While Israel celebrates its 70th birthday this week, many of the 260,000 strong Jewish community in Great Britain will be contemplating a move to Israel in time for next year’s Independence Day. Many say, in public and on social media, that if British Labour Party head Jeremy Corbyn achieves his goal of becoming the next prime minister, there will be no stopping the antisemitism that has taken root in the party. Life for Jews may become intolerable, even echoing Europe in the 1930s, say many, with Corbyn being held responsible for the growing hatred of Jews.
Whether exaggeration or not, with Corbyn at the helm of the party that many Jews previously regarded as their traditional political home, Jews in Britain have made it clear that since the hard-left Momentum faction has taken over the party, it’s time to fight back to oust Corbyn and his cronies.
However, the man with the socialist manifesto, who was recently uncovered as a member of at least one virulent antisemitic Facebook group, who has described Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends,” who marched with the IRA and who stated that the war with Islamic State could only be won by diplomacy, will not step down. His buddies in Momentum have bullied traditional Labour MPs, threatening to deselect them if they do not support their leader. Corbyn himself says that there is no place for antisemitism in the Labour party, but a hatred of Jews has been given legitimacy since his rise to power, with polite society now feeling empowered to express their extremist views in public.
The Israeli Labor Party also suspended all ties with its British counterparts last week, with party head Avi Gabbay stating: “we cannot retain relations with you.... while you fail to adequately address the antisemitism [in the] Labour Party UK.”
In the second anti-Labour and Corbyn demonstrations in as many weeks, around a thousand British Jews, accompanied by supporters of other communities, took to the streets earlier this month, calling on Labour to hold Corbyn to account. Organized by the Campaign Against Antisemitism and held outside Labour Party headquarters on a rainy Sunday afternoon, the demonstration should have been a display of unity – except that it wasn’t. From the outset, CAA chairman and founder Gideon Falter announced proudly that the turnout was contradictory to all predictions: he had been warned by the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD), the body which is supposed to represent British Jewry, and by Stephen Pollard, the editor of The Jewish Chronicle, that there was no room for two demonstrations in two weeks. Although Falter, a lawyer by trade, and the CAA have done good work in combating antisemitism since the group’s inception nearly four years ago, what we need between the Jewish organizations is unity, not a competition over who can mobilize more troops.
Dubbing its rally “Enough is Enough” the BoD, together with the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC) organized a last-minute protest against antisemitism in the Labour Party a couple of weeks previously at 5:30 p.m. on a weekday, when working people would have found it difficult to attend.
This past week, film maker Ken Loach demanded that Labour MPs who attended this demo be ousted from the party. In response, Labour announced that they would no longer use him for election party broadcasts.
British Jews (and even a group of Israelis living in London, out of an estimated 80,000 in the UK) began forming grassroots movements, breaking away from the BoD nearly four years ago, around the time of Operation Cast Lead, when Israel was lambasted in the media worldwide for its actions in Gaza. One such rally, collaboratively organized by a grassroots organization in the south of England and a group of Israelis (myself included) against Qatar’s funding of terrorist groups, namely Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. The Zionist Federation organized flash mobs and pro-Israel demos, and in the past four years, Jews in the UK have taken part more and more in grassroots activism, something not seen previously.
Last weekend’s CAA demonstration saw no such collaboration or unity in the face of adversity. One former Labour donor, David Abrahams, was booed by the crowd when he protested calls to oust Corbyn and stressed the need to work with the existing political party.
Meanwhile, Corbyn doesn’t hide his disdain for Israel, calling on the UK not to sanction sales of weapons that may be used in the “demonstrations” along the Gaza border. He has never disguised his anti-Israel views, nor his strange alliances with terrorist organizations. Yet still he maintains he will fight antisemitism in his party. Over Passover, he celebrated a “third seder night” with the aptly named Jewdas, a fringe group which makes no bones about its criticism of Israel. Last week too, Shadow International Development Secretary Kate Osamorn suggested that the Labour Party could adopt the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. A mural in east London, depicting Jews sitting round a Monopoly-type board counting money, was backed by Corbyn on the grounds of “free speech.” He also objected to its removal and failed to respond to a request for a comment by reporters. A contradiction in terms for a man who has been described as not having “an antisemitic bone in his body.”
Last week Israel and Jews worldwide commemorated Holocaust Remembrance Day. Speaking at last weekend’s demonstration, Agnes Grunwald-Spier, who was six months old in Hungary when her family were taken to the death camps, said she never thought she would need to speak out against antisemitism in the UK some 80 years later. Ironically, less than 100 meters away, Hungarian nationals lined the streets in droves, waiting to vote in their native country’s elections, which resulted in a second landslide victory for ultra-right-winger Viktor Orban.
A report released last week by the Kantor Center in Tel Aviv only reinforced what Jews in Britain already know: that there has been a rise in left-wing antisemitism, and that Corbyn’s Labour Party has played a significant part.
However, unless British Jews and Jews in Britain – whether from Israel, Europe or the US – join together and speak with one voice against Corbyn and his supporters, antisemitism is set to rise even further. That old adage of one Jew, a hundred opinions, is not one that can be laughed off as an indication of Jewish wisdom. Corbyn is determined to fight Prime Minister Theresa May in every way possible to become Britain’s next prime minister. If that comes to pass, many of us will not feel welcome here, and that has hasn’t happened in Europe for 80 years.The author is a freelance journalist, media relations and crisis management consultant, based in London. She wrote as a full-time correspondent for The Jerusalem Post in the past, covering police affairs.