Neviim Tovim, blogs by Gillian Gould Lazarus

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It’s a long title but I like polysyllables. I sneer inwardly and sometimes outwardly at people who spell Israel and Keir ‘Isreal’ and ‘Kier’ although I’ve known many brilliant dyslexics. And, in my favour, I know a gibbous moon when I see one.

Enough of the autobiographical musings.

People who criticize my obsessive chronicling of Corbynist groups on Facebook sometimes accuse me of selecting comments out of context to show the whole group in a bad light. They say, rightly, that ill-judged posts can be found on any political forum and that moderators cannot control every comment on the site.

My response is this: if posts hostile to Israel, Zionists and Jewish communal organizations are found every day on all Corbynist sites open to public scrutiny, they are not random and my screen shots are not anecdote as opposed to evidence.

They retort, ‘Opposition to Israel isn’t antisemitic.’

You can make a case for this distinction. I think it’s problematic in practice but anti-Zionism is a broad church, from those who want Israel exterminated to those who are merely ‘Meh about Israel’.

Much depends on the form of opposition to Israel. It’s a commonplace on the far left (and possibly also the far right) to call Israel a racist endeavour, as a middle finger to the specifics of the IHRA definition. The ghettos and pogroms over the centuries and then the Holocaust are not factored into this perception. When Israel is called a Khazarian colonial enterprise by both left and right, the expulsion of Jews from Arab lands is likewise ignored.

The moderators of the group make a difference. Some of them are alert to Holocaust revisionism, Rothschild tropes and breaches of the IHRA definition and intervene to challenge them. This effectively contains the antisemitic ambience in the group. I have seen this kind of intervention by individual administrators in mainstream Labour forums and in one of the Corbynist groups. Even irregular interventions can help. On one forum, intemperate articles about Israel, sourced from Middle East Monitor, Mint Press and Electronic Intifada appeared hourly, posted by one member of the group. When he left or was possibly ejected, the antisemitism decreased. The fact is that posts such as his prompted a great many comments, demonizing Israel, Israelis, Zionists and, more recently the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Labour Movement.

Where there is no moderating activity, except against suspected Zionists and Tories, the antisemitism tends to run wild. Sometimes, contributors will refer to Jews, rather than Zionists. I have seen a thread where a lady is advised, ‘Don’t say Jews. They’ll use it against us. Always say Zionists.’ Kathleen thanked them for the guidance and thereafter spoke of the malign global reach of ‘Zionists’, which was considered acceptable in a Labour, Corbynist milieu.

As I have often mentioned, photos are posted showing Israeli soldiers adjacent to distressed children or elderly men in keffiyehs. The text explains that the child is being kidnapped or terrorized, the old gentleman manhandled or worse, which interprets the image according to the bias of the person who uses it.

‘Monsters!’ ‘Inhuman!’ come the replies and, very often, someone will make a comparison with the Third Reich, from which, they fear, we failed to learn our lesson.

I have observed time and time again – and I concede that this is anecdotal rather than evidential – that participants in these discussions are very often elderly, even older than myself, which is not a huge online demographic. Their photos and their long memories are indicators of age and the overwhelming majority are white.

Feeling obliged to back up what I say, I post on Twitter an unconscionable quantity of screen shots showing daily antisemitism. These fail to impress Corbynists, now a vociferous remnant in Labour under Keir Starmer’s leadership. Corbynism is not the same as Corbyn, the tabula very nearly rasa on to whom the hard left and lapsed Christians project their ideals, but he encourages their projects. As I saw from the group moderators, a little intervention goes a long way but Corbyn does not intervene to help out us ‘Zionists’.

With a slight shock, I sometimes see my own name or photo on the forums, in posts warning of my activities. I am often referred to as a ‘frothing Zionist’. After due consideration, I don’t think ‘frothing’ can be right in this case as I am well to the left of the Likud Party. ‘Frothing Jew’ would probably be more accurate.

The consensus among diehard Corbynists seems to be that the new Leader of the Opposition, Keir Starmer, is a Blairite and a Zionist, not to be trusted and not to be supported. His instant outreach towards Jewish organizations placed him firmly in the enemy camp, in their eyes. Many claim that they are leaving the Labour Party and some say that they can no longer even vote Labour.

‘But the Tories are worse,’ comes the reply and the more moderate Corbynists advise ‘Give Starmer a chance.’

‘He is no different from the Tories,’ reply some.

‘He stabbed Jeremy in the back,’ says another. They cite Owen Smith’s bid for leadership in 2016, supported by Keir Starmer, or Starmer putting pressure on Corbyn to take up a Brexit position or, most damning of all, the Jewish family connections, which make them think he must be Mossad’s man in Victoria Street. Others advocate remaining in the Party and making life as hard for Starmer as they believe it was for Corbyn, being opposed by the PLP at every turn.

The counter-intuitively named Jewish Voice for Labour group (at this point in time, not discernibly Labour nor, for the most part, Jewish) display a recurring message, ’Don’t leave, organize,’ adapting the words of American Labour activist Joe Hill: ‘Don’t mourn, organize.’ They have attracted to themselves many of those who were expelled from Labour for antisemitism and who are thus not precisely able to leave but it is the thought that counts.

