An existential threat?

The march of the Flags is the culmination of "Jerusalem Day", the day on which Israeli nationalists celebrate the conquest of East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Days War. The annexation of East Jerusalem by Israel has never been recognized by international law. Photo: Oren Ziv/

JVL Introduction

The former Chief Rabbi, who died recently, has been described as a towering intellect with a broad humanism which transcended all religions.

If so, there were nonetheless some gaping holes when it came to appreciating the humanity of some others.

Here John Spencer looks at his extraordinary role in fomenting hatred against Jeremy Corbyn and fanning the flames of quite imaginary fears among Jews in Britain and elsewhere; as well as giving succour to extreme right-wing settlers in Israeli-occupied territories.

John Spencer writes:

Sir Keir Starmer expressed his condolences on the “passing” of the former orthodox chief rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. “He was a towering intellect whose eloquence, insights and kindness reached well beyond the Jewish community. I have no doubt that his legacy will live on for many generations. My deepest sympathies to Lady Sacks, the family and to the entire Jewish world on their loss.”

Starmer, who supports Zionism “without qualification”, doesn’t mention the late rabbi’s extraordinary and offensive diatribe against his predecessor as Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, nor does he mention Sacks’ enthusiasm for leading flag-wagging bullies through Israeli-occupied east Jerusalem to intimidate Palestinian residents. As we shall see, for all his erudition Sacks could be a nasty bigot.

Corbyn was on the platform at a meeting in the House of Commons in 2013 addressed by Manuel Hassassian, the Palestinian ambassador. Referring to the parlous condition of Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories, The ambassador said: “You know I’m reaching the conclusion that the Jews are the children of God, the only children of God and the Promised Land is being paid by God!… Maybe God is partial on this issue.” As the meeting broke up a couple of pro-Israel activists who had been at the meeting seized on this remark and berated the ambassador essentially for trying to stand in God’s way.

The same group of pro-Israel activists turned up at another meeting a few days later where Corbyn was speaking. Corbyn said: “The other evening we had a meeting in parliament at which Manuel [Hassassian] made an incredibly powerful and passionate and effective speech about the history of Palestine, the rights of the Palestinian people. This was dutifully recorded by the thankfully silent Zionists who were present on that occasion and then came up and berated him for what he had said. There clearly are two problems. One is they don’t want to study history. And secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, they don’t understand English irony either. Manuel does understand English irony and used it very very effectively so I think they need two lessons that we can perhaps help them with.”

To criticise a political opponent who happens to be a Jew is not proof of antisemitism. But it is a trope of the anti-Corbyn campaign that any criticism of an individual Zionist or group of Zionists can be taken as applying to Jews in general. And though he refers quite specifically to “the thankfully silent Zionists who were present on that occasion” the anti-Corbyn campaigners chose to take him as referring to all English Jews.

Anyone who has attended public meetings in support of Palestinian rights, as I have, will have encountered the group of Zionists who attend these meetings and make their opposition to those rights abundantly clear. I am not using “Zionist” to mean “Jew” any more than Corbyn was. The word is a political characterisation. It does not even imply “Jew”: Starmer, a gentile, proclaims himself a Zionist. We don’t know how many non- or even anti-Zionist Jews were at the videoed meeting, but many have attended similar gatherings. Had there been any truth in the hypothesis that Corbyn said Zionist but meant Jew he would have been implying that they too were ignorant of history and didn’t understand Hassassian’s irony. It beggars belief that Corbyn would have set out to insult some of his most ardent supporters.

The quoted passage references an argument Corbyn overheard at the House of Commons meeting and refers to a small group of agitators who were at both meetings (and vocally present at many pro-Palestinian meetings before and since). The insulting sting of Corbyn’s remark is that Professor Hassassian, who was over fifty when he first arrived in England, uses English better than the people who were arguing with him. Hassassian is not English by birth or by nationality, so Corbyn cannot be taken to suggest that inability to appreciate irony is a genetic failure. Though they were themselves English his interlocutors had taken (or pretended to take) Hassassian literally when in fact he was speaking ironically. Corbyn doesn’t say they do this because they are Jewish. Reference is to the language “English” not to any not-Englishness of Jews.

