Neviim Tovim, blogs by Gillian Gould Lazarus

Archive for July 2019

Tisha b’Av always appears to me as a bit of a blot of the landscape, the fast I don’t like, the black fast, commemorating something remote, a cause relinquished by many. Why mourn for a Temple, the restoration of which would land us in as much trouble as the destruction of the first, in 587 BCE and the second in 70 CE?

As a fast, it is very different from the Day of Atonement.

On Yom Kippur, the community gathers. The scrolls and many of the congregants are dressed in white, we pray together, fast together and together we hear the tekiah gedolah, the long note of the ram’s horn, which signifies the day’s end. By contrast, on the fast of 9th Av, a few diehards come together to sit on the floor and read the Book of Lamentations, then continue the fast in solitary through a dog day morning and afternoon until sunset at around 9pm.

There is an atmosphere before Tisha b’Av, and the name for it is Bein ha Metzarim, between the straits. Some people fast on 17 Tammuz, usually in July, commemorating the day when the Babylonians breached the walls of Jerusalem. Three weeks later, the Temple fell, hence the fast of 9th Av.  During the three week period, the orthodox will abstain from shaving, haircuts,  celebrations and listening to music. Marriages are not solemnized at this time, a rule which, generally speaking,  is not confined to orthodoxy.

During the three weeks of mourning, culminating in the twenty-five hour fast on Tisha b’Av, there are many sorrows to be remembered, besides the destruction of the first and second Temples in Jerusalem. The expulsion of the Jews from England by Edward I in July 1290 and the expulsion of Jews from Spain by Ferdinand and Isabella in August 1492 are said to have occurred on 9 Av, although a Hebrew calendar converter estimates these events as falling a few days short of or following the ninth.

During the more recent catastrophe of the Shoah, destruction and death were present on every day of the year, but certain events occurred on Tisha b’Av, the deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto being one, while the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto in 1944 began a few days after the 9th.

There is no baleful magic in the day, to make it a time of foreboding more than any other, but anniversaries are meaningful to us, not just the birthdays and silver weddings, but the anniversaries of the death of a loved one, the date of a battle, a book, a coronation, a discovery. Those who are bereaved often find that the birthday of the departed has particular poignancy in the first year after their death, or perhaps the first few years, or sometimes forever.

The randomness of time and chance are overlaid with meanings which come from personal and communal experience. This day for mourning the destruction of the Temple gathers to itself the threnody of our lives, a stockpiling of grief. Now we have Yom Hashoah and Holocaust Memorial Day to bear some of the weight of remembering the holocaust. Yom Hashoah was established on its present date of 27 Nisan by David Ben Gurion’s government in 1959. Holocaust Memorial Day, launched in 2001, remembers the Shoah and subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda and Darfur.  The chosen date is the anniversary of the liberation of  Auschwitz by the Soviet Union in January 1945.

Tisha B’Av is our ancient day of mourning. It is mentioned in the Mishnah, tractate Taanit  (days of fasting).

When Av comes in, gladness must be diminished.

Taanit 4:6.

It is by no means singular to Judaism to put aside days in the calendar and special places for remembering sorrows ancient and modern. It is not even specific to religion. The epitaph on Oscar Wilde’s tomb quotes his poem, The Ballad of Reading Gaol:

And alien tears will fill for him,

Pity’s long-broken urn,

For his mourners will be outcast men,

And outcasts always mourn.

Why was this, of all Wilde’s words, chosen as his epitaph? Perhaps it is the most universal of human experiences to be alien and outcast, to weep and to mourn.

Tisha B’Av has its silver linings. The day ends and the fast ends;  we eat, drink and do what we want. On the following shabbat, a passage from the book of Isaiah is read in the synagogue:

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God

Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended.

It is called Shabbat Nachamu, the sabbath of comfort, from the first word of Isaiah 40, the set prophetic reading.

Every winter, I find out where Handel’s Messiah is being performed in London and buy a ticket. The beautiful opening aria after the overture is ‘Comfort ye,’ from the King James Version of Isaiah 40. I always think of Shabbat Nachamu and how the hope of comfort can be present in sorrow, or so I hope.

 

Last Sunday, I received an email from Team Labour, in Jeremy Corbyn’s name, as follows:

The struggle for liberation of all people is never complete and must always be renewed. As a movement, we educate ourselves and each other to better stand in solidarity with and unite all those facing oppression and discrimination.

That’s why we are launching education materials for our members and supporters to help them confront bigotry, wherever it arises. Over the coming months, the party will produce educational materials on a number of specific forms of racism and bigotry. Our first materials are on antisemitism, recognising that anti-Jewish bigotry has reared its head in our movement.’

