Corbyn and the Jewish Question
By Gilad Atzmon
It doesn’t take a genius to detect the present volatile state of British Jewish institutions. To the outside observer, some of the actions of Britain’s so-called Jewish ‘leaders’ may seem to be a form of collective insanity. Yet, the Brits do not seem to be at all impressed. They are perplexed by the self-propelled collective hysteria. Naturally, many Brits do not agree with Corbyn on issues; some may not agree with his pacifist politics, others see him as a naïve delusional lefty, a few are upset by his association with controversial characters, but no one except a few Israel firsters sees Corbyn as a crazed ‘anti-Semite,’ let alone as a Hitler type who puts Jewish life under an “existential threat.” While it isn’t clear whether Corbyn can unite the Brits against their horrid government, it is increasingly likely that the Zionist lobby has the capacity to unite the Brits behind Corbyn. A comment on twitter the other day noted that “not supporting Corbyn at this point is an act of treason.”
This week the ex-chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, became completely unhinged; comparing Corbyn to Enoch Powell’s “rivers of blood” speech. In an interview Rabbi Sacks maintained that Corbyn “undermines the existence of an entire group of British citizens by depicting them as essentially alien.” What had Corbyn said that provoked such an extreme reaction from the celebrity rabbi? Apparently, in 2013 Corbyn criticised British Zionists by suggesting that they have 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.”
This raises some obvious questions: 1. What is it in Corbyn’s statement that sparked Rabbi Sacks’ outburst, and 2. How is it possible that when Corbyn speaks about Zionists, Rabbi Sacks hears ‘Jews’?
One possibility is that in Rabbi Sacks’ mind, Jews and Zionists are one and the same. After all, Rabbi Sacks believes that “anti Zionism is the new anti-Semitism.” The rabbi freely associates ‘Zionists,’ ‘Semites’ and ‘Jews.’ Someone should remind the rabbi that the suggestion that ‘Jews’ and Zionists are somehow the same might fall within the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitsm. According to the definition, manifestations of anti-Semitism “might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.” In his interpretation of Corbyn’s words, Rabbi Sacks seems to expand the term ‘Zionists’ into meaning ‘Jewish collectivity.’ I am afraid that our ex-chief rabbi may have fallen into the IHRA trap, something you might expect from a Talmudic Jewish scholar but not from an Oxford graduate.
The truth of the matter is that Corbyn has managed to touch the most sensitive Jewish collective nerve. In Corbyn’s universalist egalitarian offering there is no room for tribal exceptionalism. In Corbyn’s universe, Jews are just ordinary people and not God’s chosen people. Corbyn’s ‘for the many not the few’ doesn’t conform to chosenism, Jewish or identitarian. But we can see that this universalist perception of the ‘many’ is interpreted by British Jewish leadership as a casus belli - a call for a war.
Corbyn’s reference to Zionists’ ‘lack of British irony’ touched the rawest Jewish nerve. He stumbled upon the Jewish ‘assimilation complex.’
Since the emancipation of European Jewry, a 19th century political transition, Jews have been struggling to define their identity and role in the wider society. Emancipation invited assimilation, it offered Jews the ability to become an indistinguishable part of the ‘many,’ but this transformative shift would have entailed a loss of Jewish identity. This dilemma is known as the ‘Jewish Question.’ Zionism was initially an attempt to resolve the Jewish question and the assimilation dilemma. It offered Jews the ability to be ‘people like all other people’ but in a different place. Zionism promised to take the Jews away while allowing Jews to assimilate, although as a distinct nation amongst nations. Zionism gave Jews a way to resolve the tension between assimilation and preservation. The Jews were saved the danger of integrating into their host nations and allowed them to preserve many if not most of their cultural traits, as Israel proves on a daily basis.
The Jewish fear of assimilation is not a secret. Golda Meir who served as Israel’s Prime Minister at the time of October War (1973), believed that Jews who assimilate are essentially partners to the Nazis, since through assimilation they are exterminating the continuation of the Jewish people. For Meir, mixed marriages, and not the Arabs, were the greatest danger to the Jewish people. With Meir’s anti assimilationist view in mind, it is clear why Corbyn’s traditional socialist view of ‘the many’ poses an existential danger to those who insist upon being ‘the few.’ Corbyn’s well meaning invitation to the Jews and everyone else to fully integrate into British society is interpreted by Zionist Jews as a threat of extermination (to use Golda Meir’s loaded terminology).
Rabbi Sacks’ reaction, however, takes us to a new level in our understanding of the Zionist mindset. The rabbi actually accused Corbyn of implying that “Jews are not fully British.” But that was not what Corbyn said or implied. He suggested that “Zionists” are not exactly British, a statement that poses no problem for most Zionists since they openly and voluntarily swear allegiance to another state, one that is nationalist, racist and expansionist and shares few, if any, values with Britain or the West.
In order to grasp Rabbi Sacks’ recent outburst we may have to appeal once again to the famous French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan’s astute observation: “unconscious is the discourse of the Other.” The unconscious, according to Lacan, is the fear that the Other, in this case, the gentile, the humanist or shall we say Corbyn and the Brits see you truly. It is the tormenting thought that the Goy may be able to detect the lie. It is the unbearable anxiety that the Brits know that British Zionists aren’t exactly Brits, they are deeply devoted to another state and its foreign interests, they never assimilated and do not plan to assimilate in the near future. The Lacanian unconscious is the fear that a Goy may stand up one day and decide to call a spade a spade or, way more a disturbing, refer to a celebrity ex-chief rabbi as a "far right extremist," as Trade Union activist Eddie Dempsey suggests in the video below.