Sometimes, I wished I was another kind of Jew—an American, an Israeli, even an Iraqi like my ancestors, because at least they knew how be proud of it. Because British Jews always whispered when they said the word Jew in public.
But they’re not whispering anymore. The row over anti-Semitism in Corbyn’s Labour party, which continues to deepen and toxify, and has spread to the very top, has galvanized the community. In March, hundreds of British Jews gathered with 24 hours’ notice to protest anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. Lawyers and bankers, quiet men in suits, stood in Westminster’s Parliament Square to insist: Dayenu. Enough is enough.
The British Labour Party was once a haven for British Jews—what happened?
The community’s leading organizations, the Jewish Leadership Council and the Board of Deputies, dismissed the desiccated olive branches offered to them by Corbyn during talks in April. Two weeks ago, the Jewish Labour Movement—affiliated to the Labour Party—achieved a seemingly impossible task. It managed to get 68 British rabbis—many of whom do not even recognize each other as rabbis—to write a joint letter condemning the party for having “ignored the Jewish community.”
The spark for this latest insurgency was the Labour Party’s rewriting of its code of conduct vis-a-vis anti-Semitism. Rather than working with the widely-accepted definition established by the International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA), it adopted its own, diluted code.
If further indication of the extent of this problem were needed, look at Ian Austin and Margaret Hodge, two venerable Labour MPs who confronted Corbyn over the new anti-Semitism code. They have been immediately probed for their “abusive” manner, while a pro-Corbyn candidate for Labour’s National Executive Committee who recently accused the Jewish community of fabricating anti-Semitism has merely referred himself for equalities training.
The sticking point in all this has, inevitably, been Israel. The new Labour code allows for the very project of Israel’s existence to be dismissed as racist; for comparisons to be made between Israel and the Nazis. Hardliners around Corbyn, such as his director of strategy, Seamus Milne, see the old IHRA code as threatening to silence those who wish to expose the true nature of the Israeli state. Conversely, most in the Jewish community believe that living inside this type of criticism is the foul virus of anti-Semitism. And, in a break from their tradition of discretion, they have been willing to say so, loudly.
The Rift Over Israel in Britain’s Labour Party
Last week, the Jewish community’s three leading newspapers published an unprecedented joint op-ed, entitled “United We Stand.” It described a potential Corbyn government as an “existential threat” to Jews in Britain.
Only this year have I begun to feel truly proud of British Jews. Proud of the dogged exposure, Facebook post by Facebook post, done by Jewish activists like the Campaign Against Antisemitism. Proud of The Jewish Chronicle for revealing a flourishing culture of conspiracy theories inside the Labour Party. Because who else is going to do it for you?