Neviim Tovim, blogs by Gillian Gould Lazarus

Archive for August 2020

There are some stories one should tell only oneself, our stories being tangled with other lives and threaded into narratives of long duration. The strings of solar lights in my tiny garden get tangled amongst the flourishing jasmine and Virginia creeper and caught on the thorns of two or three rose bushes. I shall need gardening gloves when the time comes to untangle them.

I was going to write about a girl who was at school with me and call her Noelle, which is not her name. We were in the same year, the equivalent of today’s Year Seven or Eight, so about twelve years of age. As I walked to school in my hated brown blazer and beret, there was she, stepping out of her house in her own brown blazer and beret. I would walk with her. She was a quiet, smiling little girl. I was prolix and opinionated and she too polite to let me know.

Fifty years later, we were still in touch. We were not close friends but we had mutuals, friends who were proactive at making contact, sharing news and arranging meetings. So a little group of middle aged to elderly women continued to meet up three or four times a year. I was at her father’s funeral where a woman vicar officiated and ‘Going Home’ from Dvorak’s New World was on the hymn sheet. She was at my father’s funeral where El Malei Rachamim was sung at the graveside and, twenty years before that, she was at my husband’s funeral too.

In the group of half a dozen friends, known to each other since school days, she was the only one who wasn’t Jewish. As the decades had passed, different tragedies had struck all our lives, the way tragedies do, given time. Some but not all had married and had children; some but not all were divorced; some were impoverished, others comfortable.

After fifty years, I separated myself from the group but that story really is wound around the thorns of the rose bush and the wooden trellis where the jasmine and Virginia creeper thrive. It was not about politics, although I believe some may have thought so.

I am aware of Noelle’s Facebook account with its profile photo of Corbyn  and a header picture of a heart with NHS inside it and was not surprised  to come across her name on one of the Corbynist forums. The surprise was that she took up a position in line with Chris Williamson supporters, wanting all those expelled to be readmitted and all those who had accused Corbyn of antisemitism to be expelled. She expressed a wish for apologies from Margaret Hodge, Maureen Lipman and everyone else who had ‘smeared’ the former leader. More alarmingly, she expressed the view that Keir Starmer’s actions were determined by the demands of his ‘moneylenders’.

It has never escaped my notice that vehement elderly white women comprise a significant proportion of activists on the forums and Noelle’s comments have the same timbre as many others. I had assumed that these resident experts on ‘antisemitsm smears’ had little knowledge of Jews or Judaism. But this is not the case with Noelle, who has behind her half a century of attending chuppas and lavoyahs, shivas and bnei mitzvah.

I conclude that she must have meant no harm in that comment about Starmer’s moneylenders or in wanting apologies from those who ‘smeared’ Jeremy.

JVL, despite a plethora of antisemitic hangers on, has at its core a group of people who really are Jewish, but so fiercely critical of Zionism that they make common cause with other critics, given to intemperate tropes and conspiratorial theorizing. Their alarm bells, set off, I imagine, by ‘Next year in Jerusalem,’ work differently to mine which ring out on ‘lobby,’ ‘paymasters,’ ‘chosen people,’ ‘Khazars’ – and even on ‘moneylenders’. If JVL can have such high tolerance for discourse intolerable to me and vice versa, it can’t be hard for a non-Jewish person like Noelle to share their perspective, even if she has been steeped in Jewish culture and friendships since 1962.

Thus I try to understand her position.

Was Noelle radicalized against what she would surely call Zionism, separating Zionism, the ‘lobby’, the ‘paymasters’ and the ‘moneylenders’ from the Jewish people with whom she is or was accustomed to hang out?

Are the elderly more easily radicalized than the young?

Is ‘radicalized’ the wrong word entirely?

Are her motives perhaps as tangled as the narrative which separated my own story from hers, irrevocably and immutably, a short time after our sixtieth birthdays?

Post Script

In June 2021, the group is what I would call radically antisemitic. This thread from today is typical of the discourse on ‘Jeremy Corbyn Should Have Been Prime Minister’.

Noelle, still active in the group, exhibits a Palestinian flag on her avatar.

And for the FIFA World Cup 2022:

I made some representations to Facebook this week, reporting items as hate speech. Facebook requires that, when making a report, you categorize hate speech as being against a religion, a nationality or an ethnicity. I was unsure which to go for, so I selected as best I could according to context.

However, Facebook found that even Truthers Against Zionist Lobbies does not go against their community standards. They suggested I might like to unfollow the group so as not to be offended by it or to reason with members of the group, putting my point of view.

My concern about the Facebook groups loosely connected by their continuing idolization of Jeremy Corbyn is not that they attract bigots and antisemites, which they do. After all, bigots and racists have to go somewhere and social media is certainly the place for them. What worries me is the alacrity shown by June, Pat, Sue, Margaret, Janet, Keith, Dennis, Barry and Alan who absorb like blotting paper everything the group teaches them about Jewish control of political parties and institutions and parrot it back in numberless comments accumulating a substantial quantity of ‘likes’. They have even learned to say ‘Zionist’ or ‘Israeli’ (variant spellings included) instead of Jewish; for example, they state erroneously that Keir Starmer’s wife is Israeli and so is Sir Trevor Chinn, because – so they say -they live in fear of being thought antisemitic (more variant spellings than seems plausible). To fault Lady Starmer and Sir Trevor as being Jewish would be antisemitic in their book, so they amend the word to ‘Israeli’ or ‘Zionist’.

There are two or three who argue back. By chance, they happen to be Jewish and they call out the more intemperate examples of antisemitism, conspiratorial fantasy and factual error. It goes without saying that they are dismissed as Zionists but a tendency over the last few months is that they are called antisemites by the Jew haters on the forums. I have written about the inversion of accusations, ‘antisemitic in itself’ being the regular reply when someone defends Israel against the wilder accusations. The title of that blog post is Through A Glass Darkly, written back to front and it can be seen here:

Who are June, Barry, Alan, Margaret et cetera, who do not produce original posts but offer ready support to those who do? Sometimes, they write a little bit about themselves. Some are in their seventies, some over eighty. Many were Labour members for decades (like myself! Who knew they were there?); others joined only for the sake of Mr Corbyn. None of them will support Labour now as they know it is run by Tel Aviv and that Keir Starmer does the bidding of the so-called Israel Lobby.

How could they know such a thing?

The answer is crystal clear. They read it on Facebook. The young may be reading school textbooks crammed with historical errors but the Facebook elderly have social media as their University of the Third Age.

Like Twitter and Instagram, Facebook is too big to be controlled but they profess that they have community standards. Let us remind them from time to time, or hatred will be the death of us.

  • 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?