While Brits are not betraying tradition and continue to talk mostly about the weather, never since the end of the World War II and Britain's painful renunciation of the Mandate in Palestine have so many Jews talked openly about antisemitism as today—mostly because of the storm of antisemitism fomented by the Labour party and its controversial leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
Over the past several days, the public debate on the issue has reached a boiling point. It will remain at this heated level at least until the Labour Conference at the end of the month, and probably far beyond.
Both British Jews and the public at large feel that a festering wound must be opened. A clear sign of escalation in the discourse could be seen at the famed Speaker's Corner, which takes place on Sundays in London's Hyde Park, where an argument broke out between a Jew wearing a skullcap and two Britons—one of them Muslim—who blamed all the world's and Britain's troubles on the Jews, including terrorism and Brexit. One of the speakers, standing on a crate, waved "documentation" of Israel's sins from its "illegal" establishment to its "plan" to destroy the Palestinian people. Facing him stood a young man wrapped in an Israeli flag who hurled Zionist slogans at the speaker.
Recently, as posters have appeared throughout London with the phrase "Israel is a racist enterprise," dozens of anti-Israel and pro-Israel demonstrators converged on the Labour Party headquarters on Victoria Street in London as the party's National Executive Committee debated whether or not to accept fully the definition of antisemitism from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. The anti-Corbyn demonstrators were overwhelmingly Jewish, waving Israeli flags and chanting "Corbyn is racist" and "Remove fascist Labour from the streets." Labor Party supporters waved banners condemning the "witch hunt" of their leader and denounced "Israeli apartheid."
It is worth recalling that Labor was severely criticized last July after only partially accepting the Holocaust Remembrance Aliiance's definition of antisemitism and for Corbyn's consistently antisemitic statements. Among other issues, Labour refused at the time to include as part of the definition general accusations of racism, aggression and crimes against Israel and the international Jewish lobby. It was revealed that Corbyn said that "British Zionists have two problems—first, they do not want to study history; second, despite the fact that they have been living in this country for a very long time, and probably for the rest of their lives, they don't understand British irony."A Step Backwards
Jews were also among the Corbyn supporters at the demonstration during the National Executive Committee's vote, such as Salma James, 88, who tried to convince a haredi demonstrator that "the accusations of anitsemitism are fake news." The discussion and the vote were an overwhelming defeat for Corbyn, who until the last minute did not give up his attempts to attach reservations to the text of the decision in favor, if not to change it entirely. This time, too, Corbyn tried to attach a long statement to the decision, saying that it should not "be regarded as antisemitic to describe Israel, its policies or the circumstances around its foundation as racist because of their discriminatory impact, or to support another settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict.”
At the end of the day, Corbyn did not bring the issue to a vote when it became clear that it would not pass. The National Executive Committee limited itself to an announcement: "We recommend adopting the complete definition of antisemitism, but it does not threaten in any way free expression regarding Israel or Palestinian rights."
"What was he thinking?" asked prominent Labour figure John Mann, who heads the parliamentary Committee against Antisemitism. "After all we've been through, if the proposal has been accepted, a new storm would have broken out."
The head of Labour's Friends of Israel, Jennifer Gerber, said that the decision was "acceptable" but added that "it was not a surprise that Jeremy Corbyn fought for the right of antisemites to describe the only Jewish state in the world as racist during a conference apparently intended to fight against antisemitism... it is now even clearer that Jeremy Corbyn is part of the problem and not the solution."
Simon Johnson, head of the Jewish Leadership Council, said that it is now clear that the Labour Party leader shamefully attempted to undermine the entire definition of antisemitism.
"It is clear that the Labor Party leader is more concerned with defending the freedom of expression of those who hate Israel than the Jewish community that faces real threats," he said. In an official statement, Officially, Corbyn promised to "uproot the social cancer of antisemitism" and expressed his understanding of the "concern and pain throughout the party" as well as "the loss of faith in the Labour Party among Jewish communities." His promises failed to convince many of his opponents within the party and throughout the community.
