Johnny Chern, Print Screen Editor, discusses the presence of anti-Semitism in both major political parties, giving Jews no clear option who to vote for.
Jews often feel like we are leading double-lives. For two thousand years Jews have been portrayed in European culture through dichotomies: as passive or as muscular; as Bolshivist zealots or as the capitalist establishment; as Zionists or as nomadic; as the people who killed Jesus or as part of a ‘Judeo-Christian culture’. The multiple loyalties demanded of European Jews are still present in the upcoming general election, and in ways that largely go over the heads of those who aren’t Jewish.
This election, I’m struggling where to fit, too. I’m either a bad Jew or a bad leftie. As far as my ‘double-life’ extends, I relate to Judaism in different ways at home and at uni. I either live in the North London Jewish community, where almost everyone I know is Jewish; or I live at university, where I don’t know any other Jews.
Labour’s reluctance to investigate anti-Semitism within the party, and attempts to change the rulings of inquiries into the issue.
When I’m at home, around other Jews, the only conversations about this election end up on the topic of Corbyn and anti-Semitism; when I’m at university – around people who tell me I’m the first Jew they’ve ever met – the issue is never raised. It’s never raised because it’s never understood. One thing my university friends don’t understand is that Jews consider this one of the most challenging elections they’ve faced.
In a recent poll, 85% of British Jews said they think Corbyn is anti-Semitic. What was shocking, however, is how few in turn saw the Tories as anti-Semitic. This kind of racism comes across in different ways in both parties, and it relates to those aforementioned dichotomies.
The examples of anti-Semitism under Corbyn’s leadership are abundant and well-documented. So too is Labour’s reluctance to investigate anti-Semitism within the party, and attempts to change the rulings of inquiries into the issue. Corbyn, in the past, has supported a mural that buys into 19th Century myths about Jewish bourgeois control. And then there’s Israel…
You don’t need to be a Zionist to notice that Corbyn’s criticisms of Israel have been linked to anti-Semitic tropes. Likewise, it shouldn’t be controversial to say that as a Jew I feel uncomfortable that my ethnicity is used to be embedded in this kind of politics. But for whatever my two cents are worth, in the same way most racist people don’t realise they’re racist, Corbyn probably genuinely thinks he isn’t anti-Semitic, but is just too dull to understand what anti-Semitism is. And this reveals exactly that Corbyn is not the anti-racist champion he is claimed to be, because he does not understand the processes of racism.
Jews, who largely voted Remain, have been told to put their issues with Corbyn on hold for this election. It cannot work that way. I wish I could talk about the election in terms of policies, but I can’t. If Jews don’t feel like Labour’s policies of anti-racism and inclusivity extends to them, then how can a Jewish person engage with Labour as a socialist or as someone from a lower-income background?
Objectively, sure. Individual Labour policies probably wouldn’t harm Jews the way that Tory policies would. But when there is a leader who has repeatedly been shown up for anti-Semitism, with an inner-circle who have been shown to interfere in investigations into the party’s wider Jewish problem, and a toxic PLP atmosphere which has caused a number of Jewish MPs to quit. It seems clear that issues raised by Jewish people won’t be taken seriously by a Corbyn-led government.
If Boris Johnson’s allegiance with Trump isn’t enough to tell you he doesn’t care about the wellbeing of Jews, look at his cabinet
And then, there’s even less inspiration from the opposite set of benches. Whilst the Tories use examples of anti-Semitism in Labour to deflect accusations of racism in their own ranks – tip-toeing around the black hole that makes up the crux of their party – the Tories have for generations been known to Jews as the anti-Semitic party.
But something has changed. If you look at the aforementioned Jewish voting intentions, that reputation has largely been cleared. It’s not like
Since then Conservative members and candidates have been exposed for Holocaust-denial, Conservative students have used the Holocaust for jokes, and at the Conservative Conference last year, booklets with anti-Semitic conspiracy theories were distributed. If Boris Johnson’s allegiance with Trump isn’t enough to tell you he doesn’t care about the wellbeing of Jews, look at his cabinet.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, whose anti-Semitic remarks are numerous, has made claims based on populist theories of Jewish control. In a speech this year, Home Secretary Priti Patel warned about ‘North London metropolitan, liberal elite’ – a dog-whistle term that has historically been used by the British right wing to talk about Jews.
In this election campaign, Theresa May unveiled a statue of Lady Astor – a Nazi sypathiser who called Jews a ‘world problem’. Suella Braveman (former chair of the ERG) warned of ‘Cultural Marxism’ – a term used by the Nazis to describe a Judeo-communist domination of culture. It is not surprising that the Tories constantly fall back on anti-Semitic terms. They are a party whose ideology relies on divisive rhetoric and is hostile to outsiders.
One of the most touching points of this election, for me, came in a statement from the Muslim Council of Britian. It condemned the ‘unacceptable presence of anti-semitism in Britain and in politics today… whether from the left or the right,’ whilst also drawing attention to the Islamophobia in the Tory party.
That statistic, of how many Jewish people had lost trust in the Labour party, but still felt they could vote Tory, seemed to suggest something even less hopeful. It suggested, to me at least, that so many of us had forgotten that we should look out for each other. Even though that statistic ignored clear, blatant, and abundant examples of anti-Semitism in the Conservative party, it ignored something just a bad too: that
The Tory Party’s Islamophobia and Labour’s anti-Semitism stems from the same basic place: a European Christian culture that has never been comfortable with the other Abrahamic faiths
Party politics does not lend itself to tolerance, and I don’t believe that any of the major parties are particularly concerned about Jews or Muslims. For now, I think it’s important we realise that the Tories’ Islamophobia and Labour’s anti-Semitism stems from the same basic place: a European Christian culture that has never been comfortable with the other Abrahamic faiths, and it is in no way a surprise that it would infect party politics in each European state. Whatever their inception, political parties vie for control of the state, and at some point always take on the discourse of the state, with all its bigotry.
Judeo-bolshivism and Jewish bourgeosie conspiracy theories were common throughout the 20th Century, and are still present in UK party politics. As has been noted, where Labour supporters may believe in the Jewish capitalist conspiracy, Tory supporters may believe in a Jewish communist conspiracy. Jews are not represented by either party, and the Jewish distrust in the Labour party may take a generation to fix. The anti-Semitism is nothing new – it is present from 2000 years of Jewish subjugation by European authorities. At times, it has seemed more dormant in British party politics, but old habits die hard.