I was sceptical although the email looked quite praiseworthy. I read the educational materials and, without agreeing with every point, I thought that they were helpful, particularly this paragraph:

But opposition to the Israeli government must never use antisemitic ideas, such as attributing its injustices to Jewish identity, demanding that Jews in Britain or elsewhere answer for its conduct, or comparing Israel to the Nazis. Many Jews view calls for Israel to cease to exist as calls for expulsion or genocide. Arguing for one state with rights for all Israelis and Palestinians is not antisemitic, but calling for the removal of Jews from the region is. Anti-Zionism is not in itself antisemitic and some Jews are not Zionists. Labour is a political home for Zionists and anti-Zionists. Neither Zionism nor anti-Zionism is in itself racism.

If only these thoughts could be taken on board by Labour supporters, there would be hope  at least for a more peaceable time in the Labour movement.

Within a day or two, there was no missing the fact that Dame Margaret Hodge was once again a bête noire par excellence for many of Mr Corbyn’s supporters, inspired by an article in the Skwawkbox, headed thus:

HODGE SUBJECT OF FORMAL ANTISEMITISM COMPLAINT BY ORTHODOX JEWISH MEMBER

There had been a row, apparently between Dame Margaret and a Charedi man called Mr Stern, about the teaching of sex education, including LGBT topics, in schools. Mr Stern was firmly against this and, if I understand correctly, had penned complaints about Margaret Hodge and also The Jewish Chronicle. 

It was as if the ‘anti-Zionist’ Corbynists had found an ingenious way of turning around the promise of more stringent measures against antisemitism. They could accuse their Jewish adversaries of antisemitism and request their immediate expulsion from the Labour Party.  The narrative of JVL, for example is that all who accuse Labour of antisemitism do so in bad faith – the Livingstone Formulation, as coined by David Hirsh. *

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I’m aware that publications hostile to Israel have, for at least ten years, been publishing stories with the headline ‘Settler runs over Palestinian child.’ There are some variations. They may say ‘Jewish settler’ and occasionally the victim will be a woman but, several times a year, the headline will specify a child, boy or girl, age 5 or 8 or sometimes a teenager. Usually, the running over is described as deliberate and the consequence as fatal.

These stories then acquire a momentum of their own, appearing on anti-Israel and anti-Jewish social media. Reports of a road death in April will run for a couple of months before being replaced by a new story with the same headline but citing a different location in the disputed territories. The child may be a different gender from the previous victim and a year or two older or younger.

I became aware of the regularity of these reports by perusing online Corbyn-supporting forums. Once the report has been posted, members of the forum vie with each other in expressing the greatest possible outrage, which always involves imputing inhumanity to the Israeli settlers, Zionists and very often, Jews in general.

I googled on ‘Settler runs over Palestinian child,’ and copious items appeared, all originating from Middle Eastern sources and getting plentiful exposure on English-language forums. I selected one report for each year and made a collage of screen shots, shown below, which is how I usually display antisemitism on Corbynist forums. I then tweeted the image.

It wasn’t until today that I realized a tweet didn’t permit enough words for me to explain the significance of the collage. I deleted my tweet. I thought perhaps someone would take the reports at face value, and believe that settlers deliberately run over Palestinian children on at least a quarterly basis.

If we are not there, how can we know what’s happening? How can we know what isn’t happening? Nevertheless, for the members of, for example, ‘Truthers Against Zionists [sic] Lobbies,’ such reports confirm everything they already believe.

The report I saw yesterday was in fact on the Truthers Against Zionists Lobbies forum, alongside some gross examples of holocaust denial, so these are not people with any kind of credibility and the reports of regular infanticide by murderous drivers are extremely suspect.

It takes more than a tweet, I realize, to make this clear

settler car

tazl 19 july

A month later, there are new ‘Settler runs over child’ stories doing the rounds. Someone on  Twitter yesterday posted a photo of a child with fatal injuries, said to have been inflicted by a settler in a car. I also found an article debunking one of these accounts. Yet still they come.

settler story

As a young married woman, I liked getting newspapers delivered, especially as I was at home with the baby for most of the day. I got the Guardian, the Radio Times, the Jewish Chronicle and the Observer. My parents used to get the Daily Herald, the Guardian, the New Statesman and the Jewish Chronicle.

Later on, the Guardian’s animus towards Israel donned its high-visibility jacket and I switched first to the Independent, then The Times.

For a while in the 1990s, I stopped getting the Jewish Chronicle because it reported with depressing regularity on antisemitic incidents and the fervent anti-Zionism making an appearance in universities and trade unions.

I got a computer in about 1994, because I needed a word processor and Hebrew software (Dagesh. Anyone remember it?)  for my master’s thesis.

