Three Reasons why a Corbyn Government would Threaten Jewish life in Britain
If, like me, you are a member of Britain’s Jewish community, you will have your mind made up about the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister. A recent Survation poll of Jewish voters found that an astonishing 94% would vote in the upcoming General Election for a party that is not Labour, with 87% of respondents believing Jeremy Corbyn is antisemitic.
In the days since parliament voted to go to the polls, I have been challenged by those outside of the Jewish community on what exactly makes Jeremy Corbyn antisemitic and what exactly is it that Jews fear about him as Prime Minister? Why is it that nearly half of the UK’s Jewish community would seriously consider emigrating were Corbyn to win this General Election? It is a reasonable question to ask what is this perceived persecution from which we would be fleeing — so I shall summarise it in three themes.
1. Kosher Living Under Corbyn
The first threat a Corbyn-led government poses, is the ability to keep to Jewish religious customs — the most obvious of which is kashrut (kosher), the laws around Jewish food and products. A significant proportion of kosher produce is imported from Israel, and this is a trend that is only set to increase with debate across continental European authorities considering bans on Halal and Kosher food.
Given Jeremy Corbyn’s past advocacy of a boycott of goods from Israel — and the Labour Party policy adopted at its 2019 conference to single out Israel as a State with which a Corbyn government would not do a trade deal — how conceivable is it that a majority Corbyn government would pass through a law that bans the import of Israeli produce? And in the situation that such a law was passed, how would it be policed? Would there be checks and audits of Jewish shops and businesses to ensure they weren’t stocking Israeli produce? Or what about Jewish homes, would the same apply to them?
Modern antisemitism on the Left of politics very rarely starts with a direct attack on Jews, but if a legitimate concern can be made against Israel — which now stands as the world’s safe-haven for Jewish communities across the globe — direct action on the issue can very rapidly can be turned to make Jewish life difficult.
2. Security of Jewish Community Buildings
It is a horrifying reality that in 2019, Jewish communities across the world live in fear of violent terror attacks. The traumatic scenes outside of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, or the recent attack on the Halle synagogue in Germany, are ones we fear being repeated in the UK. When a kosher shop became a target in France’s wave of terror attacks in 2015, it struck a raw chord with many in Britain’s Jewish community. I recall the Friday night sabbath dinner conversation — what if I had been one of those hostages? How worrying that it is only the small English Channel separating us from the wave of terror against Jewish communities in Europe? This fear only increased with the stabbings of Jews outside a synagogue in Marseille later that year and the subsequent murders in Paris of Sarah Halimi and Mireille Knoll in further antisemitic incidents.
I recently enrolled my daughter at a nursery school based at a synagogue. Upon visiting the nursery — as much as I wanted to meet the staff, see the space and learn about the daily schedule — the thing I spent the most time checking-out was the security set-up for the building. From the age of one, my daughter will be attending daycare with a guard at the front door and constant security presence. That is not the desires of an over-protective parent — it is a necessary precaution of 21st century Jewish life. In this environment, the Jewish community relies on a supportive government who understand and sympathise with these very real security threats — a government that will help overcome any administrative or regulatory hurdles to protecting Jewish community centres, schools and places of worship.
I can recall hearing this support loud and clear from successive political party leaders over the past decades, whether Labour, Conservative or Lib Dems. I have never once heard Jeremy Corbyn utter his commitment. In fact, when I searched out looking to find and consolation that Jeremy Corbyn might understand the nature of anti-Jewish terrorism, I only found the opposite. Down the road from my home is a Jewish community building named Balfour House. I recall visiting it as a teenager when taking part in a youth volunteering programme. In 1994, the building was bombed in an antisemitic incident, and one backbench MP spent the subsequent years campaigning for the release of two of the terrorist attackers. His name was Jeremy Corbyn.
3. A Hostile Environment for Jews
This final point is more subtle, but is no less important the concerns about security and kosher living. As a backbencher, Jeremy Corbyn was very happy to welcome to Parliament individuals who were sworn to killing Jews. He spoke at rallies and conferences alongside those who would seek to diminish the atrocities of the Holocaust, or use that horror to stir up anger against supporters of the State of Israel. He did not do this one or twice, but dozens upon dozens of occasions as part of the norm of his campaigning.
It is no surprise that as Leader of the Labour Party, Corbyn’s era has seen its increase in membership coincide with a rise of antisemitic incidents — with many members repeating the same lines heard at those rallies and marches where Corbyn himself was up on stage. It is now commonplace in Labour circles to witness conspiracy theories about money, power and control by Jews to persecute others. Whether these antisemitic tropes are raised at a rally in Trafalgar Square with Jeremy Corbyn in the front row, or in a Facebook group with Jeremy Corbyn as an active member, or on Twitter from accounts with the hashtag #JC4PM — Corbyn’s instinct has continually been to stand by silently.
A chilling moment transpired after last year’s local elections in England. Labour polled worse than expected, but it was subsequently revealed that Corbyn had planned a victory parade through Barnet Council — home to the UK’s largest Jewish population. Thankfully there was no cause for parade in Barnet, which did not vote in a Labour council — but could you imagine the scenes of Jeremy Corbyn and his momentum activists sprawling through the streets of Golders Green? The message of hostility it would have sent to British Jews echoes the tales of what we now know to be the precursors to some of Europe’s darkest days in history.
This is Corbyn’s Labour, and after this General Election it will either be a brief moment in Britain’s history or a troubling future ahead for all of us. For many in the Jewish community, a Corbyn-led government poses such a threat to our existence and way of life that the only option is to flee. For many outside of the Jewish community, these fears may seem farfetched. But we have particularly sensitive radars to situations of rising antisemitism. My grandmother was born in Leipzig, Germany. She escaped in 1939 with her mother and sister, first to Switzerland, and then to Britain. Had they waited a few more months, they may not have survived and I would not be here today. I really do not want to leave the UK — the country I love and the place I have always called home. But when the stakes are so high, how could I stay in a Britain that elected Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister?