Eretz Israel is our unforgettable historic homeland...The Jews who will it shall achieve their State...And whatever we attempt there for our own benefit will redound mightily and beneficially to the good of all mankind. (Theodor Herzl, DerJudenstaat, 1896)

We offer peace and amity to all the neighbouring states and their peoples, and invite them to cooperate with the independent Jewish nation for the common good of all. The State of Israel is ready to contribute its full share to the peaceful progress and development of the Middle East.
(From Proclamation of the State of Israel, 5 Iyar 5708; 14 May 1948)

With a liberal democratic political system operating under the rule of law, a flourishing market economy producing technological innovation to the benefit of the wider world, and a population as educated and cultured as anywhere in Europe or North America, Israel is a normal Western country with a right to be treated as such in the community of nations.... For the global jihad, Israel may be the first objective. But it will not be the last. (Friends of Israel Initiative)

Friday 18 February 2011

Liberal Rabbis on the Wrong Side of History

Recently, on the Jewish Chronicle website, Rabbi Aaron Goldstein drew attention to a composite sermon produced by him and his two rabbinical assistants at London’s Northwood and Pinner Liberal Synagogue. He asked whether they could produce “the longest sermon in history”.

Since some of my best friends are Liberal rabbis – I had tea and scones with one yesterday afternoon – and since I’m inevitably drawn to matters historical, I decided to check it out.

I was most disappointed, and indeed perturbed, by the contribution to the sermon – a well-meaning but hopelessly rose-tinted celebration of multiculturalism in Britain – that one of Rabbi Goldstein’s colleagues, a young South American-born rabbi, had made. With what might seem a cavalier disregard for fairness towards the ethos and traditions of his adopted country, and a strange selection of "facts", Rabbi Hillel Athias-Robles opined, inter alia:

“British colonialism tried to anglicise and homogenise the different constituents of the Empire, and its missionaries sought to replace native religions with Christianity. UK Sodomy laws were exported to cultures that traditionally had more tolerant attitudes to sexual diversity. In 1864 the Anthropological Society of London concluded that Blacks were a separate species more akin to the ape, even though this was more than three decades after the Slavery Abolition Act was passed.... In the media and political discourse we constantly hear the tenets of multiculturalism come into question. We feel multiculturalism crumble as Islamophobia becomes more socially acceptable. The All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into anti-Semitism reported a sharp increase in anti-Semitic attitudes and incidents.
....Giving up on multiculturalism is not the solution to our social wrongs. It is in fact multiculturalism that prevents our social wrongs from deteriorating even further.”
It was not so much the last part of this quoted passage that I found objectionable, although I agree with Jonathan Hoffman’s observation:

‘What politically correct drivel. Even Trevor Phillips said that multiculturalism is not working. And "Islamophobia becomes socially acceptable" is the PC liberal way of saying "It's wrong to point out Islamic extremism." No it's not.’
(Mr Hoffman would no doubt have added David Cameron’s name to that of Trevor Phillips, who chairs Britain’s Human Rights and Equality Commission, had the former’s Munich speech already been given.  And see the following by the great Melanie Phillips:

What I really deplore is the disparaging of Britain by Rabbi Athias-Robles, with the totally invalid implication that it is an endemically racist society. This picture shows some of "the great and the good" of Victorian Britain at a rally on behalf of persecuted Russian Jewry  – one of a number of such rallies held in Britain during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to demand justice for oppressed Jewries; the participants came from all political parties, and from all branches of the Christian church, with "liberals" and Protestants predominating.  Many of the people at the nineteenth-century rallies had been active in the fights against slavery, for penal reform, for factory reform, and for Jewish parliamentary emancipation.

I’ve shown in other blogposts that post-Reformation England provided a climate conducive to philosemitism, and the rabbi’s assertion that British “missionaries sought to replace native religions with Christianity” is mischievously misleading. It was only animists – heathens – that such missionaries attempted to proselytise; they did not, and this was a matter of deliberate policy, interfere with the religions of the peoples of the British Raj, although as is well-known they did attempt to outlaw thuggee and suttee.

