Brexit, antisemitism, and Jews - the UK’s most fateful election since WWII
The electoral contest pitches the Brexit-touting Conservative Party led by Boris Johnson against the what is now the hard-left, socialist Labour Party headed by Jeremy Corbyn.
By JEREMY SHARON
Denizens of the United Kingdom voted on Thursday in perhaps the most fateful election in that sceptered isle since the end of World War II.The electoral contest pitched the Brexit-touting Conservative Party led by Boris Johnson against the hard-left, socialist Labour Party headed by Jeremy Corbyn.The overriding issue of this general election, the third in four years, is that of Brexit, specifically under what terms the UK will leave the European Union, or indeed, for the smaller Liberal Democrat Party whether it should quit the EU at all.Although the opinion polls have consistently given the Conservative Party a wide lead – around 10% on the eve of the election – the UK’s electoral system means that the Conservatives obtaining a majority in the House of Commons is still in doubt.And with one recent poll giving the Conservatives just a 5% lead, the results could be incredibly close.Because of the electoral strength of another, left-leaning party – the Scottish National Party – should Johnson’s party fail to gain a majority, Corbyn could well engineer a coalition government with the SNP that would pave his way to No. 10 Downing Street.And this has the Jewish community deeply worried.Because since Corbyn became the leader of the Labour Party in 2015, it has become riddled with antisemitism, with hundreds of complaints submitted against Labour Party members at every level, from Corbyn himself to Labour MPs, Labour local council members, candidates for MP and local councils, activists, and grassroots, dues-paying party members.In a speech in 2013, Corbyn himself said that “Zionists… don’t want to study history… and don’t understand English irony either,” comments which were criticized as a smokescreen for antisemitism and for casting Jews as outsiders.Other examples are almost inconceivable in 2019, such as one Labour Party member writing on Facebook: “I call for the complete annihilation and extermination of every Jew on the planet,” and “The Jew is worse than the Black Death, worse than Ebola virus. The Jew represents PURE EVIL.”Hundreds of complaints about similar expressions of antisemitism have been made, and 136 remain unresolved, according to a report in The Times earlier this week.This rank racism has meant that Labour has gone from being the traditional political home of British Jewry to a party that now has the support of just 6% of the UK’s 300,000-member Jewish community, according to a poll in October for the UK’s Jewish News newspaper.It has also led to the unprecedented intervention of the UK’s Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, who said in an op-ed in The Times that Corbyn was unfit for high office, and that the “soul of the nation” hung in the balance in this election.Nevertheless, the bitter political divide in the country – including over the encumbered issue of Brexit – has meant that Labour has sustained significant electoral support, despite having no chance of receiving a majority.However, should the result of the election be a “hung parliament” with no party enjoying a majority, it would be very hard for the Conservatives to find a willing coalition partner.If the electoral math is favorable, Labour might be able to form a coalition government with the SNP, if, as is likely, Corbyn would offer the party a second referendum on Scottish independence, the raison d’etre of the Scottish nationalists.In order to avoid this nightmare scenario for the Jewish community, the overwhelming majority of British Jews are voting for the Conservatives to keep Corbyn out of Downing Street.But tactical voting will also feature prominently, with some 25% of the Jewish community expected to vote for the Liberal Democrats, many of whom will do so in constituencies where the contest is not between a Conservative and a Labour candidate, but between a Labour and Liberal Democrat candidate, in an attempt to deny the Labour Party as many MPs as possible.The major issue of the election for the rest of the country – Brexit – barely figures at all in the voting consideration of the Jewish community, despite the Conservative Party having negotiated a very hard exit from the EU, whereas the majority of Britain’s Jews are likely in favor of remaining or a softer form of Brexit.Although talk of mass flight of Britain’s Jews from the UK should Corbyn become prime minister is perhaps overstated, the anxiety of the Jewish community is very real.Jews feel threatened by the intense antisemitism among the Labour ranks, and fear that the expressions of hate could morph into something more tangible, whether it be greater levels of antisemitic harassment, a heightening of anti-Zionist sentiment, or even cuts to government-funded security measures for communal institutions.Ultimately, an election result in which Corbyn becomes prime minister would leave Britain’s Jews feeling isolated and vulnerable, and with the impression that a large swath of the country does not care about racism among its political representatives, if that racism is directed against Jews.What fate has in store for Britain and its Jewish community will become clearer on Friday morning.