Neviim Tovim, blogs by Gillian Gould Lazarus

Archive for August 2022

I posted a screen shot on Twitter last night, showing a bit of Hitler fandom in a private (you have to join to see the content) Facebook group called ‘Just Socialism the Corbyn Way’. On Twitter, there were many horrified reactions to the screen shot – although not at all in the Facebook group – and, so far, no one has attempted to excuse it. I did wonder how one might make a case for excusing it, and thought the strongest argument would be that all groups, however well-meaning, tend to include the odd disgusting comment, posted by supporters with poor judgment.

Anti Zionists make capital out of bigoted statements from the Israeli far right , posting the quotes on their forums to elicit rage and contempt, and a common response is to complain of Jewish chutzpah in opposing antisemitism when ‘…look what they’re doing to the Palestinians.’

Seek and ye shall find. Thus a Corbyn apologist may complain that I look for left antisemitism and find it, by stalking their social media which obviously isn’t perfect because, as Osgood Fielding III said in Some Like It Hot, nobody’s perfect. The prominence of antisemitism on the Corbynist left is still hotly denied by all who sail in it.

Meanwhile I, the stalker, am so accustomed to seeing extreme antisemitism, unopposed by admins or comrades, permitted on social media platforms, that I am not surprised when I see kindly references to Hitler from the self-styled Left.

The screen shots below show some of the comments I have seen. My stalking is not so thorough that I see all the Der Stürmer tribute acts of the Corbynist (sometimes also Provisional IRA) forums. Perhaps I should call it neo-neo-nazism [sic] because it is bespoke for the 21st century, for the left and for enemies of Israel. Some of this material is produced by Iranian sources, or Hamas or Hezbollah, some from Pakistan and I see it only because it filters through to groups with British or Irish administrators.

To fight it, we need to know it’s there.

If I were finding excuses, I say that Roderic, for example, doesn’t mean what he says or understand what he says. That’s quite possible, even quite likely. Some of these forums attract ordinary, left-leaning people, especially elderly people and get them high on hyperbole and passionate intensity, until they’re all in the Kampf together.

My sister once pointed out that in our family, where we were expected to be polite, not argumentative and not to shout (Dad sometimes shouted but we girls didn’t), it was considered acceptable to release political rage, when the adversaries were fascists, racists, far right or even merely warmongers.

Dad got arrested for causing an obstruction while sitting in the road with Bertrand Russell and the anti-nuclear Committee of a Hundred.

When we drove past some Mosleyites of the Union Movement and I shouted ‘Fuck off!’ through the car window, Dad said ‘Gill I know what we think of these people but there’s no need to be vulgar.’ Afterwards, Mum told me that he wished he’d said it.

In the wider family, everyone was a socialist except for those who called themselves communists, not so many of those after 1956.

Ever present alongside the political activism was love of Israel and great pride in the State born only a year before myself.  At weddings and bnei mitzvah, God Save the Queen and Hatikvah were sung. We were anti-monarchist, as reluctant to join in the British National Anthem as was Mr Corbyn during one of his early outings as Labour leader. Nevertheless, as I have mentioned elsewhere, my grandmother gave each of her grandchildren a lovely illustrated book of Princess Margaret’s wedding, which I perused many times with enjoyment.

At age twelve, I was taken to see an exhibition in Hackney Town Hall about the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. I was also taken to see the film Judgment at Nuremberg starring Spencer Tracy, and, at about the same time, Exodus (scripted from the Leon Uris book by Dalton Trumbo), which my parents said wasn’t as good as the book. Then I read Exodus, more than once; I would say more than twice.

I had a strong sense of a world divided between good and evil.

Dad liked RA Butler and Bob Boothby which surprised me but he said that not all Conservatives were bad. Mum liked the Duke of Edinburgh, so there you are.

Now that there is no political party I agree with, I can’t find it in me to detest the current leadership of any party. As I write this, Boris Johnson is still the Prime Minister. I think, as many others do, that he became a liability to the Tories with his parties, his wallpaper, his ill-judged promotions and his untruthfulness, but his intelligence and sense of humour appeal to me; his fumbling diction often leading through winding rhetorical alleyways to a punchline or flash of informal panache, as with ‘Hasta la vista, Baby’. Gove too has a degree of charm, eloquent and entomological. While Priti Patel is not at all to my taste, I’m aware that her detractors on social media target her appearance, presumably because they have made it a priority to deny her undoubted good looks.

It is also said of Priti Patel that she is an Israeli spy but of course this is said of Keir Starmer, Lisa Nandy, David Lammy and indeed, most of the present Parliamentary Labour Party.

Today Michael Gove trends on Twitter because his return flight from a summer holiday has been delayed for thirty hours. Thousands of people are liking tweets which consider the hold up a just retribution for Brexit. Like the Mikado, their object all sublime is to let the punishment fit the crime.

It seems to me a waste of effort to wish minor inconveniences on enemies, and demeaning to wish on them misfortune, other than the misfortune of failing in their malign endeavours.

