Opinion

A Corbyn Win Would Make British Jews Feel Like Second-class Citizens

Corbyn has already undermined the equal standing of British Jews in the public sphere. A Labour win would ratify that

Opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn launches Labour's Race and Faith Manifesto in north London on November 26, 2019
AFP

What makes a country safe for a Jewish community?

At any point of history, right up until our grandparents' lifetimes and even, in some cases, our parents, the requirements were pretty basic. As long as they don’t kill us, let us work for our livings (even if some professions were blocked or restricted) and allow those of us who wish to worship according to our traditions to do so, we could survive, and even prosper.

These conditions exist now pretty much in every place where a Jewish community exists. The last places where a Jewish community was physically threatened were in the Arab countries of North Africa and the Middle East in the 1950s. Under Communism in Eastern Europe, Jews were forbidden to worship and organize communal life up until the end of the 1980s.

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Jews have been targeted and murdered in recent years in the United States, France, Belgium and Denmark. Plans to carry out more murders were foiled in other countries, including Germany and Britain.

But in none of these cases was the state involved in the killings. In fact, almost everywhere today, the state actively protects Jews.

This is more than our grandparents in most countries could have ever hoped for. But today Jews expect much more.

Fifty years ago, when my father was at Manchester Grammar School, there was an old teacher who would regularly say things in class like, "There weren’t any Cheetham Hill Jew-boys on the Somme." It may be unimaginable today, but in the British education system in the 1960s, a teacher could say stuff like that without being sacked.

But as hurtful (and obviously untruthful) as such remarks were, the Jewish boys in the class knew that the teacher was already then a relic of the past. In the society they were growing up in, every university position, every job and profession would be open to Jews.

In fact, in Britain and in almost every western society, you have to be well in to your seventies, at least, to have experienced institutionalized anti-Semitism, and at least fifty to remember a time when a teacher or a government official or politician could get away with openly hostile remarks about Jews.

That is what Jews have come to expect. Not just physical safety and full equality, but a complete understanding that they are never to be singled out or judged in any way by or on their Jewishness. By anyone.

If you want to understand why the overwhelming majority of British Jews are deeply concerned by the possibility that next Friday morning, on the day after general election in Britain, Jeremy Corbyn will enter Number Ten Downing Street as the new prime minister of the United Kingdom, you have to first understand that while they expect not to be singled out and judged as Jews, they also know that they can never take that right for granted.

A Corbyn victory would not be a tumbril moment. No-one is seriously suggesting that Jews are about to be legislated against, deported or murdered by a Corbyn government. But it would be the moment when most British Jews no longer feel confident in their equality as British citizens.

What has happened in the past four years in the Labour Party under Corbyn’s leadership is not a systematic persecution of all Jews. As Corbyn and his supporters constantly remind us, he has Jewish comrades and there are Jews who believe in his agenda.

But there has been a constant undermining and delegitimization of the right of Jews, both from within the party, and in the wider British public, to criticize him, both as individuals and as self-identifying members of the Jewish community.

There are many reasons to criticize Corbyn and his agenda which have nothing to do with his positions on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Large parts of his domestic agenda, his foreign policy and most critically, his barely concealed and deceitful support for Brexit, are at odds with what many British citizens believe in.

But the criticism of him by Jews has been met with a chorus of "Zionists!" (or "Zio scum," or "Traitor Zionist bitch") in meetings at local party branches and online. Because unless Jews are willing to jettison their natural affinity with a state where half of the Jewish people today live, they are not to be considered worthy of consideration in the bleak dogmatic world inhabited by Corbyn and his cult.

And even if they've no inclination towards Israel, they'll be shouted down as a "Zio," which has become just a synonym for "conspiratorial Jew," anyway.

Not that the Jews in Britain should have to apologize for their natural support of Israel (not its policies, necessarily) or that Corbyn, who has for decades chosen to align himself with genocide-supporters such as Hezbollah and Hamas, and with Holocaust-deniers, should be considered "just a staunch supporter for the Palestinian cause."

Corbyn, in his support for a blatantly anti-Semitic mural which depicted hook-nosed Jewish financiers (according even to the artist who created the mural) exploiting masses and his reputed refusal to categorically recognize that "Rothschild bankers" is anti-Semitic, has also proved that his objection to Jews is based not only their Zionism, but on the perception that, with the exception of a few comrades, they are on the side of what he calls "the few."

As leader of the opposition, Corbyn has already devalued the standing of British Jews in the public sphere. As prime minister, their secondary status will be legitimized.

Luciana Berger on her experience of anti-Semitism in Labour

There’s a reason why admirable non-Jewish Labour MPs who have opposed Corbyn, people like Jess Phillips, have managed to remain in Labour, while Jewish MPs like Louise Ellman and Luciana Berger have been hounded out. There is almost no place for Jews in Labour today unless they are prepared to swear fealty to the leader.

There is something incredibly offensive about those, non-Jews and some Jews as well, who lecture Jews concerned about the rise of anti-Semitism on the left: "Don’t you know the real physical threat to Jews is from the far-right?"

Yes. We know. We haven’t forgotten. Some of us still have living grandparents who have the physical destruction of our families by far-right Jew-haters, not just imprinted on their memories, but quite literally burnt and inked in to their flesh. You don’t need to remind us.

But British Jews have equal rights too. If they choose to vote for a racist lying opportunist like Prime Minister Boris Johnson, because they support him, then that’s lamentable. But according to the polls, some 40 percent of British voters will be voting for him on Thursday. Why should Jews have less right to do so? And if some Jews vote for Johnson’s Tories, even though they recognize how deplorable the Conservative Party has become, simply because they fear the rise of Corbyn - I disagree, but totally understand them.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson and opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn at a vigil in central London to pay tribute to the victims of the London Bridge terror attack. December 2, 2019
AFP

(Full disclosure, though I am a proud British Jew as well as an Israeli, the center of my life is in Israel, where I pay my taxes, and therefore I don’t think I should exercise my right to vote next Thursday. If I was voting, it would be without a doubt for the Liberal Democrats.)

Johnson is cynically pandering to xenophobic and nativist sentiments. And unlike the dim and dogmatic Corbyn, he is clever enough to realize what he’s doing. His vision of Brexit is based on a blatant lie in which even he doesn’t believe. Almost nothing would please me more than to see him lose on Thursday and consigned to be a Woosterish wag on the Home Counties lecture circuit, which is the only real job he’s qualified for.

Johnson is just as dangerous for Britain as Corbyn, and the Jewish community should be fearful of the impact of his victory on them, as on all minority groups.

But even if Johnson wins with a large majority in parliament and there is a rise in far-right white supremacist violence, as we have seen in the United States under Donald Trump, it will still not have the immediate and chilling effect that a Corbyn victory will have on the sense of most British Jews that they are equal citizens in every way.

Ironically, the election of a government led by such a staunch anti-Zionist as Corbyn will be for many British Jews a sad vindication of old-school Zionism, that held that Jews can never be sure of feeling rooted and safe in the Diaspora.