Maybe it’s not a witch hunt


This short essay offers an new interpretation of what is taking place in the Labour Party.

Not so much a witch hunt, more a case of rooting out heresy…

An engraving of the peine forte et dure inflicted on a prisoner (appearing in the "Malefactor's register" of 1780). Image: Wikipedia

We have all accepted the description of what is happening in the Labour Party, and other places, as a witch hunt; making the easy association with McCarthy and “Reds under the beds”.

But what is being inflicted on antizionist Jews is not so much a witch hunt as an auto-da-fé. It’s a hunt not of witches but of heretics. Defence of Israel has been adopted, in contradiction to all Jewish theology, as a religious obligation. Any who rebel against it are not subjected to a Labour Party version of the House Unamerican Activities Committee but to a 21st century Spanish Inquisition. The forces of religious orthodoxy (the Zionist religion that is, greatly overlapping the Jewish religious and communal authorities but far from identical) decry us as heretics who refuse to observe the religious rituals of Memorial Day (Yom HaZikaron) and Israel Independence Day (Yom Ha’atzmaut); or the March of the Flags (Jerusalem Day). Heretics are without rights but more dangerous than witches. Witches may cast spells of dubious efficacy but heretics trade in ideas and ideas can undermine the most carefully constructed orthodoxies.

We should not forget that the first victims of the Spanish Inquisition were Jews and Muslims from conquered Moorish Andalusia, the veracity of whose conversion to Christianity was doubted. The contemporary heretic hunters seek out Jews who, perversely, believe that Muslims, Jews and Christians are equally entitled to free and fulfilling lives and that the domicile of their distant ancestors does not confer present day property rights. Claiming God has endorsed your title deed belongs in the high days of the Inquisition.

The modern inquisition has abandoned, maybe reluctantly, peine forte et dure and the stake, replacing it with psychologically damaging summary suspension of indefinite duration – what the victims perceive as trial by ordeal; and a contemporary form of excommunication. Anyone convicted of heresy is to be refused the right to speak or appear with our elected representatives. Any elected representative who associates with a heretic has, ipso facto, become a heretic themselves. Heresy is a virus more contagious even than Ebola or covid-19.

Henry Kamen’s description of the operation of the Inquisition resonates through the recent report into the Labour Party’s malfunctioning (or all too smoothly functioning, according to your aspirations) Labour disciplinary machine:

many true and faithful Christians, because of the testimony of enemies, rivals, slaves and other low people—and still less appropriate—without tests of any kind, have been locked up in secular prisons, tortured and condemned like relapsed heretics, deprived of their goods and properties, and given over to the secular arm to be executed, at great danger to their souls, giving a pernicious example and causing scandal to many.

It is inappropriate for the Labour Party to attempt to adjudicate on a dispute between Jews on aspects of Judaism and views of Israel. It sadly resonates with the earlier attempts of the Catholic Church to enrol European Grand Dukes and Princelings into upholding the Church’s threatened supremacy. The torture and burning did nothing, in the long run, for the authority of the Church or the rulers.

Comments (26)

  • Naomi Wayne says:

    Nice one, Mike!

  • John Bernard says:

    It’s a very compelling analogy! I hesitate to gainsay an erudite and learned Jewish person talking about Zionism and Judaism, but I rather wonder historically whether Labour Party politicians have not so much attempted to adjudicate as simply side with the Zionists, and failing to make a distinction between Zionism as a political aspiration and Zionism as a racist doctrine in practice. I always think that the post war generation of British politicians just judge everything on the basis of the Nazi Holocaust and support Israel unequivocally, either failing to see, or blithely ignoring the irony of of a post Holocaust state perpetrating its own genocide on an ethnic minority. There is of course the undoubted influence of realpolitik in the form of American support, slavishly followed by generations of Labour leaders. What’s happening now though in the Labour Party richly deserves comparison with the Spanish Inquisition, with the BoD ten demands perhaps the equivalent of the Alhambra Decree and Starmer as the latter day Torquemarda.

  • dave says:

    Excellent. I think it’s worth setting up Labour Against the Inquisition just for the comedy value in these ‘unprecedented’ times.

    “It is inappropriate for the Labour Party to attempt to adjudicate on a dispute between Jews on aspects of Judaism and views of Israel.”

    Exactly. A democratic socialist party should only concern itself with rights and equality of all involved and seek political answers to those ends. Maybe it will end with Tony Greenstein shaking hands with the Queen.

  • RH says:

    Perhaps I find the quesion of control of narrative as the key issue.
    I’ve just had an interesting ‘conversation’ about the Covid-19 sitation .
    It simply confirms my conviction that the control of the story is all.

  • John Thatcher says:

    It is indeed a very telling analogy,right down to the longer term harm likely befall the cause it seeks to aid.