The rather dated video clip was worthless to the anti-Corbyn campaigners unless they could impose an occult meaning on it. The campaigners know in advance the conclusion they should reach. To reach it, cue systematic and unscrupulous distortion. The result was fed to Lord Sacks, who stated: “When [Corbyn] implies that, however long they have lived here, Jews are not really British, he is using the language of classic prewar European antisemitism.”

Starmer’s towering intellectual managed to weld together two lies in a single sentence. As we have seen, Corbyn did not imply that the hecklers were “not really British” (Sacks unaccountably conflated English with British), still less that Jews are not British regardless of how long they have lived in England. Quite the contrary: his words taken in context have a plain and ordinary meaning, but if implication must be read into them they still say the opposite of what Sacks claims.

It’s worth noting that Sacks had no inhibitions about treating Corbyn as equivalent to a Nazi. And his conclusion that the Labour Party was accordingly “an existential threat” to Jews was widely echoed by Tories, Labour right-wingers and pro-Israel commentators in The Guardian and other newspapers. Like Sacks, they took no account at all of Corbyn’s long record of care for Jewish constituents and institutions in his Islington North constituency and in his wider work as an MP. The “kindly” former chief rabbi didn’t share the moderate and sensible idea that people are entitled to be taken to mean what they actually say rather than having their words twisted “by implication” into something they didn’t.

For those who didn’t understand what he meant by classic prewar European antisemitism, Sacks went on hyperbolically: “The recently disclosed remarks by Jeremy Corbyn are the most offensive statement made by a senior British politician since Enoch Powell’s 1968 ‘rivers of blood’ speech. It was divisive, hateful and like Powell’s speech it undermines the existence of an entire group of British citizens by depicting them as essentially alien. We can only judge Jeremy Corbyn by his words and his actions.”

As any careful reader can see, Corbyn didn’t “depict” anybody who was not at the Hassassian meeting. And he didn’t depict anyone at all as “essentially alien”, except possibly Hassassian himself. Enoch Powell launched his racist message in the full glare of publicity, in terms that did not need to be teased out by implication. For that matter “classic prewar antisemitism” didn’t hide itself away in half a paragraph on a dusty video clip. Corbyn’s supposed racism has to be corkscrewed out by maliciously misinterpreting something he said five years previously, before he even dreamed of becoming a “senior British politician”.

Sacks concluded: “We have an antisemite as the leader of the Labour Party and Her Majesty’s Opposition. That is why Jews feel so threatened by Mr Corbyn and those who support him.”

Plainly Sacks was putting his own spiteful gloss on Corbyn’s words, not looking “insightfully” at what he actually said. And we don’t need to look far to see where Sacks’ prejudice came from. He was a very active proponent of the illegal settlement of the Israeli occupied west bank, contrary to international law. In 2017 Sacks extended a personal invitation to diaspora Jews to mark 50 years of military occupation by joining him in “leading” the March of the Flags on Jerusalem Day and “dancing with our brave IDF soldiers” in the settler enclave inside the city of Hebron.

Haaretz correspondent Bradley Burston has described the March of the Flags as “an annual, gender-segregated extreme-right, pro-occupation religious carnival of hatred, marking the anniversary of Israel’s capture of Jerusalem by humiliating the city’s Palestinian Muslims. Marchers vandalized shops in Jerusalem’s Muslim Quarter, chanted ‘Death to Arabs’ and ‘The (Jewish) Temple Will Be Built, the (Al Aqsa) Mosque will be Burned Down,’ shattered windows and door locks, and poured glue into the locks of shops forced to close for fear of further damage.”

Lawyer Anna Roiser, a Jewish resident of Jerusalem opposed to the Flag March, told Haaretz that Sacks’ group would visit an illegal settlement of a few hundred Jews in the centre of Hebron, a city of 150,000 Palestinians, heavily guarded by the Israeli army. She said: “‘Dancing with soldiers’ in the streets of this settlement enclave is an unequivocal show of support for the settlers’ presence there, and of disregard to local Palestinians living under a form of perpetual siege.”

