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The Left's Jewish Problem

Jeremy Corbyn, Israel and Anti-Semitism
Dave Rich
Biteback Publishing
Cover 9781785901201


In 2016, anti-Semitism became a national political issue in Britain for the first time in decades. This didn't come about because of a surge in support for neo-Nazism or a spate of jihadist terrorism against Jews. It happened because of a cri­sis in Britain's party of the left, a party that defines itself by its opposition to racism and which has enjoyed Jewish support for most of its history. Anti-Semitism dominated headlines in 2016 because of the Labour Party. It's important to acknowledge just how strange this is. The left has always seen itself as a movement that opposes anti-Semitism, opposes fascism and defends Jews and other minorities from bigotry and prejudice. This is a proud history that has always attracted Jewish support. Yet, in the first six months of 2016, the Labour Party felt the need to hold three different inquiries into anti-Semitism within its ranks and found itself abandoned by Jewish voters. The decline in the relationship between the Labour Party and Britain's Jewish community has intensified since Jeremy Corbyn's election as Labour Party leader, but it is fuelled by trends on the wider left that have been building for many years. There are socio-economic reasons for the long-term drift of Jewish voters from Labour to the Conservatives, but these reasons alone do not explain the scale of the change, nor its recent acceleration. A long-standing supporter of the Pales­tinians and opponent of Israel, Corbyn came into post facing a list of questions about alleged associations with people accused of Holocaust denial, anti-Semitism and terrorism. Beyond these immediate questions about Corbyn's personal associations and views, his rise to the Labour leadership personifies a widespread left-wing hostility to Israel that alienates many Jews. It is symbolic that while the last two Labour Prime Ministers, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, were both patrons of the Jewish National Fund (an Israeli body that was instrumental in buying land for the new Jewish state before and after its independence in 1948), Corbyn is patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

Most British Jews feel a personal, emotional or spiritual connection to Israel. Most have visited the country and have family and friends there. According to a zoio survey by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, 95 per cent of British Jews said Israel plays some role in their Jewish identity, 82 per cent said it plays a central or important role and 90 per cent said they see Israel as the ancestral homeland of the Jewish peo­ple. A similar survey by City University London in 2015 found that 90 per cent of British Jews support Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state, while 93 per cent said it plays a role in their Jewish identity. For most Jews, this is what Zionism is: the idea that the Jews are a people whose homeland is Israel (wherever they actually live); that the Jewish people have the right to a state; and that Israel's existence is an important part of what it means to be Jewish today. This deep, instinctive bond doesn't necessarily translate into political support for Israeli govern­ments or their policies: both surveys found strong support for a two-state solution and opposition to expansion of Jewish set­tlements in the West Bank.