At his first PMQs, which of course occurred in the age of lockdown, Keir Starmer was civil and well-prepared, more than equal to Dominic Raab who was at the opposite dispatch box due to the Prime Minister’s continuing convalescence. The word forensic is used frequently to describe Keir Starmer’s approach, perhaps because of his eminent career as a barrister, Head of the Crown Prosecution Service and Director of Public Prosecutions.

 It is certainly different from Jeremy Corbyn’s style, honed on rallies and picket lines. There is some reason to think that the adoration of Corbyn, so emphatic in the online groups set up to support him, owes something to his intellectual mediocrity which throws into relief his supposed probity and benevolence.

Now the Corbynists are on the margins of Labour rather than the epicentre and describing themselves – as I and like-minded people did over the last five years – as ‘politically homeless’.

Perhaps we are all politically homeless in 2020, or ought to be.

On the election of Keir Starmer to the leadership, several people whose views are similar to mine said that they would return to Labour, if not as members, at the ballot box at least. Some had remained members or otherwise affiliated to Labour throughout Corbyn’s time as leader, believing that it would take only time and a change of leadership for the antisemitism problem to wither away.

They have the change of leader and ambience, but will the problem wither away?

The unpredictable rise of Jeremy Corbyn, his storming of Glastonbury and, as antisemitism under his watch hit headline after headline, his apotheosis in the eyes of his supporters into martyr and idol, inhibit the practice of prediction and prophecy. Who would dare to say what happens next? Who saw Covid-19 coming, six months ago?

There have been ten Labour leaders in my living memory, not counting those like George Brown and Harriet Harman who served as acting leader during the hiatus of a leadership election. The first time I was entitled to vote in a General Election, my Labour vote did not prevent Wilson losing to Edward Heath. Among Labour leaders, only Tony Blair never lost an election.

Shall I vote for Starmer’s Labour when the opportunity arises?

Probably not. If the Holocaust deniers, conspiracy theorists, Israel haters and bog standard ‘Jews are behind it’ antisemites fly their nest in the Labour Party and make their home with the Tories or the LibDems, I might then vote Labour, if we still have a vote. If they return to the margins of politics, far from the possibility of government and if the mainstream parties manage to keep racism at bay among their membership, it will be more of a level playing field, but then Labour will still come carrying the handicap of their Corbyn years.

Shabbat Zachor

The shabbat before Purim is called Shabbat Zachor, which means ‘Remember’. We read a short extract from Deuteronomy 25:17- 19:

Remember what Amalek did unto thee by the way, when ye were come forth out of Egypt; how he met thee by the way, and smote the hindmost of thee, even all that were feeble behind thee, when thou wast faint and weary; and he feared not God.Therefore it shall be, when the Lord thy God hath given thee rest from all thine enemies round about, in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance to possess it, that thou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; thou shalt not forget it.

The traditional Haftarah for Shabbat Zachor is 1 Samuel 15, which tells a tragic story of Saul losing God’s favour. It is part of a bridge extending from the Amalek references in Exodus and Deuteronomy to Megillat Esther, which also concerns the ongoing battle with Amalek.

A close reading of the book of Esther shows that there are several allusions to the episode during Saul’s kingship as described in 1 Samuel.

When Mordechai is introduced to the reader in Esther 2:5, we are told the following:

Now in Shushan the palace there was a certain Jew, whose name was Mordecai, the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjamite;

 Who had been carried away from Jerusalem with the captivity which had been carried away with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away.

And he brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle’s daughter: for she had neither father nor mother.

Mordechai is of the tribe of Benjamin, like Saul, and the names of his grandfather and great-grandfather are familiar because they occur in Saul’s family too.

When Haman first appears in chapter 3 of Esther, we are told that he is an Agagite, thus a descendant of King Agag of the Amalekites.

Aramaic translations called targums to the book of Esther state explicitly that Mordechai is descended from Saul, Benjamin and Jacob while Haman is the descendant of Agag and Amalek, a grandson of Esau. The precise dates of the two targumim to Esther are disputed, possibly from the Talmudic period and some say later, early middle ages. The genealogies provided in the targumim are consistent with midrashim on Esther, some of which occur in the Babylonian Talmud, not later than 600 CE.

The story in the book of Samuel is as follows.

 Samuel the prophet tells King Saul to go into battle with the Amalekites and to kill them all along with their livestock. The Hebrew word for that kind of war is a herem . You might know another usage of the word when someone is excluded – excommunicated some would say – from the Jewish community.

Saul doesn’t obey instructions but keeps the Amakekite king, Agag, alive and saves the best of the flocks of sheep as booty. Compare this verse from Esther, where they abstain from taking spoil:

The remainder of the Jews in the king’s provinces gathered together and protected their lives, had rest from their enemies, and killed seventy-five thousand of their enemies; but they did not lay a hand on the plunder. (Esther 9:16)

Samuel appears and is incandescent about Saul’s disobedience. He despatches Agag himself, by the sword, but midrash tells us that Agag’s wife conceived a child by Agag the night before, hence the continuing line culminating in Haman the Agagite. Samuel, who has already anointed David on the quiet, but is not the most discreet of the prophets, tells Saul:

The Lord hath rent the kingdom of Israel from thee this day, and hath given it to a neighbour of thine, that is better than thou. (1 Samuel 15:28)

There is an echo of this language in Esther, when Memucan says fatefully to King Ahasuerus:

 That Vashti come no more before king Ahasuerus; and let the king give her royal estate unto another that is better than she. (Esther 1:19)

Whereas David was more deserving of kingship than Saul according to 1 Samuel, Esther is more deserving of the queen’s crown than Vashti, her predecessor.

