Unearthing the past for the sake of Zion


Photo: Assaf Peretz / IAA

Generally speaking, ancient artifacts tell a particular story of a particular people. Tellingly, there are no archaeological Palestinian Arab sites – but there are plenty of Jewish ones. By unearthing and reconstructing meaning from a fragmentary past, the Israeli state is secured. Zion is very literally embedded in the mud and clay, in the strata of rock and soil.

By Richard Mather

Shortly before attempting to escape from Vichy France in 1940, the German-Jewish philosopher Walter Benjamin wrote “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” which has been described as one of the most insightful analyses of the failure of Marxism ever produced. Benjamin, who described himself as a cultural Zionist, claimed that every generation is endowed with a “weak messianic power,” which is the power to fulfill the messianic hopes of previous generations. His vision is best represented by thesis IX, which employs Paul Klee’s painting Angelus Novus (1920) as the “Angel of History,” with his back turned against the future. Where humans see history as a linear chain of events, the Angel of History sees one single catastrophe, which unceasingly piles rubble on top of rubble.

The liberal view of history that the full meaning of freedom can be found only progressively has been a cruel illusion, especially for the Jews of Europe. The Enlightenment idea that the human condition can be improved by advances in technology, science, and social organization surely died in the gas chambers. And if Marxists see history as a class struggle that will one day culminate in a classless society, Zionists, on the other hand, tend to see history as a catastrophe, which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage: the Babylonian exile, the Sacking of Jerusalem, the Holocaust, and all the disasters in-between.

This is not to say that the future doesn’t matter. But it does mean that we ought to be more sceptical of progress and human perfectibility, which after the horrors of the twentieth century, are no longer tenable. Benjamin writes, “It is well-known that the Jews were forbidden to look into the future.” He adds, “The Torah and the prayers instructed them, by contrast, in remembrance.” By engaging in ritualized memory – that is, redeeming history through acts of remembrance – the future is stripped of its idolatrous magic. And the “soothsayers” who promise enlightenment inevitably lose their power to enchant the gullible.

The existence of the Nazi death camps and the Soviet gulags ought to be enough to make us incredulous towards the grand narratives of progress, enlightenment, universal reason and emancipation. Benjamin’s solution is to break with any faith in the imminence of political salvation, preferring instead to redeem fragments of the past. He offers ‘messianic time’ as an alternative temporal model to so-called historical progress. Past events are given their historical meaning retrospectively, in messianic moments. “The Messiah comes not only as the redeemer,” says Benjamin, he also comes as the “subduer” of the enemy whose historical processes crush minorities such as the Jews. The task of the (Jewish) historian, then, is to engage in a kind of tikkun olam – repairing the world by “fanning the spark of hope in the past” (to quote Benjamin), of rekindling the fragments of light buried in the wreckage. For unless the past is recognised and saved, “even the dead will not be safe from the enemy.”

This is why acts of remembering are so important in Israel. Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikaron are two examples. And it is also why archaeology is so crucial. The metaphor of the past as an artifact that can be recovered out of the ground and recontextualized in the living present is essential to the Zionist project. Generally speaking, ancient artifacts tell a particular story of a particular people. Tellingly, there are no archaeological Palestinian Arab sites – but there are plenty of Jewish ones. By unearthing and reconstructing meaning from a fragmentary past, the Israeli state is secured. Zion is very literally embedded in the mud and clay, in the strata of rock and soil.

I started out with Benjamin’s claim that every generation is endowed with a “weak messianic power,” which is the power to fulfill the messianic hopes of previous generations. Today’s Zionists are doing just that, by uncovering artifacts in the Land of Israel. Not so long ago, a rare document mentioning the name of Jerusalem from the time of the First Temple was discovered when the Israel Antiquities Authority took action against a band of antiquities robbers who had plundered the papyrus from the Judean Desert. It is the earliest extra-biblical source to mention Jerusalem in Hebrew writing. And it is 2,700 years old.

