David Hirsh

Sorry Jewdas, the joke is just not funny any more

After an activist with the controversial left-wing group called Zionism 'a racist ideology' during antisemitism training, David Hirsh writes the group yearns to be radical but is just infantile

October 26, 2018 10:43

Jewdas infantilises itself as the naughty radical child of the boring rich, middle-aged and corrupt Jewish community. Like the adolescent from an ostensibly comfortable home, it tends to veer wildly from trying to be shocking to demanding to be taken seriously. 

Jewdas Jews want to feel radical and they trawl Jewish history for traditions that enable this; and key to being “woke” is being part of the community of the oppressed. They love the idea of Yiddish, as the language of the pre-Holocaust radicals and they hate the idea of Hebrew, as the language of the racist state which they imagine as having usurped a more authentic Jewish identity.

They have a nostalgia for Jewish Anarchism, Communism, and Bundism but a contempt for actually existing Jewish politics and communal institutions. At the core of this utopianism is a profound anachronism. While nostalgia is always a yearning for an “authentic” past which really exists mainly in the realms of fantasy, their specific fixation is on a romanticised past which was in any case wiped out by the Holocaust.

In previous decades, amongst Jewdas’ infantile play there were a few gems of humour, nuggets of wisdom and one or two genuinely radical insights. But, and how quickly and shockingly things have changed, these were times when British Jews did not fear antisemitism.

They were times in which we could indulge or ignore our communal jokers.

It is the hard and politically ambitious anti-Zionists, currently organised in ‘Jewish Voice for Labour’, who have been more threatening in recent decades. First they pushed their monstering of Israel and their denial of antisemitism on the fringes of the far left, and then in the student movement, and then in the University and College Union, and now they have become key opinion formers in mainstream left and intellectual circles. They mobilise their ‘asaJew’ identities to add weight and plausibility to their hate-filled politics. 

Jewdas was more fun, less hate-filled and more sceptical of everything, even including the left. But now it is falling into line, tempted by the thrill of the left’s proximity to power, and it has found itself in a position to do real damage to the Jewish fight against contemporary left antisemitism. It’s not funny any more.

Last spring, an unprecedented consensus came together in the Jewish community about Labour’s antisemitism problem. Never before had there been such agreement between rabbis from different traditions, communal organisations, Jewish journalists and intellectuals, and ordinary Jewish people. The “Enough is Enough” demonstration was genuinely successful in communicating this unity to the world, around the Pesach-relevant slogan, “Dayenu”. 

It was at that specific moment that Jewdas diffused the pressure on Corbyn and helped him to portray the Jewish consensus as being right-wing and alien to the Labour movement. They invited him to their faux radical Seder at which they prayed together, “Please God, smash the state of Israel… f**k the Queen… burn down Parliament”. In that context, the joke was not funny any more.

This month, Jewdas published an article, unsigned and so presumably speaking for the collective, which blamed today’s Jews for antisemitism and, in particular, it found opposition to antisemitism to be a key cause of antisemitism. It portrayed the “vilification” of antisemitism as a capitalist ploy; and it said that Jewish institutions “ally themselves with the rich” and so nourish antisemitism.

This is the context in which Jewdas activists have involved themselves in “educating” Labour Party members about antisemitism. They are not likely to teach Labour people how to understand and recognise the antisemitic ways of thinking, exclusions and cultures which have become commonplace in the party. They are more likely to teach that those who raise the issue of left antisemitism are the real enemy, and many activists will come away with the notion that it is the Jews, the right-wing Jewish mainstream anyway, who stand between us all and socialist utopia.

JVL activist Stephen Marks, who has for decades been denying the significance of left antisemitism, looks set to be elected to a position in Labour where his job will be to adjudicate on charges of antisemitism. And Jewdas is competing for a role in antisemitism education. It is as if the party feels it has weathered the storm of criticism and is now confident to press ahead, un-repentant and oblivious.

David Hirsh is a sociology lecturer and author of ‘Contemporary Left Antisemitism'

October 26, 2018 10:43

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