Coincidence? Not where the authors of midrash were concerned. They were alert to all kinds of allusion, echo and intertextual reference. The emphasis on Mordechai and Esther being descendants of Saul as well as Haman being a descendant of Agag shows that they had 1 Samuel 15 firmly in mind.

Who was this powerful character Memucan? In one midrash, he is identified with Daniel, who was carried away to Babylon and ended up in the Persian court in the time of the Achaemenid Empire and the dynasty of more than one king called Xerxes. In this interpretation, Memucan is seen as a benign figure who clears the way for Esther. There is also a midrash which tells that Memucan was Haman, wanting Vashti out of the way so that he could see his own daughter married to Ahasuerus, AKA Xerxes.

Other versions of Esther

 Among all the scrolls discovered in the caves of Qumran in 1947, leading to decades of study of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the book of Esther has not surfaced, in any clearly identifiable form. There is a view that the book of Esther was rejected by the pious Essenes of the Dead Sea community.  It does not mention God, the Temple or Jerusalem, is raunchy in places and it holds out the possibility of material advancement in the galut, the diaspora.

However, Esther is found in a collection of books called the Apocrypha, which includes books which didn’t make it into the canon of the bible, among them Judith, Tobit, Ecclesiasticus and Maccabees. For Catholics, the Apocryphal books are included in biblical scripture and sometimes called the deuterocanonical books. Esther in the Apocrypha is not the book of Esther as we know it. It begins with a dream of Mordechai, in which he and Haman are dragons fighting each other. Israel, a word absent from our Megillat Esther, is mentioned in the dream. There is a much more detailed account of Esther approaching the King to avert Haman’s plans. Vashti is not mentioned; neither are the various banquets we read of in Esther.

Where does this apocryphal account come from and what language was it written in?

Like the rest of the Apocrypha, it was Greek.

In the third to second century BCE, when there was a powerful Greek presence in the Middle East in the wake of Alexander the Great, the Greek king of Egypt, Ptolemy II, commissioned a translation of the Hebrew bible into Greek. In this version of Esther, we find the story known to us from the bible combined with the less familiar additions also seen the Apocrypha. It appears to be the source for Esther in the Apocrypha. As for the Hebrew text which was used for the Greek translation, it is no longer extant.

When the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the mid twentieth century, many of the texts were found to match the Septuagint, where this differed from the post-Talmudic Masoretic text (the Hebrew version of Tanakh with vowels and cantillation marks). As we have seen, Esther was not found among the Dead Sea Scrolls so its original provenance is not known.

Another source on Esther is midrash, which extends the narrative and makes connections between Megillat Esther and verses from elsewhere in the bible. It is believed (Strack and Stemberger) to date from no earlier than about 500 CE. There is also later material from the twelfth or thirteenth century. Some midrashim are surprisingly late.

The Septuagint version is known to some of the midrashic authors.

The Mishnah, completed in written form around 200 CE,  has a tractate Megillah, looking at halachah related to Purim. The commentary in the Gemara also includes some midrashic narratives about the principal characters of Megillat Esther, not found in the bible itself, so all this extra material on Esther appears over a period of a thousand years, from various sources. Perhaps the strangest addition to the story is that Haman was a barber before rising to a position of power at the court of King Ahasuerus.

When Mordechai was about to be honoured by the king, Haman was obliged to give him a haircut.

Haman said to him: The man whom the king had once regarded above all his other ministers is now made a bathhouse attendant [balanei] and a barber. Mordecai said to him: Wicked man, were you not once the barber of the village of Kartzum? If so, why do you sigh? You have merely returned to the occupation of your youth. It was taught in a baraita: Haman was the barber of the village of Kartzum for twenty-two years. Talmud Bavli, Megillah 16a

One of the early rewritings of Esther comes from Josephus, a Jewish author writing in the Greek language in the city of Rome, after the destruction of the second Temple in 70 CE. Josephus’s version includes some passages from the Septuagint and is otherwise a fairly faithful paraphrase of the book of Esther as we know it.

Mesopotamian influence

The book of Esther owes something to Mesopotamian myth, the names Esther and Mordechai seeming to be variants of Astarte and Marduk, gods of the Babylonians. In the Sumerian creation story, Enuma Elish,written in cuneiform,  Marduk slays the older generation of gods, just as Zeus in Greek mythology defeats his father Cronos, who had castrated his own father Ouranos. While Megillat Esther may have borrowed names, it steers clear of the Sumerian and Greek family dysfunction.

5 Marduk, you are the most honoured among the great gods,
6   Your destiny is unequalled, your command is like Anu’s.
7   Henceforth your order will not be annulled,
8   It is in your power to exalt and abase.
9   Your utterance is sure, your command cannot be rebelled against,
10   None of the gods will transgress the line you draw.

