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The danger Corbyn raises for British Jews

  • Paula
Britain may soon elect a racist and an anti-Semite as its prime minister. According to opinion polls, Jeremy Corbyn, the head of the Labour Party – long considered a natural home for British Jews – stands a good chance of being the next British head of state.
by PAULA SLIER | Aug 23, 2018

Like elsewhere in Europe, the left-wing fringe groups he’s been associated with for years are now moving into mainstream British political discourse. They bring with them centuries-old conspiracy theories that include the usual Jew-bashing stereotypes.

If this isn’t worrying enough, every few days, new accusations of anti-Semitism surface against Corbyn. These have not affected his chances of winning. If anything, they might even help him.

Corbyn is the darling of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS). Last Friday, it was revealed that he’d endorsed the movement three years ago while participating in a panel hosted by Sinn Féin, the nationalist, left-wing Irish political party in Belfast. Two days earlier, a photo was released showing him laying a wreath near the graves of Black September terrorists who murdered 11 Jewish athletes and a German police officer at the Munich Olympics in 1972.

It followed the resurfacing of a 2011 interview that Corbyn gave to Iranian TV. In it, he said that the BBC has “a bias towards saying that Israel is a democracy in the Middle East, Israel has a right to exist, Israel has its security concerns”. In other words, he was saying Israel’s right to exist is not cast in stone.

In 2009, he called representatives of Hamas and Hezbollah “friends”. One year later, he participated in an event on Holocaust Memorial Day in which a Palestinian activist, Haidar Eid, claimed that Israelis had been “Nazified”. And the list continues.

The Labour Party has been struggling for more than two years to deal with charges of anti-Semitism within its ranks. The seeds lie in Corbyn’s election as leader of the party in 2015.

One in four British voters believe he’s an anti-Semite, with close to half convinced the Labour Party has a serious problem with anti-Semitism. Nearly one in three believes he personally condones the prejudice.

And now that Labour is faring far better than expected as the Conservative party rips itself apart over Brexit, the prospect of Corbyn becoming Prime Minister is something British Jews are seriously having to consider.

About 300 000 Jews live in the United Kingdom (UK). In an unparalleled move, at the end of last month, the country’s three rival Jewish newspapers ran identical front-page editorials. They warned of the “existential” threat to the community a Corbyn-led government would pose.

Anti-Semitism has increased, as has emigration. For the first six months of this year, the UK recorded its second-highest number of anti-Semitic incidents since 1984 – only the total for the first six months of last year was higher.

Aliya from the UK has grown 9% compared to last year (although it’s lower than in the past three years). What Corbyn has done, British Jews say, is make it safe – and even respectful – to voice anti-Semitic views. These views have always existed, but until now were whispered behind closed doors.

Chatting to friends and colleagues who live in London, there are differences in opinion about how serious the problem is. Most tell me that the situation is nowhere near like France. There, after a series of anti-Semitic – and general – attacks in 2015, about 20 000 French Jews made aliya in the space of three years.

British Jews at the moment don’t see themselves heading to Israel en masse. However, should the day come when Corbyn is sworn in as Prime Minister, that could change.

Corbyn insists that he’s not an anti-Semite, rather committed to rooting out anti-Semitism from within the party. He repeatedly defends his positions by trotting out the same excuses – either he’s been misquoted, or was unaware of where or what he was doing. With regards to the wreath-laying in Tunisia, he said “I was present when it was laid. I don’t think I was actually involved in it.” That excuse is laughable.

He also claims not to have known that a Facebook group, of which he was a member, was virulently anti-Semitic. One of his spokespeople recently said he had “a long and principled record of solidarity with the Palestinian people and engaging with actors in the conflict to support peace and justice in the Middle East”. What the spokesperson failed to point out is that Corbyn has repeatedly refused to meet anyone from the Israeli government, which begs the question of how engaged he is with actors from both sides.

Corbyn claims he is legitimately criticising Israel and its policies, as opposed to being anti-Semitic. But under his leadership, the party has refused to adopt the international definition of anti-Semitism, and wants to exclude portions that specifically relate to the ways anti-Israel activism can be seen as anti-Semitic.

A Jewish group affiliated with the British Labour movement has accused Corbyn and other heads of the party of trying to “censor” material it planned to present at a conference next month to show how party members crossed the line between the two.

Corbyn is correct that while taking issue with specific policies of an Israeli government is not necessarily anti-Semitic, opposing Zionism in its totality – as he does – certainly is. And this is the fundamental problem.

Corbyn has long called for Palestinian statehood “in the whole of Palestine”, saying Israel has the right to exist “under the agreement of the original borders of 1948”. While it’s unclear what he means by this, his half-hearted excuses and explanations do not detract from the fact that he opposes Zionism as the national movement of the Jewish people supporting the existence of a Jewish homeland. For a potential Prime Minister of the UK to hold such a position should worry more than just Britain’s Jews.

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