Why should anyone take Yosef Mizrachi seriously?

Published in the Quilliam Journal, 8th March 2019

The impending visit of Yosef Mizrachi, the widely condemned extremist preacher, to the UK, has already run into trouble with the speedy cancellation of two public appearances after widespread protests.

There is a view often expressed about Mizrachi, particularly by the religiously knowledgeable, that he is, essentially a joke. Not a funny one, considering the number of groups he has contrived to insult, mock and belittle. Someone who can be safely laughed at and ignored as a cartoonish, illiterate buffoon.

This is, of course, a reasonable viewpoint. Mizrachi does, after all, provide plentiful fodder for satire. But he has his followers. Hundreds of thousands of them, if his social media channels are any indication. It is his message to them that is one of profound concern.

Mizrachi sent a widely shared message to one of his prominent UK supporters on Saturday night. It is extremely revealing of his hashqafah (world-view):

“If a Christian missionary would come, nobody would fight, even a Muslim would come to make a speech – nobody would make a peep. There’s only one person in the world comes to speak, everywhere he goes all the wicked people unite to stop him – and it’s me.”

Actually, this is not true. The UK has previously banned a large number of Muslim hate preachers from the UK, as well as a range of other antisocial figures. There have been civil society campaigns against such people though, naturally, Mizrachi can only see the interpretation that fits his agenda:

“What happen to the freedom of speech in England that they all screaming so much? Let the Arabs talk, let all the wicked people speak, let everyone speak, no, it’s freedom of speech. Let Islam rise, it’s freedom of speech, the only one who does not have the freedom of speech is the rabbi who teach the real Torah.”

“Wickedness” is a key motif in his tirades. He reserves his greatest condemnation for rabbis who disagree with him, with Chief Rabbi Mirvis coming in for particularly bizarre criticism:

“If a clown like the Chief Rabbi of England, which is a very wicked person, would come and speak, the Satan is very happy. He promote homosexuality, he promotes Christianity, he promote Eurovision in Israel, this is what he promotes, everything that Hashem hates.”

What this reveals is a sort of Manichean cosmology, with the good on one side and the wicked on another. Mizrachi’s view of good and evil cuts right down the centre of contemporary identity politics in all its inflamed putrescence:

“There are the wicked people, which includes people who don’t keep Torah and mitzvot [the commandments] liberal people, lefties, all kinds of gays, all kinds of anti-Torah, lots of atheists. You know, people are pro-Palestinians, pro-everything that is against Hashem. Those are the wicked people.”

To be good, then, is to be conservative, or right wing. To be against homosexuality, atheism. To hate Islam and Arabs. To take an extreme, fundamentalist view of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

This is not the forum to debate the finer points of these positions. But it is clear how his black and white world of the struggle between ultimate good and ultimate evil affects those who are influenced by him. One of his high-profile supporters in Manchester could be seen airing the same set of prejudices on a social media thread devoted to a photo of the far-right commentator Katie Hopkins in an IDF t-shirt. Hers is a characteristic use by anti-Islam campaigners  of the symbols of the State of Israel, in an effort to appear less toxic in the eyes of Jews. It plays on the threat of Islamist political violence as a cynical recruiting tactic. It also is a means of using Jews to taunt Muslims.

Hopkins is described as a “brave woman” who “sees clearly the fight against evil in the world”. Elsewhere, the same supporter includes both Hopkins and the far-right activist ‘Tommy Robinson’ as people who “speak out against Islam and Satan’s work to rid the world of Torah”.

Mizrachi, too, evidently sees his work as a personal battle with “the Satan”:

“..the Satan knows that when we come to a place, there’s going to be a massive change after that.”

There is every reason to take Mizrachi at his word. He is a zealot who seeks to make converts. And zealots, religious, political far-right or far-left, should be taken seriously, no matter how laughable their message appears to the mainstream. By the time the effects of their followers’ radicalisation are visible, it may be too late to combat their influence.