The Jewish Chronicle in London (the leading Jewish newspaper in the UK) had an unusual front page last week. Atop the page was a bold banner headline: “To all our fellow British citizens,” followed by a sub-headline which read “This front page is addressed not to our usual readers — but to those who would not normally read the Jewish Chronicle. In other words, non-Jews.”
What followed was an impassioned plea: Don’t vote for Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn in next month’s election, as he is considered an anti-Semite by “the vast majority of British Jews.”
The article went on to recount Corbyn’s long history of anti-Semitism and hostility to Israel, including: “He has described organisations like Hamas, whose founding charter commits it to the extermination of every Jew on the planet, as his ‘friends’. He has laid a wreath to honour terrorists who have murdered Jews. He has insulted ‘Zionists’ — the word used by antisemites when they mean ‘Jew’ because they think it allows them to get away with it — as lacking understanding of ‘English irony’.”
And then the Chronicle made its request: “Putting oneself in the shoes of another person, or another group, can be difficult. But we believe it is important — and urgent — that you do that. Perhaps the fact that nearly half (47%) of the Jewish community said … that they would ‘seriously consider’ emigrating if Mr Corbyn wins on December 12 will give you an indication of what it feels like to be a British Jew at a time when the official opposition is led by a man widely held to be an anti-Semite.”
In Britain’s parliamentary system, Corbyn will become prime minister if Labour wins a majority in Parliament, or forges an Israel-like coalition with smaller parties. But if Corbyn loses the vote of constituents in his north London district, he won’t make it to Parliament. That seems to be what the Chronicle is trying to accomplish.
Even without Corbyn, however, Labour has a serious anti-Semitism problem. It has become a “safe space for those with vile attitudes towards Jewish people,” a British parliamentary committee of inquiry found in 2016. And, by most accounts, things haven’t gotten better.
With Corbyn as prime minister, many Jews worry that life in Britain will become intolerable. The worry is compounded by some degree of confused shock, as Labour has historically been the natural political home for most British Jews. And with the opposition Conservative Party crumbling over its protracted and inept handling of Brexit, many British Jews worry that they have no political home.
The Chronicle piece chose not to enter the broader political debate, and kept its focus on the issue of anti-Semitism, with a singular objective. “We believe that the overwhelming majority of British people abhor racism. We ask only that, when you cast your vote, you act on that.”
Kol HaKavod. JN