(Emuna Elish Tablet 4:5 – 10)

At the conclusion of the book of Esther, Mordechai too is exalted.

10 And the king Ahasuerus laid a tribute upon the land, and upon the isles of the sea.

And all the acts of his power and of his might, and the declaration of the greatness of Mordecai, whereunto the king advanced him, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Media and Persia?

For Mordecai the Jew was next unto king Ahasuerus, and great among the Jews, and accepted of the multitude of his brethren, seeking the wealth of his people, and speaking peace to all his seed.

The festival of Purim is explained in Chapter 9 of Megillat Esther as being instituted by Esther in celebration of the Jews’ delivery from Haman’s plot. Did Purim exist as a festival before Megillat Esther was written? There is an opinion that it was a Babylonian or Persian festival well known to the Jews of Persia and that the story of Esther enabled it to be adapted for Jewish observance.

Hadassah

One aspect of Esther which seems altogether Hebraic is Esther’s real name, Hadassah. Whereas the name Esther may be related to Ishtar and Astarte or derived from the Hebrew word for hiding (because she kept her Jewish identity hidden), Hadass is a Hebrew word meaning myrtle tree and it appears just a few times in the bible, in Isaiah, Zechariah and Nehemiah. It has a connection with another festival, Sukkot, as the myrtle branch is one of the species included in the lulav.

Isaiah said:

Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress tree, And instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree; And it shall be to the Lord for a name, For an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off. Isaiah 55: 13

This links us to another festival, Rosh Hashanah, as it is included in the segment of Isaiah 55 which is the haftarah for that day.

Esther is a diaspora queen at the court of a Persian emperor, in a story which may be derived from non-Hebrew sources but her real name reminds us that she is our diaspora queen.

When you spend/waste as much time as I do looking at Corbynist forums on Facebook, the experience is like following a soap opera of the written word. Spellings and grammatical solecisms, syntax and opinions can be identified with particular personalities, although these come and go over the months, while my stalker-like attention remains a constant.

As I have recorded, extreme hostility to ‘Zionism’ is de rigueur and many of the world’s ills get attributed to Israel. Since the General Election in December, there has been an upswing in  expressions of veneration for Mr Corbyn. Whereas he was previously regarded as a flawless person, he is now perceived as a flawless person undergoing profound suffering and victimization, in order to make the world better for us all.

As Theresa May said at the dispatch box, channeling Mrs Thatcher, ‘Remind you of anyone?’

The sanctification of Corbyn is one side of a coin and on the other side is the demonisation of Israel to which global power is attributed. This simplifies the narrative. Corbyn is designated the one politician who stands up to the Israel Lobby and the Israel Lobby includes all Corbynsceptics, Jewish or not, Labour or not, British or not.

One of my observations about the forums has been that contributors have often reached a mature age, describing themselves as past retirement and with long memories. Sometimes they write and spell like people who have not used writing as a preferred means of communication. The internet has enabled them to socialize from home and to express opinions which are weighed and valued. The reward is that ‘likes’ and words of encouragement pour in. The rules are simple, Corbyn good, Israel bad, and once you have mastered this axiom, you are set to go. The forum may be your new family.

Corbyn’s goodness and Israel’s badness are not seen as naturalistic qualities, as in a good politician or a bad government. They are preternatural attributes which no contingent circumstance can dent.

Some of the Labour forums have a key word search facility which I have used occasionally, entering a topic of interest or, out of curiosity, a word, such as vermin to quantify the usage (prolific). Aware that, since the General Election, the discourse about Corbyn is increasingly pious and worshipful, I inserted the word crucified which I noticed was coming up frequently, in respect to the outgoing Labour leader. I tried this on just one Corbynist forum and found that the occurrence of crucified was too extensive for me to log more than a sample.

I have a theory that many of these elderly Corbynistas were brought up in a Britain where Christianity was the prevailing religion but that, under the sceptical influence of the times, they have long since let go of faith in the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit would be right out of the picture.

It goes without saying that they retain a distinct memory of whom to blame for the crucifixion.

 Judaism has Isaiah’s Suffering Servant who is despised and rejected; Christianity builds on that concept in the crucifixion narrative.  The suffering of the righteous strikes a chord in every generation, however godless.

The Labour Party is in the middle of a leadership contest which seems, so far, to arouse less bitterness than Owen Smith’s challenge to Jeremy Corbyn in 2016. Furthermore, all the candidates have expressed a determination to rid Labour of antisemitism, a Herculean task if online Corbynism is anything to go by. On the Labour forums, opposition to the MP for Islington North is perceived as a crucifixion. He has become their god and they glorify him.

In the wilderness, when Moses was gone some time up on Mount Sinai, the mixed multitude he had led out of slavery in Egypt made themselves a golden calf and worshiped it. Within just a few weeks they had forgotten the circumstances of the exodus from Egypt, but they remembered how to worship. Perhaps this is innate knowledge which never leaves us.