She wasn’t exaggerating. When I visited Hebron in February I met Palestinian merchants in the old market who were working directly underneath the settlement. The dancing soldiers and their settler proteges throw their rubbish onto the shop awnings. The presence of the settlement has destroyed the local economy. Ever since Dr Baruch Goldstein’s infamous killing spree of 1994 in the Ibrahimi mosque (Abraham’s tomb), Palestinians in Hebron have been forbidden to walk down their own high street. Jewish settlers, though, can commute from Hebron to Jerusalem or Tel Aviv on frequent buses for their use only. Hebron’s steadfast Palestinian inhabitants, under military occupation and collectively punished in perpetuity for the Zionist Goldstein’s racist crime, are the truly brave. “Without qualification,” as Sir Keir might say.


Comments (24)

  • dave says:

    Most of the anti-left crew know full well that they are weaponising remarks taken out of context – that’s what they do. It is a playbook of the Republicans in the US too. Once the lies are embedded in the mass media they reach a huge audience and are propagated probably to the end of time as only a small number of sites/people such as JVL and hopefully a few reputable historians (eventually) will tell the truth but we are obliterated by the propaganda.

    Who knows whether Sachs was wise to the lies or just weaponising even further the propaganda he believed, but his history with the March of the Flags etc suggests he knew what he was doing.

  • James Dickins says:

    A powerful article on the same topic by David Rosenberg:

  • Ian Jewesbury says:

    Good to see it broadcast John and I have retweeted. No-one should forget what they did to Hebron. Ian

  • Dr Paul says:

    Just the other day, Jonathan Freedland blithely repeated in the Guardian the old saw that Corbyn had accused Jews as a whole of being unable to understand irony. This repetition shows how a lie — let us use the word — has become received wisdom. That Corbyn was referring purely to a couple of individuals at a meeting and to nobody else, this fact — let us use the word — has been lost to all but a few who know the truth.

    As for the ‘existential threat’ that Corbyn represented to Britain’s Jews, this is absurd. I am currently reading David Cesarani’s The Final Solution, a long, detailed account of the fate of Europe’s Jews under the Nazis’ dictatorship. They were an existential threat to Europe’s Jews, and Cesarani brings to the reader what they did in horrifying detail. Was Sachs seriously considering that Labour under Corbyn was going to do that to Britain’s Jews?

    How can anyone take seriously a man who could so easily retail such idiotic lies and distortions?

  • Allan Howard says:

    Oh he knew precisely what he was doing Dave! As he did when he dissembled the following poisonous hyperbole in September 2018, which was of course widely covered by the MSM:

    Former chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks said Sunday the majority of Jews are questioning whether Britain is a safe place to bring up their children.

    The crossbench peer insisted the Labour leader must ‘recant and repent’ and that he risked engulfing the country ‘in the flames of hatred’.

    ‘Jews have been in Britain since 1656, I know of no other occasion in these 362 years when Jews… are asking ‘is this country safe to bring up our children’,’he told the BBC.

  • Allan Howard says:

    Excellent dissection by the way!

  • Kath Shaw says:

    Such an important piece as this should be printed in all the major newspapers. It is forensically analysed to enable us to see how Corbyn’s words were purposely misinterpreted for nefarious purposes..

  • Isaac Cohen says:

    Kier Starmer claims to support Zionism without qualification. I would therefore like to ask him whether he would have supported the extremely damaging Balfour Declaration, a colonialist declaration that is greatly responsible for the continuing conflict, pain and suffering it has brought to both Jews and Arabs up to today. One cannot be Zionist without supporting that infamous declaration which was opposed by many British Jews, including Edwin Montague, a Cabinet and a colleague of Arthur Balfour, who opposed Zionism on principle and viewed it as detrimental to the interests of Jews throughout the world. Would Starmer not concede that the Balfour Declaration was integral to Britain’s colonialist efforts? Does he back British colonialism and its criminal effects on the fate of the colonised nations?

  • This won’t be bedtime reading for Jonathan Freedland or Margaret Hodge who now casually slumber in their belief that ‘the beast’ is slain – except it isn’t is it, because for all their lies and deliberate misinterpretations a) the virtual absence of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party is a fact that can no longer be truthfully told without inviting vitriol and expulsion and b) this inevitably invites continuing rancour rather than sympathetic, intelligent and comradely dialogue (now banned by the general secretary).

