Jezbollah – the Messiah of the Militant Left

By Richard Mather…

If a leadership candidate for a mainstream British political party was known to be a “friend” of Golden Dawn and the Ku Klux Klan, he or she would be booed off stage, and rightly so. But substitute these far Right racist groups for Hamas and Hezbollah and suddenly such friendships are considered part of a winning political formula.

Welcome to Britain where Labour parliamentarian Jeremy Corbyn is set to win his party’s leadership contest. Corbyn, who is MP for the London constituency of Islington North, was encouraged to put his name on the ballot by colleagues who felt that the Labour leadership debate should be widened to include views from the far Left of the party. Since then, Corbyn has raced ahead in the contest and is now 20 points ahead of his nearest rival.

Corbyn’s links to anti-Semitic organisations should be a source of embarrassment for the Labour Party, but Corbyn is now the messiah of the militant Left in Britain. He has the backing of several major trade unions and he is feted by the British Communist Party.

Some commentators light-heartedly call it Corbynmania but they should be more circumspect. The popularity of Corbyn is  suggestive of something  unpleasant in the British political psyche. The fact that so many people – especially young Labour Party members – are so enamoured of a man who openly refers to Hezbollah and Hamas as “friends” reveals the popular extent of ideological extremism in the UK.

In other words, for large parts of the British Left, anti-Semitism is nothing to be embarrassed about.

Consider Corbyn’s enthusiastic support for the Jew-hating Islamist Raed Salah.

Salah was charged with inciting anti-Jewish violence after he repeated the anti-Semitic blood libel during a 2007 speech in east Jerusalem. And in 2001, following the 9/11 atrocities, Salah propagated the conspiracy theory that Jewish employees at the Twin Towers were absent from work on September 11. This has not stopped Corbyn referring to Salah as “an honoured citizen” and “a far from dangerous man” – indeed, a man with whom Corbyn wants to share “tea on the terrace.”

As patron of the Palestine Solidarity Committee , Corbyn declared in a 2009 speech that “it will be my pleasure and honour to host an event in Parliament where our friends from Hezbollah will be speaking. I’ve also invited our friends from Hamas to come and speak as well.”

As well as meetings with Hamas and Hezbollah, Corbyn has (according to The Telegraph) taken thousands of pounds in gifts from organisations closely linked to Hamas, including the Palestinian Return Centre. He has also hosted a meeting with a member of Palestinian Islamic Jihad and shared a platform with Leila Khaled, one of the Black September hijackers.

So what is going on? Clearly, Corbyn has a fetish for organisations that employ extreme violence and terror to undermine the security of nation states. Hence his support for Hamas/Hezbollah and the IRA, which seek to dismantle the State of Israel and the United Kingdom respectively. While the Jewish state is condemned by Corbyn, both Hezbollah and Hamas are praised for their revolutionary zeal. As is typical of someone who belongs to the militant Left, Corbyn seems to have  adopted the dubious stance that when Islamists kill Jews, it is a legitimate expression of a Third World ‘will to power.’ Conversely, when Israel seeks to defend Jews, it is accused of colonialism, fascism and disproportionate behaviour.

Corbyn would no doubt respond that he simply wants a “free Palestine” (whatever that means). But putting aside the fact that the Arabs have turned down a two-state solution on several occasions, does the Left really expect a State of Palestine to be a place of tolerance and equality, with functioning democratic institutions and trade unions?

If Corbyn wants these things for the Arab Palestinians why is he so cosy with Hamas, which considers homosexuality to be a moral sickness? Why is he on such good terms with an organisation that diverts humanitarian aid and uses civilians as human shields?

The answer is that Corbyn cares little for the Arab Palestinians but he cares a great deal about accepting gifts and patronage from a group of rocket-toting fanatics wearing keffiyehs.

The possibility of a Corbyn-led Labour Party, which will seek a mandate from the UK electorate in 2020, should send a chill down the spine of British Jewry. It certainly worries me.

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MANCHESTER’S GAZA WAR: ONE YEAR ON

By Richard Mather…

For those fifty days in 2014 when the IDF and Hamas were at war, the Jewish community in the UK experienced its own kind of Gaza conflict. Following the commencement of hostilities, anti-Semitic incidents in Britain grew by more than a third. During the six weeks of the war, British Jews were verbally abused and physically assaulted. Synagogues were vandalised with graffiti. Businesses were attacked and/or forced to close because of anti-Israel protestors.

Several town halls in England and Scotland decided to spit in the face of British Jewry by flying the so-called Palestinian flag in a “gesture of solidarity” with Hamas. And the malevolent clown that is George Galloway (the then MP for Bradford West) unilaterally declared the city of Bradford an “Israel-free zone.”

