse less bitterness than Owen Smith’s challenge to Jeremy Corbyn in 2016. Furthermore, all the candidates have expressed a determination to rid Labour of antisemitism, a Herculean task if online Corbynism is anything to go by. On the Labour forums, opposition to the MP for Islington North is perceived as a crucifixion. He has become their god and they glorify him.

In the wilderness, when Moses was gone some time up on Mount Sinai, the mixed multitude he had led out of slavery in Egypt made themselves a golden calf and worshiped it. Within just a few weeks they had forgotten the circumstances of the exodus from Egypt, but they remembered how to worship. Perhaps this is innate knowledge which never leaves us.

Considering the fact that I set great store by politeness,  I was not a well-behaved schoolgirl, at least, not according to a powerful triumvirate of middle-aged, single and judgmental women: the headmistress, the gym teacher and the music teacher.

The headmistress was a missionary manquée, much influenced by the remarkable life of Gladys Aylward. Instead of venturing into Yangcheng to make Christian converts, she delivered religious assemblies each morning at a girls’ grammar school, east of Islington. Out of praiseworthy consideration for the large proportion of Jewish pupils, she refrained from any direct mention of Jesus in these assemblies, while availing herself of texts from Saint Paul and Saint Francis, as well as our own psalmist, King David.

On the occasions when I was sent to her for misdemeanors such as talking at the wrong time or drawing in the chemistry lesson, she suggested that I was not a good person.

‘What does your mother think of you?’ she asked, when I was about fourteen.

‘I don’t think she sees me as you do,’ I answered. This would have gone down, as do all smart-arse answers, like a lead balloon.

As for the gym teacher, I suppose she was harmless enough. She had an MBE for services to netball. When Friends Reunited became a thing, I took one look at the old girls’ page for my school and saw that several women expressed unhappy memories of her tutelage, if one can call it that.

The teacher who disliked me most was the music teacher, an effective personality, who produced an oratorio each year for school concerts. She was prone to telling anecdotes about her war years and her two siblings,  and expressing contempt for the contemporary pop scene. Why I was her bête noire, I was never sure. I liked classical music. I was a teacher’s daughter, a fact she alluded to as follows.

‘You’re one of the few second generation grammar school girls at this school so your delinquency is unexpected.’

In my own defence, I must tell you that I only ever smoked in the toilets once, in my whole school career. I was law abiding and did not swear in front of teachers. I suppose I was seen as quick to answer back. On one occasion, the music teacher called out from the piano ‘Three girls are talking and I notice you’re all Jewish.’

I believe I uttered the audible words ‘What did you say?’

‘I’m not prejudiced,’ she persisted, ‘but other people might be so you ought to be careful.’

In her favour, she encouraged the girls who had beautiful voices and there were many. Not me, sorry to say. Singing was no more one of my talents than gym and that is litotes.

Not all the teachers were hostile. English teachers were almost always friendly and, by the time I was seventeen and attending meetings of International Socialism, I was mixing in the same circles out of school as the three or four Trotskyists on the staff.  One of them said to me, about the music teacher, ‘She’d like to smash you against the wall.’ It was terribly vivid language. Maybe I would have preferred not to have known.

Now I come to the point of this blog post. A student teacher appeared in the music lessons,  a Miss Fry. She was a pale faced twenty-year-old without make up or concession to 1960s fashion and, for all I knew, without a voice, as she was mute while the music teacher held forth. Eventually she was left alone in charge of the class and sat down at the piano. Somewhere in the back row, a couple of girls kept up a buzz of chatter until Miss Fry, without looking up from her sheet music, rapped out the words, ‘Be quiet Gillian.’

There was an intake of breath from the whole class. It was too clear that poor Miss Fry had been warned, if there was any trouble, it would come from me. The music teacher, returning to relieve Miss Fry from her moment of authority, singled me out explicitly as a wrongdoer who led others astray. To this day, I’m not certain what caused her very pointed animosity to me, but here I am, age seventy, and in a sense answering back even now, although she has long since gone the way of all flesh.

Anyone who has been kind enough to read my previous blog posts might already know: I resent a phenomenon I see very regularly from the political extremes of left and right, namely, the attribution of all evils to ‘Zionism’. Whether it is 9/11, the war in Syria or terror on the streets of Europe, it is always there, a voice of the neo-nazi right or the more widely credited left saying ‘The hand of Israel. The Rothschilds. The New World Order. The Zionists are behind it.’

As with most of my co-religionists the world over, this makes me feel despairing, angry, contemptuous and afraid, above all because of the absence of reason and the quick draw, ill-informed inference which gets magnified, amplified and disseminated on thousands of online sites.

It occurs to me now that, like Michael Corleone, I’m ‘taking this very personal’ and maybe it’s because the kneejerk reaction ‘Israel did it’ echoes the ancient memory of Miss Fry, coached by the music teacher to respond to any disturbance with ‘Be quiet Gillian.’

Michael said ‘It’s not personal Sonny. It’s strictly business.’ But Sonny and Michael were both right. Some things are strictly business and also personal. Everything is personal.

More than once in my Twitter life, I’ve posted a link to ‘Tomorrow Belongs to Me,’ a scene from the 1972 film Cabaret directed by Bob Fosse. Back in 1972 when I saw Cabaret in the cinema, I thought the blond youth in a German outdoor café was rather drippy but now I’m at the age when no young person looks drippy and I see how the boy, aged perhaps seventeen, appears to be the epitome of Aryan beauty and innocence.

He stands up and sings solo while gradually others join in. I often find this an effective and moving device in films, from Non Nobis Domine in the Kenneth Branagh version of Henry V to Tomorrow in Annie and Santa Claus is Coming to Town in Elf.

While the boy sings Tomorrow Belongs to Me, the lens zooms back to reveal his Hitler Youth uniform and swastika armband; then the camera pans round the café to show that all are entranced  – except for one uncomfortable, uncomforted old man – and inspired to join in. Eventually the café clientele are standing up and singing fervently in unison. The atmosphere becomes martial as the camera rests on two other youths, also in nazi uniform but with baleful expressions, lustily singing, ‘Fatherland, fatherland, show us the sign…’ The soloist is now visible full lenth, adopting a fanatical look and stiff posture which segues into a full blown Hitler salute.

The episode is witnessed by Cabaret’s protagonist, based on Christopher Isherwood and portrayed by Michael York. He says with evident irony to his friend (played by Helmut Griem) as they hurry away into a taxi, ‘You still think you can control them?’

The scene is very cleverly done. It shows the manipulation of a crowd through a display of recognizable desiderata: beauty, song, love of country, hope – all in a horrible confluence of the aesthetically pleasing with the morally repugnant. The camera cuts away to the sinister figure of the Master of Ceremonies – an unforgettable and multi award-winning Joel Gray – nodding directly at us, the audience, with a knowing air, as if we too are complicit.

Why did I find reason to post this scene not once but twice or possibly three times on Twitter? What is the precise resonance with today’s predicaments, which seem to forecast storm clouds for tomorrow and beyond?

In my opinion, imho as they say, the film shows how fanaticism appeals to self-righteousness, and offers an adrenalin hit which impels lunch time diners or a street rally or an army to rise to their feet, voicing their consensual determination – to do what? In the case of Cabaret, we know that we are looking at the preparatory manoeuvres of the nazi killing machine. Yet there are many occasions when we are happy to stand up and sing for a cause, whether it’s a national anthem, Blake’s Jerusalem at the Proms or Handel’s Messiah where I’m usually one of the first to rise for the Hallelujah chorus.

‘Are we the baddies?’ asks David Mitchell’s character in the famous sketch from That Mitchell and Webb Look.

In recent years, I find there are online places where  I personally am designated ‘the baddie’, for which I qualify by being a Zionist, or ‘arch-Zionist’ as one antagonist described me. So can we tell if we’re the baddies? We can use the well-worn tools of deontological, utilitarian or intuitive ethics; we can make altruism an absolute value and we can watch out for the consequences but I doubt that any of these methods are a reliable way of keeping on the straight and narrow.

Like much else, it’s a conundrum and I will probably think about it tomorrow.

After all, tomorrow is another day… so long as nobody tries to hog it.


  • L.Sordo: They always strike me as being immature, semi-literate and gullible.I assume they're late teens or under 30 left school at 16 as did I. I read every
  • Gillian Gould Lazarus: Thanks, L Sordo. One word I question here - 'kids'. Many of these participants are mature, one might say senior individuals. Observing over a period o
  • L. Sordo: This is an eye-opener. These kids have obviously got a lot of humanity and compassion but relentless anti-Israel propaganda outweighs their limited k