Ordinary British Jews Condemn Chief Rabbi’s Attack on Corbyn

Yesterday Mike put up a great piece yesterday reporting that after Tory Chief Rabbi and friend of Johnson and Netanyahu Ephraim Mirvis had taken to the pages of the Times to smear the Labour party once again, British Jews from right across society, from ordinary Brits to the noted actor Miriam Margolyes, had take to social media to condemn Mirvis’ comments. One of the first was an open letter which was circulating on the Net, which read:

Dear Chief Rabbi, you have shamed your office today and rendered the Jewish people even more vulnerable to real antisemitism by reinforcing the fake, media-induced antisemitism that you recklessly impute to Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party.

To interfere politically at this point in an election in a way that could affect the only party that could bring hope and social justice to this country is beyond contempt and renders you unfit for office.

As a Jew and a Labour Party supporter, I am proud to be part of a venture that I see as a continuity of so many of my Jewish forbears who have fought for social justice here and in Europe.

You talk about ‘the soul of the nation being at stake’ yet have you not noticed what has happened to that soul over the last nine years where: 1. The poor have been vilified 2. The ill have been attacked 3. The mentally ill have suffered 4. Inequality has soared. 5. Greed and financial rapaciousness has flourished 6. Austerity has been unnecessarily applied after a financial crisis brought about by an out of control finance sector that has benefited the wealthiest.

Where was your voice about the nation’s soul then?

Yet you inveigh against a decent and honest man who, even now, maintains integrity in the face of manifest manipulation, deceit and digital sleight of hand from the Tories.

You have shamed your office, the justice-loving tradition of the Jewish people and laid the grounds for future tensions in the most irresponsible way. You seem to lack the acuity of intellect to even spot the most obvious use of this bogus antisemitism as a political weapon.

Justin Schlossberg of the Media Reform Coalition called the antisemitism saga ‘a disinformation paradigm’ and made a detailed study of the issue. The great scholar, Norman Finkelstein, likewise, sees this a purely politically motivated attack.

How dare you, amateurishly intervene in this, betraying the great Jewish scholarly tradition of intellectual and analytical acumen embodied in the Talmud and the exegetics of the Chumash.

The letter is signed, “With profound sadness and considerable disgust.”

Labour supporter Hasan Patel retweeted a piece from Margolyes’ comments about the affair on Channel 4. The actor said

I don’t think people are looking at the real issue. In Rabbi Mirvis’ statement, the word ‘Israel’ does not appear and that to me is the heart of the problem. People are not anti-Semitic, they are anti-Zionist as I am myself. It doesn’t mean that I’m anti-Semitic. I fight anti-Semitism and prejudice wherever I find it and so does Jeremy Corbyn and I think that the Chief Rabbi whom I respect because of his position is just making a terrible mistake. It is completely wrong to listen to what people are saying about Jeremy Corbyn. I just don’t understand it. I don’t believe that Jeremy Corbyn is anti-Semitic. I’m sure that he’s handled it badly. Everybody makes mistakes and I’m sure he’s made mistakes. But he hasn’t become an anti-Semite, he doesn’t support anti-Semitism, he loathes it, as every right-thinking person does. And I just feel desperate that we are prepared to take on board as Prime Minister a shoddy liar like Boris Johnson. How can you believe a thing he says? The man is a complete falsehood from start to finish. He’s a blustering bully, and I think if you have to choose between the two for goodness’ sake choose Jeremy Corbyn.

Margolyes has been a long-term critic of Israel’s barbarity towards the Palestinians. Nearly a decade ago she condemned the bombardment of Gaza ‘as a proud Jew, and an ashamed Jew’. She came out as a lesbian a few years ago, and works with a Jewish organisation aimed at combating anti-gay prejudice in the Jewish community, Gay Yids.

Children’s Poet Laureate David Rosenberg attack Mirvis’ silence on Tory racism. He tweeted

Chief Rabbi has had nothing to say on Tories hostile environment and Windrush Scandal, nor on formal Tory links with antisemitic gov’ts in Poland and Hungary. Think he’s sitting on his moral compass.

And ordinary Jewish Brits were also angry that Mirvis was using their community identity to attack Corbyn. Dr. Simon Goodman tweeted

Today I’m feeling terrible that my religious identity is being used to argue that an obvious anti-racist is an . is awful and must always be fought, but it is simply not the case that or is antisemitic.

And Juliette Emery said

Off for today
I need to calm down, it’s not healthy to be this angry 😡
Too many lies and mendacious attempts to undermine the only leader I know that wants peace, equality and a fairer society for us all whilst protecting this planet we all call home

Sleep well

Mike comments that British people dislike being told what to think, and this seems especially true of Jews. Exactly! I got the impression that Jews see themselves as a people particularly given to debate and argument. It’s been that way ever since the Talmud recorded the debates and disagreements over the Law by the rabbinical sages of antiquity. ‘Two Jews, three opinions’, as the Jewish saying goes. Years ago I bought an old book of papers from a wartime American academic conference, in which religious groups, philosophers, people of letters and scientists put forward arguments to show that their disciplines upheld and promoted the liberal, democratic values under threat from Fascism. A group of Jewish scholars put forward a fascinating paper to show that Judaism was intrinsically democratic. This included a piece from the Haggadah, extra-Biblical Jewish legend, which called for Jews in leadership positions to be concerned to create consensus and agreement, rather than impose their decision by fiat.

The story is that when God gave Moses the Torah, He commanded Moses to first go to the Jewish people to see if they would accept it. The Lawgiver replied that there was no need, because they would have to accept the Torah as the express word and law of the Almighty. ‘Nevertheless’, said God, ‘God to the people.’

They also argued their point on a remark about the Bible from one of the great rabbis, whose views are recorded in the Talmud. When asked what the most important sentence in the Hebrew Bible was, he replied ‘And these are the generations of men’. Not God, not Jews, but humanity as a whole. God’s revelation is intended to benefit all of us. Liberal Jews writing in the American radical magazine Counterpunch have said that they came to their values through the teachings of the Talmud, just like the author of the open letter at the start of this post. They stated that to be a Jew means always identifying with the oppressed, never the oppressor.

But Mirvis is defending the oppressor in seeking to conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism in order to smear Corbyn and his supporters. And to support a Tory party determined to impoverish and disenfranchise ordinary working people, whether they be Jews or gentiles. And for many British Jews, this is intolerable.