Zionism has always been associated with redemption of the land, and the very existence of Israel (that ‘old-new land’ to quote Theodor Herzl) goes some way in rectifying the damage done to Jews by the “storm” of progress. As Benjamin states, “For we have been expected upon this earth. For it has been given us to know, just like every generation before us, a weak messianic power, on which the past has a claim.” 



UK: Labour’s view of Jews is an antisemitic caricature worthy of Soviet Russia


Labour antizionism is an USSR-inspired propaganda doctrine that aims to unsettle Anglo-Jewry and to exclude individual Jews from British political life

By Richard Mather

Under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is the British political party that is most hostile to Jews, more dangerous than the extreme right-wing but insignificant British National Party, which tends to attract former Labour voters.  Given that most Jews in Britain are Zionists and that most Zionists are Jews, Labour’s disdain for the vast majority of Anglo-Jewry is incontestable. The main thrust of Labour’s antizionist message is this: Zionism is a form of racism, Zionists are similar to Nazis, and Israel is a tool used by both diaspora and Israeli Jews to foment imperialism and militant chauvinism.

This is the politics of anti-Jewish contempt, a variation of the contempt that has echoed down the centuries – from John Chrysostom’s fourth-century Adversus Judaeos homilies, through the medieval blood libel (invented in England) and Martin Luther’s demonization of Jews, and into the twentieth century’s pan-German and pan-Arab nationalisms, and the Soviet Union’s suspicion of ‘rootless cosmopolitans’ (code for ‘Jews’).

Labour’s anti-Jewish nastiness not only has centuries of historical precedence, it is cynically deliberate in its intent. Like the Soviets before them, the Labour Party has evolved a species of antizionist propaganda that aims to rob Anglo-Jewry of their security and to oust them from political discourse. Why? In part because the Left has always had an awkward relationship with what they see as Jewish exceptionalism and also because it plays well with the growing Muslim electorate.

It’s true that antisemitism in the British Labour Party is not new. It was evident in the foreign policy decisions of the post-WW2 Labour government. But there has always been (at least until now) a significant and sizeable pro-Israel, pro-Jewish contingent within the party: advocacy groups such as Labour Friends of Israel, and important individuals such as Tony Blair and Gordon Brown who stood alongside the Jewish state and spoke out against antisemitic prejudice and bigotry.

But Jeremy Corbyn’s rise to power has done more than just embolden the minority of antisemitic cranks already within the party; he has enthused a new generation of antisemites who have joined Labour in droves. Labour Zionists are now marginalised, and Jewish Labour MPs are routinely abused and bullied by militant Corbynistas. As a result, financial donations from Jewish donors have all but dried up and Jews are abandoning the party.

But anti-Jewish hostility is not just a problem for Jewish members inside Labour. It is an issue of concern for Jews in the UK more generally. The ascendancy of Corbyn and the militancy of Labour’s recently-formed Momentum group are reminders that left-wing extremism did not die out in the 1980s but remains an ongoing threat to the well-being and security of Anglo-Jewry. The rise in antisemitic attacks in the UK suggests that Labour and the rest of the British Left, in allegiance with Islamist radicals and a few nutjobs on the Far Right, now pose an existential threat to British Jews.

Corbynistas are a lot like the antizionist Soviet propagandists who studied Zionism in order to uncover its secrets. In Soviet lore, Zionism was the politics of the wealthy Jewish bourgeoisie which had closely allied itself with monopoly elites in the USA and the UK. The writers who specialized in the Soviet doctrine of Zionology considered any expression of Jewishness as Zionist and therefore subject to suppression and persecution.

