A Wake Up Call for British Jews
British Jews and many other British nationals were shocked and dismayed with the outcome of last week’s general election in the UK.
Contrary to expectations, Prime Minister Theresa May emerged with a staggering defeat, and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party — which dramatically increased its number of seats in parliament by almost 10% — ran almost neck and neck with the Conservative Party. May is now trying to maintain her minority government by aligning with the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland.
It is a horrifying prospect that Corbyn — a man who has publicly praised Hamas and Hezbollah as his “friends;” who attended a ceremony in Tunis commemorating the murderer of Israeli Olympic athletes; who was employed by the state-controlled Iranian TV to present programs; and who tolerated the proliferation of overt antisemitism in his party — nearly became prime minister.
The recent waves of antisemitism emanating from a combination of left-wing, liberal, Muslim and traditional antisemites — and the indifference of a substantial proportion of the electorate who voted for an overtly antisemitic leader — must surely switch on a clear red light for British Jews.
Since the return of Jews to Britain in 1656 during the Oliver Cromwell era, many have claimed that British Jews have fared better than Jews in any other European country. But the late Robert Wistrich, the greatest scholar of antisemitism, who was himself brought up in England, considered Britain to be the most anti-Jewish country in Europe.
On the other hand, despite frequent antisemitic themes in British culture (Chaucer and Shakespeare), and the aloofness and hostility of the Anglican Church, British Jews benefited from their time there. And Prime Minister Disraeli epitomized how a person who took pride in his Jewish ancestry could still succeed in the country. England also represented a haven for many Jews seeking to escape from the oppression and pogroms that they endured in Russia.
In the 1930s, with the rise of Nazism, the hatred of Jews intensified. During that time, however, Britain’s Jews received strong support from the Left and liberals, who defended them against Mosley’s fascism. Like most countries in the 1930s, the British government only provided a limited number of entry permits to Jews seeking to escape the Holocaust. But to the credit of the British government, the Kindertransport of young children sent to England by parents unable to emigrate — and their children’s adoption by Jewish and non-Jewish families — saved 10,000 people, most of whom would otherwise have perished during the Holocaust.
Yet, there was still a backlash to the Jews who moved to England. Politically, the Conservatives were the most hostile, whereas Labour was perceived to be more tolerant. Setting aside the Jewish penchant for social justice, this is what led to most Jews supporting Labour. In addition, the Conservatives — in their attempt to appease the Arabs — imposed the White Paper, which prevented Jews from escaping to Israel. This led to more Jewish support for the Labour Party.
When Margaret Thatcher was elected, some Jews began voting for the Conservative Party, but her Labour successor, Tony Blair — a true friend of Israel and the Jewish people — won back much of the support that Thatcher had gained. Jews were more evenly divided in 2010 when David Cameron was elected prime minister.
When Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour party, the UK Jewish community was horrified, because — apart from his torrid past associations with terrorists and his hatred of Israel — under Corbyn’s leadership, antisemites felt free to openly embark on Jew-hating tirades. Corbyn’s supporters were not fussed that he had led rallies with vicious antisemites, including Holocaust deniers and terrorists, and called for a boycott against the Jewish state. At an anti-Israel demonstration where Corbyn spoke, some of the participants were dressed as suicide bombers, while others chanted “gas, gas, Tel Aviv.”
To his credit, the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Jonathan Arkush, courageously confronted Corbyn and the antisemites — in contrast to many of his trembling predecessors. Arkush described the recent election outcome as a “loss for the community and Israel.” But he was criticized by fellow Jews — desperate not to rock the boat — for challenging the British Muslim community’s low profile after the recent London terror attack. Muslims who opposed terrorism, he stated, should “stand up and be counted.”
May made a catastrophic mistake by prematurely holding an election. She also alienated many elderly voters by reducing social welfare benefits, and her election campaign was appalling. And, presumably, a sizeable number of Britains simply voted against the political establishment, or to voice their opposition to Brexit.
But despite this, to vote for a primitive Trotskyite whose friends include terrorists like Hamas and Hezbollah is simply mind boggling.
Even more staggering is that during his election campaign, Corbyn promoted appeasement to the Islamist terrorists, alleging that the bombing and terror outbreaks in the UK were a result of aggressive British foreign policy. And at times, he has opposed beefing up security, insisting that this would undermine human rights.
British Jews have long argued that the antisemitic prejudice they faced was benign, and that England was different than Europe. But, had Corbyn been elected, it would have been far worse for the Jewish community than if Marie Le Pen had become head of state in France.
The time has come to speak plainly and face reality.
As far as British Jews are concerned, this election — which almost brought to power an outright antisemite and friend of terrorists — means that the red line has now been crossed.
Jews in the UK are considered pariahs by a substantial proportion of the nation. The anti-Israel rhetoric has reached unprecedented levels, both in street demonstrations and at the universities where many Jewish students seek to disguise their Jewish identity — and in some cases, even display hostility to Israel — in order to curry favor.
Schools, synagogues and other Jewish communal venues require armed guards, and this will need to be intensified in the future.
All committed British Jews should ask themselves whether, in this climate of intensifying hostility, they should consider coming to Israel, or at least encourage their children to do so. This will allow them to live in an environment in which they are able to take pride in their Jewish heritage. The majority are likely to remain, but some of the most committed will hopefully consider making aliyah.
This must be a wakeup call. In contrast to the 1930s, today’s Jews are privileged to live in an age when a Jewish state is willing to embrace and provide them with security. It is a state that is powerful — militarily, economically and politically — and has the support of the US government. Living in Israel will enable them to enjoy the fruits of the Jewish national renaissance and create a home in which their children can grow up proud of their heritage, and will allow them to leave behind the humiliation of antisemitism.
Isi Leibler’s website can be viewed at www.wordfromjerusalem.com.