Notes on an abusive relation

It is not unusual for Rabbis to meet with victims of domestic abuse. I am no exception and I can say that over time, I have learnt how to recognise abusive situations. There is gaslighting: “It is too difficult for you to get, you are too emotional, let me explain it to you in a rational manner”. There is isolation: “Don’t trust her, she is only after your money”. There is blaming: “Yes, we have problems, but that’s because of you”. There is emotional blackmailing: “I am your only protection, you don’t know how dangerous it is out there…”

Abusive husbands make their wives believe these lies. They also manipulate their victims talking about the rosy days of old.” Remember, how romantic our relations used to be before you screwed it up with your immaturity and selfishness. But I will teach you how to fix it”.

For the victims, it’s difficult to realise that they are being manipulated. It is hard to admit that the person you love, is not the caring and loving man you thought he was. The victim internalises being abused. She lives in denial, hoping for a better future, and meanwhile, she does as she is told, and blames herself for the failure.

Currently I, as a Rabbi, am dealing with one of these situations. The victim is the Jewish community, and the abuser is the Labour Party. It happens over and over again. Labourites, usually someone who has joined the Party inspired by Jeremy Corbyn, post some sickening stuff on social media. For example, in April 2019, a Labour candidate here in Hove re-twitted material about “Jews who control the media” from a Nazi web site. Among the comments, (again, from Labour members), one could read that Adolf Hitler was perhaps not completely wrong. Last Summer, a Labour councillor of Bognor Regis posted, on his Facebook page, revelations about Jews perpetrating human sacrifices.

These are just two examples among the many, that have affected members of our community. Since episodes like these are literally in their thousands, the Equality and Human Rights Commission is currently conducting an independent investigation. While we wait for the results, it is interesting to consider the behaviour of the members of the Labour Party, two-thirds of which deny that the Party has a problem with anti-Semitism.

I tried to debate with them on social media, where they see that I am a Rabbi, and sometimes I think I am dealing with an abusive husband. Gaslighting abounds: “You Jews do not understand the difference between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism,” (yes, in the realm of ideas the two things are separated, but in the world where we live, they always appear together). Isolation: “Jeremy Corbyn is the most anti-racist leader in the UK. There are far more anti-Semites within the Tory Party than in ours. Avoid the Tories and the LibDems, they are not genuine anti-racists, they will betray you!” Blaming the other: “Yes, there are misunderstandings and miscommunication between the Labour Party and the Jewish community, but that is because the Jewish community is controlled by the Zionists.”

Like an abusive husband who manipulates his battered wife evoking the romantic past, that memorable day when he proposed, so the Labour militants refer to the Battle of Cable Street, the fateful day when Communist and Jews defeated the thugs of Mosley. And, (they point it proudly), when the parents of Jeremy Corbyn found each other. Wasn’t it beautiful, and romantic, that day, when we stood united together? That was in 1936, but then you Jews have betrayed us, you have broken the unity, out of selfish interest; first in 1948, with the founding of Israel, and then with the Six-Day War. Since then, only because of selfishness, you are hanging around with the wrong kind of people.

One of the most painful aspects of domestic abuse is that it is so difficult to end. Many victims believe, despite every evidence, that it is possible to keep the family together and willingly submit themselves to their abusive partner. For an increasing number of Jewish members, (or former members), of the Labour Party, this is not the case. Like survivors of abuse, they have found shelter elsewhere, tried to rebuild their political life elsewhere and perhaps filed for divorce.

When the next elections happen, quite a few of my colleagues will probably exhort their congregants who still have some hope in the Labour Party to be more realistic, jump out of the boat and move elsewhere. I will not do the same. Politics is a tricky business and I cannot even imagine how terrible things will be if a Party with no Jewish members come into power.

Things can change. In the USA in the 30s the Republicans were not in favour of Jewish immigration, yet in 2012 Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, nonetheless, gave the opening blessing at the national convention of the Republican Party. What a stark contrast with the UK Labour Party, that at their conference they decided to discuss anti-Semitism… on Shabbat!

Jews in the Republican Party have worked hard to build trust and to change the culture. You may disagree with the Republican policies, (even if in the era of Donald Trump, we have any idea of what they are!). But no one can deny that it is better to have friends than enemies.

Can the Labour Party change its toxic anti-Semitic culture, which is now prevalent? A few years ago, it was not so extremist and anti-Semitic, but things have changed, dramatically and quick. Is there any chance to turn back? I personally encourage those who believe it is possible and chose to remain members of the Labour Party, despite humiliations and abuses, to work to change its culture. But I understand those who are tired and choose to leave such a toxic environment.

I understand, believe me. I truly understand.

28 September 2019–28 Elul 5779

I’m the first Rabbi ever to be called “a gangster”. Also, I am a Zionist.

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Rabbi Dr Andrea Zanardo, PhD

Rabbi Dr Andrea Zanardo, PhD

I’m the first Rabbi ever to be called “a gangster”. Also, I am a Zionist.

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