British Jews are concerned but don't want a crisis

The reason why “I’m out of here the next day” is now the common refrain of Anglo-Jewry is because most British Jews are behaving like ostriches.

Britain's opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn listens to speeches during the Labour party Conference in Brighton, Britain, September 24, 2017. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Britain's opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn listens to speeches during the Labour party Conference in Brighton, Britain, September 24, 2017.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
‘If he becomes prime minister, I’m out of here the next day.” – Commonly-heard comment from British Jews.
The ‘he’ referred to in the quote is not Boris Johnson, the country’s new premier, but rather Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party. It is Mr. Corbyn not Mr. Johnson from whom British Jews are threatening to run away.
Unquestionably, Anglo-Jewry is concerned. Not panicked, of course, not even very worried, but “concerned,” stretching from “mildly” to “somewhat” and “rather” to “very” as an apposite description of how the majority of British Jews currently feel.
The source of their concern is the relentless rise in antisemitism in their home country. Although dislike of Jews has always existed in the UK, taking various forms among different sections of the population, it was limited in both prevalence and practical expression. In the half-century following the Holocaust, overt antisemitism became legally and socially unacceptable and hence quite rare. But in the 21st century, it has rebounded very strongly.
That is reason enough to be concerned in general. But the concern, at whatever level of intensity, has in recent years had a clear focus: the Labour Party.
For most of the twentieth century, the majority of British Jews voted Labour and many became active in it. As recently as the first half of this decade, the leader of the Labour Party was, for the first time, of Jewish origin.
How and why the Labour Party changed from being the natural political home for Jews to a party now engaged in expunging Jews from the ranks of MPs and even local councilors, is a complex issue. But most British Jews say they have no need for academic analysis; they firmly believe the Labour Party has become institutionally antisemitic. As the volume of evidence supporting this belief becomes overwhelming, much of the wider public has come to agree with this horrific assessment.
This situation should have generated not merely some degree of concern but rather a sense of imminent crisis among British Jews. Yet despite the kind of talk encapsulated in the opening quote, their behavior betrays no such feeling. Why?
The most frequently-heard answer is that “Jeremy Corbyn will never win an election.” This may well prove delusional, given Corbyn’s impressive performance in 2018. But even if it is accurate as a political assessment, it is delusional in other ways.
First, the problem is not just Corbyn but rather the Labour Party as a whole, which has been captured from within by the hard Left.
Second, given the determination of the Conservative Party to destroy itself, Labour may find itself given power by default – as almost happened in 2017.
Third and most fundamentally: Even if Labour doesn’t come to power, the mere fact that a major political party has become institutionally antisemitic is in and of itself a crisis for British Jews. If it were to actually achieve power, that crisis would be far greater, but the present situation is crisis enough by any substantive measure.
Keep calm and carry on?
British Jews do not want a crisis. They desperately want to be left to continue their comfortable lives. Most of them have assimilated or are well along in that process. Even the committed and/or observant Jews are highly acculturated. They don’t want to make a fuss or draw attention to themselves.
Unfortunately for them, the crisis has been imposed upon them. At the collective level, their response has been remarkable, unprecedented and by their standards, heroic. Rival leadership bodies have come together and rival Jewish newspapers have published a joint editorial declaring “an existential crisis,” no less. Leaders and laymen demonstrated outside the Houses of Parliament, and Jewish MPs and lords delivered impassioned speeches in both Houses.
Seemingly, the sense of crisis has percolated down to individual Jews as well. Pronouncements such as, “If he becomes prime minister, I’m out of here the next day” resonate around dinner tables on Friday nights, garden tables on Sunday afternoons and card tables on weekdays. Their forthright tone is meant to convey clarity, decisiveness and determination.
In reality, they are hollow bombast covering up wishful thinking, indecision and a sub-conscious effort to prepare excuses for inaction.
Two simple questions need to be addressed to anyone who delivers a resounding declaration à la “the next day I’ll be out of here.” First: where to? Second: what with? Applying even a smidgen of practical thinking suggests that in a scenario in which Corbyn/Labour have come to power, “the next day” will be at least two days too late, and more likely two weeks or even two months.
Corbyn/Labour’s program for when they take office is not a closely-guarded secret known only to the inner circle. On the contrary, it is public knowledge, openly discussed and written about. It envisages a massive shift of resources from the private sector to the state and a systematic effort to redistribute income by heavy taxation of the rich.
Labour’s leaders are well aware that the domestic and global financial markets will take a very dim view of their program. The value of the pound, of British government bonds, of UK-based financial and real assets will all fall sharply. By “the day after,” most of the damage will have been done.
That won’t stop the new government imposing capital controls to try and prevent further damage, or moving rapidly to block the use of tax havens, especially those under the control of Her Majesty’s Government, or other similar moves.
So what exactly do the “if... then” crowd envisage themselves doing “the next day”?
When facing a potential threat, people tend to adopt one of two general responses. The sensible one is to assess the severity of the threat, examine what options are available to prevent, mitigate or remove it – and at what cost – then make a decision and implement it. House insurance provides a simple example.
The more common response, especially to potentially severe and life-changing threats, is to behave like an ostrich. People bury their heads in the sand and hope that nothing will happen. When they are disturbed – usually when the threat begins to materialize – they run around squawking and flapping, generating a lot of noise and dust but no substantive action.
The reason why “I’m out of here the next day” is now the common refrain of Anglo-Jewry is because most British Jews are behaving like ostriches. They want to pretend that the threats they face will somehow dissipate so that they will not be disturbed. When they are disturbed – an increasingly frequent occurrence – they run around, squawk and flap, apparently hoping that this response will prove effective.
So far it has not, but on the ostrich farm they haven’t given up hope. That may be because ostriches are well-suited to run, squawk and flap. But they can’t fly.
The writer is an independent economic consultant based in Jerusalem.