Today it is in Conservative Britain that the Jewish community finds their natural home; the party’s views about diversity prove this.
As the UK gets another Conservative Prime Minister, the Jewish community can reflect on how strong their relationship is with the party, while its connection with Labour could not be weaker. One of the reasons for this is about the different parties approach to diversity.
This certainly wasn’t inevitable. A long time ago Labour supported Israel and as a champion of minority groups, they should have naturally been a supporter of a community like the Jews. Why didn’t this happen? I believe it’s partly to do with the party’s misunderstanding of diversity. Labour believed this was something you could impose from the top, the Conservatives allowed it to grow from the grassroots.
During the Blair and Brown years, a concern of the Labour party was to improve community cohesion by encouraging positive relationships between ethnic and religious groups. To measure this, government administered surveys would include the question “How well do you get on with people from different backgrounds?” Unfortunately the responses to the question was not insightful. Invariably wherever it was asked people answered positively, either because they had no reason to answer negatively or because they simply didn’t know anyone from a different background. While episodes such as the Bradford Riots made for a powerful story of racial tension between incompatible communities, they were far from the reality of people’s daily lives. To measure integration, some Council surveys asked their residents “What proportion of your friends is from a different background as you?” The implication being that if you didn’t have a racially mixed group of friends, you were a problem, you weren’t fitting in.
The Conservatives took a different approach to diversity. They trusted communities to look after themselves and inspire others. In 2003 just after the North West London Eruv was given the go ahead, I did academic research with local residents who both supported and opposed it. The North West London Eruv was controversial, outraging mainly secular Jews, who felt their community had no right to push forward a religious enterprise that impinged upon the public space. I wanted to understand what motivated their opinions. The opposing sides had nothing in common, except completely unprompted they agreed on one point “It was Thatcher that did it.” For those who championed the Eruv, they felt it was her love of enterprise that gave the Jewish community the confidence to do this, for its opponents it was her selfish individualism at the expense of broader community cohesion that made such an initiative possible.
Labour would love to be the home of diversity and anti-racism, but the facts prove otherwise. Its instincts have always been around bringing people together, believing there was a connection between people that didm’t exist. This also fed into their rigid approach to integration, the measure of which was too focused on the desire for different ethnic groups to live alongside one another. At an away day with Policy colleagues from Newham Council, I questioned whether there was anything wrong with a religious community like the Orthodox Jews who pretty much sticks to themselves, doesn’t mix with others but is vibrant, successful and law abiding. They unanimously felt there was, even as the Council’s policy agenda – “Resilience” was to encourage residents to look out for each other and build their social capital, very similar to another community I know. Soon after I attended a briefing on the theme of integration at the House of Lords. The final words came from Trevor Phillips (the former Chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality) in his opinion integration had nothing to do with different communities mixing, it was simply about ensuring that all ethnic and religious groups have the same opportunities. He went on to praise the Jews and Indians as a fine example of integration, because they were affluent and well educated.
If diversity means respecting people for whatever their beliefs, Labour has a problem with one community – Zionist Jews. This is the flaw within the party that has found its best expression in Ken Livingstone and Jeremy Corbyn. While Mayor in 2005 Livingstone invited the Muslim Cleric Yusuf Al- Qaradawi to speak. He told his followers that they should integrate and embrace British values, while also claiming that it was legitimate for Muslim suicide bombers in Israel to kill civilians. Civic freedom is for all, unless of course you happen to be a Jew. The current leader Jeremy Corbyn is a cheerleader for the view that my enemy’s enemy is my friend, even if that friend happens to be racist. There is no need to go over his well known ineptitude at dealing with anti-Semitism in his party, suffice it to say that under his leadership, the party is not the broad church it wants to be, unless you’re a Jew who will balk at the mention of Israel, like the black sheep in the family everyone’s embarrassed to talk about. Corbyn’s Labour doesn’t get that that this is a form of anti-Semitism, the belief that some Jews, those who are non-Israeli or non-Zionist, are worthy of better treatment than others.
In contrast it’s hard to think of a time when the Conservative party was not more pro Israel. As someone who has been employed in left wing work environments, I had to accept the uncomfortable reality that the Members of Parliament my colleagues loathed the most were also the Jewish community’s greatest supporters. Michael Gove, the enemy of teachers across the land, is a vocal Zionist and refuses to see the plight of Israel as different to any other country dealing with terrorism on its doorstep. Eric Pickles, hated by the liberal Metropolitan left, for his blunt straight talking approach, wrote an opinion piece in the Jewish Chronicle praising Mitzvah Day as an outstanding example of the party’s visions of the Big Society.
When Prime Minister Theresa May was the Home Office Minister, she pledged government funding for security for the Jewish community. May also gets it, anti-Semitism is a particular problem of a particular people, and it is not the same as Islamophobia. This is something Jeremy Corbyn cannot get his head around. What better an example when at the launch of a report examining anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, he drew a parallel between attacks on Muslims as a result of Isis and those on Jews because of actions of the Israeli government. I’ll give Corbyn his credit, this may not be what he meant, but such tactless language proves his inability to take this problem seriously.
True diversity recognises and respects everyone for all their differences whether they are gay, orthodox Jews, Black British or Zionist. The Conservative government simply wish to protect that right to be diverse. Labour with their unsophisticated belief that integration is really about assimilation and their prejudiced views about Jews who love Israel, disqualify them as the party that embraces diversity. As Jews we should one day look forward to an alternative Labour government that includes everyone whatever their beliefs , sadly I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon.