Neviim Tovim, blogs by Gillian Gould Lazarus

I Saw Goody Greenstein with the Devil

Posted on: February 14, 2019

These days no one wants to be the witchfinder and everyone wants to be the witch.

How rightly Arthur Miller compared the anti-communist investigation of Senator Joseph McCarthy to the Salem witch trials. He highlighted the appalling absence of logic in 1690s Salem, where an accusatory word could get an enemy or rival hanged. Accusing on the grounds of insufficient evidence seems to be a characteristic of every kind of witch hunt.

On social media, one may accuse and be heard by many. The hashtag can be a finger, pointing to the witch.

A teenager claimed recently to have suffered unwanted attention from two Jewish women in the public eye and became a cause célèbre among a handful of Twitter accounts which essentially target Jews while disavowing antisemitism. When a teenager accuses, one does well to listen, as they knew in Salem.

Labour has been sluggish but not quite immobilized* in dealing with antisemitism. Ken Livingstone, a hero of the Facebook Labour forums, was suspended until he left of his own accord and Jacqueline Walker continues to be suspended. Tony Greenstein however was expelled for abusive behaviour and now heads an organization of refusés called Labour Against the Witch-Hunt. The group is administrated by Mr Greenstein and Ms Walker and their group statement is ‘We demand the Labour Party ends the practice of automatic, instant, expulsion or suspension of pro-Corbyn, left-wing members.’

In Stalin’s great purges and in Mao’s cultural revolution, dissidents paid the ultimate penalty in upwards of a million cases. There is always widespread cooperation with an authoritarian status quo. People not willing to sacrifice their livelihood or their lives may name names and the experience of hardships from previous regimes may make them loyal. The oppressive power of the Second Estate in France, the autocratic rule of the Tsars, the instability of Weimar, the purges of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek were all replaced by their antidotes and new outcasts were created, a different set of witches.

Lists are useful mnemonics creating taxonomies and values but one can find oneself on a good list or a bad list. A few days ago, a person on Twitter compiled lists of Labour MPs who follow certain accounts either Jewish or active against antisemitism. One of the accounts was mine. The two Labour MPs who are kind enough to follow me were already deemed persona non grata by the author of the lists so it was a case of ‘It would be them!’ Following me and others more industrious and active than me was taken to be a sign of disloyalty to the Leader and of – even worse – Zionism. The author of the lists – call him Keith – was defended by his own followers, who pointed out that we Jews also make lists as nearly everything between commas is a list in a manner of speaking. These friends of Keith, for want of a better phrase, make screen shots of those tweets where we highlight their antisemitic posts, as proof that they are being stalked. We could make screenshots of their screenshots of our tweets but there would be the likelihood of an infinite regress.

At an early phase of Mr Corbyn’s leadership, a list appeared, classifying Labour MPs according to their hostility or loyalty to the Leader.** There would certainly be changes if the list were revised today. Ed Miliband might still be ‘Core Group Negative’ but Ruth Smeeth would be be tranferred from the ‘Core Negative’ column to join Luciana Berger and Margaret Hodge in ‘Hostile’.

Of course, that was then and now nearly everyone is a lot more hostile than anyone could have imagined. It works both ways. Those in the hostile column were believed by the author of the list to have a persecutory attitude to Mr Corbyn. They were the hunters, he the witch, as the author of the list saw it.

Who is the victim of who’s witch hunt? Everyone’s enemy is a bully, whether by force or by stealth. We Jews are attributed by our enemies with a stealthy power which they say holds sway over governments and finance. Of course finance.

‘Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,’ we are told in the King James version of Exodus 22:18 [17]. The Hebrew word, mekhashefa, could be translated as magician but no doubt, a magician can be a scapegoat just as well as a witch. In Harry Potter, ‘mudbloods’ who have Muggle parentage are despised by the fascistic Death Eaters, at once a reflection and an inversion of the principle of witch hunting.

In their different ways, the witch and the witch hunter are both the dangerous Other. Witchcraft may not be real but the danger is always real and the Other is always you and I.

* I began this article more than a week ago and, in the light of this week’s events, I am more inclined to say that Labour is immobilized in dealing with antisemitism or worse, mobilized in its favour.
** https://labourlist.org/2016/03/leaked-list-ranks-labour-mps-by-hostility-to-corbyn/

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  • Gillian Gould Lazarus: Wow, that's amazing Keith. If it was you who marched me out, you did me a favour! I don't think the Mosleyites would have handled me with care! I'm gl
  • Keith Lewcock: Dear Gillian. I have been recently been very moved by a book about the anti-fascist movements courageous resistance to Mussolini by a Jewish family. C
  • Gillian Gould Lazarus: Thank you Dave. Very nice of you to say so.
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