The Jewish stateswoman Dame Margaret Hodge, many of whose family were lost int he Holocaust and who stood against Corbyn in the elections for leader of the Labour party, and who described him as "an antisemite and a racist," derided Labour's new decision as "two steps forward and one step back." "Why undermine the welcome acceptance of the full definition of antisemitism with unnecessary conditions?"
"The international definition of antisemitism should have been accepted today in full, without reservations," said Keren Pollock, who heads the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. "Why does Labour think it is so different than anyone else on the subject? Thirty-one countries, including the British government, have adopted the definition."
Marie van der Zyl, President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, for her part expressed satisfaction at the decision that "needed to be taken long ago... It is a shame that Labour wasted the summer in attempts to dictate to the Jewish community what should be considered harmful to them. Corbyn needs to apologize for his past antisemitic statements."
Out of caution, some figures were not allowed to speak at the convention, such as the extreme left-wing activist Peter Wilsman, who is considered close to Corbyn and was re-elected to the board despite recordings calling Jews "Trump fanatics." Despite this, Ian Austin, who was adopted in his childhood by Jewish Holocaust survivors, said that Corbyn's statements explain "the terrible situation in which Labour finds itself. One would have thought that after everything that happened in recent months, Corbyn would understand the harm and desperation that all this has caused in British Jewry."A Preemptive Cure
Words are one thing, but actions are another. Despite their apparent public surrender to fervent critics on the issue of antisemitism, Corbyn and his allies from Momentum, a political organization composed of several radical leftists and radical Muslims, are on a mission to "purge the party" of "hostile" figures. For example, they intend to replace Joan Ryan, one of the leaders of Friends for Israel in the Labour Party, with a radical leftist candidate, using a petition against her.
"We have poverty here, hungry children, rising drug abuse; these are important problems, but instead of dealing with them, Corbyn supporters are firing against Israel and the Jews," Ryan said.
Frank Field, a key persona in the Labour party, took a preemptive measure and announced his resignation in light of the torrents of threats he has been receiving since criticizing Corbyn. Corbyn, on his part, responded saying, “I’m sorry Frank resigned and thank him for all his work. I do not understand why he had to do that. Persecution is prohibited in this party. Discussions and debates are, of course, the permitted methods.”
Meanwhile, Cressida Dick, head of London’s Metropolitan Police, reported that no less than 45 cases have been opened regarding antisemitic threats against Jewish activists of the Labour party. Slurs such as “we will get rid of the Jewish cancer threatening us all” and “all the Zionist parliament members deserve a beating,” were among the threats. “All content was relayed to experts and we are investigating whether there were any criminal offenses,” said Dick.
According to figures published last July, approximately 100 antisemitic incidents a month were recorded in Britain in 2018, 34% more than last year. In a recent poll, 40% of Jews living in Britain expressed they were ready to leave Britain if the antisemitic incitement continues - an unprecedented figure.
The antisemitism campaign also reached those who had hitherto been discreet about their Judaism and tried to ignore isolated antisemitic incidents. For example, Daily Mail
journalist Natasha Pearlman, 36, a granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, recounted that she had thus far ignored antisemitic comments at work from people she considered her friends, on account of her “Britishness”. But what offended her most, much like many Jews in her position, were Corbyn’s statements from 2013 implying Zionists are unable to understand British ways of thinking, or “English irony.”
"It's sickening that as a British Jew they are telling me now: go home. If we sit still, we won't stop this poison," said Pearlman.
Pearlman had also expressed her concern about the BBC television series "We Are British Jews" recently broadcasted by the BBC, in which eight British Jews from various social and political backgrounds go to Israel and the West Bank and express their opinions on the situation in Britain. "If we need a television program in order to prove that we are like everyone else, it means we have already lost," concluded Pearlman.
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