How Jeremy Corbyn turned me into a political Jew
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This column is by way of an apology to Sadiq Khan. The Labour MP is the favourite to be the next mayor of London; he has run the better campaign for the post and is probably the best candidate.
By last weekend, I had concluded that he deserved my vote. Today, however, I know that he cannot have it because right now it is simply impossible to see how Jews can vote for a Labour party that does not appear to like them.
This is doubly unfair on Mr Khan, who has worked tirelessly to reassure a Jewish community that has every reason to be nervous of the opposition Labour party at the moment.
He has spoken out clearly against anti-Semitism and rounded on the leadership of his own party for being too lacklustre in tackling the problem. He has also been smeared by a nasty dog-whistle Conservative campaign about his Muslim background.
Mr Khan is a mainstream moderate who, if elected, would also be the most prominent Muslim politician in Britain — and arguably the most prominent in western Europe.
If true to his campaign he could be a powerful force in the fight against Islamophobia and a key figure in efforts to promote greater harmony between the Muslim and Jewish communities. There are so many good reasons to support him.
But a vote for Mr Khan is a vote for Labour, and at the moment the Labour leadership has shown itself to be a party that is at best indifferent to anti-Semitism and at worst hostile to the Jewish community.
In nationwide elections that are generally expected to go badly for Labour, a victory in London may help preserve the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, a man who has shared a platform with a Holocaust-denier and who has set the tone of inaction against anti-Semitic outrages in his own party.
The list grows weekly. This week it was a Labour MP who had mused that the Middle East problem might be solved if all Israelis were transported to America. In another post Naz Shah noted “the Jews are rallying”.
Mr Corbyn resisted calls for her suspension until forced to act by a revolt from colleagues. Even as the MP apologised, Ken Livingstone, a close Corbyn ally and a former London mayor, said her remarks were not anti-Semitic and appeared to say it was “over the top” to say anti-Semitism was racism. Within an hour he too had been suspended.
There is no reason to believe Corbyn is an anti-Semite. But in his deep and legitimate support for the Palestinian cause, he has failed, in his alliances and actions, to draw a line over what is and is not acceptable. And this has been seen by others as a green light to bring their hatred out into the open.
Holocaust denial, racist stereotyping, the casual usage of Nazi terminology, talk of Zionist conspiracies and the deployment of the word “Zionist” as a euphemism for Jew are now common among his supporters.
Mr Corbyn may not be an anti-Semite but too many of the people he has described as “friends” most certainly are. In 2012 he was captured on video saying he looked forward to giving “tea on the terrace” of the House of Commons to a man who claimed Jews were behind the 9/11 attacks.
The Labour leader has spent his political life on the unloved margins of politics. He has built alliances without asking too many questions. His enemy’s enemy was his friend.
Even when he does denounce anti-Semitism he insists on adding that he deplores it as he “opposes all forms of racism”.
This appears curiously apologetic, almost as if he feels the need to signal that he is not showing special favour to Jews. Would he, when denouncing a murder, add that he deplored it as he did all lawbreaking?
Israel is, of course, at the root of the issue and it is complicated. Anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism need not be synonymous, although in a world rife with human rights abuses, one wonders why Israel is the only nation whose very existence is singled out for eradication by the British left.
Zionism has many incarnations, from the extremist views of Israeli settlers to a simple belief in the postwar ideal of a safe haven for Jews. Most Jews are glad that Israel exists, and so at least in that loose sense most would see themselves as Zionist.
It is clearly legitimate to oppose the Israeli government (many British Jews do); to want a just settlement for the Palestinians; to feel rage at Israel’s actions in Gaza and illegal settlements on the West Bank. But such sensitive issues demand a measured tone.
Labour has a problem with anti-Semitism and a leader who does not seem to care enough about it. Until now my religious background has never been a factor in how I voted. But Mr Corbyn has turned me into a “political Jew”.
I, like many British Jews, now feel as I imagine the gay community must have done when Margaret Thatcher passed the homophobic section 28 — that one of the two main parties has turned against me.
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