Neviim Tovim, blogs by Gillian Gould Lazarus

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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.

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.’

Like 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 in execration.

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 inelectable, 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