The British Elections: A Jewish Spiritual Perspective

The landslide victory of the Conservative Party in the UK last week, is truly of historic proportions. It is the greatest electoral victory for the Tories since Thatcher’s victory in 1987. For Labour, it is their most crushing defeat since 1935.

Prima facie, these elections were about Brexit, with the slogan: “Get Brexit Done,” dictating much of the electoral discourse. However, there was another, darker and more pernicious and sinister aspect to this election campaign, namely – the notorious antisemitism of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, and others in his party.

Unprecedentedly, the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain actually made an overt appeal to Anglo Jewry to desist from voting Labour in these elections. What’s astonishing is that the entire British nation tacitly heeded his call. Even some of the staunch and die-hard leftists “closed their political nostrils” this time, and voted conservative in contra-distinction to their ideology, in order to prevent Corbyn from inhabiting 10 Downing Street (the British equivalent of the White House).

In doing so, the British public displayed political maturity and moral vigor. In many places around the world, people vote for political candidates the way they root for their sports teams. If they support the Lakers and the Democrats, they always vote Democrat. If they support the Clippers and the Republicans, they will always vote for a Republican candidate. This mode of emotive and immature political voting patterns is not only intellectually and morally infantile and reflective of a pervasive lack of critical and independent thinking, but it can also potentially give rise to the elections of extremist candidates on both sides of the political spectrum.

In America for example, we see today less moderates and centrists like Joseph Lieberman from the moderate left, and the late John McCain from the moderate right. Ours is, politically, “The Age of Extremes,” to borrow from the apt title of Eric Hobsbawm’s seminal book about the upheavals of the 20th century.

On both sides of the political aisle, we see today more dogmatic thinking, with leading candidates who do not see the geo-political landscape, or the human condition for that matter, with nuance, subtlety, and various shades. Rather, they exhibit dichotomous thinking, simplistic political diagnosis, and unrealistic and immoderate solutions. Worse than that, some candidates actually flirt with prejudice against various minorities.

Moses Maimonides, the greatest Jewish mind since Moses, always preached moderation, pragmatism, and existential balance, as the ardent philosophical disciple of Aristotle that he was.

In a famous midrash, the rabbis postulate that symbolically, God’s stamp seal is the word “Emmet,” which is Hebrew for “Truth.” This is instructive for several reasons, one of which is that the word “Emmet” starts with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet (the letter Alef), and ends with the last letter (the letter tav), with the middle letter (mem) being roughly situated in the very middle of the Hebrew alphabet, at the center between both polarities, between both “extremes,” thus suggesting the virtuous merits of moderation and centrism.

It is not the Jewish way to merely look at the economic and political policies of a candidate,especially as pertains to a potential head of state, as the Torah makes pervasively clear in its laws relating to a Jewish head of state (“King”). The Torah expects our political leaders to walk uprightly in its ways. To speak worthy and decent words, to practice humility and compassion, to resist hedonism and materialism, and to behold the divine image of all individuals and groups.

The British people tacitly demonstrated this week that they adhere to these fundamental tenets of what some people call the Judeo-Christian ethic. Let us emulate their worthy ways by saying, as Americans and as Jews, a resounding electoral “no,” to political extremism, demagoguery, immorality and vulgarism. Let us remember that our tradition cautions us that politics and the public sphere are not solely premised upon the socio-economic dimension of life, but also upon the normative pillars of decency, inclusivity, toleration and respect.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Sessler

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