JVL Introduction

It is hard to take former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks seriously in his presenting Jeremy Corbyn’s joking remarks about some disruptive Zionists as the most offensive by any British politican since Enoch Powell’s “rivers of blood” speech. But mainstream media has done so and given his remarks a respectability they absolutely do not deserve.

On Facebook Jerry Haber (the Magnes Zionist) laid out a simple account of what actually happened; he followed this up a few days later with some wider reflections on “the Corbyn crisis”.

Guardian readers deliver their own judgment on Sacks in a series of overwhelmingly critical letters about the former chief rabbit’s stirring of the pot.

And reminds us of how offensive Enoch powell’s speech really was.

[Added 1st September 2018: Icahd statement, Anna Roiser from Haaretz, David Rosenberg]

Former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Photo: Wikipedia

JerryHaber, Facebook,
25 August

Jeremiah (Jerry) Haber is the nom de plume of Charles H. Manekin, an orthodox Jewish studies and philosophy professor, who divides his time between Israel and the US.He blogs (occasionally) at The Magnes Zionist

— Did you hear that Jeremy Corbyn, in a speech in 2013, said that British Jews weren’t really British even if they were born there?

— Really? He said that?

— Well, he intimated that British Jews couldn’t grasp English irony and didn’t understand history.”

— Really? He was referring to Jews?

— Well, he didn’t SAY Jews, but he said that about UK Zionists, which is a leftwing code term for British Jews.

— Hang on, he made a reference to UK Zionists as a group?

— Well, not exactly. Actually, he was referring to some pro-Israel members of the audience who came up and started arguing with the Palestinian ambassador who had presented the history of Palestine and used irony when he 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! I have started to believe this because nobody is stopping Israel building its messianic dream of Eretz Israel to the point I believe that maybe God is on their side. Maybe God is partial on this issue.”” which apparently some of the Zionists thought he meant without irony (We do not have a transcript of what they said) . And Corbyn referred to “the Zionists in the audience.”

— So, you mean to say he did not refer to British Zionists as a whole, but he was saying that the Palestinian ambassador, who is Armenian Palestinian, had a greater grasp of English irony, than these Brits who had lived their all their lives?

— Yes, that’s about it.

— So, in effect, he accused pro-Israeli members of the audience, whom he referred to as “Zionists”, which they are, and who argued with the Palestinian ambassador, with being humorless and misunderstanding history, compared with the Palestinian ambassador.

— Yep.

— Well, that makes the man clearly an anti-Semite, doesn’t it?

Some thoughts about the Corbyn crisis.

Jerry Haber, Facebook,
28 August 2018

1. To date, not a single statement attributed to Jeremy Corbyn has had even a whiff of anti-Semitism or criticism of British Jewry, or of their being a foreign element, etc. That is a willful distortion based on a comment he made criticizing pro-Israel supporters who had taken an ironic comment of the Palestinian ambassador to the UK literally. Corbyn said that these Brits didn’t get the English irony used by the Palestinian ambassador (““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. I have started to believe this because nobody is stopping Israel building its messianic dream of Eretz Israel to the point I believe that maybe God is on their side.” Yes, folks, some of them actually thought the Palestinian ambassador was serious.)

2. The whole campaign has shown more than anything else powerful the Zionist community — Jews and non-Jews — are in England, how well-established they are, and how they dominate the narrative. I should not speculate as to the reasons for this, perhaps, but maybe: there are more Jews than Palestinians, they have been within English culture for a long time; they have much more powerful positions, they are not an immigrant community any longer, and they are simply better known as neighbors than Palestinians. (And, please, don’t talk to me about British Muslims — they are overwhelmingly not Palestinian and they have their own concerns). And I said this without referring to British liberal guilt over the Holocaust, Christian anti-Semitism, and British genteel anti-Semitism.

3. PLEASE don’t bother to send me more articles about “I was willing to give Corbyn the benefit of the doubt until now, but this convinced me.” None of those people really supported Corbyn’s position on Palestine, but they are playing the “Hey-I I-am-not-a-dyed-in-the-wool-supporter-of-the-Israeli government” card in order to dump on Corbyn. You don’t have to be a Corbyn supporter to realize that he is being piled on by these people under the pretext of anti-Semitism.

4. What next? A complaint has been lodged against Corbyn for anti-Semitism to the Labour party. It will be investigated and rightly dismissed — and this will be seen as evidence of Labour being soft on anti-Semitism.

