We Jews have evolved to be neurotic; so neurotic that, in certain circumstances, the Syrian border feels slightly safer than Muswell Hill. I’ll take Muswell Hill. Polls say that only 7 per cent of British Jews will consider voting for Labour on 12 December, while 47 per cent of British Jews will consider leaving the country if Labour win. I’d rather fight Dave (generic name) from the Labour Representation Committee than Dave from Hezbollah (likewise generic). But I shouldn’t joke; and nothing feels funny any more. Things are always OK until they aren’t.
Jews have fled Labour since Ed Miliband’s time. In 2010 we were split quite evenly between Labour and the Tories: but Gordon Brown is a serious man. Despite the fact that Miliband is Jewish, support dwindled under his leadership — he was too ashamed of Israel, the homeland to which Jews remain attached, whatever the Jewish Corbynista fringe may say — and he is a nebbish. Corbyn, though, is something awful: the leader whose response to the Enough’s Enough rally in 2018 was to spend the Passover seder with Jewdas, the ‘radical diasporists’ who have prayed ‘Please God, smash the state of Israel / Smash it in the abundance of your love’. That was his answer to Jewish fear, and we knew him then for what he was: a Jew baiter, and a coward. Under his leadership, and the semi-respectable sheen of anti-Zionism — let’s have a Rainbow Nation with Hamas! — the poison spreads. The libel that the Jews are the enemy of everything holy (formerly Christ, now socialism) has returned.
There are allies, but they are largely outside Labour now. Ian Austin, a Labour MP for 14 years, now an independent, this morning asked Labour supporters to vote Tory: due to anti-Semitism. ‘For a party that's got a proud record of fighting for equality and opposing racism, the Labour party's been poisoned by anti-Jewish racism under his leadership and it is a complete and utter disgrace.’
Among Jews who care about Labour, or what Labour once was, there have been fierce battles since 2017: between those who would fight from within, and those who think that any vote for Corbyn is a vote for an anti-Semite. Broadly, the second group has won. Even I have no time for the Jewish activists who attempt to solve the crisis from within, and I previously defended them: to each Jew, her own path. But what is at the end of it? It is a familiar position for a European Jew: to be considered the enemy of goodness, and I console myself by saying they made us choose; like Trotsky, we could not be a Jew and a citizen of the world. It would have been easy for them to reassure reasonable Jews — I accept there are unreasonable ones — but instead they praised the woman who wrote ‘Free Palestine’ on the walls of the Warsaw Ghetto, and too much else to print. It is contemptuous, but why not? Electorally, we do not matter; and why should they be immune from the 2,000 years of libel which is their cultural inheritance?
Most Jews now live in a state of existential fear; the rest — Jewish Voice for Labour [JVL], and Jewdas — in thrilled denial. ‘In 2017,’ says one Jewish acquaintance, previously of the left, ‘we still thought there was a chance that Labour’s anti-Semitism problem could be beaten from within. MPs such as Ian Austin, John Mann and Louise Ellman were trying to achieve change, along with many party members. But that hasn’t worked: all three of those MPs have been beaten by the sheer scale of the problem.’ All but Mann have left Labour. ‘A major religious leader [Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi] has called the opposition leader an anti-Semite and refuses to sit in the same room as him. Corbyn’s supporters — including a handful of Jews — queue up to tell Jews in the mainstream what they should and should not find anti-Semitic. This is by far the biggest challenge to the UK Jewish community of all our lifetimes.’
‘I’m waking up with a sense of doom every day,’ says another. ‘Fear is what it is, fear and dread, mixed with a sense of disbelief that this is happening in my lifetime, and that so few people seem to care.’
‘I feel utterly betrayed by the country I grew up in, that used to feel safe,’ says a third. ‘My father fled from Austria in 1941. I feel relieved he is not here to see what is happening now. Deep in my heart I always felt the people around me would have my back. I have now lost that trust.’ A fourth says: ‘We no longer have the freedom to vote on anything other than being Jewish.’
This is my dilemma, for the past four years have felt like an awakening. I can no longer pretend to be what I will call a Disraelian Jew: an exotic, but one who belongs here, a Jew and a leftist. In a sense it expiates my shame, which was previously dormant but is now brightly alive; that we, as British Jews, survived almost intact — there were casualties in the Channel Islands — while continental Europe is a graveyard. Incidentally, I think that explains why I spoilt my ballot paper in the referendum, an act which, at the time, mystified me slightly. I am not so attached to continental Europe.
‘Jew’ is absolutely a loaded word again. I have been told, very recently, that the Rothschilds control Europe — at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting of all places; and by a socialist, naturally. This is normal. When I ask Labour members about anti-Semitism they react with denial or, more likely, fury; why do we seek to maim the utopia, and why do we not do something about Islamophobia? (I wish I could; but how does ignoring anti-Semitism further the anti-racist cause?) I know they think my testimony is suspect — oh, lying Jew! — but my antennae are set to peril, and I trust them. I also trust that things will get worse; that the more it is tolerated, the more it bleeds across the culture. Do people really think that a far-right thug will pause before he punches a Jew and think: hang on, didn’t this rhetoric emerge from Stalin’s Russia? The left provides the script, always, for they are the pseudo-intellectuals writing their borrowed lies; the right, the fists. Chris Williamson spoke this creed in his letter of resignation; Jews are saboteurs who have infiltrated Labour on the orders of Israel and we are anti-Semites too; for self-interest, we will destroy our own.
‘Many of the victims of this witch hunt have been Jewish socialists,’ he wrote, ‘whose anti-Zionism is anathema to the apartheid apologists apparently influencing Labour foreign and domestic policy. You and others share my belief that the anti-Semitism smears against Labour activists, candidates and MPs are unfounded. And yet Labour party officials have capitulated to the Jewish Labour Movement – formerly known as Pa’ole Zion – an organisation revived in 2015 at the same time as the State of Israel launched a diplomatic strategy to delegitimise Palestinian activism on the Left and normalise Zionism in our movement.’
As the denial goes on, I allow myself the luxury of wondering if it would be better if they said, outright — we hate Jews. At least Nazis did not call themselves anti-racists, although they probably would nowadays. John McDonnell called himself ‘saddened’ on The Andrew Marr Show, as if Anglo-Jewry were a woman who had disappointed him because she did not understand him. Yet he remains the president of the Labour Representation Committee, which hosted the most excitable Jew haters at the Labour conference fringe this year; why has he not resigned, and cursed them for endangering the project? Perhaps he has forgotten he is their president; perhaps he does not believe that they do.
That they made us choose makes me weep, for I have not considered voting Conservative before. But I won’t. There is a respectable strain of Conservatism, but this is not it, not for me — one glance at Jacob Rees-Mogg’s face is enough; and all racism thrives under inequality. The Tories cannot save us; that is a laughable sentence. That Labour call themselves progressives, and yet are imbued with the infection of ancient Christian Jew-hatred — the murder of God was our original sin — is equally laughable. We have returned to our settled place; too proud, in every sense, to assimilate; rather, we drift across the world to where we feel safe: the Syrian border for some; Muswell Hill for others.
At least I feel close to my ancestors now; I understand them better. I’m not English, I tell my friend, after I had read Jim Allen’s Perdition, a ruthlessly anti-Semitic play beloved by Ken Loach. I had to read it, after I saw Loach greeted with a standing ovation at Labour conference — and I read, in its pages, of Jewish culpability for the Holocaust; of the Jewish demonic attitude.
Yes, you are, he says, meaning to comfort me. No, I’m not. If I was an English schoolgirl, I am a real Jew now.
Tanya Gold and Matthew Parris on political homelessness.