Rabbi’s ‘don’t vote Corbyn’ message will only stoke Jewish fears

JVL Introduction

As some in the Jewish establishment go into hysterical overdrive, Rabbi Howard Cooper provides a voice of sanity and reason:

“A rabbi’s job, I believe, is to help the Jewish community contain its worries and its emotional distress, not by telling people how to cast their vote (as if they didn’t have a mind of their own) but by strengthening their psychological and spiritual wellbeing.”

This article was originally published by Jewish Chronicle on Mon 4 Nov 2019. Read the original here.

Rabbi's 'don't vote Corbyn' message will only stoke Jewish fears

Rabbi Romain broke ethical and professional guidelines

Rabbi Jonathan Romain’s decision to write to his community urging them to vote in the forthcoming election for “whichever party is most likely to defeat Labour” in their constituency crosses a red line in the professional and ethical guidelines of UK rabbinic practice.

These codes of conduct and practice in relation to politics are unwritten – but have been well understood for generations.

Of course, rabbis of all denominations will have views on, as well as speak and write about, political issues. How could it be otherwise when the Torah’s vision is filled with concern for the poor and the marginalised in society, care for the outsider, love of the stranger, questions of social justice and how to look after one’s fields and animals and trees?

Jewish ethical principles that affect the way in which the social, legal, economic and environmental policies of a country are arranged are themes that rabbis will think and preach about. But the red line that my friend and colleague has crossed is not to do with politics but party politics.

My concerns about Jonathan Romain’s unwise decision are twofold. The first is the message it sends to the Jewish community. The second is the message it may unwittingly send to the larger, non-Jewish community.

Rabbi Romain considers that his action is justified because we are facing an “unprecedented situation” in relation to antisemitism in the Labour Party.

Although I hold no personal candle for Corbynite Labour and some of his nastier and ignorant fellow-travellers, this situation requires a calm thoughtfulness rather than an emotive, fear-fuelled enactment which merely mirrors the hostility that some Jews feel themselves subjected to.

Jews are understandably upset, angered and fearful when they hear about, or witness, antisemitic remarks or actions. But thoughtful rabbinic leadership at this moment in our history should be helping people manage their anxieties about these trends – which are part of larger, disturbing trends in the society around us: all that toxic swirl of aggression, anger, hatred and victimisation that courses through public discourse and on social media.

A rabbi’s job, I believe, is to help the Jewish community contain its worries and its emotional distress, not by telling people how to cast their vote (as if they didn’t have a mind of their own) but by strengthening their psychological and spiritual wellbeing.

Rabbi Romain’s intemperate action can only stoke Jewish fears, increase people’s anxieties, collude with our historically deep-seated impulses towards paranoid thinking.

And the message it may send to non-Jews?  I fear that it colludes with a fantasy that Jews are a homogenous group who are only concerned about themselves rather than the larger shared issues of the society we all live in. And for some it may fan the flames of a belief in Jewish conspiratorial networks that seek to undermine the country’s wellbeing.

Jews are not threatened with organised violence in this country. If it comes, as it might, it will come from the populist right – who have no internal countervailing voices, as the left do. We will then realise that we had our eyes on the wrong ball all along.

Rabbi Howard Cooper is a minister at Finchley Reform Synagogue

Comments (9)

  • Ruth Appleton says:

    Dear Rabbi Cooper, Your comments are daring indeed for a Rabbi and I applaud you for this stance. I am a member of JVL which was set up with the purpose of counteracting the claim from JLM that they represent the whole Jewish Community. The JLM represent a much smaller section of the community than they claim and many of them arent even Jewish. They have brought division into our Labour Party Constituency by alleging unspecified and unevidenced antisemitism in the Constituency and closing ranks on any members who dont share their view. They have provoked antisemitism which didnt previously exist. It is shameful. Thank you for sharing your view. Your historical family would have been proud of you. (I knew them as my parents were their colleagues.) More courage like yours is needed!

  • Alasdair MacVarish says:

    rabbi Romain’s comments are no better than the 1920’s Zinoviev letter lie purveyed in the gutter press. Labour members are inured to hearing abuse and will treat this with contempt.

  • Mary Davies says:

    A perceptive article from Rabbi Howard – a voice of reason, with a chilling final paragraph that the target audience needs to listen to.

  • TM says:

    Excellent. Thank you, Rabbi. We all need to cool down and your river of words will help.

  • Louis Vermond says:

    “Although I hold no personal candle for Corbynite Labour”…. Define, please.

    …”and some of his nastier and ignorant fellow-travelers…” For example?

  • Charlotte Williams says:

    Thank you Rabbi Cooper, a voice of reason and sanity. Yes, we have our eye on the wrong ball at our peril. We need to shift our gaze to the populist right as that is where the real danger lies.

  • RH says:

    One thing that needs to be emphasized (the fact that it isn’t in this otherwise welcome piece of truth-telling) is that except perhaps at the wild, miniscule fringe, there is *no* antisemitism in the Labour Party in the proper sense of villifying people who are Jews because of that identity.

    The way in which the opposite belief has taken hold is actually *the* sinister issue.

  • Sylvia Cohen says:

    Well said Howard .

  • christina evans says:

    Very good comment. I raised my eyebrows when you wrote about Jeremy Corbyn nastier fellow travellers (been a Corbyn supporter myself ) yet good to know you are certainly no fan of Mr Corbyn. For
    you to speak out against this matter. Everybody is entitled to their views. I think a lot of people are saying its not the man I am voting for but the labour party.

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