Neviim Tovim, blogs by Gillian Gould Lazarus

L’Chayim

Posted on: October 5, 2021

The new BBC drama Ridley Road was on television on Sunday night, close to the anniversary of the 1936 Battle of Cable Street, although Ridley Road is set in 1962, when the neonazi Colin Jordan voiced his ambition of completing Hitler’s work. Even more poignantly, the new series stars Tracy-Ann Oberman and Eddie Marsan who fight so fearlessly against present day antisemitism and are much abused for it by those who identify as the anti-Zionist Left.

The same day, Mr Corbyn and the JVL took to Cable Street as they have for several years past. As is often the case, Mr Corbyn spoke from a platform accompanied by alleged antisemites.

Wise words have been written about the Corbynist Left’s appropriation of Cable Street, by Nicole Lampert today in Jewish News and yesterday by Lee Harpin. So accurately has Nicole Lampert summed up the situation that I hardly need to add anything to it.

I had a little run in on Twitter in the last twenty-four hours with an account who calls himself ‘Rob Filth UK’ (possibly connected with or in homage to the 1980s punk comic, ‘Filth.’ ). Rob identifies critics of Mr Corbyn with fascists and antisemites. As critics of Corbyn are often in point of fact Jews or the friends of Jews, he regards us and our friends as a rabble of antisemites, fascists and nazis, while – as Rob sees it – Corbyn alone defends us, the undeserving.

Enough about what the Corbynists say.

Watching Ridley Road made me think about my family and our encounters with antisemitic movements in Britain, in my lifetime in the 1960s and before my lifetime in the 1930s.

There was a notable vitality about my mother’s family while my father’s family inclined to be studious and artistic. My mother’s parents came to England as children, from Lodz in Poland, around 1900. Her father was an orphan, illiterate as he had no formal schooling, and he worked in the East End for a recently arrived family who had acquired a workshop with sewing machines. He married the oldest daughter, my grandmother, got his own workshop and, in postwar years, a factory which moved from Shoreditch to Leyton to Bow until it closed down in the 1980s.

My father’s parents came to England from Podolia, now in western Ukraine, in 1910. All the children of the family were born in Russia except for the youngest, my father. He went to a grammar school which he loved, then to a teachers’ training college and had started teaching when war broke out.

My parents grew up in the same street, Crellin Street, which was destroyed by bombs during the blitz. When my mother was a new born infant, the grandmothers said jokingly that she was a bride for my father, who was three. True words spoken in jest: their wedding took place in 1940 in Cannon Street Road Synagogue, and they were married for seventy years until my father died, in 2011.

My father is wearing army uniform in the wedding photos. He fought in North Africa and in the Atlantic, accompanying merchant shipping as a gunner. The ship was torpedoed and he was several hours on a raft in the very centre of the Atlantic Ocean, until being taken aboard a corvette.

My sister had been born by then. The shenanigans of Cable Street had been and gone. My mother said that she was at an upper window with a bucket of water to pour down on the fascists if they broke through.

I was born in 1949 when we were living in Amhurst Road Hackney, although we soon moved to the boreal locale of Upper Clapton. The Mosleyites were active, calling themselves the League of Empire Loyalists. One saw their graffiti on the walls but I didn’t see them close up until they held a rally in Ridley Road.

I remember my father, who never swore, shouting ‘Balls, balls, balls’ (my sister says it was ‘Bollocks, bollocks, bollocks’ and at the Jordan meeting) while Mosley attempted a speech in Ridley Road and kicking the getaway car driven by Max Mosley with a scared looking Oswald Mosley in the passenger seat.

Still more dramatic was the Colin Jordan meeting in Trafalgar Square where I aimed a blow at a woman who called my sister ‘dirty Jewish whore’. She kicked out. There were men holding us back, my mother, my sister and me and the neonazi woman too. My father and brother-in-law, deeper in the crowd, for some reason saw less action that day, as far as I know.

Since writing this, I’ve spoken to my sister about these events. She recalls attacking the woman and myself joining in. It was sixty years ago, the memory clear in both our minds, but our memories do not match in the details. Regarding the woman’s words to my sister, we entirely agree.

My sister was in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, where she met her husband. They have been married fifty-eight years as I write this. As a teenager I joined the Young Socialists and, as I have written before, the SWP, until anti -Zionism became a prominent feature of left-wing politics, soon after the Six Day War.

If a Corbynist wants to abuse me on social media, they tend to call me a far right apartheid lover (being called old, ugly et cetera is par for the course). It seems strange as we were active against apartheid and I remember my parents taking me to an anti-apartheid meeting in Trafalgar Square to hear the then Labour leader, Hugh Gaitskell. Anglican bishop Trevor Huddleston is in the centre of the photo.

I was on anti-apartheid demonstrations in my student days in Manchester when the all white Springboks came to Old Trafford. Peter Hain was the prominent leader of the movement in the UK. There is a famous photo of Jeremy Corbyn being arrested while wearing an anti-apartheid sandwich board, but his was not a name I ever heard until well after 2000, by which time he was a seasoned Labour backbencher.

Back to Twitter: Rob Filth UK is putting his back into arguing that opponents of Corbyn appease neonazis for ‘lack of bottle’. It is not a young man’s turn of phrase. I would guess that Rob is one of Corbyn’s silver haired devotees. He also argues that Stalin called it right with the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact.

Corbynists display great resentment towards ‘centrists’, a pronounced not to say malevolent dislike of Keir Starmer and a loathing for any politician or celebrity who speaks out against the antisemitism of the Left. I am myself a centrist now, but always considered myself on the left of the Labour Party until it became inimical to Jews, certainly under Corbyn but prior to his leadership too, on the fringes of the Party.

The latest from Rob is objectionable indeed.

I recall from the long ago days in the SWP that the Group preferred the International Marxist Group and Militant to the Workers’ Revolutionary Party (formerly Socialist Labour League), not that they liked them, but everyone hated the WRP and the WRP hated everyone else. The UK Left in the 1960s was like Homage to Catalonia which came before it and The Life of Brian which was yet to come. Now they seem to have found some unity in their opposition to Israel and all who sail in her. ‘All who sail in her’ includes most of us Jews in the diaspora and all our allies.

I think of the past, my family in the East End, the aunt who went back to Russia after the revolution and eventually disappeared without trace; Communist Party activists related by marriage to another of my aunts and the endless struggles against antisemites, in those days and in these. I think of the Jewish charity boxes displayed in all the homes of my childhood: Jewish National Fund; the kibbutznik figurines brought back by those who had been to Israel and the Stars of David which we girls wore – which I still wear – as necklaces.

Some troll on Twitter says to me ‘lack of bottle’ and I get upset.

Such bottle they had, the dead and the living.

To the members of my family now in Gan Eden, L’CHAYIM!

לחיים

L’CHAYIM!

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  • Gillian Gould Lazarus: The Conference has kicked off and the new EHRC rules have been passed, 73% - 27% I think. It's good but one thinks about the 27% who opposed them.
  • keithmarr: Familiar sentiments to me. Saddened I am too. In addition to antisemitism Starmer’s reluctance to make Labour the natural home of the Remainer is fr
  • keithmarr: Thank you once again for perspicacious comment. There is an element of social media, one’s potential anonymity perhaps, that leads to behaviour that
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