Post script, 3 September 2020

More than half a year has passed since I wrote the above. The covid lockdown is beginning to be relaxed and children are returning to school. Keir Starmer has been the Labour leader since April and, on Corbynist forums, he is by far the most frequent object of opprobrium. Boris Johnson and Donald Trump are called buffoons or ‘Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, but Starmer is regarded as Israel’s man. There is now more talk of Corbyn’s triumph than of his sufferings. Faith is expressed that he will return to lead the Labour Party and become Prime Minister, a view encouraged just this week by Corbyn winning a Twitter poll for ‘the best Prime Minister we never had’. Corbynist piety is greater than ever and it is not unusual for him to be called The Messiah. Please see recent screen shots added to this post. As for Satan, I don’t like to say, but obviously I and my co-religionists are in the frame.

The following images are from late August, early September 2020.

Considering the fact that I set great store by politeness,  I was not a well-behaved schoolgirl, at least, not according to a powerful triumvirate of middle-aged, single and judgmental women: the headmistress, the gym teacher and the music teacher.

The headmistress was a missionary manquée, much influenced by the remarkable life of Gladys Aylward. Instead of venturing into Yangcheng to make Christian converts, she delivered religious assemblies each morning at a girls’ grammar school, east of Islington. Out of praiseworthy consideration for the large proportion of Jewish pupils, she refrained from any direct mention of Jesus in these assemblies, while availing herself of texts from Saint Paul and Saint Francis, as well as our own psalmist, King David.

On the occasions when I was sent to her for misdemeanors such as talking at the wrong time or drawing in the chemistry lesson, she suggested that I was not a good person.

‘What does your mother think of you?’ she asked, when I was about fourteen.

‘I don’t think she sees me as you do,’ I answered. This would have gone down, as do all smart-arse answers, like a lead balloon.

As for the gym teacher, I suppose she was harmless enough. She had an MBE for services to netball. When Friends Reunited became a thing, I took one look at the old girls’ page for my school and saw that several women expressed unhappy memories of her tutelage, if one can call it that.

The teacher who disliked me most was the music teacher, an effective personality, who produced an oratorio each year for school concerts. She was prone to telling anecdotes about her war years and her two siblings,  and expressing contempt for the contemporary pop scene. Why I was her bête noire, I was never sure. I liked classical music. I was a teacher’s daughter, a fact she alluded to as follows.

‘You’re one of the few second generation grammar school girls at this school so your delinquency is unexpected.’

In my own defence, I must tell you that I only ever smoked in the toilets once, in my whole school career. I was law abiding and did not swear in front of teachers. I suppose I was seen as quick to answer back. On one occasion, the music teacher called out from the piano ‘Three girls are talking and I notice you’re all Jewish.’

I believe I uttered the audible words ‘What did you say?’

‘I’m not prejudiced,’ she persisted, ‘but other people might be so you ought to be careful.’

In her favour, she encouraged the girls who had beautiful voices and there were many. Not me, sorry to say. Singing was no more one of my talents than gym and that is litotes.

Not all the teachers were hostile. English teachers were almost always friendly and, by the time I was seventeen and attending meetings of International Socialism, I was mixing in the same circles out of school as the three or four Trotskyists on the staff.  One of them said to me, about the music teacher, ‘She’d like to smash you against the wall.’ It was terribly vivid language. Maybe I would have preferred not to have known.

Now I come to the point of this blog post. A student teacher appeared in the music lessons,  a Miss Fry. She was a pale faced twenty-year-old without make up or concession to 1960s fashion and, for all I knew, without a voice, as she was mute while the music teacher held forth. Eventually she was left alone in charge of the class and sat down at the piano. Somewhere in the back row, a couple of girls kept up a buzz of chatter until Miss Fry, without looking up from her sheet music, rapped out the words, ‘Be quiet Gillian.’

There was an intake of breath from the whole class. It was too clear that poor Miss Fry had been warned, if there was any trouble, it would come from me. The music teacher, returning to relieve Miss Fry from her moment of authority, singled me out explicitly as a wrongdoer who led others astray. To this day, I’m not certain what caused her very pointed animosity to me, but here I am, age seventy, and in a sense answering back even now, although she has long since gone the way of all flesh.

Anyone who has been kind enough to read my previous blog posts might already know: I resent a phenomenon I see very regularly from the political extremes of left and right, namely, the attribution of all evils to ‘Zionism’. Whether it is 9/11, the war in Syria or terror on the streets of Europe, it is always there, a voice of the neo-nazi right or the more widely credited left saying ‘The hand of Israel. The Rothschilds. The New World Order. The Zionists are behind it.’

As with most of my co-religionists the world over, this makes me feel despairing, angry, contemptuous and afraid, above all because of the absence of reason and the quick draw, ill-informed inference which gets magnified, amplified and disseminated on thousands of online sites.

It occurs to me now that, like Michael Corleone, I’m ‘taking this very personal’ and maybe it’s because the kneejerk reaction ‘Israel did it’ echoes the ancient memory of Miss Fry, coached by the music teacher to respond to any disturbance with ‘Be quiet Gillian.’

Michael said ‘It’s not personal Sonny. It’s strictly business.’ But Sonny and Michael were both right. Some things are strictly business and also personal. Everything is personal.

