Monday, 2 April 2018

The Easter Story, Jeremy Corbyn, anti-Semitism and lessons in media management

The Easter Story, Jeremy Corbyn, anti-Semitism and lessons in media management

We shouldn't be surprised when apparently good people are subject to false attacks on their character by vested interests, especially when they challenge those interests. They are in good company. For this is exactly what happened to the greatest man who ever lived; Jesus Christ (eg Mark 14 v 56-58 Luke 7 v 34) and he warned his followers to expect the same libellous insults (e.g. Matthew 5 v 11 and 10 v 22) And of course it's not only his followers that can be victims of such campaigns of falsehoods.

This Easter we remembered the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His followers like me believe he was and is “God made flesh”; the perfect, sinless divine Son of God, who took our place in dying for our sins on the cross to free us from the punishment of death we deserved (Isaiah 53 v 3-7). And we believe he proved this by rising from the dead (Acts 2 v 24) and by belief in him anyone may share in his eternal life (John 3 v 16). These are the great truths of Easter. 

But there are other lesser truths that we can also learn from the Easter story that can help us come to terms with the world we live in, whilst we struggle in this world waiting for him to return and heal it. For Jesus gyarantees that "in this world you will have trouble... but take heart I have overcome the world." (John 16 v 33)
Our world in the UK in 2018 in some ways is very different to Palestine 2000 years ago. Yet in many ways it’s very similar. In our times words fly around the world to millions in a blink of eye through social media and internet sites and TV and radio channels; words of truth, words of love, words of healing, words of lies, words of hate, words of violence. Yet in Jesus's world similar words of truth and lies travelled pretty fast and widely too, not through the internet and TV of course, but through the social media of his day; word of mouth. That's how pretty soon after the start of Jesus's amazing ministry he was attracting crowds of thousands. They had heard from others about this remarkable teacher and “holy man" who preached a new message of “good news” of God's love and forgiveness, justice and peace, especially for the poor and outcast (Luke 4 v 18 & 19) and how he displayed that message through his miraculous healings. And so, they flocked to see and hear for themselves. (Luke 7 v 16 & 17).
Yet through the same social media of word of mouth vicious untruths about Jesus then also spread very quickly: that this so-called great prophet was a fake, that far from being a holy man he was a drunkard and a glutton eating and drinking with sordid prostitutes and those dishonest greedy collaborators, the tax collectors (Luke 7 v 34)? And how dare he break God's holy Sabbath and other laws as interpreted by the true holy men - the religious establishment of the Pharisees and lawyers (Matthew 12 v 1 & 2)? If he was doing any miracles then it must have been, not through God's power, but the devil's. (Luke 11 v 14 & 15). And the human source for this campaign of lies against him was that religious establishment, because his message threatened and challenged their vested interests as the respected leaders of the people. For Jesus dared speak out directly against what they stood for as a distortion of the truth- a legalistic religion which had forgotten God's central message of love and mercy. (Matthew 23- almost whole of, and Luke 6 v 11) 
And it was as Jesus entered the nation's capital city, Jerusalem, on “Palm Sunday" that the social media campaigns for and against him really went into overdrive. Word about this great prophet had spread ahead of him into the capital and crowds flocked to hail his entry into Jerusalem as their Messianic King (Matthew 21 v 8-11).

But even at this apogee of his popular appeal, the establishment interests were plotting to bring him down, spreading lies about him to try to trap him and turn his followers and the wider public against him and bring about his destruction (Luke 19 v 47, Matthew 26 v 4).

These lies eventually got to one of his inner circle, Judas, who turned against Jesus (Luke 22 v 4). This lead to his arrest and then trial by the religious establishment with more false accusations (Matthew 26 v 59-62). By the time Judas realised he had been deceived about Jesus it was too late. (Matthew 27 v 3-5) Then came the culmination of the establishment plotting against Jesus- their false messages stirred the popular crowd to demand the Roman Governor have Jesus crucified. (Matthew 27 v 15-23). One wonders how many of those calling for his crucifixion had been hailing him as Messiah only days earlier.

And so, in the greatest act of injustice this world has ever known, the one perfect sinless human suffered the ultimate punishment, shame and pain of death on a cross. As one of the criminals crucified with him said, “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” (Luke 23:41) (Good for us all to remember this when we are treated unjustly- we are in good company). And even as Jesus hung there and died, and even after he was laid in his grave, his opponents were still determined to manage their social media campaign against him. On the cross they taunted him to reinforce their point that he was a fake: “... the rulers even sneered at him. They said, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.’” Luke 23:35.
Worried that his followers might then steal his body and claim he'd risen from dead, just as he said he would so, they got a big sealed stone and two Roman guards to block his tomb’s entrance (Matthew 27 v 62-66). But incredibly (and very annoyingly for his opponents!), Jesus rose from dead anyway, with an angel stunning the guards and rolling the stone away (Matthew 28 v1-10). And so, the religious establishment started another campaign of lies, bribing the soldiers to claim that his followers had indeed stolen the body as they'd feared all along (Matthew 28 v 12-15). Yet the reality of his resurrection was proven not just by the words of his followers to whom he appeared (recorded in the 4 gospels), but by their acts in giving their lives for him. But still many today believe this great divine man of miracles was a dangerous fake, or just sit on the fence not making up their minds, influenced (if only subconsciously) by the message of misinformation and lies about Jesus.

Over some months I believe we've seen a media campaign of untruths against another leader of men, who happens to share the same initials as Jesus. Though neither divine nor perfect, many regard this JC as a good man, also giving a message of love and peace and justice, and especially for the poorest. This man has also challenged vested establishment interests in his country - the rich and the influential within politics, the economy and the national
media. His message has sought to challenge the position, power and wealth of the rich and the establishment; to bring about fairness and justice, especially for the poorest, and to promote peace throughout this country and the world. The latest episode of this has seen him as accused of encouraging or at least tolerating vile messages of anti-Semitism by his followers.

It seems to me that the establishment interests decided they could not allow their power and wealth to be so threatened and were determined to stop this man from disrupting their world. And so they used the means at their disposal -their great power and wealth- to launch against this rebel a campaign of lies to persuade the people that this man was a dangerous impostor: far from being a man of peace and love he was a man who associated himself with the hateful and the violent; a friend of terrorists, a treacherous former spy, a sympathizer of Russian infiltrators and murderers,  a man who tolerated and even encouraged his followers to build factories of hate manufacturing anti-Semitism- like a man who rode in Hitler’s car. 
 To lend their message plausibility they’ve taken words that he or his followers have used and twisted them or take them out of context. Most especially they have used against him hateful words of violent men who claimed to be his followers, even though they said things that directly contradicted his message. And many good people are being deceived by their deceptive campaigns against him. They can see the hateful messages of those claiming to follow him and blame him for not stopping the vile sewage of their words that discharge into the ocean, even though that ocean is vast and beyond the control of anyone. And he is also blamed that he and others who walked with him had swam in that same ocean even though they hadn’t seen the sewage there. And those blaming him have failed to see in this the hidden hands of the vested interests who plot against him.

And so through spreading false rumours, distorted half-truths and lies, the establishment interests are seeking to bring this good man down; to get him nailed to his own cross and buried in a sealed tomb so there could be no chance that he or his followers could rise again and challenge their position in society. 

The issue of anti-Semitism within the Labour party is a serious one, which Jeremy Corbyn himself has sought to fight and where he acknowledges efforts need to be redoubled.

But it is also an issue being used as a tool by establishment interests to continue weaving their narrative of lies and half-truths against him to stop him gaining power and undermining their privileged positions. The extent of the genuine problem within his party has therefore been exaggerated, particularly by attributing to his party vile anti-Semitic comments posted on open public social media sites that have no link to the Labour party, but which some party members follow. Yet these are sites many thousands participate in and where hundreds of messages a day can be posted by anyone and no one sees all the many messages that go on them. Similarly, he is blamed for anti-Semitic private emails from people claiming to support him, despite their message directly contradicting the principles he has very publicly espoused. And then there are the genuinely innocent if careless mistakes - like his support for the infamous 2012 mural which in reality was not obviously anti-Semitic as opposed to anti-Capitalist and where the capitalists vilified were not exclusively Jewish. And the NEC member who carelessly supported a candidate without properly looking into his history and so was unaware that he’d shared an abhorrent anti-Semitic article denying the holocaust.

Constant insidious seeping of social media messages and the almost infinite risks of guilt by association truth present extremely difficult problems for our politicians today that did not exist in the same way even 10 years ago. We see this in the way some have tried to use social media to directly manipulate opinions and votes in major elections like the EU referendum and the US Presidential election. We see it in the daily inflammatory Twitter rants of the US President. We see it in the hundreds of abhorrent anti-immigrant and anti-Islamic posts that cling to many pro-Brexit Facebook groups which some Conservative party members and politicians follow. And yes, sadly we see it too in vile anti-Semitic posts that can cling to certain left-leaning Facebook groups that some Labour party members and politicians follow. Is it not strange that compared to the attention lavished on anti-Semitic comments and Jeremy Corbyn, the national media has given a fraction of the focus on similarly outrageous racist comments in Brexit supporting groups associated with many Conservatives? But once we recognise the interests and world views of those controlling most of the national media it's not so strange: we can see they are aligned with the very interests and world views that Jeremy Corbyn threatens. And just as we saw with the other greater JC, where establishment interests are threatened they will use all means at their disposal to manipulate the message about their opponent to make sure he is stopped.  So, when the establishment media interest in anti-Semitism has waned, you can be sure they will find another issue they can use to brief the pubic against their opponent. And if we are supporters of his cause then, just as the great JC encouraged his own followers to be, we need to be as “wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10 v 16). Now from what I've seen on anti-Semitism as on so much else Jeremy Corbyn in reality is as "innocent as a dove" and indeed puts many Christians like me to shame. Where he may not always be so good is being as "shrewd as snakes" in the way he handles the media. However see his very good answers to questions in his Jewish Chronicle which they still labelled "not good enough" or the ridiculous offence taken to his sharing passover with a local Jewish group on the grounds that they were the "wrong sort of Jews." You then realise that for many of Jeremy's opponent both within and beyond the party (just as with Jesus's opponents) they will find ways to take offence and will never be convinced by him. Certain Jewish leaders in Jesus's day were not even convinced when he rose from the dead! Any rather lesser political miracle that Jeremy might perform is not going to convince most of his detractors

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