  • John C says:

    As someone inspired by the writings of Rabbi Sacks, such as The Politics of Hope, and many other titles dedicated to a philosophy of inclusion, I was saddened to see him throw away his own legacy in his last years. For what? A golden calf.

  • Allan Howard says:

    The MSM aren’t interested in the truth Kath. Entirely the opposite!

    Anyway, something occured to me a bit earlier – ie that it practically always takes about a hundred times longer to dissect and dismantle a smear – a falsehood – than the smear itself. Smears – which are of course concocted and contrived by propagandists – are always kept as simple and digestable as possible, and of course directed at the emotional sphere, whereas any dissection of said smear/falsehood is by its very nature directed at the intellect and reasoning sphere, for want of a better way of describing it.

    And another aspect that works very much in the smearers favour – the propagandists favour – is that it is inconcievable to the majority of people that they are being lied to and duped and decieved, and I don’t mean inconcievable in the sense that they considered the possibility that it WAS a falsehood, and then dismissed that possibility as inconcievable. But inconcievable in the sense that such a possibility was SO inconcievable that they didn’t for a millisecond consider that possibility, even when something doesn’t strike them as very plausible.

    It’s a defence mechanism at work as much as anything else, and if, for example, the tens of thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of Jewish people who heard Marie van der Zyl claim in an interview on an Israeli news channel that Jeremy was spending more and more time with terrorists and extremists etc, learnt that she was lying and that it was a complete falsehood, many of them would no doubt be seriously disturbed by the fact.

    And the smearers know it of course!

  • Nick Jenkins says:

    Frankly, it is bizarre that Starmer, as leader of the Labour Party, should be so generous and uncritical about someone who was so outspoken and mendacious in his efforts to ensure a Tory government.
    Well done for calling him out on that.

  • Allan Howard says:

    They just never-ever stop!! The ‘anti-semitism’ smearers are FOREVER coming up with new and different angles to dupe and decieve the general public! I just came across the following Guardian article (from Oct 29th) by chance, and it’s just MORE falsehoods and lies concocted by the smearers. Here are a few clips:

    ‘Jewish Labour councillors who led EHRC antisemitism process tell of mental toll’

    More than 70 whistleblowers consisting of current or former Labour staff, MPs and officials submitted testimony on antisemitism to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, as part of a coordinated effort by two Jewish Labour councillors who say the process has left them traumatised.

    The Guardian can reveal that two of the whistleblowers were offered physical security, guidance against potential cyber-attacks, legal advice and counselling as part of a concerted effort to collect widespread evidence of antisemitism across the party.

    The two councillors from the Jewish Labour Movement received 800 pieces of submitted evidence from Labour members of their experiences in the party, which included posters of Donald Trump being left on members’ lawns and threats of violence.

    Both Adam Langleben, a former Labour councillor in Barnet, north London, and Peter Mason, who remains a councillor in Ealing, west London, say the experience of submitting evidence to the EHRC cost them their mental wellbeing.

    Mason and Langleben said they had initially tried to work with the then Labour leadership and be a bridge between the party and the Jewish community. However, they described losing faith in the leadership’s ability to take antisemitism seriously after Jeremy Corbyn’s defence of an antisemitic mural was revealed in 2018….

    No doubt it amuses them no end sitting around concocting and contriving and dreaming it all up.

  • Ray McHale says:

    In Para 9 do you refer to Starmer when you mean Sacks?

    [the author says no, it is correct as published]

  • tony greenstein says:

    In his Wiki entry Jonathan Sacks is described as ‘paradoxically one of the most universalizing voices within contemporary Judaism.’ When it comes to bourgeois philosophy terms such as ‘universalism’ mean anything you want them to mean. When it came to the victims of Zionism, the Palestinians, Sacks was anything but a universalist. He held his arms out to the most murderous racist settlers of all.

    As John Spencer writes, Sacks was a bigot who dressed up his prejudices in flowery language, sophistry and semantics. It matters not a jot how many inter-faith and philosophical books he wrote. What counts is how he interpreted them.

    Sacks’ attack on Corbyn for having made the most racist speech since Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood played to a racist gallery of fawning tabloid headlines and empty-headed political pundits. Sacks demonstrated not only his hypocrisy but his willingness to lend his name to cheap demagogic rhetoric.