2014 was also the year when a number of Westminster politicians threw their weight behind the anti-Israel campaign. The Conservative Party’s Baroness Warsi chose to resign her job as Foreign Office minister the day after a ceasefire came into place. She claimed that her government’s even-handed approach to the Israeli-Gaza crisis was “morally indefensible and not in Britain’s interests.” It’s a pity she didn’t resign in 2013 when the same government failed to take action after Assad gassed his fellow Syrians.

On the Labour side, Jack Straw, the lamentable foreign secretary during the Iraq war in which more than 100,000 people were killed, referred to Israel’s war in Gaza as an “unspeakable horror.”  And in a transparent (but failed) attempt to shore up the left-wing and Muslim vote, the then Labour leader Ed Miliband condemned Israel’s actions in Gaza as “wrong and unjustifiable.” Luckily, Miliband was beaten to the post of Prime Minister by the pro-Israel David Cameron.

Unsurprisingly, the British media were deeply offended by Israel’s strength of purpose. Most of the newspapers, along with broadcasters like the BBC, Channel 4 and Sky, failed to report the facts, preferring to take statements by Hamas as gospel truth. The Times refused to run an advert that criticised Hamas’ use of children as human shields in case readers were offended. The macabre obsession with the death toll in Gaza (combined with the media’s inability to explain why the Israeli death toll was comparatively low) fuelled the belief that Israelis were acting without restraint.

But it was events in England’s second city of Manchester that came to symbolise the plight of British Jewry. (Greater Manchester is home to the fastest growing Jewish community in Europe and is the largest in the UK after London.) Manchester’s Gaza conflict centred  on a small Anglo-Israeli cosmetics shop called Kedem. It is a store that sells soap and exfoliating cream made from minerals extracted from the Israeli side of the Dead Sea. Kedem is not a political shop. It is a registered British company, paying UK taxes. It is not a front for the Israeli government as some idiots believe. However, Kedem became the focus of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

When the protests first started, the shop was forced to shut for four days. But a large contingent of Israel supporters (including this writer) came to the rescue. Day after day, week after week, Manchester’s Jewish community turned out to support the shop and to oppose the pro-Palestinian protesters. We tried very hard to highlight the hypocrisy of the boycotters. It is all too easy to boycott a little shop that sells soap, we argued, but why didn’t the Hamas supporters discard their USB flash drives and instant messaging software that are the products of Israeli innovation? Don’t use Google, we said, because Google uses an advanced text search algorithm invented by an Israeli student.

We asked them why they singled out Israel for criticism while ignoring the fact that Israel is a democracy where one in five citizens are Arabs who have the right to vote and sit in the Israeli parliament. We asked them why they support Hamas when it is a terrorist organisation that uses its own people as human shields and spends millions of dollars of aid money building terror tunnels. Their response was always outright denial or obfuscation. Or a mixture of both.

It wasn’t just Kedem that suffered during those six weeks. Adjacent businesses were forced to close for days, even weeks, because of the protests. Meanwhile, shop workers on Market Street (the busiest commercial street in the UK) were intimidated and harassed by Hamas demonstrators as they snaked their way from Manchester’s Piccadilly Gardens to Kedem. It was only when the local economy started to suffer that the authorities did anything. Indeed, city councillors were furious that the police were not preventing such large-scale public disorder.

Throughout the six weeks and beyond, the police response was mixed. The police did their best at first to maintain a balance between the legal right to protest and the right for shops to trade freely. But at times they were overwhelmed by the size and the persistence of the pro-Palestinian mob. And the police showed themselves to be either incapable or unwilling to deal conclusively with the protestors who, even now, are active outside Kedem. There are some people in the Jewish community who wish to  flatter the police, but the truth is that local law enforcement has failed. And Manchester is a more unpleasant place as a consequence.

Will the protestors ever go away? It seems unlikely, especially in the current political climate where the hard Left and Wahhabi Islamists are emboldened by their opposition to the newly-elected centre-right government led by David Cameron. And if a new war between Israel and Hamas (or Hezbollah) breaks out, then the anti-Zionist protesters will undoubtedly return in very large numbers. After all, they’ve tasted blood and they are impatient to strike again.

THE SUBLIME ART OF BARNETT NEWMAN, THE JEWISH PAINTER FROM NEW YORK

By Richard Mather…

The problem of a painting is physical and metaphysical, the same as I think life is physical and metaphysical – Barnett Newman

Barnett NewmanExactly forty-five years ago (July 4 1970) the remarkable American-Jewish artist Barnett Newman died of a heart attack at the age of sixty-five.