5. I have decided not to read any more commentary on this issue until I have read something by a Palestinian. We see leftwingers and Zionists going after each other in the UK. When will we start to hear Palestinians?

6. Finally, confirmation bias is very powerfully at work here. People assume that Corbyn is anti-Semitic, which allows them to misread and distort his statements as such. Shame on them for that. I know what leftwing anti-Semitism is. I know what British genteel anti-Semitism, and I had my dose of the Episcopalian prep school variety when I was growing up. I have known about it since I was a kid in the sixties. To call this stuff anti-Semitic is wrong and offensive.


Jeremy Corbyn, Jonathan Sacks and the antisemitism row engulfing Labour

Readers give their views on the attack by former UK chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks on the Labour leader

30th August 2018

As a Zionist and a liberal Jew, I am struck by the contrast between Ahmad Samih Khalidi’s article (Opposing Zionism is neither racist nor antisemitic, 29 August) and the interview given by Jonathan Sacks to the New Statesman (Corbyn remarks most offensive since ‘rivers of blood’, says Sacks, 29 August). Both refer to the question of Jeremy Corbyn and his past and present comments on Zionism.

On the one hand we have a well-articulated and reasonably well-balanced argument in favour of the Palestinian cause by an Oxford academic, and on the other, and I say this regretfully, what can only be described as a vicious rant by a previously influential religious figure.

Some of Khalidi’s insights into Corbyn’s inability to put the subject of his alleged antisemitic bias to rest strike a chord and throw serious doubts on his leadership abilities. However, Lord Sacks, in his vilification of Jeremy Corbyn, has allowed himself to descend into the bearpit of anti-Corbynism with others who profess to speak on behalf of the Jewish community. There is no limit to expounding the canard that the Jewish community in this country faces an existential threat if Jeremy Corbyn ever came to power. Surely we are entitled to expect, from an emininent teacher and rabbi, a more thoughtful appraisal of the extent of antisemitism in the Labour party. Will we ever return to courteous exchanges of view?
Dr Alan Swarc

• It is a pity that in the whole debate about Zionism, the history and facts have been studiously avoided. Zion is the Hebrew word for Jerusalem, and modern Zionism started in Europe in the late 19th century – with Theodor Herzl considered its founder. He envisaged an independent Jewish state in the 20th century with its citizens coming from the ghettos of Europe. Zionism did not have a uniform ideology, but the main two were religious Zionism and labour Zionism. Many of the members of labour Zionism were communists, socialists and anarchists, and they used the name Poale Zion. In Britain, Poale Zion was affiliated to the Labour party and in 2004 it became the Jewish Labour Movement.

The reality today is that religious Zionism has defeated labour Zionism and anyone, including Jews, who opposes the current Israeli state is considered antisemitic. This blatantly wrong interpretation of antisemitism is being used as an excuse for the media and the right to attack Corbyn and the Labour party – not because he is antisemitic but because he is a threat to the appalling form of capitalism we now have in the UK.
Michael Gold
Romford, Essex

• Natalie Nougayréde (Ditch identity politics: fight for one person’s rights at a time, 29 August) hints at one of the corrosive tendencies in contemporary politics, the pull of drawing specific instances of oppression into increasingly strident victim groups. She quotes Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the outgoing UN high commissioner for human rights: “Defending the rights of one community against other communities amounts to creating the conflicts of tomorrow.” Nowhere is this more evident than in the increasingly strident issue of antisemitism in the Labour party, with those for and against Corbyn each claiming to be more victimised than the other.

The #Metoo movement is tending similarly to demonise all men under cover of aggressive victimhood, which absolves individuals on both sides from personal responsibility. The primacy of identity politics also distracts from what should be the two great issues of our discourse: climate change and inequality.
Diana Birkett

• To compare Jeremy Corbyn to Enoch Powell is outlandish, particularly for a respected public figure such as the former chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks. It serves to obfuscate growing racism in this country. Powell’s speech was made in the highly charged context of the arrival of thousands of Kenyan Asian British citizens and the debate over the 1968 Race Relations Act to outlaw discrimination. His language of “the River Tiber foaming with much blood”, “the black man will have the whip hand over the white man” was seemingly chosen to incite. And it was Powell who started “the numbers game” over immigration in the UK.