In 1983, the Soviet Union established the Anti-Zionist Committee of the Soviet Public (AZCSP). Its manifesto (which was endorsed by a handful of self-hating Soviet Jews) stated:

“…By its nature, Zionism concentrates ultra-nationalism, chauvinism and racial intolerance, excuse for territorial occupation and annexation, military opportunism, cult of political promiscuousness and irresponsibility, demagogy and ideological diversion, dirty tactics and perfidy… Absurd are attempts of Zionist ideologists to present criticizing them, or condemning the aggressive politics of Israel’s ruling circles, as antisemitic…”

This radical caricature of Zionism accords very well with the views of Labour antisemites. Like the Soviets before them, the Corbynistas are convinced that Israel is home to several million racists, and that Zionists around the world serve as “the front squad of colonialism and neo-colonialism,” to quote the third edition of the thirty-volume Great Soviet Encyclopedia.

Even when there isn’t a flesh-and-blood Jew in sight, Labour antizionists are still tormented by the idea of ‘the Jew.’ Lacking political depth and therefore unable to distinguish between the real and the imaginary, the typical Labour antisemite is driven by the idea of the Zionist Jew, albeit a false idea.

It was the same with the Brownshirts and the Stalinists, the Lutherans and the medieval Catholic Church. The thought or image of the nefarious Jew is enough to engender a pogrom, a Stalinist show trial, an inquisition, a boycott. It is no wonder that the Corbynistas are irrational and abusive. They imagine themselves living in a world controlled by Jew-Zionists. And this is why Labour’s focus in the past couple of years has been to cleanse the party (and the country) of undesirable Zionist Jews.

More than that, party members are well aware that they do not need to be in government in order to do this. They already have the power and the resources to perpetuate their dirty war against Jews, not only through the media, but also by means of organized protests, marches and demonstrations, by the boycotting of Jewish businesses and individuals, and by aiding and abetting Islamist extremists.

If the Soviets learned a great deal from the Nazis about how to slander Jews, so the contemporary Far Right is taking lessons from the Labour Party. Last year, Nick Griffin, former leader of the extreme right-wing racist British National Party, took to Twitter to defend Ken Livingstone’s repugnant suggestion that Adolf Hitler was a Zionist:

“Hitler started war wanting to send all Jews to own homeland outside Europe & armed Zionist terrorists to fight Brits in Palestine. #RedKen,” wrote Nick Griffin, who then tweeted a message reading, “One day the world will know that #RedKen was right.”

Consider, too, the Far Right website deLiberation, which has hailed Corbyn as the “antidote to the Blairite virus and Zionist snake-bite”:

“Many certainly can see Corbyn as Prime Minister – a very different and totally new style of PM, to be sure […] he’s a man to look up to and identify with […] a man who is not tempted by the Israeli shekel. If any of his opponents lands the leadership Labour will remain under the yoke of Zionist ambitions and enslave by the gangster regime in Tel Aviv.”

The phrase “gangster regime in Tel Aviv” is a favorite on both ends of the political spectrum. It is sometimes used by the nefarious and divisive George Galloway, who manages to straddle both the economic Far Left and the Islamist Far Right.

The Far Right’s fascination with the Labour Party is what happens when a once-major political party is taken over by lunatics who transform their irrational fixation with Jews into party policy. The trouble is, even if Corbyn and his cronies lose the general election on June 8, there’s not much evidence that the party will recover anytime soon. The rot may be too wide and too deep.

The party is, on average, fifteen points behind the Conservative Party. As things stand, there is no chance of Labour doing well in the next general election. But that doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters to the Corbynistas is the cleansing of the party of Zionists and of other political foes. Purity of belief is everything to the Left. Under its current leader, Labour has been reduced to a social media/student union protest body that proffers a seemingly endless proliferation of callow opinion from the foolish, the extreme and the dangerous.

Thanks to Corbyn and his communist apparatchiks, Labour is limping through a catastrophic and unprecedented collapse of meaning and intellectual malaise, propped up solely by its Sovietesque obsession with Jews and Zionism, an obsession that is shared by the racists on the Far Right. If Labour is abandoned by a disgusted electorate on June 8, nobody can say Corbyn wasn’t warned.