This is rather more political than what I usually write, and I’m scared to post, but here goes:
I’ve been caught up in political stuff last night and today and that has made me feel depressed. I get trapped. Partly I want to avoid politics, because it just upsets and/or depresses me. Stuff about antisemitism (of all kinds: far-right, far-left and Islamist) upsets me and a lot of other news just depresses me. There’s obviously a lot of distressing stuff in the news at the moment. The problem is that I find job hunting so boring.
I’ve been thinking a lot about politics and Jews, last night and today. Perhaps my thoughts drifted that way in part because of Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day), which has come into our home this year with yortzeit candles (memorial candles for the dead) for four Jewish children murdered in the Holocaust, as part of an international remembrance initiative.
In a way the Jews of the UK are lucky, in that we have a clear enemy in Jeremy Corbyn and Momentum. Many British Jews are left of centre and would not normally consider voting for the Conservative Party, or even for the Liberal Democrats, but they can’t cope any more. According to a poll for The Jewish Chronicle, more than 85% of British Jews believe that Jeremy Corbyn is an antisemite. For comparison, although Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable has been hostile to Israel in the past and called for an arms boycott of the state, only 6% of British Jews see him as antisemitic. So, contrary to what Corbyn’s supporters say, Jews are perfectly capable of distinguishing anti-Israel views from outright antisemitic ones. It is shocking that the man who could be prime minister in a matter of months has difficulty, at the very least, in noticing classic antisemitic tropes and conspiracy theories used by those around him (Jews and money, Jews and covert power, Jews as child-murderers) and expresses support for terrorist groups and dictatorships that openly murder and persecute Jews. But at least the Jewish community can rally together against him. One might almost be grateful to Corbyn for helping Anglo-Jewry to overcome its various religious, social and political divisions (it’s hard to think of any other topic that commentators as politically different as Melanie Phillips and Jonathan Freedland can agree on), as we as for encouraging the usually docile Anglo-Jewry to actually stand up for itself.
The same can not be said for the other political controversy that is preoccupying me today. In the USA, most Jews are traditionally Democrats; since the Depression, every single Democratic candidate for president has won at least two-thirds of the Jewish vote (Franklin Roosevelt managed over 90% at one point), but Orthodox Jews (who make up only 10% of American Jewry, albeit that they are often its most visible element) tend to be Republicans. This trend has continued in recent years with most non-Orthodox Jews being strongly anti-Trump, but some Orthodox Jews (at least) being vocal Trump supporters.
I mentioned last night that I drift sometimes into a quasi-academic mode. I can do that here, and examine as a social historian the complex interplay between religion, politics, history and culture (and the culture wars) in American society in general and American Jewry in particular. The way that despite the formal separation of church (or synagogue) and state in America, religiously progressive Jews have come to identify Jewish values, particularly tikkun olam/social justice (or “social justice” as the identification is not uncontested) very strongly with progressive political values, while Orthodox Jews have identified Jewish values, particularly Zionism and “family values” (another contested term), equally strongly with conservative political values.
As I say, I can analyse dispassionately, but it does hurt me viscerally when I see the fall-out from Trump’s culture wars and the absolute breakdown in civility between right and left in America infect the Jewish community and separate Jew from Jew. It depresses me beyond measure to see that people and communities I know online that once placed spirituality, community and brotherly love at the forefront of their minds are now reduced to petty point-scoring and offensive insults. Where both sides cite the Torah to support their views and describe the other side as “self-hating Jews” who are supporting antisemites.
I do actually have an American friend whose online writings, which I once loved, I have had to stop reading in the last year. That’s partly because of a personal hurt he did to me, for which I have tried to forgive him, but which still pains me. But it’s also because so much of his written output is devoted to attacking Donald Trump. I personally do not like Trump at all and would rather Hilary Clinton was sitting in the Oval Office right now, so I should support him, but his attitude is that even if you hate Trump, if you don’t think he is as bad as Hitler, you are enabling him as much as his MAGA-baseball-capped supporters. I don’t think Trump is another Hitler, and I think it’s dangerous to throw terms like that around (and, no, I wouldn’t compare Jeremy Corbyn to Hitler either). I think it’s tragic that my friend, who I once admired for his commitment to brotherly love for all, regardless of religion, race, nationality or politics is now unable to write anything without accusing people who disagree with him of the most terrible things. And I know that there are people on the other side of the debate doing the same things, often in the comments sections of his posts, people who think that anyone who disagrees with them is not just wrong, but wicked.
It’s Manichean stuff. The Sons of Light versus the Sons of Darkness. We’re absolutely right and you’re absolutely wrong. God is on our side and you are evil. This depresses me immensely. I hate to see the anger, the loathing and the self-righteousness. I hate to see people use simplistic interpretations of Judaism to support transient and flawed political policies and suspect political leaders. And I wonder what happens to a democracy where half of the population think that the other half is outright evil and dangerous, something that is happening here in the UK too with Brexit.