Marching to Zion

6 for artistic impression

The British Labour Party, and in particular its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has become mired in controversy once again, this time over anti-Semitism. First, he praised an unabashedly anti-Semitic cartoon, then was seen in the company of those whose opinions can only be described as ‘non-mainstream’. He claims not to be an anti-Semite, the default position for a good Socialist, but his background in far-left ideology, where the rich and secretive cabal of Jewish bankers props up the cancer of capitalism must surely lurk at the back of his mind, as his defence of a mural depicting Jewish bankers controlling the world clearly demonstrated. As an atheist, he must, of course be an anti-Zionist – the idea of a Jewish land for a chosen people and holy nation is anathema to him. A simple Passover seder with some far-left ‘friends’ with revolutionary opinions casts doubt at the very least on his judgement. Implausibly, his defence was he was there on his own time and in a private capacity, which actually makes it worse. Either Corbyn understood what he was doing by spending Passover in the company of Jewdas, a splinter group which has compared Israel to a ‘pile of steaming sewage which needs to be properly disposed of’ and belittling  the accusation that Labour has an anti-Semitism problem, in which case he is unashamedly malign. Or – let us be charitable – the more likely explanation is that he did not realise the problems that his attendance would cause, at the end of a week in which the story dominated his political life, in which case he is myopically foolish and completely unsuited to the mantle of leadership should the country abandon all hope and elect a Labour government.

But, what is it about the Jews? Originally, relations between the Jewish Christians and the Jews were fairly cordial. The followers of the Apostles, as well as the Apostles themselves, recognised the sanctity of ancient law; they observed the rites of Judaism and as yet had not placed the worship of Jesus side by side with that of the one God. The development of the dogma of the divinity of Christ drove a wedge between Church and Synagogue. Judaism could not admit to the deification of a man; to recognise anybody as the son of God was blasphemy and as the Jewish Christians had not severed their connections with the Jewish community, they were disciplined. This accounts for the flagellation of the Apostles and other new converts, the stoning of Stephen and the beheading of the Apostle James.

Do I look like a young Jeremy Corbyn?

The Church Fathers, brimming with Pauline fervour, added fuel to an already out-of-control fire. Justin Martyr, in his ‘Dialogue with Trypho’ argued that the Jews were originally selected because of their lack of spirituality – they needed the constraints of the Law to keep them in line. He blamed them for rejecting Jesus as Messiah and asserted that the destruction of the Temple was God’s punishment for such rejection. If this sounds strange, it was not so long ago that Pat Robertson blamed the AIDS epidemic on the sin of homosexuality.

By contrast, Rabbi Tarfon who lived and worked between about 70 and 135 CE was equally forthright. writing at a time when Christianity was considered to be a rather bizarre offshoot of conventional Judaism, he said ‘the Gospels must be burned, for paganism is not as dangerous to the Jewish faith as Jewish Christian sects. I should rather seek refuge in a pagan temple than in an assembly of Jewish Christians.
If nothing else, the current debate has raised awareness in a Gentile population of the depth of animosity that still exists towards the Jews, as well as clearing away some of the muddled thinking where anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are conflated. At best, it will sharpen minds to the historical realities of anti-Semitism, at worst, it will provoke another Kristallnacht.
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