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Britain’s chief rabbi looks like the latest hate preacher to surface

January 22, 2024 at 10:54 am

Britain’s Chief rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, addresses the crowd during a ‘Vigil for Israel’ opposite the entrance to Downing Street, the official residence of Britain’s Prime Minister, in London on October 9, 2023. [HENRY NICHOLLS/AFP via Getty Images]

Days before South Africa put its case before the International Court of Justice in The Hague, alleging that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza, Britain’s chief rabbi — more correctly the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations for the Commonwealth; he is not every British Jew’s chief rabbi — Ephraim Mirvis, heaped praise on the “outstanding” performance of the Israeli military in occupied Palestine, when speaking at a funeral at a synagogue. Yes, that’s right: killing civilians, including women and children, is praiseworthy in his eyes.

Now Rabbi Mirvis charges that the “genocide” accusations against Israel are a “moral inversion” designed to “tear open the still gaping wound of the Holocaust,” and constitute a hijacking of the term to commit “the ultimate demonisation of the Jewish state.” His words in an opinion piece for the right-wing Telegraph newspaper were penned a few days ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Such accusations, says Mirvis, are “deployed not only to eradicate any notion that Israel has a responsibility to protect its citizens, but also to tear open the still gaping wound of the Holocaust, knowing that it will inflict more pain than any other accusation. It is a moral inversion, which undermines the memory of the worst crimes in human history.” This supposed man of god added that, “It should be obvious that if Israel’s objectives were genocidal, it could have used its military strength to level Gaza in a matter of days.” Perhaps he didn’t get the memo about the openly-stated genocidal intentions of Israeli officials.

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Even while Israel is committing the most heinous of crimes, from unplugging critically ill babies’ incubators to indiscriminately dropping bunker-busting bombs on civilian homes, schools, hospitals and ambulance convoys, as well as cutting off water, food, fuel and medical supplies, the rabbi still manages to play the victim card very cynically indeed. He has clearly failed to understand that South Africa went to The Hague in an effort to save lives. Is there a more noble cause to pursue? Obviously not in the rabbi’s book.

He raises the issue of the Holocaust but, like many others, refuses to acknowledge that the ultimate aim of the Holocaust failed, thank God. Senior Nazis were tried and faced justice for their crimes and rightly so after killing six million Jews as well as trade unionists, homosexuals, the disabled and Roma communities.

Perhaps the fact that Danny Mirvis, the rabbi’s son, is serving in the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) has something to do with his stance.

Gushing with pride, Mirvis revealed that his son is in the army’s Hevra Kadisha specialist unit. Not known for their military prowess or heroics, the unit takes care of the bodies of Israelis who are killed.

According to the Jewish Chronicle, “Hevra Kadisha (“holy society”) is the generic name for the organisation that exists in every city where there are Jews, commonly known as ‘burial society’. Its work involves preparing the body for a Jewish burial and carrying out the burial at the site of the cemetery according to Jewish law. Since the dead can never personally repay the hevra kadisha for their diligence and kindness, it is a mitzvah or commandment that is called hesed shel emet – ‘a true kindness, not one with any ulterior motive.’”

That sounds very noble, and I read, just a few months ago, that a group of Israelis flew to Morocco to help support a seven year project to rebuild and restore a Jewish cemetery in the wake of the September earthquake. Who, though, will be allowed to restore the 16 Muslim cemeteries where the IDF has admitted to digging up Palestinian graves in Gaza? Footage emerged last week from a bulldozed graveyard in Khan Younis in southern Gaza, where smashed graves lay open and human remains covered in shrouds had been left on the surface without being reburied. News of Israel’s deliberate destruction of Palestinian cemeteries surfaced in December.

Unbelievably, the purpose of this war crime was, claimed the IDF, to determine if any of the recently buried bodies are actually Israeli hostages. Not even the Palestinian dead in Gaza can rest in peace, it seems. So, while the Israeli occupation forces are busy exhuming bodies in Gaza’s cemeteries with total disrespect, forgive me if I am not moved by Rabbi Mirvis’s words and cynical use and abuse of the Holocaust.

Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, Ephraim Mirvis speaks to people viewing the empty places laid out for the 220 hostages at a 'Shabbat' table in the JW3 Piazza in north London on October 27, 2023 [HENRY NICHOLLS/AFP via Getty Images]

Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, Ephraim Mirvis speaks to people viewing the empty places laid out for the 220 hostages at a ‘Shabbat’ table in the JW3 Piazza in north London on October 27, 2023 [HENRY NICHOLLS/AFP via Getty Images]

It remains to be seen if the Zionist State will be found guilty of perpetrating genocide, a ruling many of us fear will turn out to be political rather than legal, given the pressures on the 15 judges from their respective national leaderships. However, most of us may not be lawyers, but we know what we have seen in real time on social media; it is indisputable that Israel continues to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity in Gaza and in the West Bank and Jerusalem on a daily basis, and has done for decades, not only since 7 October. The whole world can see this, which accounts for the amazing protest marches around the world.

