The decision of the local Labour Party in Finchley and Golders Green to stand Jeremy Newmark against the Tory MP Mike Freer emancipates Jews, at least in this constituency, to vote as citizens. It relieves us from the humiliation of being forced to vote as Jews against anti-Semitism.
Let’s pause and re-feel the blood-boiling gravity of that situation. Once, Jews voted Labour, almost as a block. Now the party’s candidate for Prime Minister is a man with a record of supporting anti-Semitic politics and Israel-boycotters.
But Jews on the left have been fighting back, and they have been led by Jeremy Newmark. Jeremy was the campaigns organiser of the Union of Jewish Students, he was chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council and has been the driving force behind the Jewish Labour Movement, which organises the fightback against the Corbyn faction within the party. His JLM has been taking the argument to the membership, educating people about anti-Semitism and winning motions within party structures. It was Jeremy Newmark who gave evidence to the party tribunal, explaining what was anti-Semitic about Ken Livingstone’s behaviour.
Mike Freer, from the liberal wing of the Conservative Party, understands the threat of anti-Semitism. He gets how it comes packaged with hostility to Israel and has opposed it inside and outside Parliament. He lives three doors down from me. I like him, I chat with him. A vote for Mike is a safe vote for people who want a Tory MP who opposes and recognises anti-Semitism.
Even in the era of Trump and Brexit [and God forbid Le Pen], Corbyn has only the tiniest chance of winning the election. And if Labour did find itself in a position to form a coalition, the anti-Corbyn Labour MPs would hold the balance of power at Westminster. In my judgement, electing Newmark would not put Corbyn one centimetre nearer to control of the nuclear button.
But the key issue in this election is Brexit. Mike Freer understood why Brexit would be catastrophic but he flipped, within a week of the referendum, going along with the requirements of the new British patriotism, which subordinates the national interest to the fake and menacing division between ‘the people’ and ‘the elite’. We still have years to oppose this self-harm. Theresa May is right that Brexit is Brexit. There is no ‘soft’ Brexit or ‘left’ Brexit. Brexit would endanger European peace and democracy, peace in Ireland, stability in Scotland and make us poorer; it would hurt the NHS, schools and social security. May stands in this election as the person who promises to drive us off this cliff.
Brexit is dangerous for Jews. It endangers the post-war European democratic settlement and the European institutions which guarnatee it. Brexit encourages the rise of xenophobic and racist politics. It mainstreams Islamophobia and the anti-Semitic politics of Corbyn and Mélenchon. And it risks crashing the economy which will strengthen the politics of resentment.
Freer is good on anti-Semitism; Newmark is better. Let’s see what Newmark says about Brexit. And let’s celebrate the opportunity, in Finchley and Golders Green, to take opposition to anti-Semitism for granted and to choose between different programmes for the country. Having a choice between Newmark and Freer makes me feel a bit more British; and I hate the way Brexit and anti-Semitism have made me feel less than fully British.