  • Witch hunt or auto da fé, its irrelevant. The point is to understand that the current political system is itself profoundly flawed and to explore what possibilities are available to creating a new one that has built in protections against these flaws. Religion, or rather superstition, flourishes in the absence of proper democratic debate. Labour leaders have behaved like autocrats claiming to speak for the people but in reality opposing more involvement by the people. The false accusations of antisemitism did not really lead to open debate because some, perhaps many in Labour were afraid of the shift of power that might have occurred as a consequence.

  • Rod Webb says:

    A very illuminating analogy which puts this sordid battle of ideas in perspective.

  • Niall Murphy says:

    Thanks for this clear and insightful critique. I am reassured that all my recent unhappiness about what has happened in the Labour Party can be attributed to me being a heretic rather than a malcontent.

  • Mike Scott says:

    I’m not sure I would want to get into too detailed a discussion about whether the current situation is closer to a witch-hunt or the Spanish Inquisition – both ended badly for the outcasts!

    However, while I do very much agree that “the domicile of their distant ancestors does not confer present day property rights”, I’m reminded of what I wrote on returning from my first trip to Israel/Palestine a few years ago: “I thought the popular Israeli T-shirt slogan “Guns ‘n Moses” was a joke when I first saw it, but soon realised that it actually represents the way Israelis see themselves rather well….one of the most bizarre and alarming aspects of life in Israel is that there is no real distinction between history, religion and politics, which means that things that probably didn’t happen 2,000 years ago are routinely used to justify political decisions today. And of course, you can’t argue with someone when God has told them they’re in the right.”

  • Michael Westcombe says:

    Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!!!

  • Mary Davies says:

    Maybe it’s both…

  • Rene Gimpel says:

    An excellent reflection on the current situation. Why does it bring to mind Spinoza and his excommunication?

  • Benny Ross says:

    One key difference — dangerously venturing into medieval history here, which I know very little about: an auto da fé, so far as I know, was a *public* burning of heretics. The forces ranged against us now want to smother the fact that there are any Jews who don’t idolise Israel or who reject the Board of Deputies’ claim to represent us all. Rather than burning us in public, they’d prefer to deny that we exist or could ever exist. We’re in the dungeon all right, but not at the highly visible stake.

  • Ellie Palmer says:

    I enjoyed this Mike though I fear too thoughtful and serious for many members of the new Shadow Cabinet.
    I have just finished reading an article in the LRB, ‘Covid – 19 in the time of Netanyahu’ by Yonatan Mendel:
    “According to the Gini index, Israel was the most unequal state in the OECD between 2013 and 2015; it moved up second most unequal in 2016 when the US took over. Throughout his tenure Netanyahu has pursued the cause of privatisation and neo-liberal economics while neglecting basic services and investment in public health. …….
    A report published last year by the Taub Centre for Social Policy Studies made it clear how low down the list of government priorities Israel’s public services are: there are 2.2 hospital beds per 1000 people compared to an OECD average of 3.6 or 4.1. in countries with similar health care systems…
    Revealingly, when Covid 19 began to spread in Israel, N ordered Mossad to make a secret shopping trip ( probably to the UAE) to buy up 500,000 Coronavirus testing kits for Israel’s use.
    Meanwhile the government has done nothing to alleviate the concerns of more than one million Israelis …who are currently unemployed.
    Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine has been mentioned over and over again in the last few weeks: in the Israeli case, when disaster struck there were hands, not necessarily invisible, intent on shifting the state’s responsibility into its citizens …with the state using all the resources at its disposal to keep those citizens in line….[And] while Netanyahu has set up a ‘unity government’ to pursue his own agenda, Gantz the one person in a position to replace him ….has now surrendered any chance of a more democratic Israel in favour of supporting the Prime Minister’s anti- democratic legacy………. ”
    I couldn’t help wondering whether Keir Starmer, Angela Rayner or Ellie Reeves would feel uncomfortable about their level of support for this regime …I begin to fear not …

  • Thank you for offering such an insightful argument, replete with historical analogies. I have found both the article itself and the comments below enlightening and interesting.

  • marco Liebeskind says:

    Isaac Deutscher knew about witch hunts and where they led – do read his biography of Stalin. It seems to me that the JVLs overwhelming need for absolute political purity would need a purge, or maybe an inquisition of types which is strange coming from Jewish socialists, given out political suffering in previous purges, however maybe some of you are thinking we need martyrs , maybe our own Beria to fish out the impure and and soft pink cadre who need to return to ideology school for 6 months, and then we will take over the party and rid ourselves of all traitors, expose Tory infiltrators, Liberal pinks and and any Maoist spies . I would recommend a organisational oath after ideology school is sufficiently completed to maintain organisational discipline that reports to a designated discipline committee, organised under the watchful eye of a central committee of experienced comrades preferably with maybe some previous SWP or RCP experience

  • Barry Jones says:

    Yes I was suspended and resigned

  • Malcolm Davis says:


  • Tom Reed says:

    Marco liebeskind, thanks for your contribution, but it’s quite nasty. You seem quite upset at the idea we have a witch hunt and auto da fe situation on our hands where a regime claims property rights over a country based on events thousands of years ago.

