The rabbi that Jeremy outraged

I’ve listened to Rabbi Jonathan Sacks pretty frequently on BBC Radio Four’s ‘Thought for the Day”. I can’t remember a word he said, but I do recall the smooth timbre of his voice, like honey poured over a slice of home-made bread. A soothing voice.

But there’s nothing soothing about the report in yesterday’s newspapers about Britain’s ex-Chief Rabbi. He has denounced a statement made by Jeremy Corbyn some years ago:

“The recently disclosed remarks by Jeremy Corbyn are the most offensive statement made by a senior British politician since Enoch Powell’s 1968 ‘rivers of blood’ speech”.

 In short, the Rabbi is outraged.

I remember Powell’s ‘rivers of blood’ speech. There were comments and analysis of it, and how it was predicting that having West Indians living in Britain would inevitably lead to widespread violence. Everyone accepted that it was a thoroughly racist statement, and while black people in Britain may have felt alarmed, most people dismissed it as the racist ranting of an ambitious politician. Scare people, and you’ll get them to do what you want.

Jonathan Sacks, as an ex-Chief Rabbi, presumably has no major ambitions, but he has got the same ability to frighten people with a bogey man.

Corbyn made the speech in a Labour Party conference in 2013 – five years ago – but Rabbi Sacks can’t have heard about it until now, when Corbyn’s enemies are intent on tagging him with an “anti-Semite” label. Could it be that the Rabbi dug back into Corbyn’s past records, found this speech and thought “Ah, this’ll do nicely”.

What did Corbyn say in 2013? That there was a group of Zionists who had no sense of irony despite living in Britain for a long time. I don’t know the context of the remark but Corbyn appears to be suggesting that British people are alert to irony but some Jewish immigrants in Britain are not.  Sacks contends these words are divisive, hateful and have “given support to racists, terrorists and dealers of hate who want to kill Jews and remove Israel from the map”. 

This trick of dire warnings of terrible things that could come has at least two obvious parallels – one in the US, one in Ireland.

The one in the US is, of course, Donald Trump. Mexicans? Rapists and murderers, people who need to be kept out of the land of the free. The one in Ireland was, of course, Ian Paisley, who split his time between denouncing the Pope as the anti-Christ and warning the People of Ulster that there was an enemy to the south of them and treacherous enemies within their midst who went by the name of Catholics. Nothing like putting the fear of God into people first, if you want them to do your bidding.

Most people now see Paisley’s rantings for what they were: the targeting of a section of the Irish people, both outside and inside the northern state. Likewise Powell’s refined bile is rejected by the great majority of British people. Apart from his core followers, most Americans think Trump is a carbuncle on the body politic and are hoping it will go away soon.

It is clear that Rabbi Sacks and other major Jewish figures in British society are determined to frighten the British people into rejecting Corbyn and all his works and pomps. If ever there was a case of a major religious figure intervening in politics in a malevolent way, Sacks is it…Oh, sorry. I forgot for a moment that Paisley was a man of God too.

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