Opinion

Brexit Chaos Now Threatens an Unprecedented Storm of anti-Semitism for British Jews

Caught between right-wing racist nationalists, Corbyn's anti-Semitism and bipartisan conspiracy theorists: For British Jews, the low hum of anxiety is reaching fever pitch. Sometimes it’s so loud we struggle to sleep

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson comes out to greet Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside 10 Downing Street in central London on September 5, 2019
AFP

Like our weather, British politics has always tended to be mild, grey and dull. While our European neighbours have had revolution after revolution, we had a civil war once - back in the days when men wore tights and wigs - but we found the extremism a bit, well, extreme. Having learned our lesson we never, ever, tried to do it again.

Just a few years ago that the politics of our two main parties felt almost interchangeable; David Cameron’s One Nation Tories followed Tony Blair’s New Labour, both relatively moderate and liberal ideologies formally opposed but sitting just either side of the center. 

But then in 2015 Jeremy Corbyn was elected Labour leader, and that phlegmatic status quo changed gear, surprisingly quickly. A Marxist extremist who had been ushered on to the ballot to symbolically "widen the debate," he stunned the political establishment by becoming leader of the country’s second biggest party with a huge grassroots mandate.

And then came Brexit when, by a small margin of 52-48 percent, the country decided to leave the European Union.

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It is fair to say that Britain has been a bit bonkers ever since in a way which has proved darkly funny, shocking and frightening all at once. For British Jews, this "new" Britain is triggering deep concerns - threatening a sense of identity, stability and belonging that has been largely unchallenged for long decades.

In the space of three short years we’ve had two prime ministers resigning, two new political parties forming and MPs changing sides by the day. We’ve even managed to outdo Israel when it comes to forming new alliances, political backstabbing and dodgy dealings.

Last week one MP literally threw himself over the Speaker of the House of Commons - to prevent the suspension of Parliament - and opposition lawmakers had a revolutionary songs sing-off in the debating chamber.

Meanwhile our Prime Minister Boris Johnson (it is shocking to even put those four words together, as for years he was a national joke), after calling Corbyn "a big girl’s blouse," is alleged to have lied to the Queen about the justification for proroguing Parliament and is playing with the idea of not quite obeying the law, the repercussions for which could be imprisonment. Monty Python looks sane in comparison.

The chaos is perhaps most akin to the breathless exhilaration that lemmings might feel before they go over the cliff-face, mixed with heavy doses of dry British humor that only just manages to relieve the sense of doom.

A Pro-Brexit supporter holds up a sign by Anti Brexit demonstrators protest at Parliament Square in London, Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019
Vudi Xhymshiti,AP

But the turmoil is affecting all of us. While day to day life hasn’t changed that much outwardly - employment remains steady, the price of living hasn’t changed exponentially - Brexit is slowly grinding everyone into madness. And those economic shocks are on their way.

Positions on staying in the EU - an issue that was an unassuming, unsexy component of many people's political lives before the referendum in 2016 - have hardened into a totalizing identity. Extremist Remainers insist Leavers are stupid racists who want people to die from post-Brexit shortages, while Extremist Leavers want the country to leave the EU kamikaze-style, threatening violence on the streets if it doesn’t happen.

Not dissimilar to the Trump era in America, families have fallen out, friends have stopped talking to each other, relationships have broken up and depressingly everyone is calling each other Nazis as if they’ve forgotten what the actual Nazis did.

Everyone is living with an accelerating level of anxiety because of the uncertainty, the vitriol, the sense that political and social stability is more fragile than was ever thought - and the Jewish community is perhaps feeling it more than many.

For the first time there is a very real chance that Corbyn, whom many British Jews believe to be an anti-Semite, or at the very least, a willing accessory for anti-Semitism, will gain power.

Britain's Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn addresses a protest against the government's move to suspend parliament in the final weeks before Brexit in Glasgow on August 31, 2019
AFP

Since he took over the Labour party it has become a cesspit for anti-Semites spouting straightforward blood libel, conspiracy theories about the Rothschilds' nefarious global power and that Jews were behind 9/11, and insistent Holocaust denial. They call Jews "Hitler’s bastard sons," say we control the media, and insist that the Nazis "had a point."

All of these examples come from actual Labour officials. Most of them haven’t been suspended, let alone thrown out of the Labour party.

And that’s before we even get onto their obsessive demonization of Israel. Or Corbyn's own interminable history of anti-Semitism-adjacent actions and speech and his appalling disinclination to take action against anti-Jewish racism – and his deliberation obstruction.

There will be Jews leaving Britain if Corbyn comes to power; many have already started to make plans.

But none of the other outcomes are reassuring either.

Boris Johnson, who has been advised by the one-time Trump advisor and alt-right mentor Steve Bannon, has a squalid reputation on racism. He’s likened saying burqa-wearing Muslim women to bank robbers and called Africans "piccaninnies" with "watermelon smiles."

Moreover, if he sticks to his threat and a no deal Brexit is as chaotic as predicted – and no one knows what it actually will be like – the resulting strife, likely recession and spiking unemployment could once again, somehow, be blamed on the Jews.

It may not surprise you to learn Corbyn has already blamed the specter of the UK crashing out of the EU with no deal on "the bankers," even though the banking community is steadfastly in the Remain camp.

If Brexit is delayed or doesn’t happen there will be anger on the streets too, stoked by the extremist Brexit party which includes an astonishingly eclectic mix of hard left- and right-wing racists.

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage speaks during a Brexit Party news conference in London, Britain August 27, 2019
\ HENRY NICHOLLS/ REUTERS

One of its biggest supporters is the former hard-left Labour politician George Galloway who declaratively banned Israelis from the city where he was an MP. Jews, along with other minorities in Britain, will feel the brunt of their fury.  

In a sign of what may be to come, two weeks ago, ardent Brexiteer, Tory grandee and Cabinet member Jacob Rees-Mogg referred to two fellow Conservative MPs of Jewish origin as "Illuminati," one of the "most poisonous anti-Semitic canards in all of history…frequently used as justification for violence."

For the more than three years since the country voted Out, all of us have lived with the background hum of a low level of anxiety. But for British Jews, that humming sound is reaching fever pitch – sometimes it’s so loud we struggle to sleep. And we know the worst is still to come.

Nicole Lampert is a London-based journalist who has written for the Daily Mail, The Spectator, The Independent and The Sun. Twitter: @nicolelampert