No Holds Barred: Real and imagined antisemitism in Britain

Antisemitism isn’t only extant on the right, Labour’s defenders would have you believe, but it’s barely a problem on the left. Just “0.2%!”

 Britain's Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn delivers his keynote speech at the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool in 2018 (photo credit: PHIL NOBLE/REUTERS)
Britain's Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn delivers his keynote speech at the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool in 2018
(photo credit: PHIL NOBLE/REUTERS)
On Yom Kippur a white supremacist, racist, antisemitic killer tried to penetrate a synagogue in Germany to murder the worshippers but was stopped by their security system, which just goes to show how vital communal security is.
All over Europe antisemitic hate crimes are doubling, tripling and quadrupling. But the UK, where I lived for 11 years, faces a totally different scenario, with its second largest political party being led by Jeremy Corbyn, an unapologetic antisemite,
But as important as it is to attack real antisemites, it’s equally important to defend those who are falsely accused of Jew-hatred. First, because fraudulently destroying someone’s name is a sin and second, because we don’t want a boy-cries-wolf scenario where the fight against antisemitism is diluted through inappropriate use.
Last week Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the House of Commons and a man I knew quite well at Oxford, was accused of antisemitism.
He is no antisemite and equating him and the Conservative Party with what’s happening with the antisemitism in Labour party is an outrage.
The Labour Party recently launched a PR counter-offensive centered on finally removing the antisemitic skunk in the room which has made the party reek for much of last three years. With Boris Johnson’s government stalling, they seem to have finally found their chance. Last week they tried to convince the UK of two things: first, antisemitism isn’t just a Labour problem; and second, that even within Labour, antisemitism is far less serious than it appears to be.
Both these claims are dubious. But the employment of these defenses depicts in perfect clarity that even after years of battling for its image, Labour seems unwilling to change.
Last week, Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg responded to Valerie Vaz’s accusation that his friend Crispin Odey had cashed in on the Brexit deal by pointing out that American-Jewish billionaire and ardent Brexit opponent George Soros had done the same, to the tune of even larger yields. Though they differed in view on the 2016 referendum, both had bet against the British pound. “All [Valerie Vaz] is saying is that Mr. Soros is a better hedge-fund manager than my friend Crispin Odey,” Rees-Mogg concluded.
It was a logical defense, if only an evening-out of the murky fields of business and politics. But in the process Rees-Mogg referred to Soros as “Remoaner-in-Chief,” probably because the latter was known to have donated at least half a million pounds to anti-Brexit political groups. Still, Labour would go full throttle on the message of #YouToo.
IN AN instant, Labour kicked gear into outrage. Labour peer Lord Alf Dubs, who escaped the Nazis as a child, described the comments as “straight from the far-right’s antisemitic playbook,” even demanding that the prime minister “remove him from his cabinet” less than three months after he put him there.
The popular Labour MP David Lammy posted on Twitter: “George Soros ‘funder in chief’  ‘wink’ ‘wink’ ‘nudge’ ‘nudge…’” calling the comparison a “thinly veiled dog whistle” employed in “feeding antisemitic conspiracy theorists.” The Jewish Labour Movement tweeted that Rees-Mogg’s language “plays straight into the far-right’s antisemitic rhetoric of a shadowy Jewish conspiracy meddling in politics.”
In the early ‘90’s I knew Rees-Mogg well. He was librarian (for Americans, that essentially means vice-president) of the Oxford Union at a time when our Oxford University L’Chaim Society was hosting many joint events with the famed debating society. Together with Union president Edmond Lazarus and Rees-Mogg, we must have hosted some 20 events at the union in one term alone, including a Friday night Shabbat dinner with several strongly pro-Israel speakers. I remember that there was grumbling at the time about all the events an outside student organization was co-hosting with the union. But Lazarus and Rees-Mogg held firm. Till today I’m sure that their term as Oxford Union leaders retains the record for most events ever co-hosted with a Jewish organization.
Jacob was an astute, iconic, larger-than-life personality even back then. I remember once how, at the end of a union debate, he draped himself in the Union Jack in a humorous attempt at tongue-in-cheek patriotism that many everyone in the chamber laugh. He was, as he is now, unforgettable.
Rees-Mogg has also risen in recent years as an ardent defender of Israel. The Jewish nation is grateful for his support of the world’s only Jewish state. This especially true in Europe in general, and Britain in particular, where antisemitism is growing in ways that we American Jewish find positively shocking.
In the 11 years I lived in Britain and served as rabbi at Oxford University, running Oxford’s second largest student organization, I met prime ministers Margaret Thatcher, John Major, and later, from Labour, Tony Blair. They were all great friends of Israel. To see what’s happened to the Labour Party since then is heart-breaking.
LABOUR’S POLITICIANS and activists regularly call into question the ethics and legitimacy of millions of Israeli Jews and Zionists across the world. Worse, they make sweeping and often hypocritical judgments of Israel on the basis of exaggerated or even imagined actions that are at best attributable to small numbers of Jews, if not based entirely on cooked-up and unverified reporting. It’s justifiable to classify that kind of obsession with Israel as antisemitic.
Indeed, excusing antisemitism has become Labour’s foremost movement disorder.
Just days after the attacks against Rees-Mogg there was the supposedly data-driven claim – reported in leading political and news sites across the web – that the public’s perception of Labour’s antisemitism problem is grossly exaggerated.
It began in a poll released in the book Bad News for Labour, which found that most English voters thought more than a third of Labour members had filed complaints over antisemitism. In fact, between April 2018 and February 2019, the number of complaints filed within Labour over antisemitism was “only” 1,106 – a figure that represents just some 0.2 % of Labour’s more than 500,000 followers.
Antisemitism isn’t only extant on the right, Labour’s defenders would have you believe, but it’s barely a problem on the left. Just “0.2%!”
But this 0.2% figure looms a lot larger when you recall that England only has 270,000 Jews, or less than 0.5% of the greater English population. Of these, less than 15% were expected to vote Labour in 2016 (a number that has probably fallen since). All of this signals that Jews are about the smallest minority represented by Labour, which makes it astounding that they’re also the most targeted.
That this sprinkling of Jews could elicit a staggering 1,106 reports of hatred and bigotry in just ten months is shocking and disgusting – and the figure of “0.2%” does no justice to it whatsoever. If anything, despite this insane daily rate – between three and four incidents a day – these complaints seem to have gotten 0.1% of Labour’s attention.
More importantly, these figures ignore the fact that much of the controversy surrounds just one of Labour’s half-million members, the one who happens to be its head.
The writer, ‘America’s Rabbi,’ served as rabbi to the students of Oxford University for 11 years.