Last Friday morning, while I was reviewing the service for the coming Shabbat, I received a message from a congregant, who is also a member of the choir (yes, we even manage to have a functioning choir with services on Zoom!). He asked whether we could sing Hallel to celebrate the end of the tenure of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour secretary.
I agreed, provided that the introductory blessing was skipped. It is not mandatory to sing Hallel when you celebrate events (hence no tzivanu blessing). But who am I to deny anyone the joy of celebrating, especially when the whole congregation joined in so joyously.
It turned out, that when we were singing Hallel from our computer screens, the news of the hour was the result of the Labour elections. They showed up on the TV screens precisely at the same moment. Although, not on the web site of the Labour Party, that at that moment was appropriately crashing.
Jeremy Corbyn is gone, although Corbynism still taints the relationship between the Labour Party and the Jewish community. And on social media, as well as in conversations (on Zoom), many of us now remember bits of antisemitic nonsense that have unfortunately been the rule over the last few years.
It is precisely these bits that have had us shivering with fear, thinking that the man who laid a wreath on the grave of sadistic Palestinian terrorists, could become influential in Foreign policy.
Now we laugh at the nonsense that he and his acolytes have poured on the media. But, boy, how afraid we were. Terror has become joy. Many of us have so many different stories to tell.
So here I will share my favorite bit of Corbynite nonsense. I came across it in late November 2019, a few weeks before the elections, when Corbyn’s defeat was somehow in view. “Am I the only one to be terrified” wrote a Corbyn devotee (I think the tweet has been erased, and in a moment I’ll tell you the possible reason), “by the thought that people will blame the Jews if Corbyn loses?”
Slightly more articulate, Robert Cohen explained that “as a British Jew” he was “horrified” by the perspective of a Tory victory, because “If Labour loses this election and antisemitism allegations are perceived to have been a key factor in the Party’s defeat, what will the long term political consequences be? How will millions of voters perceive our Jewish institutions and leaders and indeed Jews in general?”
Well, as everybody sees, Labour has lost the election, but no assaults to Jewish institutions are taking place. Citizens impoverished by the Tory policies are not attacking the synagogues down their roads. No antisemitic agitator is leading a mob against the local Jewish school. And with the exception of few immature militants, who did their best to censor Melanie Philips (and were properly booed by the audience), Jewish life in the UK goes on undisturbed, after the election of Boris Johnson as PM, and the defeat of Jeremy Corbyn.
Forecasts were wrong. Perhaps the tweets have been deleted because the authors do not want their names to be associated with such a blatant lack of insight, and have still some sense of decency. Nonetheless, I think it’s worth unpacking those grim forecasts.
Claiming that Jews will suffer antisemitism if they do not vote for Jeremy Corbyn, is akin to stating that Jews will be responsible for the next wave of antisemitic attacks. Which is totally not acceptable. Antisemitism is not a (reasonable? obvious? necessary?) consequence of Jews’ behavior. Antisemitism does not depend on what Jews do, (or do not, like in this case not supporting Jeremy Corbyn).
Maintaining that Jews are responsible for antisemitism is like maintaining that women victims of rape “had brought it upon themselves” with their lack of modesty. Or blaming the Muslim community, or their leaders, for Islamophobia.
Such nonsense has a long history. Perhaps it originated in the Gospels’, in passages such as Matthew 27:25 (“All the people answered: “His blood is on us and on our children!”). In this theological view, the Jews took the responsibility on themselves and on their descendants, for the terrible decision of condemning Jesus to death. One would expect Jewish intellectuals to refrain from this completely non-Jewish kind of thinking.
Of course, it is totally legitimate, although in my opinion a bit naive, to believe that British Jews should have voted for the Labour Party, even if the leader at the time thought we lacked a British sense of humor, that is why we are not fully British. But trying to persuade Jews to vote for the Labour Party with that kind of argument is bizarre. “Vote for X otherwise there will be consequences and supporters of X will attack you violently” may be persuasive, but it shouldn’t be!
Threatening violence, and intimidating the voters is precisely what Fascists do. It has nothing to do with democracy. It is quite revealing that militants on the Far Left believe that the threat of violence is a proper way to persuade people. They are, after all, very fond of Castro and Maduro, whose supporters act in the same way, when and if democratic elections are called in these Countries.
Moreover, this threat, “vote for me or there will be consequences”, carries a striking similarity to the “offer that can’t be refused”, well known to those who have loved “The Godfather”, the Mafia saga narrated by Francis Ford Coppola. Those Jews who have toyed with the fear of antisemitism, forecasting explosions which did not happen, must be informed that Don Corleone is not a model of Jewish leadership.
When and if they learn the lesson, which, with a new secretary seems totally possible, we will have reasons to celebrate. Meanwhile, they should acknowledge that they were wrong (which rarely they do). Or, if it is too difficult, at least shut up.
Then we all will have another reason to sing Hallel. Or just to say a blessing.