More than once in my Twitter life, I’ve posted a link to ‘Tomorrow Belongs to Me,’ a scene from the 1972 film Cabaret directed by Bob Fosse. Back in 1972 when I saw Cabaret in the cinema, I thought the blond youth in a German outdoor café was rather drippy but now I’m at the age when no young person looks drippy and I see how the boy, aged perhaps seventeen, appears to be the epitome of Aryan beauty and innocence.

He stands up and sings solo while gradually others join in. I often find this an effective and moving device in films, from Non Nobis Domine in the Kenneth Branagh version of Henry V to Tomorrow in Annie and Santa Claus is Coming to Town in Elf.

While the boy sings Tomorrow Belongs to Me, the lens zooms back to reveal his Hitler Youth uniform and swastika armband; then the camera pans round the café to show that all are entranced  – except for one uncomfortable, uncomforted old man – and inspired to join in. Eventually the café clientele are standing up and singing fervently in unison. The atmosphere becomes martial as the camera rests on two other youths, also in nazi uniform but with baleful expressions, lustily singing, ‘Fatherland, fatherland, show us the sign…’ The soloist is now visible full lenth, adopting a fanatical look and stiff posture which segues into a full blown Hitler salute.

The episode is witnessed by Cabaret’s protagonist, based on Christopher Isherwood and portrayed by Michael York. He says with evident irony to his friend (played by Helmut Griem) as they hurry away into a taxi, ‘You still think you can control them?’

The scene is very cleverly done. It shows the manipulation of a crowd through a display of recognizable desiderata: beauty, song, love of country, hope – all in a horrible confluence of the aesthetically pleasing with the morally repugnant. The camera cuts away to the sinister figure of the Master of Ceremonies – an unforgettable and multi award-winning Joel Gray – nodding directly at us, the audience, with a knowing air, as if we too are complicit.

Why did I find reason to post this scene not once but twice or possibly three times on Twitter? What is the precise resonance with today’s predicaments, which seem to forecast storm clouds for tomorrow and beyond?

In my opinion, imho as they say, the film shows how fanaticism appeals to self-righteousness, and offers an adrenalin hit which impels lunch time diners or a street rally or an army to rise to their feet, voicing their consensual determination – to do what? In the case of Cabaret, we know that we are looking at the preparatory manoeuvres of the nazi killing machine. Yet there are many occasions when we are happy to stand up and sing for a cause, whether it’s a national anthem, Blake’s Jerusalem at the Proms or Handel’s Messiah where I’m usually one of the first to rise for the Hallelujah chorus.

‘Are we the baddies?’ asks David Mitchell’s character in the famous sketch from That Mitchell and Webb Look.

In recent years, I find there are online places where  I personally am designated ‘the baddie’, for which I qualify by being a Zionist, or ‘arch-Zionist’ as one antagonist described me. So can we tell if we’re the baddies? We can use the well-worn tools of deontological, utilitarian or intuitive ethics; we can make altruism an absolute value and we can watch out for the consequences but I doubt that any of these methods are a reliable way of keeping on the straight and narrow.

Like much else, it’s a conundrum and I will probably think about it tomorrow.

After all, tomorrow is another day… so long as nobody tries to hog it.

Contenders for the Labour leadership who received sufficient support from the Parliamentary Labour Party are Rebecca Long-Bailey, Lisa Nandy, Jess Phillips, Sir Keir Starmer and Emily Thornberry. All have voiced a determination to turf out Labour antisemitism, a goal which has been extremely unpopular with online Corbyn supporters and, I am told, in some Constituency Labour Parties.

All the candidates have signed up to ten pledges put forward by the Board of Deputies. In brief and with some of my own paraphrase, the ten pledges are:

  • Resolve outstanding cases
  • Independent process for Party discipline
  • Transparency rather than secrecy
  • Not readmitting prominent offenders
  • Labour members not to campaign for or give platforms to those expelled or suspended for antisemitism
  • Adopt IHRA in full and use it in disciplinary cases
  • JLM to be involved in anti-racist training
  • Engagement with Jewish Community organizations rather than the anti-Zionist, Corbynist activists of JVL
  • Use clear communication rather than repetition of clichés
  • Leadership to take responsibility

The backlash from determined Corbynists has been intense. Lee Harpin writes about it today, 14 January, in the Jewish Chronicle. https://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/board-of-deputies-pledges-for-healing-labour-s-relationship-with-jewish-community-prompts-backlas-1.495384

I have followed the discussions on those Corbynist forums which have not yet expelled me and in fact was expelled from one of them this week, presumably for querying one of the antisemitic comments. During the last few days, almost all the discussion on the forums is about the dangers of Jewish Zionist domination in western politics. Striking through the word Jewish reminds me, when a gentleman referred to the Jewish Lobby, he was advised by another member of the group to change his words to Israel Lobby. In due course he did so, saying that he was being careful as someone (Facebook? Labour Party?) had imposed a ban on his output.

I suppose everyone knows this joke: two Jewish men are sitting on a park bench in Berlin in 1938. Both are reading newspapers. One notices that the other is reading Der Stürmer.

‘Why are you reading that antisemitic rag?’ he asks.

‘Because,’ replies his companion, ‘it says here that Jews have all the power and all the wealth in the world and, in these wretched times, I need something to cheer me up.’

