Neviim Tovim, blogs by Gillian Gould Lazarus

Archive for June 2020

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”.

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.

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 in 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 assert, ‘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.

  • James Casserly: Unfortunately there seems to be no middle ground, no nuance and even less humanity on Twitter. Like you, there are people I have no time for, some I a
  • keithmarr: G < div dir="ltr">Twitter is such a cesspit you can more or less guarantee any opini
  • Gillian Gould Lazarus: You're Nathan Hull, aren't you, an abusive troll who uses the alias Gerard O'Neill?