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In 1835, Daniel O’Connell, Britain’s first Irish Catholic Member of Parliament, attacked Benjamin Disraeli during a by-election. In the course of his unrestrained invective, the Irishman referred to Disraeli’s Jewish ancestry calling him the “worst possible type of Jew”.

Disraeli shot back with characteristic chutzpah and brio in a letter to The Times. “Yes, I am a Jew,” he replied, “and when the ancestors of the right honorable gentleman were brutal savages in an unknown island, mine were priests in the temple of Solomon.”

From the moment Disraeli became Prime Minister, the Liberal press indulged in anti-Jewish innuendo against him. His Liberal successor William Gladstone, when opposing the pro-Turkish policies of Disraeli’s Conservative government, accused English Jews of loyalty to foreign Jews. “Gladstone was convinced that Disraeli’s Jewish origins were an influence on his conduct of policy,” writes historian David Cesarani. “The accusation that Jews, from Disraeli downwards, were motivated by dual loyalty gained in volume,” he states.

Over a century has passed. The accusations against Jews remain as stereotypical as Shylock in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. Jeremy Corbyn, leader of Britain’s Labour party is proving to be a worthy successor to his anti-Semitic forbears in Parliament.

This week, the media broke the story of Corbyn’s speech at a pro-Palestinian conference in London in 2013. There, the leader of the opposition not only accused British Jews of dual loyalty, but also disparaged them for being stupid. Corbyn pontificated in The Times:

“Zionists … clearly have two problems. One is they don’t want to study history, and secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, they don’t understand English irony either. They needed two lessons, which we could perhaps help them with.”

Luciana Berger, Labour MP for Wavertree, tweeted that as “a proud British Jew” she felt unwelcome in her own party. Not surprisingly, the merry host of responses on Twitter hummed back a common theme – well, in that case, why don’t you get out of such an anti-Semitic cesspool? Berger added: “I’ve lived in Britain all my life and I don’t need any lessons in history/irony.”

Berger’s rather pedestrian response makes me long for a vintage Disraeli-like response to Corbyn’s fatuous remarks. Jews don’t understand English irony? Jews don’t want to study history? Doesn’t Corbyn know that Jews practically invented history? Jewish prophets were lacing their invective with irony and Jewish priests were chronicling history in Solomon’s Temple when Comrade Corbyn’s ancestors were brutal savages running around draped in animal skins, thumping each other with clubs and communicating in grunts and snorts – they were not even as cute as the Flintstones. I'm exaggerating, of course, and hope Corbyn understands a figure of speech – it is more likely his ancestors were singing battle-songs around campfires.

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Corbynistas have leaped to their leader’s defence claiming that his comments were targeted at “Zionists” – not all Jews. In that case, count me in. I’m offended, because I’m an ardent Zionist. The label of “Zionist” as a pejorative term is a standard anti-Semitic trope. In effect, anti-Zionists are insisting that Jews abandon their loyalty to the Promised Land and profess sole allegiance to the country they live in. But Israel as a “people” inextricably bound to a “land” is as essential a component of Judaism as is Torah and belief in monotheism.

Hence, insisting that a Jew surrender his belief in the nation/land of Israel or the right of the Jewish people to a state is anti-Semitism in the highest. Anti-Semites over centuries have demanded that Jews relinquish one component or another of their religion in order to be accepted. Corbyn is asking them to give up Zion.

We all know Corbyn is a rabid anti-Semite. Now we know Corbyn is a moronic and semi-literate anti-Semite. He lectures Jews about irony. Has he never heard a Jewish joke? Does he not know that the people best known for their humour are Jews? Corbyn, like most lugubrious Leftists, doesn’t have a funny bone in his body. Anyone ever seen a picture of Karl Marx laughing? No wonder just eleven people turned up at his funeral!

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The Hebrew Bible is dripping with irony that would make Corbyn shuffle his feet. Irony uses words to express something other than and especially the opposite of the literal meaning. God himself uses irony in the book of Judges. “Go and cry out to the gods whom you have chosen; let them save you in the time of your distress,” God tells the Israelites who have been flirting with the pagan Baals. The Israelites don’t take God literally; they get the irony and repent of their sins.

Irony peaks with the prophet Elijah on Mount Carmel jeering at the priests of Baal as to whose God can light the fire on a giant-sized barbecue. “Cry aloud, for he is a god,” Elijah taunts his opponents. “Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” No, Mr. Corbyn, Elijah didn’t believe in the divinity of Baal or that Baal was desperate to use the toilet.

When King David dances before the ark with naked exuberance, his wife Michal confronts him with very English irony and icily tells David:

“How the king of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants’ female servants, as one of the vulgar fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!”.

Jesus and Paul, both Jews, use irony and even the Roman soldiers hail Jesus as “King of the Jews”! Carolyn Sharp’s book on Irony and Meaning in the Hebrew Bible is only the latest in a long list of academic works exploring Jewish irony.

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I heard Corbyn say that the Jews “don’t want to study history”. If it weren’t for the Jews, we’d still be singing with Engelbert Humperdinck. Turning and turning the world goes on, we can’t change it, my friend; and clinging to a cyclical notion of time, which means we’d have no sense of history! The religions of the ancient Near East and Indic religions like Hinduism and Buddhism all believed in a cyclical notion of time.

One of the most radical innovations of the Jews was the idea of God breaking into history and superintending Israel’s history and the history of the nations; when every other ancient religion believed in deities who controlled only nature. The Hebrew Bible begins with archetypal stories and genealogies but goes on to use historical material drawn from the “Books of the Chronicles” of different kings (the term is used 45 times in the Hebrew Bible).

Every Jewish festival is rooted in historical events rather than in agricultural seasons. A droll Jewish gag sums up the historical nature of Jewish festivals:

“They tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat!”

The Jewish philosopher Sir Isaiah Berlin (can’t get more British than having “Sir” prefixed to your name) wrote, “All Jews who are at all conscious of their identity as Jews are steeped in history.” In fact, Jews are so steeped in history that the Hebrew language does not have a word for it. Instead, the Bible uses the word ‘remember’; because Jews are called to study and remember history.

If only Corbyn knew a little real history (his view of history is limited to Marxist historical materialism), he’d recognize that over millennia the superpowers of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome imploded, crumbled and fell to the dust. No one worships their gods anymore. No one reads their books anymore, except a few scholars of Oriental Studies. Because the Jews retained a deep memory of their land and their history – Israel came back to life in 1948 after the Romans destroyed it in 70 AD.

Corbyn understands neither irony nor history. Never mind his ancestors romping around on an unknown island that had not yet discovered tea when King Solomon was writing an encyclopedia and composing proverbs and psalms; the delusional, dystopian socialist is still a semi-literate Philistine and an anti-Semitic savage.

Jules Gomes

by Jules Gomes

The Rev’d Dr Jules Gomes, BA, BD, MTh, PhD (Cantab) is a journalist and academic.

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