  • RC says:

    “Marco liebeskind” – a standard troll – has pushed his tongue into his cheek so far that it has come out the other side. JVL has no desire for political or ideological purity, apart from opposing the racist persecution of the Palestinians, and a preference for free speech.
    For the ideological repression depicted by “ML”. is what is displayed in the report on the GLU and found currently in operation by eg Starmer and Symonds Thomas. “their values are not our values”. – this infinitely elastic formula savours of the methods of Prevent – a totalitarian body instituted by Blair.
    Or maybe ‘ML’ really did have his tongue in his cheek after all…..
    Steady as she goes, then JVL: nothing to be ashamed of on our part.

  • William Johnston says:

    Accusations of heresy – or their modern equivalents – are routinely used by those who work with the dominant narrative, and the clearest indication that ideological heresy has entered the arena can be seen in the language used by those who make such accusations.

    So it is that those who question medical practices such as vaccination are dismissed and ridiculed as anti-vaxxers, those who question the role of mobile networks in the undermining of our health, or those who advocate homoeopathy in medical practice are scorned and derided by those who ride the dominant ideology of scientific truth.

    Now, I don’t necessarily think that those who question vaccination, microwave energy or alternative medicine are always right, any more than I would regard Martin Luther as a more impressive human being than the Pope.

    What I do note is the violence of the language used by those who have the power; a language which always steps beyond any sort of rational debate – designed indeed to suppress all debate. And that, more than anything else, draws me towards those thus despised, and leads me to question the motives and agendas of those who, despite wielding all the power, feel the need to express their views with so much rage.

    Rage suggests fear, and fear suggests doubt. Maybe they are not as certain as they make themselves out to be.

    I am reminded of Voltaire’s quote: “Le doute n’est pas un état bien agréable, mais l’assurance est un état ridicule.” Which might reasonably be translated as : “Doubt is an uncomfortable condition, but certainty is a ridiculous one.”

    Maybe the BoD are peculiarly aware of being ridiculous – and it’s not an experience that they enjoy very much.

  • George Wilmers says:

    Marco Liebeskind’s rather bizarre comment above would have been more helpful had he provided a scintilla of evidence for his assertion. The very fact that his comment has been published by JVL however would seem to provide strong evidence against his thesis. Marco provides not a single example of JVL-required “ideological purity” to justify his claim. Is it perhaps evidence of excessive political purity to demand that action be taken against mendacious crooks and corrupt inquisitors at the very core of the LP or that supporters of apartheid be exposed as racists?

    I challenge Marco to read my fully documented account of my treatment by the LP Inquisitors, whose outcome was far milder than that suffered by many other innocent LP members, and then tell me that it is I who am the inquisitor demanding “ideological purity”, while the cynical and cowardly individuals who have controlled the LP disciplinary process are the innocent victims of a JVL hunt for heretics.

  • Richard Comaish says:

    Am I a witch or an heretic? Neither. I am a victim, and a political martyr, in the sense that my political life chances look over. Except that martyrs don’t generally come back to life. Should that ever happen, that could make me a saviour, or messiah, uniquely placed, perhaps, to ensure that this kind of thing never happens again.

  • Alan Sloan says:

    This rings true enough with me, though i have no understanding of the inter-Jewish politics of it all.

    As a secular Jew with no interest in Jewish politics or even basic knowledge of the Jewish ways of life, I’ve been attracted to all this by the offensive spectacle of Labour being bludgeoned with the AS stick by a hostile media. It was obviously triggered by Corbyn’s election and obviously about his connection to HAMAS. I feel compelled to intervene to help rescue what i see as (relatively) innocent victims. I see connecting to “enemies” as an inevitable part of peace process, and Corbyn would have been a valuable asset to Israel, now wasted.

    I’ve been attempting to find out why “Labour” antisemitism is being defined as a “problem” when Tory, Green or LD antisemitism is ignored. Interestingly I’ve not yet even had the opportunity to actually ask, as at every step of reaching out I’ve been questioned as to my identity, had the IHRA definition thrown at me as if with the status of Law, called names and generally abused, told i’m antisemitic etc etc etc. NO engagement on fundamental issues outside religion, interesting but of dubious utility. It feels like a wall of denial.

    I have been accepted on one level only – that of a secular Jew looking into his heritage, even this is seem to be “conditional”. This interest is true to an extent – I do find it interesting, but my main motivation is to stop the bullying. If there are genuine difference there should be genuine common ground – I’m finding it very difficult to identify it.

    In the doubtful event of anyone being interested, my twitter feed is open to the world at @alan861603 … happy to engage but not echo, sorry.

  • Ruth says:

    A friend has been suspended from the LP and is considering leaving it anyway because of the personal effort it will cause if he fights it. He is an ambulance driver and received the email announcing his suspension while he was sleeping after a night shift collecting Covid -19 patients on a 12 hr shift. To add insult to injury the email ends by advising him to seek support from the Samaritans if necessary!

  • R ireland says:

    Supporting the israili government in killing destroying homes and stealing someone’s land sothey can force them out is tantamount to genocide whom ever does it

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