Barnett Newman was born in 1905 to Abraham and Anna Newman, Jewish immigrants from Poland who came to New York City in 1900. Although not religious, Barnett’s father was a passionate Zionist and supporter of the National Hebrew School of the Bronx. As well as attending Hebrew school, Barnett and his brothers and sisters were educated at home by Jewish scholars from Europe. He went on to study philosophy at the City College of New York and later made a living as an art teacher, writer and critic. In the 1930s he made a number of paintings but eventually destroyed all these works. Newman started painting again in 1944 and he made a number of chalk drawings but it wasn’t until 1948 that he produced his artistic breakthrough.Onement 1 was a major achievement and it was this artwork that earned him the reputation as a pioneer of colour field paintings.

Onement 1

Onement1 features the celebrated vertical stripe or “zip” that was created by the ripping away of masking tape from the canvas. Onement 1 and subsequent works are sometimes described in religious terms. Thomas B. Hess, for example, regards the vertical bands of colour or zips as “an act of division, a gesture of separation, as God separated light from darkness, with a line drawn in the void.” Indeed, Newman himself claimed that the artist begins with the void. Like God, the artist’s first move is to enact a primal gesture by transforming the void with a descending stroke or zip. In other words, the removal of masking tape is a revelatory event.

Newman’s interest in the Hebraic sublime can be attributed to the horrors of the Second World War, which had rendered “old standards of beauty” invalid, he said. This left the way clear for the art of the sublime, which was the only appropriate response to humanity’s post-war lethargy. Newman was concerned with “metaphysical understanding” and “awesome feelings.” He was eager to depict “nothing that has any known physical visual, or mathematical counterpart.” The new art, he said, was “a religious art, a modern mythology concerned with numinous ideas and feelings.”

The Hebraic sublime continued to preoccupy Newman. The Name 1 (1949) is a depiction of the tetragrammaton (four-letter name of God) in which the four vertical “zips” read like Hebrew from right to left – Y, H, V, H. Abraham (also 1949) is a very dark painting and there is no attempt to depict the patriarch in any figurative sense. Instead we confronted with a nearly seven-foot-tall painting of a single thick black stripe running vertically across a black canvas. Two paintings from the early 1950s are called Adam (1951) and Eve (1950). Again, there is a conspicuous lack of literal representation. Rather we are faced with vast swathes of colour interrupted by contrasting stripes or zips.

Adam

Primordial Light (1954) is a huge (243.8 cm tall and 127 cm wide) painting dominated by a wide expanse of greyish-black oil paint, fringed by light grey “zips.” The picture brings to the mind the Kabbalistic notion of the lamp of darkness in which “light and darkness are the same” (Psalm 139). The title inevitably recalls the Kabbalistic writings of Isaac Luria, the 16th century rabbi and mystic. According to Rabbi Luria, prior to creation there was only Ohr Ein Sof, which was the garment used by God to conceal Himself. God then constricted his infinite light, distancing it to the sides surrounding the central point, so that there remained a vacated space in the middle of the light. A trace of divine light, known as reshimu, remained in the empty space. Then a ray (or kav) from Ohr Ein Sof entered the empty space. The form of the divine produced by this first ray of light is known as Adam Kadmon (literally, “Primordial Adam”).

Primordial Light

Between 1959 and 1966, Newman worked on what many people consider to be his crowning achievement: fourteen black and white paintings called The Stations of the Cross: Lema Sabachtani. Each canvas measures about 78 by 60 inches, an impressive but not overpowering size. In Newman’s words, they are on “a human scale for the human cry.” Again, the canvases  feature the trademark zips. Not a single canvas depicts Jesus of Nazareth, evidence perhaps that Newman didn’t want to single out Jesus’ experience, preferring instead to draw attention to the shared fate of each and every person. Suffering and death are ubiquitous.

The Stations of the Cross

Four years after completing The Stations of the Cross, Newman suffered a fatal heart attack. Fittingly, for a man so preoccupied with Jewish themes, one of his last public acts was the signing of the “Declaration of Solidarity with Soviet Jews,” organised by the Conference on the Status of Soviet Jews.

Among the public collections holding works by Newman are the Art Institute of Chicago, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art (New York City), the National Gallery of Art (Washington DC), the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Tate Gallery (London). In 2013, Newman’s gigantic  Onement VI was sold for a record $43.8 million at Sotheby’s. The following year, his Black Fire 1 sold for $84.2 million – setting a new auction record for the artist and confirming the growing appreciation of this remarkable painter from New York.

Black Fire 1