The Extremism of Clowns and Fools

Published in the Quilliam Journal, 1st March 2019

The man described by the Jewish News as the “Rabbi of Hate”, Yosef Mizrachi, has been planning a visit to the UK. No doubt he hoped that the universal condemnation that he attracted from everyone from Chief Rabbi Mirvis to the National Autistic Society in 2016 has died down enough to allow him to sidle into Manchester for a series of lectures. In the last day or so his platform at the (state-funded) Beis Yaakov school has been removed and other lectures at a local kosher restaurant have been cancelled after local uproar and unflattering press coverage.

Rabbi Mizrachi is perhaps the best illustration we have in the Jewish community of the manner in which the internet provides a platform through which extremist discourse can reach a worldwide audience. He is also a good example of the power of the politics of outrage.

Mizrachi is best known as an internet preacher, although he has recently published a book. He might best be described as, essentially, a clown. Not unlike his fellow travellers in other religions or in politics, he plays to the gallery. His messages are both simple and clear, delivered with showmanship, in the expectation that the lack of critical faculties, education and discernment in his audience will save him from serious challenge. He is also a bully who threatens his critics with the fires of Gehinnom or “a thousand times Auschwitz” when challenged. Like a bully, he backs down when faced with opposition from powerful organisations like the Agudas Yisroel or Chabad.

Here are some of Mizrachi’s greatest hits:

  • “Down syndrome, autistic and any other problem it’s a punishment as a result of a previous life”
  • “Mixed parties bring tragedies to our children, there’s more accidents, there’s more cancer, every minute there’s a new Jew who gets cancer in the world, every minute. And that’s because of the way the women dress, and that’s because of the sins that guys and girls makes together”
  • non-virgin girl is “like an open bottle of Coke”, a “used product”
  • “Look what happened when US gave blacks rights
  • The gay professor in the university (makes “mincing” gesture) ooo! You a rabbi! We are in the 21st century!”
  • Chinese (people), it’s one copy machine from 7/11 make 2 billion copies, all of them straight black hair, yellow skin, eyes like this… If I showed you I had in my computer, a picture of 20 Chinese, all of them twins!”
  • “Technically, there’s almost not one goy in the world who didn’t steal at least not once in his life”

What is significant about Mizrachi is not what he says. His core theology is largely warmed-over popular mysticism extrapolated from the Zohar’s wilder flights or, at best, bowdlerised aggadic speculation. Rather, it is the attitude of his supporters. Under Mizrachi’s tutelage, a set of newly religious, swivel-eyed bigots has emerged. Mizrachi’s attitudes to women, race, sexuality, authority and international politics speak to their craving for certainty and uniformity in a world that they find challenging and complex. He speaks to those who yearn for “The Truth”. And Mizrachi has all The Answers to Life, the Universe and Everything. Do as he says: everything will be better. You will be the Elect. The Few. The Pure. G!D Is on your side and soon your prejudices will be justified by Divine Retribution.

It is the patterns of discourse that reveal the commonalities between religious and political extremists. Nobody is claiming that Mizrachi’s followers are planning a campaign of bombs and stabbings. He is neither Hitler nor Nasrallah. But extremism is not just about violence: a view that is shared by the UK Government. It is about the creation of an environment dominated by fear and hatred of the other, a self-imposed ghetto of isolation whose walls are constructed from paranoia and ideological conformity. Like all such extremist societies, evildoers are protected as long as they belong to the right club, the criticism of authority is punished without mercy and the reins of power are in the hands of a self-perpetuating élite.

Mizrachi’s extremism is another ideology of protest. It comes from same deep vat of bile, self-justification and the desire for privilege that powers both the far Right and the far Left. It is a view that spurns complexity, subtlety and thoughtfulness. It is significant that the loudest argument it can marshal in its own defence is a supposed appeal to free speech. Mizrachi is presented, like ‘Tommy Robinson’, David Irving, George Galloway and David Icke as someone who The Powerful And The Politically Correct want to silence. It is the classic “punching up” positioning: “What are you scared of? He only speaks the truth!”

This argument is transparently self-serving and hypocritical. Mizrachi was quick to join the vicious and unjustified lynch campaign against Senior Rabbi Dweck. He is happy to call for the ‘cancellation of democracy’ to suit his agenda. He believes that the ultimate arbiter of world Judaism should be the unaccountable nonagenarians of the Jerusalem-based ultra-orthodox Eda Haredis religious court. His stated positions leave one in little doubt that were his political programme to be implemented, it would result in a sort of rabbinic ISIS, a “caliphate of the gedolim”. We spent years in the UK ignoring extremist rhetoric as a sort of joke for credulous fools. Continuing to indulge it is a foolhardy strategy.

Mizrachi has been loudly opposed throughout the Jewish community. It is gratifying to see that common decency is not dead and that so many Jews are prepared to fight to preserve civil discourse and oppose extremism and internal radicalisation.

To quote the journalist Jenni Frazer, “British Jews know offensive bigotry when they see it.”