Disappointingly, the rabbi ignores Britain’s liberal tradition, he ignores the abolition of the slave trade and the Royal Navy’s proud record in enforcing abolition by intercepting slaver vessels and returning their human cargos to Africa, he ignores Britain’s lack of persecution of Jews (in contrast to the Continent) and the gratitude Jews showed in consequence for being in the land of freedom.  He ignores the great Wilberforce and instead invokes a bunch of obscure ratbags of the 1860s.  For he appears to have ingested the "received wisdom" of the self-hating British chattering classes that everything the British Empire did was automatically wrong, and that everything its subject peoples did was automatically right.  He ignores the fact that Britain exported parliamentary democracy to its colonies, and he has evidently imbibed the fiction that all cultures are created equal.

He implies that multiculturalism changed British attitudes from illiberalism to liberalism – when in truth some of the cultures represented are as hostile to liberalism as it is possible to get – hating secular democratic values, despising women, genitally mutilating girls, practising “honour” killings, persecuting gays, pursuing animist witchcraft that involves child sacrifice, indulging in explicit and often violent Jew-hatred, and delegitimizing Israel.  (The accompanying photos speak for themselves.)

In some ways, the rabbi's indictment of Britain is reminiscent of absurdities to be found on the website of the London-based Muslim Public Affairs Committee:

'Western States the real terrorists – not Muslims....
One must remember, it was not the Muslims that were responsible for such heinous crimes as the slave trade. [Their history is as dodgy as his!!!] ....
[ W]hen Britain went into India, ruling it for 200 years, massacring and imposing their rules upon the people, never integrating, never learning their languages and forcibly trying to convert its people to their customs and religion....
Much death and destruction has been committed by the British Government, yet it is British Muslims who label each other as terrorists, seeking to disassociate ourselves from fellow Muslims. It is not for us to disassociate ourselves from anyone, but rather British Muslims and the wider British population at large should hold their Government accountable over their foreign policies. We should be putting pressure upon our leaders to ensure such crimes against humanity are not repeated and that all forms of exploitation are ceased with immediate effect. It is not just for British Muslims to apologise....
We should not be seeking to apologise for anything, it is these war criminals that need to apologise to us and hang their heads in shame – not us.’
Elsewhere, Rabbi Athias-Robles has observed:

“You might have noticed that many of the sermons Rabbi Aaron [Goldstein] and I deliver have to do with the situation in Israel. Perhaps some might see them as political – beyond the remit of our task as a rabbi. Sometimes, it may seem that we mention to Israel too much. A few weeks ago I posted on my Facebook profile a link to an article about the enforced loyalty oath the Israeli government recently introduced for non-Jews seeking Israeli citizen, who are asked to pledge their allegiance to Israel as a Jewish state – an oath aimed mostly at Palestinians who marry Arab Israelis. Many people replied to the article I posted– some people who are usually very liberal wrote things like: It’s so easy to criticise Israel from abroad – if you want to change the country move there and vote, followed by a whole rant against Arab countries and Arab intolerance to Jews. On a similar note, when Mick Davis, head of the Jewish Leadership Council and a Zionist leader, decided to break the silence and speak out about the moral issues of the peace process, including the rights of minorities, settlements, etc. a wave of attacks ensued – he was using the language of our enemies, he was delegitimizing Israel, he had no right as a Diaspora Jew to speak out against the choices of the Israeli government. As Jews, we are expected to stay quiet – the raising of concerns equals a hateful attack against Israel”
And predictably goes on to defend his position.