Corbyn’s “crime”, committed five years ago at a relatively small gathering but surfaced now by political forces that want to end his leadership, was to describe as Zionist those who, through their behaviour, clearly were, and to make an off-the-cuff remark about English irony. Is a lack of proportion also an English trait?
Jenny Bourne
Editor, Race & Class

• Jonathan Sacks is over the top in his criticism of Jeremy Corbyn. However, for the first time in the Labour antisemitism row, Corbyn has crossed a sinister line. By saying that a group of Zionists had “lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives” but “don’t understand English irony”, he was needlessly implying they were not completely British; that they were “alien” or somehow “other”. Instead of now defending the indefensible, the Labour leader should be brave enough to admit he was wrong and apologise unconditionally.
Joe McCarthy

• I welcome Ahmad Samih Khalidi’s take on Jeremy Corbyn. As a Jew I bitterly resent the unmitigating assaults, not least by Jews, on Corbyn for stressing that opposition to Zionism is not anti-semitic. My grandfather, Herbert Bentwich, was among the founding fathers of Israel, a colleague of Theodor Herzl and one of the then few who persuaded his children to adopt aliya and settle in Palestine in the early years of the last century well before it became de rigueur, before himself emigrating in the last years of his life. But my aunts and uncle who made the move in the 1920s were on friendly relations with their Palestinian neighbours and, although the likely outcome of the Zionist programme was clearly discernible, the Nakba and the expulsion, whether forcible or otherwise, of Palestinians from their centuries-old homeland was an abhorrence from which Jews worldwide ought to dissociate themselves.

So, as a Labour party member, I place myself four-square behind Jeremy Corbyn and condemn the studied campaign to belittle him and destroy his credibility.
Benedict Birnberg

• Natalie Nougayréde’s article coincided with my reading East West Street, Philippe Sands’s account of the Holocaust and Nuremberg trials. Nougayrede’s comment that, “tribal politics, tribal thinking, are arguably human rights’ worst enemies”, echoes the argument advocated by the lawyer Lauterpacht, who successfully campaigned for the charge of crimes against humanity to be used at Nuremberg and not genocide. Lauterpacht argued that the individual must be taken as the “ultimate unit of all law”. Ironically, identity based on racial, group or tribal grounds only promotes stronger nationalistic lines, divisions and conflicts. The inalienable human rights of each and every individual might be sacrificed, subsumed to the hegemony of the group. A controversy that is still relevant today.
Jenny Stokes

A video of Jeremy Corbyn criticising Zionists for lacking “English irony” has reignited the debate about antisemitism in the Labour party. Given that Shami Chakrabarti’s report into antisemitism warned about “Zionist” being used as a stand-in for “Jew”, there is rightly criticism of his language.

But the former chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks has won the hyperbole sweepstakes by branding the comments the most “offensive” by a British politician since Enoch Powell’s infamous “rivers of blood” speech. The claim is as ridiculous as it is offensive – it takes a special kind of amnesia to forget just how racist and divisive that speech was.

“Rivers of blood” was delivered in opposition to the very first piece of race relations legislation in the country, the Race Relations Act in 1965, which was so weak it has had to be amended numerous times since. The speech invoked images of race war,“wide-grinning piccaninnies” and old white women being afraid to leave their houses because of the scourge of criminal immigrants. Comparing Corbyn’s comments to “Rivers of blood” obscures both the racism of the speech and the fact that it was far from an isolated episode in British political history.

Britain has a serious problem with racism in politics, and the unfortunate truth is that, even if Corbyn meant his comments in their most vile form, they probably wouldn’t rank in the top 50 most offensive by a frontline politician. To pick out just a few high-profile examples, in 1978 Margaret Thatcher claimed the nation was being “swamped” by black and brown immigrants, language that the then defence secretary, Michael Fallon, again used in 2014, when explaining communities were “under siege” by hordes of migrants. It was only in 1990 that Norman Tebbit suggested that British Asians needed to pass the “cricket test”, supporting England to prove that they belonged to the nation rather than “harking back” to where they “came from”. In 1997, Ann Widdecombe joked that the home secretary, Michael Howard, had “something of the night about him”. Given that Howard is of Jewish heritage, it is not difficult to see how loaded some people might interpret that as being. Worse still, the jibe stuck, and Widdecombe remained unrepentant.

And it’s not just the Tories who have been guilty of racist commentary. As prime minister, Tony Blair suggested that there was something distinctive about black culture that led to violent crime, and in 2009, Gordon Brown proudly proclaimed he wanted to create “British jobs for British workers”. The emergence of Ukip has poisoned the political discourse on migration to the point that the left and right are indistinguishable on the issue. Politicians have yet to work out that when Nigel Farage is calling the tune, it is best to stop dancing.

