The sense that Jews are not being listened to—by Labour or by the wider population—drove Stephen Pollard, the editor of The Jewish Chronicle, to publish a front-page editorial about Corbyn last month, addressed specifically to non-Jews. It ended: “If this man is chosen as our next prime minister, the message will be stark: that our dismay that he could ever be elevated to a prominent role in British politics, and our fears of where that will lead, are irrelevant.”
Pollard is a well-known right-wing commentator, so I put the accusation to him: It was no hardship for him to condemn Corbyn, given their very different political beliefs. “We’re not in the business of telling people how to vote,” he replied, noting that he would be voting for the centrist Liberal Democrats. “We were very careful simply to say: All we ask is, when you cast that vote, think about this thing.” The response from readers, he said, was huge, and 95 percent positive.
Of course, Labour is not the sole reason for rising Jewish concerns about anti-Semitism in Britain and elsewhere. Both the far right and Islamist extremists have carried out attacks on Jews in recent years. In 2015, a man who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State conducted a siege of a kosher Paris supermarket. Last year, a gunman killed 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. Of those jailed for threats against Berger, two had links to the far right.
Still, the background hum of anti-Jewish hatred means it is even more important to many British Jews that political parties are sensitive to their concerns. “It’s not the idea there’s going to be cattle trucks or Nuremberg-type laws passed,” Pollard said. His worry, he added, was that in Corbyn, Britain would have “a prime minister who—at the most charitable level—cared so little about anti-Jewish racism.”
The crisis is now so deep that it has become hard for British Jews to state publicly that they support the Labour Party. Survation found that although Jews voted 2 to 1 to remain in the European Union, 78 percent prefer a hard Brexit to a Corbyn government. “The last four years have been grueling,” Mason added. “In your local party, you are constantly expected to justify the existence of anti-Semitism, told that you’re a liar, you’re not really Labour.” Katz has had a similar experience. When he was standing for election in Hendon, North London, in 2017, he was subjected to anti-Semitic abuse on Twitter—one user, purporting to be a Labour supporter, said the prospective Labour MP did not back Corbyn, and instead of Hendon, would “represent Tel Aviv.”
The partisan overtones make this debate even more toxic. Some left-wing Jews I spoke with said their voices, and their concerns, were being co-opted by the right, out of opportunism. They felt it was now hard to say that, despite its troubles, Labour was still the best choice at this election—and that other political parties had their own failings on race and racism. On November 22, Jonathan Lis, who is the deputy director of the think tank British Influence, wrote an article in The Guardian explaining why, as a Jewish person, he was voting Labour. “Nobody can identify any specific policies or threats made by the Labour leadership against Jewish people,” he wrote, adding that while Corbyn had been “careless,” it was “an enormous leap … to claim that he is personally antisemitic.”