    The irony is that Jonathan Sacks named Douglas Murray’s ‘Strange Death of Europe’ as one of his favourite books! A book that is the bible of the identitarian movement. Clearly Sacks himself didn’t understand British (or any other) form of irony since Murray is a Powellite who argued that

    “among the things most striking when reading his [Powell’s] speech – and the reactions to it – today are the portions for which he was lambasted that now seem almost understated… if anyone had suggested to Powell in 1968 that he should use his Birmingham speech to predict that within the lifespan of most people listening those who identified as ‘white British’ would be in a minority in their capital city, he would have dismissed such an advisor as a maniac….”

    Murray criticised Powell’s language only in order to argue that Powell understated his case. And this is the book that was on Sacks recommended reading list!

  • Allan Howard says:

    ‘Jews have been in Britain since 1656, I know of no other occasion in these 362 years when Jews… are asking ‘is this country safe to bring up our children’,’he told the BBC.

    Right, so Jeremy didn’t look at a tiny picture of a mural on his mobile properly.

    And he sarcastically said that two Zionists who go around disrupting pro-Palestinian events didn’t understand English irony.

    And he wrote a foreward to a 120 year-old book that contained a few lines of anti-semitic content.

    And he pronounced Jeffrey Epstein’s name Epshteen.

    Yes!, no wonder Jewish people are asking is this country safe to bring up our children! Are ANY of us safe!!

  • Wonnie says:

    I read your different articles and see the discussion of facts rather than prejudice. Will we ever get to a point in MSM where printing facts and debating them is a requirement? Currently it is so much propaganda generating falsehoods and spite, it makes me despair. I’ve long stopped buying newspapers, but all your articles give me hope. Thank you.

  • Lesley & Andy Phipps says:

    An excellent article John. We were with you in Palestine and can fully endorse your observations.
    We must NOT be bullied into silence.

  • Alan Howard mentions The Book and Corbyn`s endorsement. If Jeremy is to be labelled “antisemitic” because of this then how much more “antisemitic” must the thousands be who endorse Charles Dicken`s “Oliver Twist” which contains pages of fervent antisemitism! (Read it again)
    But Corbyn`s detractors have no interest in the antisemitism expressed by Dickens nor in the antisemitism with which he regales his many readers. ONLY Corbyn`s “antisemitism” is useful for their purpose of vilification!
    I have also heard several other people say Epshteen instead of Epstein. This vicious bigotry should not and will not be tolerated!!

  • Brian Robinson (Dr) says:

    In 1999 the journalist Andrew Brown published a book called ‘The Darwin Wars: How Stupid Genes became Selfish Gods’ and in a chapter he briefly discussed interviewing Sacks. Here he reports on the event:
    “When a normally educated secular person first deals with religious belief, it can appear a kind of insanity. I have spent ten years writing about religion as a journalist and I am still shocked by some things that the devout believe. … The first time I interviewed the Chief Rabbi, DrJonathan 
Sacks, a man with a double first (one of those degrees being in philosophy) from Cambridge, he defended to me the proposition that Moses himself wrote or dictated all five books of the Pentateuch, including those passages in which his own death is described. That is the most shocking thing I have ever heard an intellectual say – at least, the most shocking trahison des clercs. I may think that religious belief is ineradicable and useful; I don’t think it is any guarantee of truth. 
    “It is also true that religions are dangerous …”

  • Brian Robinson (Dr) says:

    Rabbi Sacks, speech at Solidarity Rally for Israel, Sunday 23 July 2006, JFS, Kenton, London:
    “Today we stand in solidarity with Israel, and rarely have I felt so proud of Anglo-Jewry as I have done these past few days. Especially of our young people. Last week 1300 of them, from youth groups right across the religious spectrum, went out to Israel. Every one of them, or their families, might have said, ‘No, not now. It is too dangerous.’ Yet almost none of them did. I want to say to every one of those young people: Kol hakavod. You make us proud … And today I want a message to go forth from us to Israel to say: Israel, you make us proud …” 
    There followed not only much praise for “the Israel we know and love” but also what elsewhere has often been called “shooting and crying”, as here, “Which of us does not weep when we see the news day after day? Does any of us, God forbid, take satisfaction at the devastation of Lebanon? Is that who we are? Let me be clear and unambiguous. We weep not just for Israel but for the people of Lebanon also …”
    But of course all is justified: “And if we, if Israel, if Europe, if America do not take a stand against terror, if we ignore it as the world ignored it for so long, then it will leave a stain on the human future that no tears, no regrets, will ever remove.”
    And in the concluding paragraph: “Ribbono shel olam: Be with your people Israel now. Hear their cry. Heed their tears. Listen to this, our prayer on their behalf.”