After David Cameron took office he used the dispatch box to try to smear Sadiq Khan in his run for London mayor by incorrectly claiming, in April 2016, that he shared platforms with an Islamic State supporter. While Theresa May is very careful with her choice of words, she has presided over the “hostile environment” that included vans telling illegal immigrants to “Go home”, mass deportations and the Windrush scandal, which has devastated the lives of countless people with the legal and historic right to be a part of the nation.

That’s not even to mention the offender-in-chief, Boris Johnson, whose lowlights include: invoking Powell by referring to black people as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”; published articles claiming that black people have lower IQs in the Spectator when editor; and, just the other day, causing a furore over his comments about Muslim women and the burqa.

The problem of racism in British politics runs to the core of the establishment. By highlighting Corbyn’s comments as some sort of aberration we legitimise the countless examples of racial discrimination in both words and deeds committed by British politicians. Amid the debate around Labour and antisemitism, we should not avoid a serious examination of the issue of racism that runs through the history of all the major parties and the institution as a whole. Of course we should condemn any politician for using racially offensive language, but we have already lost the battle if we pretend that such ideas are the exception and not part of the norm of British political life.

Kehinde Andrews is associate professor in sociology at Birmingham City University and author of Back to Black: Retelling Black Radicalism for the 21st Century

Posted on August 29, 2018

The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions – UK views with great concern Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’s recent statement accusing Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn of antisemitism and saying his comments are comparable to those of racist politician Enoch Powell. It is unfortunate that Rabbi Sacks did not consider the implication of those false accusations on the Jewish community he purports to represent – which is already split and divided on the subject of Israel’s conduct and on its members political affiliations. He chose to hop on the Zionist and right wing bandwagon of attempting to smear and weaken pro-Palestinian voices.

The fallacy of conflating criticism of Israel with anti semitism is not new but it has now been harnessed for a single goal – that of silencing the Palestinian voice and  that of politicians such as Corbyn who oppose the injustice meted out to Palestinians’

Attempting to suffocate criticism of Israel at a time when Netanyahu’s Government celebrates the passing of the notorious and overtly racist Nationality Law  – and launches an unprecedented attack against its own Palestinian citizens and Jewish human right activists in and outside Israel – is no less than dangerous. It is dangerous to Israelis, to Palestinians, and in fact to Jews in the UK, and in Europe.

Sack’s knows perfectly well the distinction between Zionism and Judaism – not all Jews are Zionists and many Zionists are Christian – but he also knows that very many people do not. By confusing the two, he attempts to falsely smear Corbyn as anti semitic. Sacks is joining the Israel lobby by crying wolf irresponsibly. He should apologise with immediate effect. His lashing out puts an end to any pretension that he is able or entitled to represent the Jewish community in this country.

The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions – UK – Executive Committee.

28 August 2018

And this, from May 2017:


Rabbi Sacks, Why Are You Cheerleading for anti-Palestinian Provocateurs?

As a key modern Orthodox leader, think again about joining Jerusalem Day marchers who scream ‘Death to Arabs’, promoting one of the most contentious of all Israeli settlements, and the consequences for Diaspora Jews

Anna Roiser, Ha’aretz
17 May  2017

Some excerpts:

This environment enables Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, member of the House of Lords, a high-profile member of both Yeshiva University and New York University’s faculty, and one of the most eminent modern Orthodox rabbis of his generation, to extend a “personal invitation” to Diaspora Jews to join him on a trip to Israel which includes “leading” the March of the Flags on Jerusalem Day and “dancing with our brave IDF soldiers” in the radical settler enclave inside the city of Hebron. The trip, marking the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem, is run by Mizrachi Olami, the parent organisation of Bnei Akiva.

The March of the Flags, which celebrates the reunification of Jerusalem, passes through the Old City’s Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem and proceeds through the Muslim quarter. In his promotional video for the trip Rabbi Sacks quotes Psalms: “Jerusalem is rebuilt like a city that is compact together” and goes on to say, “of course that’s what we see each time we visit Jerusalem today”.

The Israeli authorities enable this wilful blindness to the reality of a divided city by issuing closure orders to Palestinian businesses along the route, and preventing Palestinian residents from being on the streets.

The march, largely attended by bussed in yeshiva students, is associated with hate speech and violence. Haaretz’s Bradley Burston describes it 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.”