Newspapers were expensive and I gave up hard copies but I worked for WH Smith and saw all the newspapers at work. In the canteen on my lunchbreak, I’d spread them out, tabloids and broadsheets, and compare front pages. The tabloids had headlines about celebrities and royal personages and sometimes they had news about people whose names I didn’t recognize:  chauffeurs and butlers of the royals, footballers’ wives, celebrities’ other halves.

At some point there was the transition to getting news from online sources. I also began to use online dictionaries, English and other, rather than balancing a large tome on my knees. There was something called My Space which seemed to be hard work and Friends Reunited where people aired grievances about unkind teachers of years gone by.

Then there was Facebook, as we all know, and Twitter, recommended by Stephen Fry as being good fun, so I joined it in 2009.

I didn’t encounter the term MSM, meaning Mainstream Media until the resistible rise of Jeremy Corbyn, although the online alternative media appeared mostly before 2015. Some of these alternative sources of news saw the light of day in the period of the Conservative/LibDem Coalition and came into their own in the age of Corbynism.

Another Angry Voice was established in 2010 as an alternative to the mainstream press. Steve Walker’s The Skwawkbox first appeared in 2012  and Kerry-Anne Mendoza’s The Canary in 2015, with Evolve Politics created the same year. Aaron Bastani’s Novara Media goes back as far as 2011.

Meanwhile, some Corbynist ‘brocialists’ – the angry not-so-young men of the left – contribute regularly to the Guardian, Owen Jones foremost  among them, even though the consensus on Facebook Labour forums is that The Guardian is a Zionist rag.

The BBC is denounced daily by both right and left. At the present time, the Corbynist left are infuriated by BBC1’s Panorama, which showed John Ware’s film about interference in defence of alleged antisemites from the Labour leader’s office. Infuriated is an understatement. They are organizing against the BBC, John Ware and the whistleblowers who appeared in the programme. There are petitions on the go and a forum called The Prole Star has posted a request for Corbynist Jews to testify in an alternative film, defending Corbyn. It should not be difficult to find volunteers. Jewish Voice for Labour, Free Speech on Israel and Just Jews exist only to defend Corbyn from charges of antisemitism and to attack those who accuse him. There is a discernible overlap of members so it is possible that the total membership of all three groups does not exceed the membership of any one of them.

It seems that all sides have a beef with the BBC. My own is as follows. When Southern Israel comes under attack from Hamas rockets, I hear about it from Israelis, tweeting from their shelters. The BBC does not report it until Israel fires back, generally after a day or two of rocket fire from Gaza; then the BBC runs a headline along the lines of ‘Israel has attacked Gaza.’

There is such a stigma attached to tabloid newspapers that one is reluctant to cite them as a source for a story, yet it was the Daily Mail which did much of the legwork on the ‘Wreathgate’ story. The culpable history of the Mail is mentioned very often by Corbynists: the Mail’s support for fascism in the 1930s and, more recently, their absurd attack on Ralph Miliband as part of their offensive against Ed Miliband but even a stopped clock is right twice a day. I’ve become accustomed to being asked ‘Did you read that in the Fail?’ (a derogatory nickname for The Mail) when I refer to Labour antisemitism, although only very rarely did I read it in The Mail.

I used to watch Channel 4 News regularly as I liked Cathy Newman and Krishnan Guru-Murthy, but was put off by seeing Jon Snow shouting ‘Fuck the Tories’ at the Glastonbury Festival of 2017, the year of Oh Jeremy Corbyn.

Speaking to HuffPost UK about the report, Jon Snow said in a statement: “After a day at Glastonbury, I can honestly say I have no recollection of what was chanted, sung or who I took over 1000 selfies with”. (from NME, 28 June 2017)

I admire hugely the well-informed, intelligent television journalists who are despised by Corbynists: Laura Kuenssberg, Andrew Neil, Jo Coburn, Emily Maitlis, Robert Peston, Andrew Marr, Emma Barnett.

I search out newspaper articles by Corbynsceptic journalists such as Nick Cohen, David Aaronovitch, Raphael Behr, Jonathan Freedland, Jessica Elgot, Janice Turner, Nicole Lampert and many others.

I listen to radio or television news most of my waking hours now and, while I listen, I read news online. Twitter is very often the first source of breaking news.

I exercise self-discipline to turn away from news. There are books to be read, good television to watch, pictures to paint and, even more importantly, I have a family.

I tend to switch off news items about the suffering of children: items about illness, statelessness, child abuse, murder. One does not have to know about everything.

The most offensive thing said to me by hostile Twitterati is ‘child murderer.’ Anyone Jewish will be called this name, unless they denounce Israel. It can happen if one posts about antisemitism, even when the Israel-Palestinian conflict has not been mentioned. I get sent pictures of mortally injured children, accompanied by tweets, telling me that Israel has done it and often they add considerately that they hope I can sleep at night.