A case in point is George Galloway who got beaten up in the street in 2014. Photos of a bruised and battered Galloway appeared in the press and seeing the thin, discoloured skin of an aging man, I winced.  When you see the bruising, you see the vulnerability of the lived body.

Jeremy Corbyn was attacked with an egg and Nigel Farage with a milk shake. Similarly, the intrusive menace of these attacks was displeasing despite my immeasurable dislike of the victims. When someone threw green paint at Peter Mandelson whom I didn’t dislike, I could see him flinch at the attacker’s reach, as if aware that it could have been something more lethal than paint.

In the unusual case of John Prescott and the egg, Prescott landed a blow on his assailant and they scuffled. Video footage from 2001 shows that the egg, fired at close range, is indeed the embodiment of an insult and a potential hazard.

These are public figures. Much more painful is hating somebody in private life: the violent, the bullies, the malevolent and the abusers of power. I have been fortunate in not knowing many such people. I had a consuming detestation of a partner’s ex whose ambition in life seemed to be to destroy his, but later encounters showed her to be meeker and more mild-mannered than I had thought possible, going by earlier form.

When I was a twelve year old pupil at a girls’ grammar school, a girl of fourteen flanked by two confederates and wearing a beehive hairdo, threw potatoes at me and my friend every day during school dinners.

‘I do hate Beehive,’ said my friend. I didn’t think I hated Beehive but would have liked to see a potato ricochet and land in her backcombed hair.

Social media has been an education in how to hate and be hated. I’ve become accustomed to being called ‘child killer’ or ‘apartheid apologist’ which will be leveled at anyone who tweets sympathetically about the State of Israel. If someone wants to abuse me on Twitter, they often make something of my age, my surname Lazarus and my long face. I can’t count how many times I’ve been told I look like a corpse, a horrible simile which could only come from the keyboard of a confirmed hater.

And finally, I have learned to hate, sometimes fleetingly, individuals whose names I forget as soon as I block them and sometimes consistently, esteemed public figures who wield influence or power, the ones who have made life perceptibly harder for Jews in the diaspora. Not every antisemite makes life harder. Those who are incontestably cranky – David Icke for example – have influence but are generally on the fringes of political activism. Professor Miller was extremely dangerous in the lecture hall at Bristol University but, now representing Iran state-controlled media, seems to have lost some of his puissance if not his appetite for anti Jewish conspiracy theories.

I don’t wish illness or pain on those I hate but I have an acute consciousness of their activities and pronouncements.

Someone defined being in love as thinking about the person all the time. Hating also is an absorption with the object of hatred.

I despise but don’t hate terrorists.  Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad: I hate what they do, but circumstances and malign influences have driven them to the place where they find themselves. I don’t utterly discount the possibility of peace.

Even more antipathetic than these are the complacent ideologists of the west, the eminences of political thought and cultural creativity, those who, tweaking the vocabulary of other centuries, rise up against us, as it says in the Passover Haggadah, not once but in every generation.

On a rainy night in September 1996, I emerged from Baker Street Station and sought a taxi. Almost immediately, a taxi driver pulled over next to me. Rejoicing in my luck, I opened the passenger door but an elderly, myopic gentleman swept past me and settled himself on the leather seat. I had intended to give him the kind of hard stare which Paddington Bear perfected, but noticed something unexpected about the man. He was Rabbi Albert Friedlander.

I said ‘Rabbi, I’m going to the same place as you. Can we share this taxi?’

Courteously he indicated assent and I got in, sitting opposite him on one of the drop down seats. I was on my way to a graduation ceremony at the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in St John’s Wood, to be awarded a masters degree from Leo Baeck College where Rabbi Friedlander was the Dean. I mentioned this and he insisted kindly on paying my fare, ‘as a graduation present’.

My parents, my partner, zichrono livracha, and some of my children had piled into a car and headed to the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, to see me graduate, but there wasn’t room for all of us and I was best suited to make alternative travel arrangements.

At the synagogue, I went into the ad hoc robing room, where gowns but not mortar boards, were laid out on tables. I found I was among the hocher fensters, distinguished academics and clergy, about to be honoured with honorary degrees and professorships. I recognized Rabbi Louis Jacobs and saw the director of my college, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Magonet, as well as the college librarian and renowned author, Hyam Maccoby. The engineer and scientist Professor Ludwik Finkelstein was there to collect another masters’ degree to add to his qualifications.

There was a problem in finding a robe short enough for me, which I remembered had been the case when I graduated at Manchester University. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not Tyrion Lannister. I was five foot two; perhaps now five foot one and a half with the passing of the years. Most of the people in the robing room were men but, as the photo above shows, there were some women graduating, and some rabbinical students were picking up degrees on the road to semicha (ordination).

The robes were turquoise blue, the masters degrees being awarded under the auspices of the Open University.

Attired in one of the smaller robes, I joined the procession of graduands as we lined up to receive our certificates from the Dean of Leo Baeck College. I was glad that I hadn’t said ‘Beat it, old man,’ when he took my taxi, but there had never been any danger of that.

I didn’t even know how to be rude, until the age of Twitter.

  • 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?