It is a falsehood universally acknowledged by the far left, the far right and, sadly, some closer to the mainstream, that Jewish organizations hold sway over UK politics. In their eyes, the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Labour Movement, Labour Friends of Israel and much of the UK rabbinate ‘bestride the narrow world like a Colossus.’

Three days have passed since I wrote the above, and the Board of Deputies remains a matter of absorbing interest on the Corbynist forums. Meanwhile, the Muslim Council of Britain have devised their own ten pledges, which the Labour candidates have endorsed, as they did with the Board of Deputies pledges. This is not a subject for discussion on the forums. After all why should a minority community not lay out a list of their priorities, so that a possible government would pledge to protect them from racist persecution?

It seems to be only the Board of Jewish Deputies which is perceived to be taking over the world.

It’s nine days since I published this post, but the wrath of the forums has not abated and the Board continues to arouse lively conversation, uniformly contemptuous, disbelieving and abusive. I continue to update the screen shots. Excuse me if there is any overlap.

Extra screen shots have been added.

Since Labour’s defeat in the General Election, less than two weeks ago, the Corbyn supporting forums on Facebook and the Corbyn loyalists on Twitter have, like the rest of us, been discussing how it happened that the Conservatives were elected with a majority of eighty while Labour sustained heavy losses, especially in the former Labour strongholds in the north of England.

There is a consensus on the Labour forums about the reasons for Labour’s defeat. These are said to be:

Rigged elections

Rigged counting

Bias from the press and broadcasting

Interference from Israel

Disloyalty from Labour centrists

There is a clear preference in these groups for Jeremy Corbyn to remain as Labour leader for the forseeable future. Those in the running to succeed him are all considered tainted, either by good relations with the Jewish Labour Movement, membership of Labour Friends of Israel or, as in Rebecca Long-Bailey’s case, having at least once spoken out against an instance of Labour antisemitism.

There is also much discussion of possible candidates to replace Mr Corbyn in the spring. Certain objections come up repeatedly to some of the likely candidates. Emily Thornberry and Rebecca Long-Bailey are perceived as being too close to Israel. Keir Starmer is perceived by some as disloyal to Jeremy Corbyn. Angela Rayner has not yet been called ‘Israel’s puppet,’ but I fully expect that will happen when they realize that she once attended a Chanukah Party. Jess Phillips is deplored for being hostile to Corbyn, friendly to Jewish organizations, and prone to using strong language, for which they decry her as a ‘f***ing gobshite’.

Richard Burgon and Ian Lavery have been suggested as preferred leaders. Although they are no longer in the Labour Party, Ken Livingstone, Chris Williamson and George Galloway have also been mentioned, as worthy successors.

My own feeling is that many of Corbyn’s most loyal supporters are so thoroughly opposed to Jewish organizations and institutions that the Labour Party’s problem with antisemitism is here for the long haul.

Below are some of the threads from three or more Corbynist forums. Some of them have changed their names since the General Election; for example, ‘Jeremy Corbyn Leads Us To Victory’ is now called ‘Jeremy Corbyn T’ for reasons I cannot fathom. The former ‘We Actually Support Jeremy Corbyn’ is now ‘Supporting Active Socialism. ‘Jeremy Corbyn Will Be Prime minister’ has kept its name. Hope springs eternal.

On about the sixth night of Chanukah, antisemitic graffiti appeared overnight in Belsize Park and Hampstead: a red Star of David had been painted at various locations, including South Hampstead Synagogue, accompanied by ‘911,’ attributing the 9/11 attack to Jews, a conspiracy theory favoured by both right and left. Immediate reaction on Labour forums included the view that Jews were to blame, as they had enabled the Conservative election victory, and also that the graffiti was correct, 9/11 being the work of the Jews. After twenty-four hours, the SWP run organization ‘Stand Up to Racism’ was planning a ‘vigil of solidarity’ with Jews, to be held in Hampstead, occuring in fact as I type this. The hypocrisy and cynicism of this demonstration has been noted by many, if not THE Many. We Few also have our Many.

The General Election is just three days away and the whole nation is anxious, although not all for the same reason.

My own anxiety is explicitly dread that Corbyn will be Prime Minister, since he has unleashed antisemitic discourse, the quantity and intensity of which I have never before seen in the UK, .

I am sure that Mr Corbyn is not conscious of meaning harm to the Jewish community. This is why he is so emphatic in condemning antisemitism in front of the television cameras. Unfortunately, he has been filmed making countless rabble-rousing speeches & has linked himself with so many violent or murderous antisemites, that his anti-racist messages don’t cut through to his supporters, at least, not when the racism in question is antisemitism.

I was expelled from some closed Labour forums many months ago so the images I compiled are quite out of date.

I am therefore putting together a few more recent screen shots. These come from ‘We Support Jeremy Corbyn’ and ‘We Actually Support Jeremy Corbyn’, from ‘Jeremy Corbyn Leads Us to Victory’ and ‘Jeremy Corbyn Will Be Prime Minister’. I have not included the Corbynist forum ‘Truthers Against Zionists Lobbies’ as Facebook appears to have closed it down at last, just this week.