The unelected Mick Davis, by the way, is at it again, with the zealous cooperation of the Jewish Chronicle, in thral to the New Israel Fund.  (Robin Shepherd deals with this situation – and the Israel-is-an-apartheid-state canard – very nicely at

Unlike most of their counterparts in Australia, Britain’s Liberal rabbis seem to have an ambivalent attitude towards the Jewish State. They seem to have a nineteenth-century mindset in some respects: Ma Yomru ha-Goyim? ("What will the non-Jew say?").  They have taken on the mantle of the "Gentlemen of the Mosaic persuasion".  Their full-bodied sense of Yiddishkayt is missing. And they seem to think that being left of centre religiously obligates a person to be left of centre politically. Israel is under existential threat, yet too many of them join the chorus of snipers. Their criticism, like Mick Davis’s, should be done in private, for their public condemnations serve the heinous purpose of Israel’s foes.

They remind me, indeed, of the Jacobin, famously described by George Canning as:
"A steady patriot of the world alone.  A friend to every country but his own."

Recently, British journalist Julie Burchill, known for her robust championship of Israel, revealed that she’s abandoned plans to convert to Judaism under the auspices of the Liberal movement. She’d been attending the Brighton Progressive Synagogue, but, as she explained in her final regular column for the Jewish Chronicle, the rabbi’s agenda drove her away:

‘You should know that the reason I'm stepping away for a while has nothing to do with the hysterical levels of abuse that greet any Gentile who expresses support for Israel; on the contrary, I very much enjoy a bit of a verbal scrap.
But don't get me wrong, my admiration for the Jews and Israel came first; the nasty name-calling is just a side benefit....
I realised that it wasn’t a Jew that I wanted to be, so much as a Zionist....
I began attending a shul, and took the first steps towards converting to Judaism, then threw in the towel on both.
Basically, I don't go to a synagogue on a Saturday morning to be preached at about how Islam is the equal of Judaism, and yet that's what I got the last time I was there – from a female, gay rabbi, already!
I'd love to see her walk into a mosque and tell the worshippers that Judaism was the equal of Islam, that women should be just as able to be preachers as men and that homosexuality is every bit as valid a personal choice as heterosexuality.
I wonder how many minutes she'd last?
Which makes my point completely: an intolerant religion is not the equal of a tolerant religion. And to say that it is, is surely pretzel logic of the most twisted kind.
I've also been back to Israel three times since my initial visit in 2004, and each time I have marvelled at the beauty and rudeness of its people.
At home I have witnessed the self-loathing Stockholm Syndrome of what my hero Howard Jacobson fingered in his Booker Prize-winning The Finkler Question as the ASHamed Jews, and came to the conclusion that it wasn't a Jew that I wanted to be so much as a Zionist.
And I can do this by helping to buy fire engines for frontline Israeli towns like Sderot, and by donating a good whack of cash each year to send care parcels to lone IDF soldiers - and still stay in bed with my husband of a Saturday without having to schlep off to a shul and receive lectures on the wonders of Islam.
Toffs For Terrorism or We Are All Hizbollah Now, Yah? Back in the summer I turned on the TV the day after the flotilla was floored, and there was a man called Lort-Phillips, bewailing the plight of his sister, one Alexandra Lort-Phillips.
A few days later a piece turned up on the society page of the Daily Mail explaining that Lort-Phillips is the great-niece of Dame Frances Campbell-Preston, a woman of the bedchamber (not as fun as it sounds) and friend of the late queen mother of England, who inexplicably claimed, "I am very proud of her. She is standing up for her principles."
Wow, from royalty-flunky to Hamas-groupie in two generations - that's the spirit that made this country great! At least, though, the old broad had the excuse of being 91 years old to spout such twaddle.
What was everyone else's excuse for sailing on the Ship of Fools?
The Jews: The Greatest Story Ever Told. You pick your team and you stay with them, through good times and bad. I may not be writing this column for awhile - but I'm not going anywhere.


  1. I love Julie Burchill! She is such a breath of fresh air and a true mensch!! Long may she continue!!

  2. Hi, Juniper.
    I found her "Not in my Name: a compendium of modern hypocrisy" in a local charity bookstore -it's co-authored with Chas Newkey-Burden and is excellent.

  3. Rabbi Aaron Goldstein has produced this sermon
    Ain't that luvverly?


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