Thursday, 30 August 2018

Does Jonathan Sacks really speak for "all Jews"?


After the former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks hit the headlines by comparing Jeremy Corbyn's criticism of a tiny bunch of extremely rude Zionist extremists who had been abusing the Palestinian ambassador in 2014 with Enoch Powell's notorious 1968 "Rivers of Blood" speech, many people quite rightly asked what gave him the authority to make such a hyperbolic judgement, especially given that it was only last year that he was publicly praising an extreme-right, xenophobic, anti-Muslim, Enoch Powell-praising diatribe as "a good book".

As far as I'm concerned Sacks has every right to criticise Jeremy Corbyn (and anyone else for that matter) but he's left himself wide open to accusations of rank hypocrisy by promoting a book that praised Enoch Powell for his divisive xenophobic rhetoric one minute, then using the horrible spectre of Enoch Powell to launch a hyperbolic and politically partisan attack on the lifelong anti-racist campaigner Jeremy Corbyn the next.

The response of the Jewish Chronicle to people criticising Sacks' comments was an extraordinary defence headlined "the trashing of Jonathan Sacks is a trashing of all Jews".

Now if anyone else was making generalisations about "all Jews" they'd quite rightly be criticised for anti-Semitism given that there is definitely no all-encompassing belief system all Jews adhere to, but the fanatically right-wing Jewish Chronicle editor Stephen Pollard (who once said "the left,in any recognisable form, is now the enemy") and the author of the piece obviously see themselves as arbiters of what "all but a tiny minority of Jews" think.

Now I'm certainly not going to argue that Sacks is a completely bad person. He's clearly served the Orthodox Jewish community very well over the years otherwise he would never have risen so high, he's lectured in moral philosophy which is a subject I'd surely enjoy discussing with him despite our obvious political differences, and he's done quite a bit of Interfaith work too which I approve of.

However, many of his views are problematic to say the least.
  • Is it correct to say that Sacks speaks for "all Jews" when it comes to his vehement opposition to gay rights? Or is it fair to argue that a significant proportion of British Jews support Britain's gradual move towards gay equality?
  • Is it correct to say that Sacks speaks for "all Jews" when it comes to supporting the far-right, pro-settler Mizrachi Olami organisation that organises divisive Zionist marches through the occupied Palestinian settlement of Hebron? Or is it fair to argue that at least a significant proportion of British Jews oppose the illegal Israeli settlements and strongly disapprove of divisive Zionist marches where people chant "death to Arabs"?
  • Is it correct to say that Sacks speaks for "all Jews" when it comes to his public recommendation of an extreme-right, xenophobic, anti-Muslim Enoch Powell-praising diatribe as "a good book"? Or is it fair to argue that a significant proportion of British Jews strongly oppose the attempted gentrification of extreme-right, xenophobic, and bigoted ideas, and disagree with anyone who uses their public platform to recommend this kind of extremism as "good"?
I'm guessing that pretty much everyone reading this would agree that Sacks doesn't represent "all Jews" or even "all but a tiny minority of Jews" on at least one (if not all) of these issues ...

So how can it be correct to claim that he speaks for "all but a tiny minority of Jews" when it comes to his highly partisan attack on Jeremy Corbyn?

And how can it be correct to claim that people critiquing Jonathan Sacks' partisan hyperbole, pointing out his hypocrisy, or highlighting his other views are somehow guilty of attacking "all Jews"?


If any non-Jewish commentator was claiming the words of one Jewish person were representative of "all Jews", or deliberately othering and marginalising any Jewish people who choose to disagree with their personal view of what Jews should think as "a tiny minority", they'd quite rightly be castigated as anti-Semites. 

But somehow these kinds of warped generalisations are being passed off as fair commentary by the Jewish Chronicle!

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