Antisemitism is not about what Jews want it to be about. It is the antisemites as always who choose the parameters and they have made it about Israel.

There is no getting away from the fact that the news makes me sad. My children and friends often say they wish I would look less and be less sad, but I don’t think it can be done.

It is Friday and the sun is in the west.

Shabbat shalom.

 

 

If someone calls me stupid or old or quips about the name Lazarus (a valued gift from my ex-husband), I can shrug it off.

If they use pejorative language from the modern lexicon for abusing Jews, I get angry.

The modern lexicon, as opposed to the traditional dictionary, includes ‘supporter of apartheid’ and ‘apologist for child murder’ which references their perception of Israel and attributes to me or like-minded people the features they believe they discern in the State of Israel.

There are at least two possible answers here. One is that I don’t control events in Israel. Another is that they have a false perception of it as uniquely racist and murderous. If I go with the first, I allow them to get away with the usual calumnies. If I go with the second, I allow them to set the parameters of the conversation as being about Israel.

When the suspension of Chris Williamson, MP for Derby North, was discussed on BBC Question time, a gentleman in the audience said:

The Jewish community is very vociferous and obviously they feel they’re being hurt but what’s happening with the Palestinians – the siege, the torture, the kidnappings? I’ve never heard a Jewish community complain about that.

Members of the panel responded to the attempted tainting of ‘the Jewish community,’ but not to the damaging hyperbole about Israel. I don’t blame them. It isn’t easy to extemporize a brief response to both points.

Tweets about the iniquity of Jews depress me. Before Corbyn, they tended to come from the far right; now from both right and left.

Tweets about the iniquity of Israel depress me and are harder to answer, as I am in what Judah Halevi called the edge of the west. (He meant Spain and I’m in London but the expression serves.) If they show an image of an injured child and claim that it illustrates Israeli cruelty, I can query the provenance of the photo, the context and even the authenticity but I can’t swear that it isn’t from Israel unless, as has occurred before, the soldiers are in Guatemalan uniform.

If someone tweets to me that I’ve judged them unfairly, that they didn’t mean what I thought, or understand the implications of their words, I try to listen and give them credit for their serious answer. Any transition from bitterness to civility is both valuable and rare.

I aroused ire by tweeting sympathetically about Kevin Spacey and was persuaded by the responses that I’d been wrong, but didn’t delete my tweet. I’ve tweeted my pro-Remain opinions and been rebuked by Brexiteers whose opinions I value. It doesn’t bother me.

I’ve been called an antisemite by antisemites. That does bother me, because I know it’s a ploy, which can confuse the innocent bystander reading the conversation. It is like a Monty Python sketch set in a psychiatrist’s room where two men wrangle over which one is the psychiatrist and which one the patient. Of course, both claim to be the psychiatrist.

I dislike formulations such as ‘weaponising antisemitism,’ ‘hasn’t an antisemitic bone in his body,’ ‘just because he supports the Palestinians.’ I dislike the term Khazar which is used by both far right and far left. Presumably someone in the world really is a Khazar, and good luck to them.

I don’t tolerate islamophobia from any side. The tweeter will pick out some disreputable deed and attribute it to all Muslims: racism’s modus operandi since time immemorial. They will quote the Qur’an to imply bigotry in Islam. The bible can likewise be quoted, to the apparent detriment of Judaism and Christianity. Orwell can be quoted to his disadvantage and TS Eliot more so; Dostoevsky and Dickens and – not that one cares – Hilaire Belloc.

Nobody likes being on the end of sarcasm but I do produce sarcastic tweets, probably daily. It’s something to bring up when the Selichot season gets underway.

Twitter can be our friend. We can discuss films, books, music, TV, sport, philosophy, languages, recipes, if we find an amenable account. I have made friends. Soup has changed hands and drinks have been consumed.

’The whole world is a very narrow bridge,’ as Nachman of Bratslav pointed out.

כל העולם כולו גשר צר מאוד.  והעיקר לא לפחד כלל.

The whole world is a very narrow bridge and the main thing is to have no fear at all.

If Rabbi Nachman had tweeted this, he would have garnered so many likes, but there still would have been somebody calling him a Khazar.



  • Gillian Gould Lazarus: I've approved your comment Jones, rather than trashing it. It seems to me a snapshot of contemporary online exegesis. Can you say something about you
  • Jones: You're just a typical white racist tory who has no problems with Windrush deportations or tory Islamaphobia. You get no support from the BAME communit
  • Gillian Gould Lazarus: Thank you Joanne!