The synagogue hall in our previous building was too small to accommodate the whole congregation on the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, so these services were held in the large, draughty but capacious hall of a local sports centre. As a parent, I was sometimes obliged to do security duty, so in late September 2001, I was outside the sports centre with a walkie talkie in my hand, to connect me to the security officers in the event of anything untoward.

At about 4pm, when school was out, a group of boys, aged perhaps twelve, thirteen or fourteen, straggled cheerfully along the nearby road, chanting ‘Osama Bin Laden!’

Those children are thirty now, grown men, and perhaps they put aside their hero-worship of the man who masterminded 9/11. At the time, I wondered what was the appeal for them, in the person of Bin Laden. who brought death and injury to some thousands of innocent people. Urban legends which have proliferated over nearly two decades throw doubt on the role of Bin Laden and Al Qaida, preferring to finger the CIA, the FBI, George Bush, Israel and various other agents, but two weeks after the atrocity, it was not contentious to believe in the involvement of Osama Bin Laden.

The appeal, I came to believe, was in the successful execution of the act; it’s uniqueness and drama; the manifestation of terrorist force against civic might.

I would probably have forgotten about the boys outside the sports centre, except that there ensued a perceptible axial shift in political discourse.

The USA and George Bush were more hated than before. Tony Blair was disliked but re-elected in the General Election of 2005, though with a much reduced majority. The anathematization of Tony Blair did not reach its full fury until a year or two later and intensified after he stood down as Prime Minister in 2007.

Was it because facts relating to the war with Iraq war were not known until this time? I think not. When the findings of the Chilcot Report were made public, there was some disappointment among many on the left that Blair was not to be prosecuted. In the ensuing years, a staple of left wing discussion was to call for the trial and imprisonment or even execution of Tony Blair. Many who considered themselves opposed to capital punishment expressed a preference for a public hanging. The talk became increaingly bloodthirsty and when Blair’s name was mentioned on political debate programmes such as BBC Question Time, the audience would howl anathemas.

Blair had become fair game because, like Sejanus, he had fallen. It is not only the toppling of statues which signifies the end of both authority and reputation. Thus, when the Twin Towers collapsed so hideously and apocalyptically, there plummeted also the authority and reputation of the West, the USA, the allies of the USA and the First World. Some of those suffering anomie no doubt rejoiced and the London schoolboys chanted Bin Laden’s name.

Today, we are four days away from a UK General Election, after which the Prime Minister almost certainly will be either Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn. It is unlikely that an MP from one of the smaller parties, Jo Swinson for example, will be asked to form a government. I feel more profoundly invested in this election result than ever before in my life. In the past, as a member of the Labour Party, I performed grunt-level actions to help the campaign: leafleting, stuffing envelopes, checking electoral registers. More often than not, I suffered the deep disappointment of Labour losing to the Conservatives.

This time, being Jewish has made a difference to me. More than that, it has reversed my previous sympathies and, believing as I do that antisemitism is now out of control in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, I would like to see Labour lose and lose badly.

I have heard Sir John Major and Tony Blair agreeing that a hung parliament would be the best outcome, enabling the Remainers’ cause. I am a Remainer myself, or was. However, the danger to British Jews weighs even more heavily with me than Brexit.

In the General Election of 2017, Labour did better than expected, which showed that Corbyn was far from unelectable, an accusation which had so often been leveled agaiinst him. As the Tories lost their majority, the Labour performance was hailed as a great success. There was a triumphalist mood among the membership and Corbyn achieved cult status. It was the summer of Oh Jeremy Corbyn, the Absolute Boy.

When we persisted in opposing the antisemitic ethos gathering pace in the Labour Party, we were seen as spoilers, traitors and fifth columnists; condemned as agents of Israel, paid members of Mossad, racists, apologists for child-killing and so on. Such was the language every day on the online Corbynist forums to which I had access. Celebrities who spoke out for Corbyn and against Israel became the saints of Corbynism and those who were Jewish had particular status: Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, Michael Rosen, Miriam Margolyes, JVL (born fully clothed from the forehead of Free Speech On Israel) and the ultra-orthodox outliers of Neturei Karta. These individuals and organizations were tranfigured by the Corbyn movement into instantly recognizable memes. The momentum was with Momentum, the Corbynist grass roots and the front benchers who had risen like Corbyn from relative obscurity.

Now we must vote, or make our civic contribution by not voting. It seems that much of the country will be voting against, rather than voting for; voting against the empowerment of whichever side they think will be worse.

Why has support for the LibDems, Greens and Brexit Party fallen away? Because nothing succeeds like success, and it is discouraging to vote for a party you think has already lost the battle. The outcome of the election seems less predictable than usual because of rewritten alliegances due to Brexit.

My hope is that Labour will lose so that the triumphalism which characterizes Corbyn’s supporters will topple, like the statue in Firdos Square and we will not have to look at it any more. Otherwise I fear others will fall and it will be a catastrophe.

8 December 2019



    • Tell Facebook | Neviim Tovim, blogs by Gillian Gould Lazarus: […] 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,
    • L.Sordo: They always strike me as being immature, semi-literate and gullible.I assume they're late teens or under 30 left school at 16 as did I. I read every
    • Gillian Gould Lazarus: Thanks, L Sordo. One word I question here - 'kids'. Many of these participants are mature, one might say senior individuals. Observing over a period o