    I think this is what is often called Israelocentric Judaism.

  • Allan Howard says:

    And regards the mural episode, it didn’t matter a jot to his detractors that Jeremy apologised and explained that he didn’t look at the picture of the mural properly, because his detractors have an agenda, and so they dismiss his apology – ie they have to (fraudulently) be dismissive of his apology. And MORE! A couple of days ago I happened, by chance, to come across a Guardian article in which it said the following:

    ‘First, make sure to actually look at the mural. Don’t take a fleeting glance as you prepare to tweet your outrage….’

    The author of the hit piece, Michael Segalov, is of course lying through his teeth, and there was no ‘outrage’ on Jeremy’s part, and as Segalov knows damn well of course, all that Jeremy said in response to Mear One’s facebook post about his mural was ‘Why?’ (do they want to remove it), and then said: ‘You are in good company. Rockerfeller destroyed Diego Viera’s mural because it includes a picture of Lenin.” (the reference was to Mexican artist Diego Rivera’s 1933 fresco Man at the Crossroads). The following is from an article entitled ‘Antisemitism, the Brick Lane mural and the stitch-up of Jeremy Corbyn’ by Bob Pitt on May 31st, 2018:

    In a Facebook post on 2 October 2012 an indignant Ockerman wrote: “Tomorrow they want to buff my mural Freedom of Expression. London Calling, Public art.” Commenting on Ockerman’s post the same day, Jeremy Corbyn asked: “Why? You are in good company. Rockerfeller destroyed Diego Viera’s mural because it includes a picture of Lenin.”

    And Bob Pitt then goes on to say:

    Corbyn evidently wasn’t at that point aware of the reason for the proposed obliteration of the mural. Hence his question “Why?”

    Corbyn’s lack of awareness of the cause of the controversy is not surprising, since the post to which he was replying made no reference to allegations of antisemitism.

    In the absence of this information, Corbyn obviously assumed it was the anti-capitalist character of the mural that had proved controversial — hence the Diego Rivera reference — and he expressed sympathy for the artist on that basis.

    Yes, exactly, and Segalov and all the other smearers know THAT of course! And needless to say, Segalov fraudulently descibes Jeremy’s response as ‘outrage’ for the obvious reason – ie to dupe people into thinking and believing that Jeremy was outraged that they (the local council) should be planning to remove a mural with anti-semitic content/undertones. Anyway, here are the links to both articles:

  • Allan Howard says:

    I don’t expect JVL to publish this, but on skwawkbox earlier today, a bunch of shills (and their secondary personas) did a hit job – ie a hatchet job – on Jeremy so as to discredit him in the eyes of the thousands of left-wingers who follow the blog. The following is self explanatory….. with first a link to my reponse to ttheir disinformation/distortion hatchet job, which I initially posted down the comments section where the shills were merrily doing their poisonous work, but then shortly afterwards – with a preamble – posted it at the top of the comments section so as to alert readers to what they were doing (further down the comments section). And the second link is to the post where it all took off (and pleae excuse my ‘French’, but I was angry at what they were doing – and they post stuff practically every single day to discredit Jeremy in the eyes of readers of the blog – and was in fact just describing them for what they are):

    PS And it appears that I was correct in my assessment of why Jeremy posted his facebook statement earlier today, because when I just went on to skwawkbox to copy the above links and paste them in this comment, there was the headline in the ‘Recent Articles’ section saying that Jeremy has just been reinstated.

  • Stephen Richards says:

    Look on the bright side, we now have Ephraim Mirvis instead.

Comments are now closed.