It’s an uncomfortable feeling

Jonathan Freedland on Labour and antisemitism.

For most progressive-minded, remain-leaning folk, is it even a dilemma? I’m not sure. To them the logic must seem simple and straightforward: they want to eject a cruel and useless government and stop Brexit, and that means denying Boris Johnson a majority and replacing him with Jeremy Corbyn, who will end austerity and hold a second referendum. Job done.

But it’s not that simple for him, much as he would like it to be.

The thought of it prompts in me, and the overwhelming majority of the community I grew up in, a fear that we have not known before.

I’m referring to Britain’s Jews who, for the first time in their history, have concluded that someone hostile to them is on the brink of taking democratic power. Yes, of course, not every single British Jew holds that view. But the most recent poll found that 87% regard Corbyn as an antisemite, meaning an anti-Jewish racist.

He lists some cringe-making examples of Corbyn’s antisemitism. (That sounds as if a “but” is imminent. It’s not. The examples make me cringe; no buts.) Labour has dismally failed to do enough about it.

We’re meant to cheer that Chris Williamson has been barred from standing again as an MP. But Jews remember that, even when Williamson’s penchant for egregious Jew-baiting was well known, Corbyn was still praising him. Just a few months ago, in fact, Corbyn called him “a very good, very effective Labour MP. He’s a very strong anti-racist campaigner. He is not antisemitic in any way.”

Plenty advise Jews to shelve their angst in return for a government that will stop Brexit (Jews are overwhelmingly pro-remain). In effect, Jews and their would-be allies are being told that some racism is, if not quite acceptable, then a price worth paying. That seems to have been the bargain struck with those Labour “moderates” who were once so admirably vocal in their denunciation of the leadership on this issue and who are now – minus Tom Watson – knocking on doors to put Corbyn in No 10: you’ve got your second referendum, now shut up about the Jews. It’s an uncomfortable feeling, to be part of a small community that can be so quickly cast aside for the supposed greater good.

I’m guessing it’s quite like being part of a large community that can be so quickly cast aside for the supposed greater good, by which I mean women. The smallness v largeness should make a difference, because surely they make a massive difference to the level of vulnerability, and yet…it doesn’t seem to be working that way.

But that’s a side note…except that it’s also a confirmation of “wtf lefty comrades, what are you doing??”

Many, Jews included, ask themselves how bad would it really be. What’s the worst that could happen? Of course this isn’t the 1930s and, despite the Sunday Telegraph’s front page, most Jews would not leave the country. But that the question is even in the air, that someone who sees Jews as not quite “us” – “they don’t understand English irony” – is deemed eligible to be prime minister, makes our presence here feel conditional and shaky. And, whether Corbyn makes it to Downing Street or not, to realise that the historic party of social justice in this country finds a little bit of racism acceptable for the sake of the larger cause, and that many millions of voters agree – well, that realisation contains its own heartbreak. It means that what we thought about this country wasn’t quite true.

I understand that to many, all this will sound overwrought. I’m afraid that Jewish history has made us that way, prone to imagining the worst. We look at our usually sparse family trees and we can pick out the pessimists, those who panicked and got out. It was they who left their mark on us. You see, the optimists, those who assumed things would work out for the best, they never made it out in time.

I have nothing optimistic to add.

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