There is much both inspiring and discordant in the Haggadah. Nothing is more jarring than the incantation before the praise of the Hallel when the door is opened for Elijah and we implore God to “pour out his wrath upon the nations that do not recognise you… and destroy them from beneath the heavens”.
Such sentiments are unfashionable in today’s politically correct world, and former Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks notes that the prayer is “not a call for vengeance but a prayer for divine justice”. But in the run-up to Pesach this year there have been sharp remainders that descendants of Amalek may not have the message quite yet.
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis’s assertion in Jerusalem that some Muslin leaders are keeping shtum over anti-Semitism gained widespread traction. But it is no cause for surprise given the anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish vitriol that is currency across much of the Middle East, including in Palestinian textbooks. What most of us brought up believing in the tolerance of Britain find more alarming are views in the political mainstream that echo those of the Middle Age when”pour out thy wrath” was added to the narrative of the Haggadah.
Only under enormous pressure from the Jewish leadership and demonstrators at Westminster, including more than 30 MPs, has Jeremy Corbyn finally recognised anti-Semitism in Labour. Previously he insisted he doesn’t have a racist bone in his body.
Corbyn’s support and hospitality provided to his ‘friends’ in Hezbollah and Hamas are a case in point. In case the Labour leader hasn’t noticed, Hezbollah is building up missile sites in southern Lebanon and on the Syrian border targeting Israel.
Having been party to the human rights assaults on the Syrian people perpetrated by autocrat President Bashar al-Assad, Hezbollah is battle hardened, has a good supply of weapons from its Iranian supporters and is ready to take the fight to Israel.
As the BBC’s veteran world editor John Simpson observed in an essay on the Today show, the Hezbollah build-up threatens to become the next flashpoint in the Middle East. A Netanyahu government, on its back foot as a result of corruption allegations against the prime minister, might well be tempted into military action to take out the missiles in what could be yet another Middle East war.
If Corbyn’s only flirtations with anti-Zionism were confined to the Middle East, they could at least be put down to geopolitics and world view of appeasing absolute rulers such as Vladimir Putin. But it is the domestic venom inside the Labour Party that has been harder to take. As the commentator Rod Liddle noted in The Sunday Times, Labour has shown “extraordinary tolerance to people who have said the most outrageously anti-Semitic remarks”.
The party produced a whitewashed report into anti-Semitism and Corbyn, possibly accidentally, found himself part of a Facebook group that accuses Jews of being in control of the media.
The Labour leader’s latest offence was his support in 2012 for the graffiti artist Mear One, who produced a mural in Tower Hamlets showing a cabal of hooked nose money men playing monopoly on a table held up by naked sons of toil. Then mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, ordered it to be scrubbed clean.
Even the most passionate believers in freedom of speech cannot believe that a mural, reminiscent of some of the worst tropes of the 1930s in Germany, is helpful in calming racial tensions in east London. Nor should it be endorsed in any way by the leader of major political party.
Unfortunately, as Jews in Britain open the door to Elijah this year they might imagine the image of another bearded figure, wearing a Leninist-style hat peering in. For many Jews, loyal to Labour’s values of social tolerance and justice, the Corbyn leadership and the despicable views it fosters are deeply alienating.
Fighting from inside is one answer but, as brave Liverpool MPs Luciana Berger and Louise Ellman have found to their costs, it is a deeply disturbing space.