As the number of Palestinians killed by Israel approaches 25,000 — mainly women and children — with more than 62,000 wounded and 8,000 still missing, presumed dead, under the rubble of their homes and other civilian infrastructure, the rabbi’s article does not sit well with me. Had he just shown an ounce of compassion, made just one critical reference to Israel’s bombing of “safe zones” to which it had ordered civilians to flee, or even criticised the bombing of places of worship and hospitals, then his words might have some credibility. But he didn’t.

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This man of faith had nothing to say about Israel’s ring-of-steel siege which denies food, aid and medicine to young and old alike. Palestinians in Gaza are starving, and amputations are being carried out with no anaesthetic. The deliberate actions of the apartheid state of Israel of which Rabbi Mirvis is so proud have created a humanitarian catastrophe. So much so, in fact, that too much of what I’ve seen on Al Jazeera reminds me of the flickering, black and white images I watched in horror and silence as a child when seeing archive footage of the evils of Nazi Germany.

That was in the days when the BBC made no apology for the graphic, nightmare images the once-revered public broadcaster showed to its captive audience (the BBC used to run two of the only three channels available). Today, though, just like the chief rabbi and his selective views, the BBC sanitises or ignores the endless video footage revealing Israeli soldiers thieving, vandalising, looting, stripping Palestinian men to their underwear, and shooting civilians bearing white flags in the streets. Or what about the brazen TikTok images of London’s infamous “knicker sniffer” Levy Simon, an IDF reservist who was filmed rifling through a woman’s wardrobe making smutty comments about someone who was quite possibly already dead. He’s from London, by the way, and was due to speak at a Jewish charity programme last week. He should be prosecuted, not feted as some sort of heroic role model for troubled young Jewish men.

Neither the religious leaders of Britain’s Jewish communities (with the noble exception of Neturei Karta) nor the BBC refer to such rogue behaviour; not even when three Israeli hostages were shot in cold blood by the IDF despite holding their hands up and carrying an “SOS” sign. I wonder if the rabbi’s son took care of their bodies, hopefully burying them in a cemetery which is not going to be desecrated by the IDF.

In my opinion, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis is nothing more than a hate preacher using finely polished and honed yet distinctly weasel words to attack and humiliate what’s left of Gaza’s Palestinians. There is nothing divine about the IDF’s genocidal mission in Gaza, and while many are too gutless to stand up to this latest hate preacher, I will call him out without fear or favour.

Imagine if a Muslim cleric said that his son or daughter was fighting in Gaza as part of the legitimate resistance against Israeli occupation. The police would be at the door in an instant.

Like it or not, the Palestinians have the right under international law to resist Israel’s brutal military occupation. As the occupation state, Israel has a moral and legal duty to care for the welfare of the Palestinians living under occupation. They do not have a right to kill them, not even in “self-defence”, a false claim parroted by just about every politician bought and owned by the pro-Israel lobbies in Europe and North America, as well as Rabbi Mirvis, with his incredulous claim that the case at the ICJ has been “deployed… to eradicate any notion that Israel has a responsibility to protect its citizens”. End the occupation, and there will be no need for Palestinians to resist, by any means, “including armed struggle”, as is their right.

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Let’s not forget that Mirvis opted to study and live on stolen Palestinian land in Israel’s illegally occupied West Bank settlements, where Jewish extremists regularly terrorise Palestinian communities to drive them off their land. He raised at least one of his children to serve in an army terrorising and ethnically cleansing Palestinians in Gaza. Mirvis considers the Israeli soldiers committing war crimes to be “our heroes”.

Using the guidance set out by Britain’s anti-extremist Prevent scheme, Mirvis qualifies as an extremist and holds views that should be repellent to any decent person. Yet he is revered by the British establishment, including its fawning media.

In 2017 he openly supported the fanatical Jewish settlers in the occupied Palestinian territories on their annual “flag march” through the occupied Old City of Jerusalem. Every year, the chant “Death to the Arabs” rises high above the flag-waving masses as they pass by Palestinians who live there. The Jerusalem Day march is described by some as a “religious carnival of hatred”, but not Mirvis; he celebrates it.

There is only one narrative at play in Gaza and the rest of occupied Palestine, and that is a story of the oppressed being brutally oppressed by the oppressor. Being neutral only plays into the hands of hate preachers like the Chief Rabbi and his ilk. This is not a “false” genocide, Rabbi Mirvis; it’s very real for the 100,000 Palestinians killed, wounded or missing presumed dead, and the two million who have been displaced, starved and deprived of their basic rights.

If I am doing anything wrong, I know that I can trust my friends to let me know, and urge me to get back on the right path. As a friend of the Zionist state of Israel, and especially as a senior religious figure in Britain, Rabbi Mirvis is surely better placed than most to tell Israel that enough is enough. The fact that he is, instead, praising both the state and its armed forces as they commit mass murder, is shameful.

“Not only does it want to crush our present and destroy our future,” wrote noted Palestine’s Dr Hanan Ashrawi on X yesterday, “but Israel is also attempting to obliterate our past. Cultural heritage sites in Gaza have been deliberately targeted, and in the West Bank the Israeli occupation army and settlers are systematically raiding archaeological sites.”

This is as good a layman’s definition of genocide as you will find. Britain’s Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis can make as many claims as he likes that Israel is not engaged in this most serious of crimes but, deep down, he must know that it is. Come clean, rabbi, and do yourself and your precious occupation state a favour. Better late than never.

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